Friday, February 15, 2013

My Third Field Season

The third summer of my fieldwork, I started to get more familiar with the forest sites, common tree species, and so on. I could finish all of my increment cores on time or even slightly earlier than my co-workers, so I could take a little “cat nap” to restore my energy for the next plot. Usually we measured two or three plots per day depending upon the driving distance. Also I became more comfortable working with the two guys from the department. The most important thing was that I didn’t have to worry about anything else, for example, looking forwards to coming back and checking my mail. I was more concentrated on my work. Nothing else except hard work drew my mind away. Plus, it didn’t look like I was going to finish the project and my degree in two years but my scholarship was ending. I began to look for possibilities to fund my continued studies.
    By chance, I found a summer job to work for another professor. That provided some extra savings for later. This was an opportunity since my professor said that he was not sure when he would be able to support me as a research assistant on this funded project. When I mentioned that I would take this summer job because of the flexible time, he was not very happy. He said I should have told him I needed a summer job. I was confused since he knew I was working in a Chinese Restaurant far away from college and I asked him about funding.
     One afternoon before the fall semester began, my professor came to the lab where I was working on this summer job. The other professor, his postdoctoral associate, and I were all there. Surprisingly, he told the other professor that he was going to give me a research assistantship in the fall, which he had not told me about. Then he told him that I could not get two checks from the college, implying that I had to quit. So the other professor said that actually the job was ending in October so it was no big deal, just for one month after fall start. However, my professor thought that I should quit by the end of August. The other professor was very nice to let me quit my job considering that he had to find another person for two more months. Unfortunately, my assistantship did not start until November because my professor did not handle all the paperwork correctly. That made me feel very sorry for quitting, not to mention the money that I really needed.
     I received $7500/year based on 20 hours per week, also last year funding which I did not know, even though every granduate student was working overtime. I worked day and night plus weekends just like all the other graduate research assistants. The light in the office was always on till midnight everyday. I sure felt the pressure from my professor right away. He really made sure that I did my job and did it right. I quit my Friday night restaurant job so that I could concentrate on that one project.
     Now I had saved a little money. Before I started my third summer of fieldwork, I asked Anthony to give me a ride to buy a good sleeping bag, good boots, and a raincoat. For the last two summers, I did not have my own sleeping bag or raincoat. I had borrowed a sleeping bag from Mrs Wang but I always woke up feeling cold in the morning. My feet were always wet in sneakers. I was so shocked when I saw the price tags in this camping supplies store. If a Chinese person had given me a ride all the way to the store, I would not have bought anything. He told me I would not be cold or wet anymore after I ended up spending more than $200 for all these things. I was very uneasy because it was way above my budget. I never spent that much for myself except on textbooks (average $400 per semester). Actually, I never spent any money on my clothes or anything except my rent and simple food and my share of local phone calls, absolutely essential things. On the way back, Anthony asked me whether I wanted to go to his place for dinner since it was on the way and it was after dinnertime. I said no, I had to go home to get over today’s big spending and re-budget. The sleeping bag really did let me have a good rest and kept me dry in rainy weather.
     I was still collecting samples in the field, then coming back to store them in the freezer, then drying the cores from each tree, mounting them in a piece of grooved wood, then sanding them to make them smooth. After that, I measured the width between each set of rings under a binocular microscope and recorded the data on an Apple IIE computer. After obtaining the data, I transferred the data to a mainframe computer at the university, ran a tree ring analysis program to analyze the data, and produced growth curves to reconstruct the growth of the tree since its beginning. I then examined correlation between the growth of the trees and drought, temperature, and disease.