Thursday, April 28, 2022

Rounding Third Base and Heading Home

Cards from Franny and Flowers the Rumbles


My daughter Dana is marrying George Goryan on June 25 at our home in Mariposa. Family and friends will gather on the hot June evening, enjoy outdoor games, drinks, and good food. It is my personal goal to make it to their wedding.


The two months will not be easy. The Isotope Queen is using non-invasive ventilation much of the time to help me breathe. My son Evan is taking Family Medical leave to help out with the never-ending care chores. We have hired a great new caregiver, Carol, who massages my legs, gives me showers, and prepares blended soups.


My care team is expanding. A home health team will look in and help out weekly. Soon I will transition to hospice care.


My journey is rounding third base and heading for home.


ALS patients die of exhaustion. As your breathing muscles weaken, breaths are shallow, then non-existent. You can’t chew or swallow. You lose all that weight you spent a lifetime accumulating.


Mentally, your days shrink. The layers of life are peeled back leaving only what is fundamental, basic, and important. Work is no longer center stage. Survival is what’s on my to do list.


Eventually, it becomes Your Time. Your Time to accept what people have accepted for time immemorial.


And it’s OK.


I am surrounded by love—loving people, family, friends near and far. I couldn’t be more fortunate.


I am starting to say Goodbye. At 6 years post diagnosis, I have had the luxury to do many things, share laughs and meals. It’s been a great journey.


Evan, Chris, Steelie, Annalise, 2022

This past week, Science Brother Andrew Steele AKA Steelie visited with his daughter Annalise. We told stories of field work in the Arctic. Laughed.

And cried when we hugged and said Goodbye.

It will be an emotional couple of months—but it is my goal to find beauty in every day. Today, for example Science Brother Doug Rumble and his wife Karen sent (yet another) bouquet of flowers. And my Old Pal Famous Franny sent 10 cards that I opened one a day for the past few days. What great folks.


I have finished working on a Memory Book for my Moorestown New Jersey class of 1970. It’s 120 pages of photos, memories and life stories from more than half our class 52 years ago. I have enjoyed this immensely.


Dana and George are coming nightly to help Chris get me safely in bed.


I am lucky and blessed in so many ways. And determined to go forward!


Monday, April 4, 2022

Happiness and Wellbeing from the Isotope Queen


"Meditation" and Mat and "Mangroves" and Marilyn, 2021

A bright spot in an otherwise challenging month with health care issues was giving a lecture to Matthew Wooller’s class on Happiness and Wellbeing at the University of Alaska. Seemingly, this topic might not be what you’d think a terminally ill patient might be an “expert” on, but I’ve needed to build capacity to handle what comes progressively with ALS.


Tip 1: Laughter is your best medicine.

Tip 2: Figure out what gets you up in the morning. Go for it.


Tip 3: It’s OK to cry every now again and grieve your losses.


Have a look at these zoom recordings of my lecture and other thoughts about being a woman in science and science advocacy.


1) Introduction to Happiness, Wellbeing and Guest Speaker Dr. Marilyn Fogel


2) Happiness and Wellbeing Tip # 1 from Marilyn


3) Happiness and Wellbeing Tip # 2 from Marilyn


4) Happiness and Wellbeing Tip # 3 from Marilyn


Mat and Marilyn in Belize, 2002



5) Tips on work life balance and being a woman in science


6) Tips on advocacy


7) Mat tells a story of a shared golden moment and gratitude


See Mat’s work in Alaska: "the Well" - promoting the science and practice of Happiness and Wellbeing

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Ending Old Boys Clubs in Science

Geophysical Lab Senior staff, 1990


I am a member of several Old Boys Clubs. I am now old, but have never been and will never be a boy.


What’s it like for a Girl to be part of such a Club?

How did I end up in more than one such Club?


As a woman in science in the 1970s, about 80% of my co-students were guys. By grad school in marine science from 1974 to 1977, almost 90% were men.


