Category: science

Mental health and academia, P2

Let’s get on to part 2, shall we? Topics include: the culture of destroying yourself for work in academia, how to DO life, and managing anxiety in school. Again, please feel free to reblog or reply with advice of your own.

@ganseylesbian asked:

How do you handle trying not to give into the academic culture of encouraging sacrificing your mental health for your work?

The academic culture of self-sacrifice for your work is so stupid and unsustainable. Mental health is more important than school. Mental health is more important than career. Nothing is worth breaking yourself over. I didn’t take this to heart until I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that flares up most when I am stressed or depressed/anxious, and now for the first time ever I am attentive to and firm about my limits.

My first attempt at grad school fell apart because I had an advisor who was a self-proclaimed workaholic (when I needed a leave of absence, she told me she will always be a workaholic and expects her students to match that). And now? I have an advisor who is a literal dream. When he noticed I was going into the lab on the weekends to extract DNA, he made sure I was also taking time for myself to relax.

Anyway, tl;dr, have boundaries and stick to them. Take care of yourself. We gotta work together to change this unhealthy expectation of sacrificing your life for your academic research/career.

Anonymous asked: 

Any tips on how one can get out there in life and actually *do* things, like getting started in life? Most days my mind makes it feels like I can’t or I’m not allowed to actually live my life and it’s a lil frustrating. (thank u for opening up and i hope u find many funky fungi in ur future 🍄)

Start small – you don’t have to take it all on at once. Give yourself little bite-sized goals, and go easy on yourself if you don’t meet them. I don’t know what is keeping you from getting started, but when I was in HS/early college, my anxiety kept me from doing…most things. It’s been a very long process to get where I am now, but back then I had some words that I would return to often to help me leave my cave every once in a while (which I had apparently edited from here to be less spiritual haha): 

Whatever I already am, I want to devote to life. I deliberately want life to make use of the best of what I have and who I am. I may not be sure at this moment in what way this could happen, and even if I have ideas, I will allow for the wisdom deep within me to guide me. I will let life itself decide how a fruitful interchange can take place between it and me. For whatever I give to life, I have received from it and I wish to return it to benefit to others. This, in turn, must inevitably enrich my own life to the exact measure that I willingly give to life: for life and I are one. When I withhold from life, I withhold from myself. When I withhold from others, I withhold from myself. Whatever I already am, I want to let flow into life. And whatever more in me can be utilized, still waiting to be brought to fruition, I request, I decide, and I desire that it be put to constructive use, so as to enrich the atmosphere around me.

@pyridine asked How do you manage your anxiety when it comes to assignments/deadlines? What is grad school/academia like for someone dealing with mental health issues?

I don’t have a ton of anxiety over deadlines, but I DO have heaps of anxiety when I have a lot of stuff I’m juggling at once. And I have like…anxiety about being around people…and existing…and breathing… I have to open up this question to my lovely followers because I am the actual worst at dealing with anxiety. I usually resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms (naps especially).

Grad school has been interesting. Like I mentioned before, my first attempt was a literal nightmare and the worst year of my life. But I learned so much from it. Most importantly, how to be my own advocate. How to fight for myself. To get into and stay in therapy.  Also that you can register with the disability office if you have mental health issues (why didn’t anyone tell me that during my undergrad!?). Grad school with mental illness can be a huge struggle, but people with mental illnesses have so much to offer. I will utilize all of the resources that are offered to me, and I will take things one step at a time. This is what I want to do, and I am going to do what I can to make it work.

Anonymous kindly commented: 

Hey. You rock. I mean, I liked your blog before. But now? Now, I love it because it’s run by a real human who’s not trying to be something they are not, just to get more likes and reblogs. You are awesomely brilliant!

And other Anonymous kindly commented: 

I have no questions, but as someone who has lived with clinical depression and anxiety for my entire adult life, I appreciate you voicing your support for those who might be going through the same.

Thank you! ❤ Silently suffering and hiding my mental health illness in shame is not something I want to do anymore. We’re all suffering so much, and we can help one another if we are honest and true and open.

I have so much love for all of you, and I hope you’re all doing what you can to take care of yourselves. Please feel free to send me more questions or even message me privately.

Mental health and academia, P1

All right, who’s ready for a literal NOVEL where I answer questions about how I deal with mental illness in academia/life? I’m going to break this up into parts so it’s not too much. Topics include: fitting in, needing a break from the rat race, anxiety/depression from thinking about the future, and impostor syndrome. Please feel free to reply with advice and wisdom of your own.

