Dealing with the first year of grad school, Part 1: the general sense

Author: Brianna

It occurs to me, as I sit in a cozy chair in a sunny lounge overlooking some pleasantly evergreen trees, that I am currently ‘dealing’ with graduate school. As in, things are going pretty well. I’ve published a paper, submitted another, drafted a couple more, given some presentations, taken some classes, made good friends, found a good first-year project. I haven’t written much lately, in part because I am not always sure what I (we) want this blog to be. Also, blogging is not always high on the priority list.

But I think this blog can be a place for advice. I like giving advice, but I am also “just” a first-year graduate student. (This is why we have an “Unsolicited Advice” category.) I still have some sensible ideas about getting work done, though. At the very least I have my own experience working my way through this first year and ostensibly the years after that. I think that might be a useful and/or interesting thing to people. Especially if you’re, say, a senior-ish undergrad looking to go to grad school. Or a first year grad. Something like that.

So this is the first in a several-part series, which I’ve just now decided will be a loosely organized collection detailing exactly what you’d think from the title: how I am dealing with the first year of graduate school.

For the first post, here’s some things I do to keep myself healthy and relatively happy and chugging along. Maybe in the next one I’ll go into some specifics of the first year, like learning to use a bike to commute (even in a terrifying place like Cambridge/Boston!) and being scared of meetings with your adviser.

I have been spending a lot of time around my fellow first-year grads, or G1s as the parlance here goes. Turns out they are a bunch of brilliant, kind, interesting and interested people. Our new-grad seminar, where we meet professors or work on professional development and do lots of talking, is a highlight every week. As a cohort we’ve been tight-knit socially but also academically, for lack of a better word – there are always several people willing to proofread a paper or grant application, give feedback on a presentation, or sit in the conference room eating lunch while you sketch out your lab meeting talk on the whiteboard. You can’t force cohesion, but you can seek out this contact. The first year is easier when you have some buddies to panic with you. (Same goes for the rest of the grad students in the department, of course. But I think making strong connections with your cohort is important, if you can.)

I have been paying close attention to what works for me and what doesn’t. The things that work for me have fluctuated a lot over the 8 months or so I’ve been here so far, which surprised me quite a bit. I talked about this more in the post on flux, but I’m still surprised just how adaptable I’ve needed to be. I need to remember that when I’m stagnating, I should probably go for a walk or go work somewhere else, like I did just a bit ago by relocating to this lounge. When the usual trick of goal-setting and bouncing ideas around really wasn’t helping me get out of a motivation slump, I accepted it eventually. I slept in a lot (for me, around 9 or 10am). I worked in coffee shops to enjoy the anonymous rumble of cheery conversation flowing around me. I read a lot of non-science books. I went from occasionally doing a few hours of work on weekends to never working weekends. You know what? The world didn’t end. I kept up with my classwork, and I made a little progress on my research each week even if it wasn’t mind-blowing giant steps. And then the sun came out, and it stopped snowing (mostly), and gradually I walked myself back up the hill to the place where I once again get excited by all the things I want to do.

But at the time, it felt a little like everything was ruined forever. It’s okay to feel like that.

When I’m getting overwhelmed by the short-term deadlines, I take a deep breath and remember the long timeline of this PhD. It’s oddly comforting that just about everyone in the program seems to say they didn’t get much of anything directly “useful” (i.e., that went into their dissertations) until their second or sometimes third year. This lets me be content with indirect usefulness.

When I’m getting overwhelmed by the long timeline of this PhD, I take a deep breath and focus on the short-term deadlines.

I lift a lot of weights. It’s satisfying, it makes you ready for bed at the end of the day, and it’s a good chance to chat with a friend if you talk one of them into being your lifting buddy. Also it is really good for you. If I had to pick one thing that helped me pull through the end-of-winter slump, it is starting up with a regular lifting schedule again. (Okay, two things: sleep too.)

I make a conscious effort to stop my stress, or at least mellow it, about things I can’t control.

I don’t go for as many walks as I should, but whenever I do it makes a world of difference to my mental state. I come back calmer, happier, and clearer of mind. Bonus points if you spend some time on your walk coming up with things to be grateful about. I usually start with the healthy legs that are obligingly carrying me around, particularly since I’ve spent enough time in the past with a broken ankle to know a taste of the alternatives.

