Tag Archives: undergraduate research assistant

Better Than Grass Stained Knees

Words of wisdom. Today my day ended with something better than grass stained knees.

Wow, today was packed!

My morning started bright and early so that I could prep for a meeting with several colleagues to discuss and plan for the upcoming fall semester1. This was followed by a meeting with my undergraduate research assistant Stephen to review a needs assessment report that he has drafted2. And because I love meetings3, I followed my meeting with Stephen with – you guessed it – another meeting. This time with a Masters student who was looking for some statistical advice.

Before I knew it lunch had arrived. Normally lunch means I get to stuff my gullet with foodstuffs, but today it meant another meeting of sorts. This time the meeting-slash-man-date was with my friend Danny Williamson (also known as @dcwllms on The Twitter). We had two goals; eat lunch, and discuss our game plan for yet another meeting that was occurring immediately following lunch. The meeting to follow lunch was related to a project that Danny and I been trying to get off the ground for several months. And I have to say that it was my favourite meeting of the day. We both left it absolutely pumped and ready to take on the world4.

Convocation in War Memorial hall

By the time I finally returned to my office to get some work done, I realized just how tired I was from all of the meetings. I opted to do a little reading until my next big adventure for the day.

That particular adventure was the College of Physical and Engineering Science‘s summer convocation. Today marked the first day that I attended a convocation where I was not getting a degree, although I was dressed up as if I were5. The difference this time – I was standing as faculty watching as hundreds of students were given their degrees in the various disciplines of science and engineering.

To say that this was the icing on the cake-that-was-today would be an understatement. It felt surreal, and amazing, and awesome, and inspiring, and so much more. It reminded me of the day I was hooded after the successful defence of my PhD dissertation – how proud I was of my accomplishment, but also how grateful I felt to all those who supported me throughout it. I can only assume that the students that were granted their degrees today were feeling the same sense of overwhelming awesome – as if their hearts might burst from all the happiness. It really was an amazing reminder of the journey that took me from where I was to where I am now. And that was pretty spectacular.

A terrible picture of the convocation address by Honourary Degree recipient Dr. Dohoo.

Of course, every iced caked needs cherries or sprinkles or some other most excellent garnish. For me, that was getting to see one of my former students – Vivek – graduate. He was (and still is) an excellent student, and I’m so proud of him. After the ceremony, I was honoured to be able to meet his family and spend some time chatting with them. To see how obviously proud they were of him was fantastic. His mom and his sister were absolutely beaming.

Afterwards I returned to my office to pack up and head home for the day. As I walked back, I realized there was a bounce in my step that wasn’t there earlier. While I could blame the bounce on the weather (which was absolutely perfect), I know that wouldn’t be accurate. Truthfully, the bounce in my step was due to the realization that I really do have an effect on the lives of the students I teach. At once this was overwhelming, and rewarding, and scary, and amazing, and everything.

As I opened my office door I smiled. I have the best job ever.

1 Among other things.

I’m very happy with what he’s done so far, so am very much looking forward to the final product.


I’m not going to get into the details of that particular project at the moment because we’re both still processing everything that happened today, but I will give you a hint: it’s going to be awesome! W00t!

Which means I was in the bright blue University of Guelph doctoral robes, and I had my hood on as well. For those not in the know, the hood is not actually a hood – it’s the sash-thingy that is hung around your neck. Truth be told, I’m not even sure if the sash-thingy is called a hood or not – but the act of putting it around a graduate’s neck is called hooding so I figured calling it a hood makes some sort of sense.  

Just A Tipple – I Have To Run 30K

T minus 36'ish hours.

How is it Friday already? I feel like the week just started and BOOM, it’s Friday.

And given that it’s Friday, that means in a about 36 hours I’ll be starting the Around the Bay 30 kilometre race in Hamilton with my friend Carolyn. Eeep! Anyway, as I mentioned yesterday, whatever happens with the race happens. I’m not going to stress out about running it in a certain time or anything like that. I’m just going to enjoy the run, or at the very least, try not to end up a quivering mass of suck-bag on the side of the street that other runners have to step around or over. Because that would just be embarrassing.

Beyond the excitement of the upcoming race, I have to say that this week was pretty stellar. I managed to get another paper submitted1, and three others sent off to my co-authors for final review (2 of which are first-author papers). The three that are now in the hands of co-authors technically mean that I’m waiting on co-authors for 5 papers as I had 2 others completed earlier in the year. I’m confident that at least three of these will be submitted for peer review by the end of the semester.