In 1979, at the Geophysical Lab as a Staff Scientist, I became the only female among a total of 15 staff (7%) for 30 years until Anat Shahar, a high pressure/temperature geochemist, joined the Staff. Staff members of Carnegie’s Geophysical Lab were, indeed, part of an Old Boys Club. At the annual Geological Society of America meeting in San Diego in November of 1979, I felt like a freak. Prominent geochemists came up to meet the “woman Hat Yoder had hired.” Hatten S. Yoder, lab director and member of the National Academy of Sciences, was well known as an old fashioned geochemist who addressed women with PhDs as “Missus” even though they may or may not have been married. I received this treatment for years. Until he stepped down as director, I was in an Old Boys Club, but a sidelined member.


What did that mean? I had to battle for suitable lab space, argue for research funding, and accept 70 cents on the dollar for my salary. It made me tougher, but still a member of the Club with little voice.


Geophysical Lab: front row: staff scientists, 1991



When Charlie Prewitt became lab director in 1986, he recognized the slights and made sure my new lab was what I wanted and needed to be successful. He also adjusted my salary substantially, probably to 95 cents on the dollar. Further, Charlie gave each Senior staff scientist equal research dollars so that I had an equal shot at internal funding. I was finally addressed as Dr. Fogel. Some of my best work was done during his reign as director.


As part of Carnegie’s Old Boys Club, doors did open for me based on the Lab’s reputation. I was treated to a pool of postdoc applicants that was first-rate. My offers were almost always accepted. The Geophysical Lab paid me a 12-month salary and let me figure out what to do with my time—an incredible gift.


When colleague George Cody was hired in 1995 to replace Tom Hoering as an organic geochemist, Charlie had me lead the search. By changing the lab’s climate, at least somewhat, I became a full member of the Club. My confidence soared. I entered the international circuit as a geochemist in 2003, when I was elected Fellow of the Geochemical Society—yet another Old Boys Club—only the 3rd woman to join this group.


Formal recognition of one’s accomplishments by others does wonders for a woman’s world, but also opens up a realization that she needs to do something about gender inequalities that persist, even today. I became a pesty, persistent voice on awards selection committees. I paid more attention to mentoring—both women and men. I encouraged women whenever I could. It was probably not nearly enough. I felt that I needed to keep pushing myself and kept up a competitive research program.


UC Merced Professors Peggy O'Day and Jessica Blois


In 2013, I made a major move leaving the Geophysical Lab’s Old Boys Club for a position at the University of California Merced, a startup school in the Central Valley and a far cry from an Old Boys Club type of place. What joy to have so many female colleagues! They were a tough bunch, having to negotiate Merced’s growing pains, battling lab space issues and fighting to get good grad students. I still encountered gender put-downs from some administrators, something now considered to be sexual harassment (Clancy et al., PNAS, 2020). In the company of students, I recognized that it was easy for both men and women to downplay the accomplishments of women, particularly underrepresented minority women. When searching for people to write tenure letters, it was not easy to find women of the needed stature to write them.


In 2019, the United States’ ultimate Old Boys Club for scientists, the National Academy of Sciences, elected me as a member of the Geology section, which along with the Geophysics section, represents the earth sciences. Before joining the group, I had little idea how election to the Academy actually happened. How was a person nominated and voted into this distinguished group?


I learned the process from bottom up. The details of anyone’s election are kept secret. [I’d love to find out about mine…] Basically, four or five members write a simple 2-page nomination with a simple format: key papers, other awards, date of birth, and a paragraph on the importance of a candidate’s work. Multiple secret ballots take place over the course of a year with a few folks eventually reaching the top of a list of notable scientists—all of whom you have heard of or know.

Since the Academy was created in 1863 by a decree from Abraham Lincoln, only 10% of the members in earth sciences have been women. In fact, it was not until 1986, that the first woman, Susan Kieffer, was elected to the Geology section for her multi-disciplinary work extending from mineral physics to river dynamics. In 1992, Susan Solomon, who discovered the ozone hole over Antarctica, was the first woman to join the Geophysics section at the young age of 36! In 1993, Alexandra Navrotsky (called Mrs. Navrotsky by Hat Yoder) was the 2nd woman to be elected in the Geology section for her work on nanogeoscience. Today, women make up roughly 20% of the earth sciences membership—some progress but nothing to crow about.