I try to focus on the parts of my research that I love (planning, data analysis usually, writing, exciting projects) and be a grownup and just matter-of-factly accomplish the parts that I love less (some types of data collection, cleaning up mistakes in data, doing a bunch of revisions after reviews, less exciting projects). Same goes for life: more enjoying things like cooking or rock climbing or thinking about the power tools I’m going to get this fall, less procrastinating on things like taxes or cleaning the bathroom. Just do it and move on.

I go to as many job seminars, departmental seminars, and dissertation defenses as I have the time and energy for. Sometimes I have other priorities or I can’t bear the thought of sitting in a dim room for an hour and a half. Those times I generally don’t feel guilty about.

Good food is important! We get a CSA (community supported agriculture) box with fresh fruit and veggies in it every week, which is nice when you learn to cook new delicious things and annoying when it’s the fifth straight week of way too many dandelion greens.  It helps that I like to cook. It’s easier when you live in a house with roommates who like to cook, too; we all go through cycles where sometimes you’re cooking giant meals all the time and sometimes you have no desire or available time to cook. It’s nice to have hot meals even on evenings when you come home hungry and grouchy at 8pm. I suppose my advice here is to get good roommates! Failing that, learn to make some simple, fairly healthy things that you like to eat. Make them in quantities and freeze some for the busy times.

That’s enough for now. The SVP abstract deadline is coming up, and I have things to finish!

Why I love paleontology field work

Author: Brianna

Lately I’ve been thinking about summer paleontology field work. (Field work? Fieldwork? I never know which to use.) The endless Boston winter has called up this nostalgia, because I am tired of the cold and slush. I want to be back out in Oregon’s high desert in the summer, taking painstaking field notes in little yellow Rite in the Rain notebooks, shivering in the cold morning while staring at the pot of water on the camp stove willing it to boil faster dammit I need my tea, hiking through sagebrush or climbing dry riverbeds up the valley, scrambling up crumbly slopes to measure section, holding in my hand an actual fossil that I just found….these are thoughts to get a person through.

I love paleontology field work because it connects me to my research in the most basic way: I am crawling around in the dirt, sometimes with my nose inches off the ground, and finding fossils that no one has ever found before. And they’re fossils that contribute directly to research. The first paleontology project I finished was completely digital: we did some stats on some data that came from other papers and a database. We found some neat things, and I got hooked on how awesome it is to find out something that nobody else knows. But it was pretty far removed from any physical specimens, for me. So the first time I went out in the field, when I got to find real fossils and take notes on them and bring them back with us to go in the museum…that drove home the connection. It brought a very nice sense of continuity to my grasp of paleontology.

I love paleontology field work because I get to go camp and hike with fellow scientists for a week or two, many of whom are my close friends. Better yet we’re in the desert, where my hatred of thermoregulating in the cold is offset by my complete and utter happiness in unreasonable heat. It never fails to amuse me that the hot, dry air sucks the sweat from your skin before you even realize you’re sweating, until you take off your backpack or knee pads and everywhere underneath is soaked. I like feeling badass when, at the end of a long day of work, I hike back to the truck carrying a big sandbag full of matrix from a microfossil site. I like sleeping in a tent. I like cooking dinner on a camp stove and eating for lunch whatever bizarre combination of fruit, nuts, salami, cheese, and tuna-in-a-packet I happen to have packed that day.

I do not love spiders in the pit toilets. I do love my rock hammer.

I love paleontology field work because, I’ll admit it: I really like long car rides. I know that’s a bit weird. But some of my favorite activities are napping, thinking about stuff, reading, and having long conversations with people…all valid choices for long, dusty car rides between field sites, which for us are spread out across much of Oregon.

I love paleontology field work because it’s a major change from the usual computer-centric work I do. Sometimes it’s hard to feel satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment when you’ve been hammering away at the keyboard all day, you know? But there’s no denying that you’ve done a good day’s work when you hike out there and find a bunch of new specimens or track down an old locality, flip a plaster jacket from yesterday’s work, or maybe measure a bunch of stratigraphy and bring back samples from each layer. Bonus points if you’re taking field camp for credit and stay up til 1am lovingly finishing your strat column, cough. Oh, the howls of despair when you mess up one of the lines with your Micron pen…

If summer scheduling allows, I’ll be out doing all these things (except making strat columns in the wee hours!) this July. For now, I suppose there’s nothing to do but glare at the snow-fluff coming down outside my office window and get back to work.

