Category Archives: Opinion

The Graduate Interdisciplinary Earth Science Symposia: a year in review, and looking to the future

Below is an article I wrote for our department newsletter about the GIESS symposia. I’m publishing it here because it didn’t make the cut for the newsletter in this cycle, and it’s kind of a time-sensitive article because it justifies moving forward with GIESS in the current format.

There is a short description of what GIESS is in the third paragraph.


The Graduate Interdisciplinary Earth Science Symposia:
a year in review, and looking to the future

Andrew J. Moodie

Scientists are typically effective written communicators, since professional success in academia is so closely linked with funded grant proposals and published manuscripts. However, oral communication skills are frequently considered subordinate and not consciously developed and practiced by early-career scientists.

In the summer of 2017, a group of EEPS graduate students addressed this training gap and the shortcomings of a weekly departmental seminar series by launching the Graduate Interdisciplinary Earth Science Symposia, or GIESS.

GIESS (pronounced “geese”) provides a forum for oral communication skill development while simultaneously encouraging department-wide participation in advancing the presenter’s science. The GIESS committee’s plan was to decrease the burden from weekly to monthly, limiting the seminar to two speakers, and intentionally adding prestige to presenting, thereby increasing the quality of the talks. Furthermore, the plan introduced “pop-up talks”, brief presentations allowing no more than two slides for no more than two minutes, as a lower-stakes opportunity to practice oral communication. Finally, lunch would be provided for participants to bolster attendance, and year-end awards would be given to select speakers and participants. Finally, department members were invited to provide feedback through an online survey at the end of the Spring semester to assess the inaugural year of the GIESS. The survey garnered 22 responses, predominantly from graduate students (19 of 22, 86%).

a) respondents overwhelmingly agreed that the GIESS was an improvement over the old seminar format. b) a paired t-test determines at above the 99% confidence level that the perceived quality of talks was improved by the GIESS format (p = 0.0001), based on respondents’ declared average quality of talks in the old seminar format and in the GIESS format on an integer scale from 1–10. c) respondents agreed that the pop-ups were a good addition to the GIESS. d) unsurprisingly, respondents were very happy with lunch. It should be noted that the survey designer (that’s me) has no training in survey design and the sample size is small, so the results presented herein should not be expected to withstand rigorous methodological or statistical scrutiny.


Overwhelmingly, participants agreed that the GIESS was an improvement over the old Friday Seminar format (Figure 1a, 68%), suggesting that the committee’s primary objective to improve the program was achieved. More importantly, the committee met the goal to improve the quality of the talks. A paired t-test determines at above the 99% confidence level that the perceived quality of talks was improved by the GIESS format (Figure 1b, p = 0.0001), based on respondents’ declared average quality of talks in the old seminar format and in the GIESS format on an integer scale from 1–10. The mean score given to talk quality improved from 4.9 to 7.6 between the old format and the GIESS format, respectively. The committee intends to have the presentation format in the GIESS remain largely the same in the 2018–19 year, possibly tweaking the duration of each talk based on respondent feedback.

Pop-up talks were a new addition, so a close look at participant opinions is warranted. Pop-up talks were scheduled between the two main presentations of the meeting, with typically three to five people participating. The addition of a short presentation style was decidedly favored (Figure 1c), with more than 80% of respondents agreeing that pop-ups were a positive addition. However, three respondents (15%) felt strongly that pop-up talks were a bad idea, though none clarified their position in an open-ended response. Therefore, the committee will keep pop-ups as a permanent feature of the GIESS. The committee also surveyed respondents about allotting time for audience questions of pop-up presenters. Seven respondents stated there should be no questions, seven were neutral on the issue, and seven think it would be a good idea; in the 2018–19 year, the committee will explore allowing questions directed at pop-up presenters.

Unsurprisingly, when more than 80% of survey respondents are hand-to-mouth graduate students, offering a free lunch to participants was favored; 20 out of 21 survey respondents agreed that providing lunch was a positive (Figure 1d). Attendance at the GIESS was vastly improved from the old seminar format, however, the number of students and faculty in attendance faltered late into the year. The committee tentatively attributes the increased attendance to lunch, though hopefully participants also came for the programming. In specific lunch-related feedback, one student asked for a “dessert table” next year, and more than one respondent added that they would like to see “platters of Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwiches with tangy Polynesian sauce.” Noted.