Anonymous asked: Do you feel like you fit in with your peers? I’m a casual herper and general naturalist. I love a little bit of everything. I have a friend I go herping with sometimes. He doesn’t mean to be rude or anything, but when I go home I feel alienated sometimes. I feel like I’m not enough or that I don’t belong and can’t fit in with other professionals or even hobbyists. Have you experienced that? Is there any way to make it easier to deal with? Thank you for your blog <3 

Hobbyists and professionals can be a little bit elitist and cliquey at times, and I think that’s dumb because this world is so fascinating and wonderful and why wouldn’t you want to share your passions and enthusiasm with others?? To be honest, though, I haven’t tried to fit in with the others much because going out and hunting for organisms is very much a solitary thing for me, then when I get home I turn to the internet, to identification groups on FB or Reddit or iNaturalist, for the learning and communicating part. People on those websites are there because they want to help others learn about the organisms they’re keen on. I’m sorry if this isn’t super helpful for you. I am a cockroach.

Even so, let’s make some rules now for the naturalists club. The first rule of naturalists club is to be excellent to each other. The second rule of naturalists club is that anyone can be a naturalist if they want to, no matter their age or skill level. (The third rule of naturalists club is to not pretend to be confident about an identification unless you are absolutely sure.)

Anonymous asked: It’s super amazing of you to present yourself so truthfully; I know it can be hard. You’re honestly really great and what you do is awesome ! Personally, my biggest issue is feeling overwhelmed – be it academics or life in general. The hardest part is when I feel like I need a break, but feel that taking a break will just put me further behind. Any thoughts on that ? Thanks, and again: you rock ✨ 

I felt this A LOT throughout my 20s because I spent a lot of time not knowing exactly what I was doing and struggling with committing to a single path (real talk: I still do this). I didn’t graduate college until I was 27. I’m 31 now, and I just started on my master’s degree. There are some downsides to this (the primary being that a number of the other millenials who graduated college in a timely manner and lucked out in actually landing a career actually have homes and savings accounts, while I don’t and probably won’t for a long time). But I’d like to call attention to your words “further behind,” which to me indicates you’re comparing your path to others’. It’s not a race. Do what you need to do to thrive.

Anonymous asked: One thing in particular that really triggers my depression/anxiety is thinking about my life in the long-term, and how uncertain my future is as a 20-something recent graduate. How do you deal with these thoughts? 

Take things one step at a time. You recently graduated – what do you need to do now? Apply for jobs? Apply to graduate programs? Once you figure out that most pressing step, then you can think about the further out things. I am probably not the best person to advise you on this though, since as I mentioned before, I have never been great at committing to a path, and I have definitely never been a 5 year plan person. But with the job market the way it is, who really can be? So I guess my best advice is just to make sure that your immediate needs are taken care of (income -> food, housing), then daydream about the options your future may hold, and start to take small steps to work toward those dreams. Nothing is set in stone. If your plans fall through, make other plans. (Seriously though, good luck with this. I don’t know what it is about 20s that is so excruciating, but if it’s any consolation that pressure of figuring out your future tends to ebb away as you get older.) 

Anonymous asked: 

Imposter syndrome: what do you do about it?

Ah, impostor syndrome. As an artist-turned-scientist who avoided a lot of the hard math/science classes that sure would have been great to add to my foundation of knowledge (*side-eyes my past self*) and is now studying molecular systematics even though most of my background is in ecology, I feel impostor syndrome so regularly that it’s part of me at this point. I don’t know what the best way of dealing with it is, but here is what I do: Fake it ‘til you make it. I’ve heard about people who are experts in their field dealing with impostor syndrome, so maybe it’s okay for me as someone who is still very early in their career to feel it too? I am low-key TERRIFIED about the first time I get to present my molecular analyses and someone asks me a basic DNA question and I make a fool of myself by not knowing the answer. But what can I do about it? All I can do is take things as they come and do the best I can. If I somehow manage to advance through my career without being “exposed” as a “fake scientist,” cool! If someone gives me crap about not knowing everything, that’s their problem. 

Oh, one last minute thought on this: The place I’m doing my master’s degree at really encourages communication and collaboration between grad students, so I’ve been talking with my peers more than ever before. One of the most valuable things I’ve gotten out of that is learning that NOBODY KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING. We’re all just kind of flopping around until we poop out some results.


Hey, I swear I’ll update my queue soon, but in the meantime please enjoy the  unreasonably dramatic scientific paper titles I’ve been collecting while working on the lit review for my side project:

Back to the future: museum specimens in population genetics

Unlocking the vault: next-generation museum population genomics

Return of a giant: DNA from archival museum samples helps to identify a unique cutthroat trout population

Singing from the Grave: DNA from a 180 Year Old Type Specimen Confirms the Identity of Chrysoperla carnea

Microbial hitchhikers on intercontinental dust: high-throughput sequencing to catalogue microbes in small sand samples

Tales from the crypt: genome mining from fungarium specimens improves resolution of the mushroom tree of life

My advisor wants me to come up with an equally flashy title for my paper that looks at sequencing old lichen herbarium specimens to figure out the species and phylogeny, but how can I possibly compete

The local graveyard is such a good place to lo…

The local graveyard is such a good place to look for lichens.

