Friday, February 15, 2013

Missing Cores

I was finally able to take all of my tree cores out of the college walk-in freezer to dry and mount them. However, I found out that I was missing quite a number of cores. I just couldn’t figure out how. I went back to recheck my field records and found out that these were the plots I had cored the most, 15 to 17 trees per plot on six or seven plots. Just in case I never put them in the college freezer, even though I was sure I did, I checked the field trip dates and my signatures in the sign-out book for our department’s freezer key. I did take the key and went to the freezer the day after each field trip. So, I went to talk to my major professor about the matter. He sounded not surprised. Well, they must have been lost. I told him that I would like to find out how they were lost. Maybe someone took them accidentally. I told him that I bundled each plot together with tape and each region together with another piece of tape. Then, I put these into a closed box. Someone had to open the box and unwrap the tape to get them and wrap the rest back together again, and that person knew what he was doing because he took my most abundantly sampled tree plots. And these were useless to someone else because only we (he and I) had the sampling data codes for the cores. They were only useful to someone who had both the field records and the cores. My professor was the only one besides me who had those data.
     His attitude made me suspect that he had something to do with the missing cores. Though I did notice there were a few days that his lab window was covered with brown paper and no one could see through so I assumed that was for a test for the undergraduates. Now, everything together made me upset. I said that he should try to help me get those cores back. He said that he didn’t know what to do. I said that I was going to complain to the department chairman that the college freezer was not secure. My hardest labor didn’t allow me to let it go that easily. Plus, how were we supposed to do research if we didn’t have a safe place to store our samples? Finally, he said that I could initiate a memo and he would have the secretary distribute it to the entire department to see if anyone had seen my lost cores. I did as he said.
     Our department technician Joe came to offer his help right away. He said that he knew what hard work I had done to core those hardwood trees. If I needed to go back to the forests to recollect them, he would volunteer to help me on the weekends. I told him that I just wanted the cores back or if someone wanted them, they should have come to ask me for them.
     One day while Anthony and I were having lunch in the office, my professor walked in and told me to hand over my cores to Mark who was supposed to be studying the pathology of decline. He told me that he would do similar studies like I had done. I was shocked. I said, “My cores. I have not finished all the processes. He wants my cores.” I could not finish what I had to say. I started to cry. I spent three summers of hard labor collecting cores from more than 500 trees. I was just about to get the tree ring data from them. My professor asked me to give them to Mark. How was I supposed to finish my research and degree independently plus I considered myself as having the best knowledge of the three of us graduate students about cores and tree ring research. I was working on the same amount of work from my proposal that all my other committee members had said was impossible to finish. I was doing the work myself day and night, on weekends and holidays. I had never worked this hard physically and mentally in all my life; sometimes, I thought I would go crazy. I hadn’t even gotten any results from my work yet.
     My professor left when he saw that I was crying. Anthony said, “Well, it’s not nice for him to do that to you but he is your boss. I will help you carry the cores to Mark after lunch.” I tried to explain to him that maybe my work was slow since Mark hads an assistant in the lab to help him. He only had three trees in each plot to analyze and I had 7–12 trees in each plot, plus I didn’t have an assistant. Now, he was taking over my work. I had never done anything wrong or showed any incapability to do my work. After lunch, we started to carry my boxes of cores out from my lab to Mark’s. My professor came back and saw us in the hallway. He said, “No, no. I meant corers, not cores.” We misunderstood each other. He could have said more clearly “increment corer” or “your tools.” Still Mark had his own work to do, so why would he want to do mine which was completely different, not to mention at a very late stage.
     Mark got my “increment corers” and he went to collect a few cores here and there at nearby forests. Then, he came and asked me to teach him how to process the cores. The process included drying, mounting, sanding, and measuring. I was working on two cores from each of 500 trees, for a total of 1000 cores. I told him that I could show him the processes involved, but I didn’t know how to transfer the data and how to run the tree ring program yet. I would have to try that or learn the program myself when I got there. I could see his frustration because he mainly used Mac personal computers. He was not familiar with mainframes and large databases. I told him that I had just taken a computer-modeling course, and that he should take it too. A former Ph.D. graduate student friend tried to figure out the tree ring program but couldn’t. I would be very glad if he could try to help with the program before I reached that step because he had only a dozen cores, not 1000. I just didn’t understand why Mark had to repeat my part of the work; he should finish his own. But it was the idea of two major professors, just to make sure that I was doing it right, I guess.