I Spent My Vacation to Florida in a Dark Windowless Room, and it was Awesome!

Six months ago I posted a blog called "And So Begins a Beautiful Summer" in anticipation of my research internship at University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs.

Really, I should have titled the post something like, "And So Begins a Beautiful Year," because the beauty did not end with the summer. A couple weeks ago I got to present my research at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) Annual Meeting in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Me standing next to my poster, "Comparative Functional Morphology and Evolution of the Feeding Apparatus in Sculpins (Cottoidea)," during the undergraduate practice session.
Photo credit: Lisa Truong.

Dark windowless rooms might sound like a funny place to spend my January escape to sunny Florida, but there is nowhere I would rather have been!

I did occasionally step outside -- long enough to find this lovely (but invasive) brown anole, Anolis sagrei.

I recall one moment in particular. I am standing in the Convention Center hallway torn between two talks: one is on gecko foot-pad clinging forces; the other is on the immunology of sea urchins. People stride all around me. Some click in beige pumps and stride within the confines of tight pencil skirts. Others clomp in hiking boots and cargo pants. I stand in the middle, dressed in blue skinny jeans and a black, pleather-collared blouse decorated with prowling leopards. A silver chain around my neck supports a silver replica of Darwin's original tree from On the Origin of Species.

I think to myself, "I am never going on a cruise." How could any vacation be as fun as this: a party of scientists, a celebration of nerdom, a professional conference where leopard-pleather is in style and anyone who is anyone recognizes the obscure reference of my jewelry.

Photo credit: The Shapeways Blog.

Or maybe I should have titled my original blog post, "And So Begins a Beautiful Family." No, I did not get married or discover any long-lost great aunts!

But I did make some incredible friendships, the kind that can drop off and pick up anywhere -- like maybe you said goodbye to everyone on a ferry in the San Juan Islands, and then meet up on the Atlantic coast of South Florida like it's the most natural thing ever.

The best part of the SICB meeting? The fact that it was a giant summer-camp reunion. Every fifteen minutes between sessions I ran into one, two, or sixteen of my favorite people.

Reunited with my sister-in-science and partner-in-crime, Anna Conrades! She is the one and only Chondrichthyes connoisseur for me. <3

Joe presents his excellent (and enormous) poster about the burrowing behavior of dungeness and red rock crabs.
Photo credit: Lisa Truong.

Presenting a poster to the very scientists I cited was nerve-wracking, but nothing beats a horde of great friends waiting to give a hug or a high-five (or take a stealthy photo) because they've been there too.
Photo credit: Lisa Truong.

It was a tearful goodbye among the Puddle Crew. We didn't want to lose our grasp on the summer's memories -- of laughing and swearing our way through a chronically flooded lab, of crab-pot dungeness dinners, of traumatic stick-shift lessons -- but  I would rather smile because it happened than cry because it is over.

Somehow through it all, we learned a little more more about the natural world than we knew before, and little more about ourselves. I can't thank you guys enough.

Puddle Crew, 2015.