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The pink stuff is a lichenicolous fungus – a f…

The pink stuff is a lichenicolous fungus – a fungus which grows exclusively on lichen.

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microcosmicobservations:I saw and took picture…


I saw and took pictures of Cordyceps militaris and didn’t even realize it until I was going through the pictures a few weeks later! Cordyceps militaris is an awesome mushroom that parasitizes insect larva. If you’ve never been exposed to Cordyceps before I encourage you to read up on it (and google some of the cool, if morbid, photos).

Note the insect larva poking out of the soil at the back (on the left)

Beautiful reticulate stem of a bolete – 9/17 a…

Beautiful reticulate stem of a bolete – 9/17 at Hemlock Bluffs, North Carolina

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Undergraduate advice post for naturey sciencey…

First, let me tell you about myself so you can decide if you want to listen to my advice. I have never felt comfortable boxing myself into a 5 year plan. I impulsively dropped out of college three times from three different schools before finally sticking at one long enough to get my bachelor’s degree when I was 27. I am 30 years old now with no savings and a pile of student loans. But! My work has led me to several states, even as far as the southern tip of Chile. I’ve been offered many positions over the more educated, more experienced applicants because the interviewers could feel the passion oozing out of me. I have had many rewarding experiences due to my flexibility.

With that, here is what I wish I would have known/done during my undergraduate that will hopefully help some of you out:

  • Prioritize classes that give you the opportunity to get hands-on experience – be it lab classes or project-based classes. These types of classes are more work, but they provide you with experience and knowledge that are harder to replicate outside of school.
  • Pay attention to your fears and weaknesses and FACE THEM. Ignoring them isn’t going to make them go away. It’s better to deal with them during your undergrad than during your career or in grad school.
  • Don’t stress too much about making the right decision. I know my ability to take such a wandering path is rooted in privilege, but still – 

    you are almost never locked into one decision forever. Relax. Have fun.

  • Investigate dream jobs or graduate positions that you’d like to go for once you graduate and note what they’re looking for in an applicant, then take classes that will give you that. If I would have done this, I would have absolutely taken GIS classes.
  • Get registered with your school’s disability office if you have any physical or mental disabilities. Traditional classrooms can make you feel like you’re not worth much if you can’t fit in with the mainstream style of learning, but damn it your input into this world is valuable and the world is so much stronger if we have people of all types working together. It is your university’s responsibility to accommodate you.
  • Network as much as possible, especially if you are planning on going to grad school. As a socially anxious introvert, I can’t really give much advice on how to do this, but every professor I got to know during my undergrad became invaluable to me.
  • Your mental health is always more important than school. ALWAYS. You matter more than any of this.

More advice under the fold!

@pyridine Research experience is invaluable. If your GPA is above 3.0 (which is the cut off for most graduate programs), I don’t think you’ll have any trouble. Even if it’s below 3.0, you still have a decent shot if you connect with a professor you’d like to research with, and they see your potential. I got into one grad school entirely because I’d done my independent research with one of the professors there, and the professor at the other grad school decided he wanted me before he even saw my transcript, simply because he saw how passionate I was. I have no doubt that you will be okay.

I don’t have study tips except using the pomodoro timer (Google it).

@flamingfeathers During your undergraduate is the best time to experiment with different career paths because universities provide great opportunities and resources for people who have little prior experience. See what’s being offered by your university and don’t be afraid to try something new that interests you. Get involved with different labs, even by volunteering. You can read up on different career paths all you want, but in my opinion you won’t really know you like something until you try it.

@legendofpotter I agree completely! Everything feels so big and scary when you’re at school, and you really don’t want to screw up, but you’re there to learn and grow.

I made a video from my hike yesterday. Featuri…

I made a video from my hike yesterday. Featuring: lichen (Peltigera, Ramalina, and others), moss, and me being excited about things! Please join me. 🙂


Whenever I speak affectionately on why I love and am so enchanted by lichen, I mention how fascinating it is that it’s a composite organism, something you hesitate to call a single species because it is actually made up of several species from different kingdoms.

Today in one of the Facebook groups I’m a part of, someone shared the work of a biologist, Dr. Scott Gilbert, who has written about how the idea of the “biological individual” is a myth which overly simplifies research on not only evolutionary biology but also immunology, anatomy, physiology, etc. In his 2012 paper “The Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals,” he aims to show that “animals cannot be considered individuals by anatomical, or physiological criteria, because a diversity of symbionts are both present and functional in completing metabolic pathways and serving other physiological functions. Similarly, these new studies have shown that animal development is incomplete without symbionts.”

Maybe this isn’t as mind-blowing to people who are more involved with animal-focused research, but as someone with a botanical/mycological background I am very much enjoying thinking about this and its implications. I, like lichen, am not a single species but a collection of organisms symbiotically existing as part of the same whole. I am not an individual but rather an ecosystem.