Weekend science work: not always a bad thing

Author: Brianna

I have been thinking about work patterns lately. (Let’s be honest: I am more or less always thinking about work patterns.) Meg Duffy over at Dynamic Ecology wrote an excellent post about the myth of the 80-hour work week being necessary to succeed in academia. The comments, as always, are absolutely worth reading.

I try to estimate my output by things I’ve accomplished, not butt-in-chair time. Unless I’m working on something that doesn’t always have measurable forward progress, like trying to figure out broken code or learn to code new things. Then, I count hours because otherwise I’d despair, and time put in really is a reasonable measure of accomplishment.

Generally, I don’t work weekends. I stick to a work schedule that fluctuates a little, but generally runs 8am-5pm during the week. Count me in the camp that thinks trying to be “on” 100% of the time means you’ll accomplish less than if you work with good focus for a reasonable number of hours. I’m also always trying to improve the intensity of that focus and the length of time I can stand to do it, but that’s a subject for another post.

Crunch time happens. I have spent many a weekend and evening and late night on papers, revisions, applications, analysis.

But today, I just want to declare that sometimes I like working on weekends, just because I can.

Tea and notebook

Sometimes it’s relaxing to sit down with a cup of tea and some minor tasks that need doing. Or curl up with a cat and do some reading.

Today I’m drinking chai, putting together a small award application, making a little progress on my taxes, and mapping out my next research project in a flow chart. There’s a cat in my lap (not visible in photo above, alas). It’s a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


The importance of interpretation (or what Telephone-Pictionary can teach us about the past)

By: Kelsey

In-class activities are very popular among progressive educators and it’s easy, intuitive even, to understand why. Instead of sitting and letting someone lecture you (the student) for an hour or two about the Incas or linear regressions or the Mesozoic you get to DO SOMETHING. Maybe you get to chat to your neighbor about a reading or write down your thoughts or even discuss a contentious subject with the entire class. It’s taking the communication skills honed by Twitter and Facebook and using them to critically think about class materials.

My favorite in-class activities involve games. Whether it’s the infamous finite resource candy games (there are a variety) or the great clade race, games engage the brain on a social level with classmates AND on an intellectual level with a theory or process. So, not only is the student engaged, they are having fun while learning and they are much more likely to remember the content.

Backgammon, back in the day!

Timeless fun! Source: Heidelberg University Library

One subject easily missed by students in archaeology, paleontology, and anthropology classes is bias – specifically, how interpretation of artifacts (or remains) is dependent upon the person, time period, and accuracy of any measuring device used. These processes do not discredit previous or all interpretations of a fossil or archaeological site, but illuminate the importance of knowing your discipline’s history and the strength of many viewpoints.

To get these points across, I suggest using the game of Telephone-Pictionary, specifically the version I played Saturday night at a colleague’s eighth annual cheese party. In this version of the game you each have a stack of cards equaling the number of people in the group. For a class this means dividing the class into groups of 6-10 people. It is easier if the numbers are even, but not essential. Each person writes a phrase. The phrase should have something to do with the class material. Each person then passes his/her stack to the next person, who reads the sentence, puts the card in the back of the stack, and then DRAWS a representation of the sentence. After everyone has done this, the cards are passed again; the next person sees the picture only, puts that card in the back of the stack, and then WRITES a phrase interpreting the drawing. The rounds continue, alternating pictures and phrases, until each person gets back their original sentence.

Finally, everyone goes around sharing the sequence of sentences and pictures. Some will be surprisingly accurate (e.g., “The unicorn loves going to the cheese party” stayed the same), whereas others will be way off the mark (e.g.,  “the frog waited for the party” turned into “the giant frog was slayed by the mailman in front of the apartment”).

This game can reveal the importance of going back to the original source and how a small error of interpretation can be conflated into something completely different. You can then ask students about “real world” examples. There may be silence at first, but when someone points out the latest dead celebrity rumor or health craze or scientific “fact” that was proven to maybe not be as true as people thought, you’ll easily run out of time to explore all the examples.

And, perhaps, next time one of those students throws a party and is preparing the cards for Pictionary, they’ll remember your lesson on bias and tell their friends. This is helpful step towards creating an educated society. All it takes is a couple games.