GL Visiting Committee (circa 1986)


This year I participated in the penultimate step in the process. I am pleased to write that it was a process chaired by women, composed of a diverse group of scientists who, in my opinion, were sensitive to inclusion and diversity. During our deliberations, no one mansplained or was a jerk. I hope that what I saw is evidence that this Old Boys Club intends to widen its membership and thereby lose its reputation as an “Old Boys Club”.


When my husband asked me yesterday what I was blogging about and I told him, he said, “I hate to burst your bubble, but everyone knows that women have needed to be a part of men’s Old Boy Clubs if they were to be recognized in science.”


I bristled at this. On reflection, of course I knew it.


I’d lived it.

And now hope for things to change for women and under represented minorities in creating fairness going forward.


Recently, I was awarded the Viktor Moritz Goldschmidt medal in geochemistry, the Geochemical Society’s highest honor, just the 5th woman to receive the medal in 50 years. I was nominated by a cadre of my female geoscience colleagues, some evidence that women can have a direct influence on who is chosen for recognition.


From the Geochemical Society’s website: “Nominations of people from underrepresented groups are encouraged (e.g., women, non-white researchers and/or researchers from Asia, Africa and Latin America, disabled scientists, those who have led diversified careers, other historically minoritized groups, and intersections thereof).”


Matt McCarthy, Seth Newsome, Paul Koch, 2022



We’re heading in the right direction.


Over the past few years, I’ve served on numerous award committees and wrote many nomination letters for my colleagues. From what I have seen, although gender disparities still exist, those who are choosing who will receive recognition are all considering the impact of selecting a diverse group. This is a good sign.


Today, Carnegie’s combined Geophysical Lab and DTM, the Earth and Planets Laboratory, has eight women Senior staff scientists—30% of the group—a far cry from two decades ago. Ethnic and racial diversity still remains an elusive goal with nearly all of their Senior staff being White. Carnegie’s next generation of earth scientists, postdoctoral fellows, however, are a very diverse group that I hope will be the future of this lab and other earth science departments around the world.


with Professor Maryjo Brounce, 2017



Making sure this crop of new intellect is nurtured and supported properly is a challenge that those in positions of power should place as their highest priority for a vision of the future that is inclusive, equitable, and diverse.


No more Old Boys Clubs for science.


Let’s move on.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Winter in the "Olden Days"


Greenvale Raiders: Marilyn, Albert Stein, Freddy, David Fuhrman, 1960

My mother claimed, and rightly so, that she walked all the way to school from her home in Camden, New Jersey, even when the snow was deep. And she was proud of it.


Therefore she reasoned, her children should do the same. Back in the early ‘60s, schools in Moorestown, New Jersey, where I grew up, didn’t close unless snowfall was going to be over 6 inches or so.


One morning, I woke with excitement to a winter wonderland—snow coming down at a good clip. I was in 4th or 5th grade (1961) that year and walked to school by myself or with my brother or neighborhood kids. In spring and fall, we’d ride our bikes the easy mile, cutting through an apartment complex to enter the playground and park our bikes. But in winter, many times one of our parents dropped us off in front of the school.


Backyard Moorestown

I knew even then that my mother was afraid to drive in the snow. She had a nearly new ’59 white Chevy Biscayne, the model with soaring fins that my dad had bought her. It never left the driveway unless the streets were cleared of all snow and ice. So that morning, she brought up that I should follow her example and walk the 0.8 miles to Lenola School in the snow.


I wasn’t pleased.


But I donned thick leggings, my heaviest coat, hat, and mittens before pulling on a pair of red rubber boots over my shoes. Traffic down normally-busy Camden Avenue was light; cars crept slowly along. I was about half way to school when my friend Franny’s mom pulled up in her snazzy black Ford Thunderbird. The window went down and her mom shouted, “Marilyn, do you want a ride? Get in.”


My route to Lenola School

Franny was smiling from the back seat, warm.


My pride won out over practicality.


“No,” I muttered, not even no thank you.


“I’ll walk.”


“Are you sure? Come on,” her mom answered.


“I’m OK,” I said, stifling a few angry tears that my own mother wouldn’t give me a ride, but Franny’s would.