Finally, the GIESS committee would like to recognize the award winners who gave outstanding presentations, creative pop-ups, and engaged throughout the symposia. Best Talk awards for the year go to Brandee Carlson and David Blank, whose research presentations are respectively titled “Tie channels on deltas: A case study from the Huanghe (Yellow River) delta, China” and “Discrete element method as a tool for simulating megathrust earthquakes: insights into stress transfer”. Chenliang Wu and Cailey Condit received the Best Pop-up awards for presentations that were both fun and informative. The Best Participant awards were given to two first-year students Michael Lara and Patrick Phelps, because of their active engagement as participants in all aspects of the GIESS.

I would like to directly thank the committee members who helped make this inaugural year of the GIESS an outstanding success: Laura B. Carter, James Eguchi, Sahand Hajimirza, Harsh Vora, and Daniel Woodworth. Let’s make it even better next year.


The NPR budget and federal spending – Opinion piece

I wrote this up in response to something someone shared on Facebook (silly, I know) but I was curious to have some facts on what the numbers are. I’m reproducing some of the content from the shared page for context, and because giving them clicks seems counter to my point:


Anyway, below is what I wrote about it. Note that I didn’t actually post this on public Facebook, but I did send it to the sharer. Sources provided where relevant, but nothing was too rigorously vetted. BEWARE: opinions and not science below!!


NPR received 14% of it’s 2015 operating budget from government grants at all levels (only 9% I can verify are from Federal grants) [Fig. 1,]. The NPR operating budget in FY 2015 was ~198 million [p. 30,], and so let’s say that conservatively, that no more than 28 million came from the Federal budget. The Federal budget in 2015 was 3.7 trillion; over half (62%) of this is required spending (social security, healthcare, interest on debt), but the remaining budget (1.2 trillion) went to discretionary spending []. This is where NPR’s budget “lives”; note that NPR actually don’t get federally marked funds, but instead receive Federal funds through grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

28 million out of 1.2 trillion is about 0.0023% of the Federal discretionary budget that went to NPR in 2015. NPR estimates they reach 45 million unique and regular listeners [, of course this is hard to verify…] which means that of ~320 million Americans [] about 1 out of every 7 listens to NPR each month. This is at a cost to the Federal government of $0.62 per listener per year, or a burden on the American tax payer (averaged) of ~$0.12 per year (243 million pay taxes []).

The Federal discretionary budget sent 582 billion to Defense spending in 2015. That’s just under half of the entire Federal discretionary budget. The number is even larger when you consider defense “related” expenses []. Averaging the same way as above, this means a burden of ~$2,395 on the American tax payer. I obviously recognize that some pay more, many pay less, but I’m just trying to make an argument about disparity in the order of magnitude of these numbers. I won’t go on here, because it’s hard to make an argument about defense spending efficiency with facts because 1) they tend to be obfuscated by the reporting agencies, and 2) the facts are extremely complex and I’m far from an expert.

The Federal agencies that support arts and sciences (e.g., NPR, NEA, NSF, NASA, NIH) make Americans smarter and cost mere pennies on the dollar that is given to other portions of the government operating budget. You can do a similar exercise to what I did above for NPR to any of these organizations and the story is the same. NPR educates and entertains Americans on a wide range of subjects, the NEA provides culture and dignity to cities around the country, the NSF supports cutting edge research in engineering, physics, math, psychology, Earth science, and more at institutions across the country that ultimately leads to technology which improves the lives of every American, NASA does the same and arguably leads the world in space exploration and planetary science, and the NIH funds research on all living things that makes us healthier and happier people every day. I implore you, don’t look to non-profits supporting the arts and sciences in an effort to curb federal spending (which I support by the way), when these organizations are generally efficient by pure necessity, and they provide immense benefits to the millions of individuals that comprise our great Nation.