Routine and flux in my academic life (or: if what you’re doing isn’t working, change what you’re doing)

Author: Brianna

The title of this post reflects one of the most basic approaches I take to my work patterns. Not to the science itself, mind; troubleshooting there is a different beast entirely and giving up too quickly is bad. I am talking about how, when, and where I work. If my current approaches aren’t doing it for me – especially if things that WERE working previously begin to STOP working – I pay attention. Often I will change my working style in response. This willingness to change helps me stay attuned to patterns and styles that keep me happy and productive. (There’s also an implied inverse: if what you’re doing is working, keep doing it.) As a result, I wind up with an interesting balance of routine and flux. It works for me, and I thought some people might find it interesting.


Part 1: Routine

First, it’s important to note that I am a creature of habit. I like to go to bed at around the same time and get up at around the same time every day. I like to make myself a giant cup of black tea with whole milk and sugar and drink it slowly. I love adding structure to unstructured time (more on that later). I like standing appointments with friends for a meal or coffee or rock climbing. I like to cook, but I’m also happy eating a few more or less unchanging meals for long periods of time.

For me, routine is a powerful tool against the squishiness inherent in academic work. If you fuss around not doing any work until 4pm but then hammer out a beautiful discussion and conclusion section for your paper over the next few hours, is it still a bad work day? If you fight with your R code all day with a short lunch break and at the end of the day you finally figure out what you were doing wrong, is it a productive day or a wasted one? If you spend all day in meetings and responding to emails and filling out paperwork, should you feel accomplished or frustrated?

Yeah. It’s complicated, and routine gives me some structure to work with. It also helps with decision fatigue, I think.

I usually set a rough schedule for the week, blocking off a couple hours at a time. First I fill in classes and other unmoving commitments like meetings with my advisor and lab meeting. Then I start assigning time to reading, writing, working on writing up projects from undergrad, data analysis, classwork, and so on. I try not to use blocks smaller than about an hour for any academic work. I know from experience that my focus is best from around 8am until I stop for lunch (somewhere between 11am and 1pm), so I usually concentrate writing and reading earlier in the day. In a future post, I’ll go into detail about my daily/weekly schedule, how I choose it, and especially how I handle my to-do list. I really, really love lists.

A few things I keep consistent: I roll into the office around 8am. I work until I am too hungry to ignore my food calling to me from the fridge. I work some more or go to class. I go home around 5pm and often head over to the climbing gym shortly thereafter. I read papers on couches or in chairs or coffee shops, not at my desk. I brainstorm with a pen and paper - always in the same notebook - and write at my desk (with external monitor + keyboard) unless I’m feeling stuck.

Earlier in the semester, I wrote a post about a few new habits I aimed to establish for grad school. New post soon evaluating last semester and laying out next semester’s goals, but the short answer is that I pretty much stuck with those habits. Especially biking. I love my bike and ride it everywhere, and I actually really missed it when I was home for break.

You may now adore my beautiful bike.

You may now adore my beautiful bike.

Who shaped my thinking?
Most of my ideas about routine have been inspired by a few sources. When I was just a wee freshman in undergrad, I learned a lot about building an effective routine for classwork from this Study Hacks post. In recent years, similar posts have expanded the idea of a fixed schedule and how to arrange that time. Most terms in undergrad, I’d go through three or four iterations of a schedule, with each weekday blocked out in hours. I would try to follow the schedule, note where I failed, then tweak and rearrange things until it worked for me and my rhythms. I do the same in graduate school and I’m grateful for all the practice I got as an undergrad. Like I said above, more detailed post on that soon.
Another source that went into my ruminations awhile ago was this 2011 blog post from a novelist: How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day. Though I’m not writing fiction in my daily work, I am writing an awful lot, including sometimes on big nebulous projects that have many parallels to big nebulous novels. The author used three main techniques to seriously boost her word count: mastering knowledge, time, and enthusiasm.
Finally, recently I’ve seen some press for a book on the routines of various famous writers, painters, and other artists. It’s called “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work,” by Mason Currey. I don’t know how strictly useful it is in terms of copying patterns – many of their sleeping schedules sound positively awful to me – but it’s nice to muse on other peoples’ methods and/or neuroses, and perhaps pick up an idea or two.

Part 2: Flux

The problem with any routine is that it, by definition, loses novelty. I stop truly appreciating the delicious combination of milk and sugar and black tea in the mornings. I get to the paper-reading time of day and it takes Herculean efforts of focus to make it through a single paper. I rearrange my books on the shelf and wash all the dishes and mop the floors because just about anything sounds better than sitting down to revise that discussion section.

My solution is to change something that doesn’t affect my ability to get work done, but shakes things up a little. Usually it has to do with where I work, because right now, the majority of my work can be done anywhere.