Years later, I learned that my mother lived right next door to her elementary school, so walking to school in the snow was nothing. As a young mother, I often trotted out “I walked to school in the snow…” whenever I didn’t really want to do something my kids had asked for. It became a joke, and I even used it on my mother years later, when we could both joke about this and share a good laugh.


Two years old, Collingswood, NJ, 1954

Real snow days generated a lot of excitement. But even more excitement happened when a cold snap froze our local water hole, Strawbridge Lake, solid—solid enough to support ice skaters.  Strawbridge Lake snakes through suburban Moorestown providing fishing, picnicking, and skating opportunities for many people. As a kid, I walked down to its marshy shores in summer to catch tadpoles and to throw out a string with a hook attached to catch “fish.” In high school, we kids had a place on the Lake called The Spot where we’d meet up to “pre-game” before going to local dances.


Ice skating days were the most special times.


At the corner of Haines Dr. and Kings Highway where the Lake started, a flagpole sported a solid red flag that appeared after Thanksgiving. The red flag meant “No Skating!” When the lake was not frozen, this was obvious of course. But usually sometime in January ice developed, and we waited for city officials to declare it was safe for skating. Then, and only then, a Green Flag was hoisted up and the fun began.


Strawbridge Lake in fall

As a kid, my ice skates had two blades and strapped on over my shoes.  A kid with these clunkers couldn’t do much in the way of fancy skating, but these skates were affordable and worked. In 5th grade, my feet had grown enough to fit adult sized skates. That Christmas, “Santa” brought me a pair of white, single bladed, high top ice skates. They were a couple sizes too big, and to fit properly the toes were stuffed with Kleenexes or toilet paper with two pairs of thick socks. [The bigger sizes insured the skates would last three years. That 3rd year, you’d wear them with a single, thin pair of socks.]


My mother was a very good skater and taught me some simple moves. I was not a natural skater. My first day, I wobbled uncertainly out on the ice. A stiff wind was blowing. I fell trying to turn and landed on my rear, feet out in front of me. Standing up again was a challenge. I made it to a squat then the wind started blowing me across the ice. I literally froze. Facing me not 10 yards away was open water, an unfrozen patch kept open by a flock of mallard ducks.


“Help!” I screamed. My mother turned and quickly skated over, stopping me from what I was certain was going to be a cold, icy death. She then taught me how to stand up with skates on and off I went.


Skating on the Lake

After school the Lake filled up with kids bundled up in their warmest clothes. Girls skated in packs, linking arms and going for long distances together. Boys, wearing black and brown hockey skates, formed informal teams on the far side of the Lake. Hockey sticks were primitive, some boys had real ones, while others played with an appropriate sized branch. Their games were intense and only ended when darkness completely over took them.


Girls in search of adventure found large sticks on the far shore and rode them like witch’s brooms. You’d get a good head of steam skating as fast as you could, then sit on the stick and scoot along hollering like banshees. Life was good.


You were cold, but life roared with fun.


Many of Moorestown’s kids would go sledding at a slope called Stokes Hill, which was at the opposite side of town from where I lived. Since my mother didn’t drive in the snow, it was only in my teenage years that I got to check it out. For South Jersey kids, this “mountain” was a real thrill. It was packed with kids of all ages. By the end of a big sledding day, the snow would be completely trampled down with grass showing in places.


Snow and ice didn’t last long in South Jersey. In a few days, we were back to dreary streets and frosted brown grass.


A first snow man with Freddy, 1954

I think that might have been what made those snowy, icy days so memorable and so special. Looking back 60 years or so from sunny warm California, I’m thankful for those magical days in childhood.

Monday, January 10, 2022

When and where to submit: guidelines for the 21st century


Evan and Marilyn: New son and new mass spec, 1991

Seth Newsome and I use the term “money figure” to describe that perfect graph that clearly sums up everything you had hoped for when you designed and carried out your experiment. A “money figure” is often the cornerstone of your manuscript, which is then written to flesh out the message in that key graphic. If you are really lucky, your ideas and hard work might have resulted in more than one money figure in the unfolding manuscript.


It’s not unusual, however, to do a lot of work, and then come up with results that fall flat. Your job, then, is to make the best of the situation, graph up and summarize what you can, and write it up. Often, this type of work ends up unpublished. And that won’t help anyone get to the next level of innovation or thought. But, the feeling that your work isn’t good enough can be powerful.