Nerdfest 2012

On top of all that, my Undergraduate Research Assistant extraordinaire, Justin, presented a bunch of results to me today and I couldn’t be more stoked. He’s given me a bunch of new ideas for us to pursue, and I think in another week or three we might be able to write-up our findings for yet another potential publication. W00t!

We’re also going to be developing a poster for the Annual Meeting of the Statistical Society of Canada2 assuming the abstract is accepted3. Based on his work, I can’t imagine why his abstract wouldn’t be submitted. I did mention he was my URA extraordinaire right?

As I said – a pretty stellar week. And all this despite the disturbance in the force I discussed yesterday.

And now, to top it all off, I’ve got a softly purring fuzzball curled up in my arms and a tipple of scotch by my side. I don’t think this week could get any better4.

1 Well, I didn’t submit it personally. Almost Dr. Lorna did that. I’m just a co-author on the paper. But it’s uber nerdy and I’m stoked that it has been submitted!

2 Also known as Nerdfest 2012.

3 Actually, because I have so many awesome students I’m going to be helping out with 3 different posters and 2 presentations – again, assuming the abstracts are accepted. I’m uber stoked about this. I may be nerding out just a little.

4 Okay, it would technically be better if there wasn’t the disturbance in the force, but beyond that – it was pretty freaking stellar.

Dividing By Zero Is Like A Punch In The Face…

For some reason, this picture makes me think of Rick. HA!

…because they both hurt your brain.

So apparently time flies when you’re sitting at work running statistical simulations. :)

In case you were wondering, I just so happened to look at the clock and realized the hour. Given that I’ve been on campus since 9am, and up and working since 6am, I think I should probably go home. And I will. As soon as this current simulation finishes running.

Why on earth are you still on campus?

Excellent question. I’m glad you asked.

I had a meeting with my Undergraduate Research Assistant Justin today. We’ve been working on a simulation study that is testing a hopefully improved method for estimating the abundance of animal populations given only harvest data. Justin had very observantly noticed that our simulations were sometimes breaking down. That is, the model was ending without completing the task of analyzing the data.

Weird, right?

Anyway, because of that I’ve been on campus playing. Seriously. I’ve spent the last 3 or so hours working through the model that simulates a population of animals in the wild. So far, I’ve found a few interesting things. The most significant issue was that there existed a significant probability that our model would produce a population that was negative. As in, less than zero animals. Clearly that can’t be – except maybe in Bizarro World1.

I also noticed that some of the code was permitting division by zero. GASP! How did I miss that before? Of course, our model was adjusting for these instances by thankfully ignoring them. Regardless, as a big-ole math and stats nerd, I couldn’t let that go uncorrected. Dividing by zero is asking for trouble. Serious, serious trouble. The worst kind of trouble.

Not sure what dividing by zero will do? Consider these images.

Moral of the story: dividing by zero is dangerous, and not just mathematically speaking.

1 Bizarro World – best explained by watching this clip.

I Hereby Dub Reading Week Adventuring Week

Best to-do list ever!

And just like that, half of the winter semester is over.

That’s right folks, it is officially reading week. Although if you were to judge by the size of my 2nd year class, you would have thought that reading week started yesterday. I digress.

Honestly, I can’t believe 6 weeks have already come and gone.

I’d like to say that the rest of the semester will be easy, but I know that isn’t likely to be the case. My list when the semester resumes includes:

  • completing edits on 2 papers,
  • completing at least 4 more draft papers for submission,
  • preparing 2 presentations (1 for a conference, the other an invited talk),
  • helping prepare 3 conference posters,
  • finishing 2 more grant applications,
  • prepping course notes, as well as marking assignments, quizzes, and exams,
  • acting as examiner for a Ph.D. qualifying exam and an M.Sc. defence,
  • evaluating scholarship applications for the province,
  • and writing a major report.

Whew. I’m tired already. Ha! Not really. As much effort as these things demand, I’m excited to work on them.

Thankfully I’m not facing all of this on my own. That dear friends, is why I have minions – er, students.


To accomplish this list I really must rely on the hard work of several students. For example, one of the draft papers will require the assistance of one of my Masters students. Another draft will require the assistance of my undergraduate research assistant (URA) Justin who just so happens to make his own beer.

There’s also a chance that a fifth paper might be added to the list – but this assumes that another URA who is being supervised by one of my colleagues manages to finish a huge list of things before the semester ends. I’m not betting on that, but stranger things have happened. It’s not that the URA can’t do it, it’s just that getting all the work completed by the end of the semester might be a long shot.

Additionally the three conference posters are going to be put together by my students, so my role there will be simplified to advisor. Of course, I’m excited about all three projects so I’ll likely be more involved than just saying “sure, looks good.”