I’m set as long as I have a computer, notebook, pen, and maybe an internet connection. Preferably also music and a hot beverage. Over the fall semester, here are the places I accomplished large amounts of work:

  • Main office on campus: reading on the couch, LOTS of writing at my desk on many different papers.
  • Ernst Mayr library on campus: reading on the giant leather couch, one day of surprisingly productive writing on a class paper when I forgot my laptop power cord.
  • Field Station: basically like my other office, except I go for a nice walk outside when I get stuck on something. I’m not as good about that on the main campus.
  • Home: usually writing at the kitchen table and reading upstairs in the Papasan chair. I often work from home on Fridays.
  • Coffee shop halfway between my apartment and campus: mostly writing. And biscotti. Mmmm.
  • Rock climbing gym: they have a lounge, a big work area with couches and sitting tables and standing tables, and treadmill desks. It’s glorious, I’m telling you. Have done great big swaths of writing papers on that treadmill desk and a good bit of reading in the work area. Plus, built-in break time: go climb, work for a couple hours, go climb some more…

I think those are all my regular places from the fall semester. The key is that I tend to stick with one as my major workplace for awhile, occasionally dropping in to the other places, before I make a switch. The switch only happens when what I am doing isn’t working. For example, early in the semester I did virtually all of my work in my office. When I could barely get myself to sit down on the reading couch in November, I hauled myself up to the library with a big cup of tea and promptly cruised through a giant stack of papers.

I change other things, too. Early in the semester I hand-wrote notes for all the papers I read in my research notebook, then later transferred those into Zotero annotations. Later, I stopped appreciating the aesthetic experience of handwriting into a notebook and craved speed, so I typed directly into Zotero. For most of the semester, I used my iPad for paper reading. After I found myself continuously switching to Facebook on the iPad instead, I printed off a stack of papers and banished myself from electronic devices for awhile. Sometimes I sought out people to work with, sometimes solitude. I started drinking Good Earth Original spiced tea for awhile instad of plain old black tea, and then even switched to Constant Comment! WHAT WILL SHE DO NEXT?

You get the idea. If what you’re doing isn’t working, change what you’re doing. You will notice that none of my shifts were an easy way out or an elaborate way to procrastinate…they just changed the context in which I was working, which seems to give my brain just enough novelty to help me settle down and just get to work already. Laying out the changes all in a row makes it seem like I flit more or less steadily from one working style to another (phyletic gradualism?), but I can assure you that the experience is much more of a punctuated equilibrium.

Who shaped my thinking?
I think my approach to regular change has come mostly out of just observing my own work habits and paying attention to what improves productivity. Nevertheless, I’ve certainly pulled ideas from a few places over the years.
Not surprisingly, more in the way of the Study Hacks blog. I’m telling you, there’s some serious gold in there, especially for undergrads looking to establish good working patterns early on. Adventure studying/work emphasizes changing your physical location, and here’s a post on context that discusses beer, for those of you who are into that sort of thing.
If you haven’t read about the pomodoro technique (basically work in short timed bursts), it’s useful. I don’t use this when things are going well, but if I am having a hard time bringing my mind to the task at hand or am procastinating like a madwoman, this approach gets me back on track.


I should note that this is particular to the scheduling flexibilities I have now, as a PhD student. According the whining discussion I hear from my more senior friends, meetings and paperwork and other undesirable things soon begin to fragment one’s schedule. I could take this as an interestingly reversed “uphill both ways in the snow” situation (it’s just that instead of “back in the day,” it’s “just you wait…”), but mostly I pay attention because I believe them. I think it’s instructive and motivating. If I can’t manage my time effectively when I have close to 100% control over my schedule and few commitments, how will I survive later? Right. So my goal is always to optimize my working habits for the situation I am currently in, while recognizing that over time that situation will change.

I am looking forward to revisiting my old routines now that I am back in Cambridge. It’s been a lovely winter vacation: two weeks back home in Oregon soaking up the time with friends and family and my cats and dog and horse, then a couple weeks in Austin for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting, plus more friends and family. I like my apartment and my own bed. Especially my own pillow. And, awesome bonus: we’re catsitting! That’s right, came home to two adorable fluffy felines prowling around. Very pleased.

I’ll be spending more time out at the field station this spring and possibly doing some Actual Data Collection. But other than that, I don’t expect my working habits to change much. Read, write, study, think. Happily those are some of my favorite things, and undoubtedly I’ll find one or two new places in which to do them when the routine needs a little flux again.

