Saturday Soil Science Story - Sept. 22, 2018

When I spoke with a class of 6th graders last spring, they asked me why I became a soil scientist. I answered that “soil is important and I can study soil anywhere in the world”. After nearly six years as a “professional” soil scientist, this sentiment still holds true. Last Saturday, I had so much fun telling my Instagram followers about what was happening in my life as a soil scientist, that I think I’m going to start posting similar stories every Saturday and writing a corresponding blog post. As you look at my page, you’ll notice I’m not a great blogger, but I hope a few people (i.e., my mom and dad) will enjoy reading about what I do as a scientist studying dirt.

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Missouri Soil Judging Team
That’s right, I said soil judging. What is this strange concept, you may ask? Well, soil judging is the World Cup of my profession. Each fall, undergraduate teams compete at regional contests to qualify for a national contest held each spring. In 2017, I reinvigorated the Mizzou Soil Judging Team with six undergrads who had never participated in the past. We did great at the 2017 regionals, but didn’t qualify for nationals, however, we competed in a different national competition last spring AND WON! Last week, we competed at the Region V Soil Judging Contest in Manhattan, KS against seven other universities. We didn’t win, but we did take fourth place overall which allowed us to qualify for nationals! Next April, we’ll be headed to San Luis Obispo, California to see some interesting soils and compete against the best teams in the nation. I can hardly find words to express my pride in this team. They were so excited that they cried when their name was called. They have heart. They have passion. And it is an honor to be their coach. I’m getting a little choked up writing this..

Mizzou School of Natural Resources Open House
If you caught my Instagram stories on Saturday, you may have noticed that my first scene was digging up soil and putting it in a fish tank (in inappropriate shoes..). It’s not every weekend that I get to participate in an outreach event, but on Saturday, families flooded onto campus for Parents Weekend before the big game (don’t ask me who was playing). I was responsible for the soil science display, as well as a display about aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates. For the soil display, we had soil monoliths, samples that showed different soil colors, shapes, and sizes, and a map where visitors could pin their hometown and see what soil they live on. It was a hit! And I’d like to give a huge shout out to Lindsey and Andrew with the Soil and Water Conservation Club, who helped out at the booth all morning.

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Back to the soil in a fish tank - to showcase the different ecosystems where my lab mates sample invertebrates, I created a mini landscape inside a fish tank. I had some soil exposed to represent a hill and “terrestrial” inverts and then some soil was submerged to create a wetland and show “aquatic” inverts. Turns out, everyone thought there were insects inside the fish tank, but it was only meant to be exemplary. Luckily, no one asked me questions that were too tough and I was able to talk a bit about the research I’ve been hearing from Anson and Kyle for the last two years.

After the excitement.. computer work
If you’re supposed to pick a profession that excites you, I certainly feel like I’m in the right place, especially after our soil judging successes and outreach event. I love telling people about soil science, teaching students about how soils form and develop overtime, and thinking of ways to clarify concepts to people who aren’t soil scientists. I’m also finally getting to the point where I feel competent in this discipline. Unfortunately, after being excited and passionate about soil science all week, I was a little exhausted the rest of the day on Saturday. As a graduate student, my work really never stops, especially during these last few months of my Ph.D. Instead of drinking lots of caffeine and forcing myself to be super productive on Saturday, I instead decided to lounge in bed and start to get caught up on emails and other upcoming tasks. For my official grad student responsibilities, I was working on making a poster for a meeting in October and writing the first chapter of my dissertation. However, I also co-run a policy fellowship program and now have to fundraise to attend a soil judging contest in California, so my brain is always moving in several different directions. It was nice to relax, take the path of least resistance (catch up on journal alerts), and watch a bit of The West Wing, my latest binge obsession.

Next Saturday
Right now, my schedule is open next Saturday, so I’ll probably be in the lab! Hopefully I’ll also have time to adventure with Kyle and Clyde out in the woods or at a wetland conservation area. But wherever I go, or whatever I’m doing, I can’t wait to share how soil science is involved and why it’s important! Talk to you next week!