My URA and this dish - both Awesome Pie

Since my current URA is a giant slice of 100% Grade A Awesome pie, I might get him to help me out with the major report as well. But that will depend on how involved our current study gets. He’s been working like a mad man on it, and I’m stoked with our preliminary results. I’ll have to assess the benefits of stealing his time from the current study to help me out with another one.

Anyway, for now I’m going to put all thoughts of this list aside. You see, while I have 3 days of presentations lined up next week, I am officially on vacation as of today. Yes, I’m technically going to be working Monday through Wednesday, but it’s going to be more fun than work – especially since Rick has helped me out by preparing some of the material that I’m going to be presenting. And as I mentioned yesterday, I’m heading to Calgary on Thursday to continue my adventuring.

So with that I proclaim here and now, for all the blog-o-sphere to read, that even though my list be long, it shall remain as such for the duration of reading week because I have far more important non-academic pursuits and adventuring to do; such as climbing walls of shear ice, and throwing my body down an ice track to the mercy of gravity.

Next week is going to be AWESOME.

Fridays With Elliot

Well it’s Friday. Again. It seems that the weeks are just flying by. I put the blame squarely on the two courses that I’m teaching. But this isn’t a bad thing. Not even slightly. In fact, I think time is flying because I’m having so much fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m also exhausted. But it’s the good kind of exhaustion. The kind where you know you’ve just finished something really rewarding and now deserve the sleep of kings. Or perhaps some chocolate (thanks – don’t mind if I do).

Sadly, my reward is going to be short-lived. I have a lot of big projects coming up in the next few weeks. Several papers to edit. Several papers to finalize and submit for review and hopefully publication. Several papers to begin writing. A couple of grants to write. Assignments to mark. Assignments to create. Midterms to grade. Scholarship applications to review. An Undergraduate Research Assistant to hire (which means undergraduates to interview). A presentation to prepare. Meetings to attend. Too many meetings to attend. And then develop and teach three 8 hour days of statistical training for the Public Health Agency.

Beyond this, I’m stoked to write that I’ll be an examining member on my very first and second official Ph.D. qualifying exams. This means I have two separate proposals to review and evaluate, not to mention two separate students to question and hopefully form some opinion as to whether or not they are adequately prepared for the rigours of Ph.D. candidacy. I’m nervous and excited about this process. Probably not as nervous as the students, but I’m still pretty nervous.

Clearly these are going to be a challenging few weeks, but I know I’ll get through them. Of course I’ll get through them. To manage the stress that I’m sure might pop up from juggling all of this, I’m going to be trying to stick to my marathon training schedule as much as I can (translation – I’m going to be upping my mileage whoring). And I also have yoga to remind me to breathe. And as always there is Elliot, who is at this very moment pawing at my belly and reminding me that I should probably get off the computer and go to bed.

Such a smart kitty.

Wee Researchers

Minions! I mean Wee-Researchers

And just like that another week has flown by. I’m completely exhausted, but in a good way. Between training, running back and forth to various meetings, teaching, preparing presentations, early mornings, late nights, and all the other fun, this week was a blast.

However, given the craziness of the week I think I forgot to mention something amazing!

That is, earlier this week I learned that I was given funding to hire an undergraduate research assistant (URA) this summer.

Yay – Minions!

*Ahem* I mean:

Yay – Wee Researchers!

I’m actually really stoked about this because I have so many projects that I’m trying to complete. I plan to have the URA extend some of the research that I’m currently doing which includes:

  • a simulation study of metrics used in population level risk assessment,
  • an investigation of the spatiotemporal distribution of a particular fish population,
  • an investigation of the spatiotemporal distribution of larval fish,
  • a review of an existing database used to house much of the data I work with,
  • a simulation study of genetic data, and
  • a risk assessment of harvest on wild populations of fish.

Of course, these aren’t my only projects. I’m also finalizing two papers related to scenario analyses, finishing edits on a third, updating some analyses for a fourth, waiting for edits from a co-author on a fifth, and have several students co-authoring 5 others. Crazy!

It should be noted that the URA will only work on one or two of these projects. But hopefully between the two of us we’ll be able to finish as much of this work as possible before the end of the summer. Additionally, I am also hoping to hire at least 2 other undergrads (I just have to find some funding). And, if things go extremely well, I’m going to try to garner some Mitacs funding for an MSc or PhD student. Wish me luck.

But all of this nerdery can wait because it’s Friday – Elliot is curled up next to me, and I have a scotch in hand. Life is good.