Science poetry, AKA there exists a poem about capybaras and it’s beautiful

Author: Brianna

I wrote some science poems awhile ago for a remarkably intense creative writing course I was taking as an undergraduate at the University of Oregon. Remarkably intense for a scientist, anyway; it was difficult to balance organic chemistry, physics, and the beginnings of my thesis research with the expectation of deeply reading stories, giving detailed feedback to classmates, and above all producing quality writing week after week. The mental spaces I had to occupy for each task were quite different and challenging to switch among. I was a little bitter about the workload and frustrated with hunting for things that felt just out of reach, despite loving writing. (I’ve still hardly written any stories since that class, which was a couple years ago. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still love it, or that I don’t really value the time I spent. More on that in some other future blog post.)

Anyway, some of our portfolio assignments included a few poems even though the class was focused on short stories. The poems I wrote reflected my bitterness a little and they were about science, because if I have to write more poems they’re going to be about science dammit. But they weren’t about the parts of science I was really drawn to. I’ve tried occasionally since then, but it turns out it’s actually really hard to articulate the things I love about my branch of science without slipping right into a maudlin, cliche-ridden mess. It’s like writing a love poem, but to science. And fieldwork. And fossils.

I am thinking about this because thanks to Twitter, I found a poem about measuring all things by comparison to capybaras. (h/t to to @evelynjlamb and @DNLee5)

It’s unexpectedly beautiful. It’s called “Unit of Measure,” by Sandra Beasley, and I want you to click on that link.

It begins,
“All can be measured by the standard of the capybara.
Everyone is lesser than or greater than the capybara.
Everything is taller or shorter than the capybara.
Everything is mistaken for a Brazilian dance craze
more or less frequently than the capybara.”

I started reading and I thought I knew where it was going. Funny poem, right? Cheeky poem. Endless comparisons to the capybara.

The soft, fluffy, adorable capybara, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris.Image by Dori / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Well, sort of. It may be those years I spent immersed in creative writing, but for me the rest of the poem goes deeper until by the last lines it has me, and now I want to print this poem off and tape it to my wall. Reading it makes me want to try writing about science and fieldwork and fossils again. It also makes me just a little sad that I am not, in fact, a capybara.

Go on, go read it.

How to stay warm at scientific meetings: The Four-Step process

Author: Kelsey

We are currently at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas. (There’s a sweet twitter feed, so check it out for snippets of awesome research from attendees!) Thanks to that polar vortex or whatever, it’s 21 degrees outside. So much for a winter conference in Texas, right? After a few miserable moments, we have decided to codify conference thermoregulatory strategy for you, our lovely readers. You’re welcome.

1) Assume the rooms will be over air-conditioned

We understand that it’s hygienic to keep the rooms cooler than your average pub or college dorm room (both excellent breeding grounds for both ideas and bacteria), but sometimes whoever is controlling the magical climate-control nob gets a little over zealous. Also, sitting still for an hour or more leads to heat loss.

2) Dress in classy layers

Sadly, winter hats are usually not acceptable in a conference room, even though we lose a fair amount of body heat from our heads alone! It helps to have warm and cool layers- thinner shirts underneath thicker sweaters and warm coats. Scarves look awesome AND are warm, and gloves are a good call if you have a bit of a walk to the conference center from where you’re staying. We suggest upper body layering for the conference itself, as it is much easier to take off a coat than try to unzip an outer pair of pants without alarming the entire room. Also, you can’t go wrong with smart-wool socks.

3) Jackets are worth it

I (the Kelsey-half of Fossilosophy) always tuck my very thin and warm jacket into my relatively small bag. It’s come in useful several times for me and my colleagues, but it’s light enough that I don’t regret bringing it if I never use it. Microweight down jackets, light windbreakers, etc go nicely in this category.

4) Hit up the hot coffee and tea frequently

Some people might call this the tea break time, but it’s really all about the hot coffee, don’t believe Brianna. That being said, any sort of hot liquid and calories you can ingest will keep your core temperature up longer. The hot cup can also warm your hands. Really, it’s kind of like a ski trip in this way. For bonus points, bring your own travel mug so you can fill up a larger cup during the break and have hot, delicious coffee hours later when the mean people have taken the coffee service away.

Cold-weather whining aside, it has been a most excellent conference. I hope these handy tips will save you from shivering away and missing the nuance during the kickass symposia at your next conference.