Writing either type of paper requires slightly different skills. The money figure paper can be fun to assemble, easy to engage your colleagues to help out, and make you feel triumphant. I’d say that about 10% of the papers I’ve published recently have that money figure quality to them. Perhaps out of my lifetime of work, I would say about 20% of my publications have that “special something” that made the work hold its value over time. Based on citations, it’s now easy to get a better sense of how the community has viewed your work. 


Money Figure, PNAS 2016



The opinion of your scientific community is indeed important.


For those works that don’t have the zing you’d hoped for, you need discipline. You’ve got to make sure you’ve mined all of your data, made tens of graphs and figures, discussed the work with your colleagues as you begin to assemble the manuscript. Take heed—you may drift from getting the words down on paper (or in your computer.) Chasing after the “better” idea makes some sense, but when you think about it, not publishing 75% of your work because it’s not easy, is a waste.


If you are a graduate student, you’ll need to power through these challenges or risk slowing down the progress in getting your degree. The dissertation, in my experience, often includes a chapter that may never see the light of day other than in the longer, university-required format. If you are a postdoc, your “job” is to get a “real” job, so you’ll want to publish your most exciting work as soon as you can. Saving the less thrilling data to complete when you are first starting the “real” job can be critical for keeping you in the community’s eyes until you get new work completed.


If you are pre-tenure, all too often your department will merely count your papers—and not actually read them. Having a goal of one first authored paper per year is a modest, but often attainable goal. Sticking with this for 5-7 years will help with your tenure review.


But when to submit?


Will the work be good enough?


Is it the best you can do with what you have?


Sometimes, we choke at the last minute. What if it’s not perfect? Rarely, if ever, are manuscripts perfect when submitted, but if you’ve done your best, it’s time to push the submit button and let the review process begin. Let the reviewers, as nerve-wracking as that may be, do their job.


Frolleague Kate Freeman says, “Isn’t that what the review process is for?” We all hope for polite, constructive reviews, comments that make our work more readable and understandable.


Times have changed. Even with an explosion of new journals, getting a swift rejection based solely on a “desk review” by an editor, who makes an executive decision, is very common these days. A recent paper Seth and I wrote was desk-rejected 4 or 5 times before finding its journal home—and this was a paper with a money figure!


Go figure. Our problem was not the data or the writing. It was the fit.


Perhaps because of the plethora of journals these days, specialized journals really look for studies that fit their publication’s mission. Finding that perfect fit takes thought. And strategy. Sure PLOS One will publish anything, but will it reach the audience you’d like it to?


PLOS paper showing variation no one wanted to know about...really


The answer is maybe. With everything available online these days, people can find your work on Google Scholar or Research Gate. Keep in mind, however, if you’re just starting out in your career, very few people may be “following” you yet. Thus, it is best to publish your work in a journal where people are most interested in the questions you’ve asked and the results you found.


My goal in publishing is to join the community conversation—get my ideas out there for others to consider, enjoy, or criticize.


Back to that paper you’re writing with the flashy money figure, where to submit it? Should you go for Science, Nature, or PNAS? Your odds are tough: even really good papers get bumped without any review. As a guest editor for PNAS, I’m pretty liberal and send out about half for review. The review process is thorough, and it’s not unusual for a paper to be reviewed three or four times before it’s accepted. That said, when the work finally comes out in one of these journals, it’s seen as a Scientific Homerun.


Money figure from Science, 2005

Using the baseball analogy, how often do we need to hit homeruns to have a successful career? What about hitting some triples or doubles? Heck, even singles can result in runs.


I’d guess that about 25-30% of my publications are doubles, maybe triples, leaving about 50% or more as singles—good but not paradigm changers.  Yes, the Science, Nature, and PNAS papers have that Home Run touch to them, but other work published in seemingly obscure journals to outsiders (Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, for example) are also very well cited and remain pertinent to current scientific conversations.


Although perfection isn’t needed before submission, I strongly advise against the idea that it’s OK to submit a paper that you know isn’t your best effort because “reviewers will fix it.” You don’t want to piss off your reviewers, folks taking their precious time to help you out. We all know that while money is precious, time is even more so.


Your kids will get old before you know it. 2000


Balancing your efforts with writing, submitting, and revising, with a perceived need for perfection, is important to keep in mind. About half of my papers having 100 citations (about 66 total) or more were published more than twenty years ago, and half since 2000. I think that's a decent measure of a successful career—a good early start and then some highlights peppered throughout. Sprinkle in those “conversation starters” and you’ve done your job.


Choose your target journal carefully, get the paper completed and finished. Submit. Grow in your prowess to write effectively and interestingly. Then, you’ve joined the rich conversation in science!


"I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God`s business." - Michael J. Fox




Friday, December 31, 2021

Free Link to Remarkable Women Isotope Queen book

Free Kindle book, December 31, 2021 to January 4, 2022

See Link below:

"I think (and I'm certainly biased) that this is the best Isotope Queen book yet. Marilyn has a true gift as a storyteller, and I think if you have ever spoken with her, you can easily imagine her voice (both literal and abstract) telling you these stories in person. Marilyn is one of my science heroes, so it feels like such a delight to hear about all the parts of her life and career, but also on who her science heroes have been! I read this book in the middle of a tough, early-career style work week, and the theme that emerges over and over again is how important it is to find your science besties (your friend-colleagues or Frolleagues as she terms it). While we all have to work with people we don't like sometimes, finding the Frolleagues who make work feel like play seems to have sustained a long and illustrious career for her. Lesson noted, Marilyn! Some of these stories appear on her blog and in her other books, but they feel like old friends to me, and I enjoyed seeing them again. I loved the final chapter on cracking open one's inner shell to spread joy and kindness. I think I'll go do something nice for someone now. :)" Jeanine Ash, Rice University

"Marilyn Fogel’s third book, “Remarkable Women in the Life of the Isotope Queen” is a LOVE STORY. Readers of all genders will be rewarded with insight into what it must feel like to be guided in your professional, and personal life by an expert. Marilyn’s most remarkable gift is bringing out the best in those around her. And this book will enrich its audience the way she has enriched so many. She has spent her life, and continues, living with purpose, curiosity and sheer delight. She is a remarkable scientist with a healthy dose of “Jersey Girl” thrown in." Franny Stein Kasen, Childhood Friend, Attorney, and Comedian

Remarkable  Women Free Kindle Book



Sunday, December 12, 2021

An Isotope Christmas Carol (2021)


Sloths and Gremlins can take over an isotope lab

**This is PURE Fiction. None of the characters are real people.**

It was December 23rd. Professor IsoPope strode into her stable isotope mass spectrometer laboratory at 9:37 am expecting to see a full crew of people working away. She heard only the sound of turbo pumps whining and fume hood fans exhausting.


Her mood soured even more than normal.


“Lazy good for nothings,” she muttered. Glancing at the computer screen on a Thermo Delta V mass spec, she noted the autosampler had skipped a sample, followed by a double drop.


“Harrumph!” she snorted. A quick look at the screen of the Thermo 253 mass spec showed possible poor chromatography and small peaks. She shook her head at the seeming incompetence of her group.


Geophysical Lab run by Sloths

At 10:07 am, there was a small commotion at the lab door, then in burst her lab manager, postdoc, two grad students, and an undergrad intern. They were laughing and carrying various types of drinks—fancy coffees and candy-cane flavored concoctions.


Professor IsoPope instantly recoiled. “I should report all of you to University Safety for bringing liquids into the lab!”


The lab crew grew silent, eyed their fancy drinks, then quickly reversed course and left them outside the lab. When they returned, they quietly went to their workstations, weighing, analyzing, and computing. Professor IsoPope reminded them sharply that their contracts stipulated that work began at 9:00 am sharp.


Seconds later, IsoPope’s senior technician, IsoHope, opened the door looking frazzled. She had gotten up early that day to head to Target to get a hard-to-find toy stuffed sloth for her 3-year old son. Stuffed sloths were “In” that year, and with shipping having been disrupted by COVID, they were at a premium to find in stores, much less affordable for her, a single mom. Her early shopping didn’t pan out, however, and she knew her son would be disappointed Christmas day.


Sloths trained to use complex instruments

“Sorry I’m late today. Stuffed sloths are the new “In” thing this year. I was waiting for them to go on sale, since they cost more than a full tank of liquid nitrogen,” IsoHope explained. “On my salary, I couldn’t afford one without a discount.”


IsoHope went straight to the microbalance, weighed out 50 samples in less than an hour, and had them running by noontime. Skipping lunch to make up for lost time, she then went to the freezer, pulled out a rack of autosampler vials, and started a 30-hour run on the gas chromatograph-stable isotope mass spec system.


Professor IsoPope had walked out without noticing her hard work. “Bah Humbug!” she was heard to say before the lab door snapped shut.


“Rhymes with Witch,” her postdoc announced when IsoPope was gone. The grad students brought their drinks back in and finished them. At less than $2,000 salary per month, they couldn't waste anything. The undergrad started Googling different intern opportunities. The lab manager searched on Isogeochem for new positions.


The 24th was a holiday, so the lab crew tidied up their benches, disposed of chemicals, and got the isotope mass specs ready for their holiday “sleep.” Isohope made a mental note to come in at 6:30 pm Christmas Eve to put her instrument in standby. At 5:00 pm, the crew left the lab, with their spirits starting to revive as they headed to the campus Brew Pub for a quick holiday pint.


Only IsoHope was staying in town for the holidays and was scheduled to carry out lab checks.


                        **********                   ***********                  **********


IsoPope packed up her laptop at 6:30, walked through the deserted hallways of the Geology building out to her car, which sat alone in a normally crowded faculty parking lot. As she drove home, she thought about how her isotope heroes had died years earlier—Harold Urey (of course), Tom Hoering, Sam Epstein, and even John Hayes. Her house was cold when she arrived and she didn’t feel very hungry, so she microwaved a small vegetarian pizza and went to bed.


By 9:00 she was asleep and her dreams began. The ghost of Tom Hoering appeared first. He was dragging an electrical cord attached to an old rotary vacuum pump that left a trail of oil dribbling out of its heavy, grey frame. Around his neck he wore a collar made from an old-fashioned chromatography column. His tie had burn holes from glass blowing, and over his shoulder, he was draped with a chewed length of hose he had used for years to glass blow vacuum lines.


“Mend your ways now or you’ll measure your last isotope values alone!” Tom’s ghost moaned. IsoPope rolled over in her sleep. “Bother,” she thought.


The parade of ghosts continued.


The Ghost of Isotope Christmas Past came first, pulling her out of bed and into a shadowy world. IsoPope saw herself as a postdoc, only in a dingy lab on Christmas Eve struggling to measure nitrogen isotopes in Precambrian rocks on a leaky vacuum system. The work never panned out. She spent a frustrating year trying to restart her career.   As time went out on, IsoPope met what should have been her life’s Soul Mate. He wasn’t an isotope guy, but he was a scientist who respected women and loved her—even without her having much success yet. They moved in together and for three years, things went swimmingly. Then, her first paper made the cover of Science, then PNAS, and offers came in from prestigious universities around the country.


She took an offer for herself, but didn’t negotiate for her Soul Mate, who remained behind. He drifted away. Her career consumed her. The name IsoPope was given to her when she reached an h-index of 80, at the age of 52.


                            *********                     ***********               ************

The Ghost of Isotope Christmas Present appeared next in the form of a see-through specter with a lab coat peppered with chemical stains. The ghost took IsoPope’s hand in her dream and led her to see Christmas in IsoHope’s house.


Data Processing Sloths

A small table sized tree with shabby ornaments adorned a kitchen table in a small 1-bedroom apartment in a student part of town. IsoHope’s son, little Delta, was excited to see a book “Goodnight Lab”, but looked disappointed that Santa left him a teddy bear instead of the hoped-for sloth. IsoHope had family across the country but couldn’t afford the flight home for the holidays, and anyway she had to work. After a quick breakfast, she buckled little Delta into his car seat, drove to campus, and did her daily mass spectrometer checks.


[“Merry Christmas!” she told the instruments. It was well known that when isotope mass spectrometers are ignored, Gremlins infiltrate mass spec labs causing havoc.  IsoHope knew from experience that if she ran an On-Off measurement and gave each machine a slug of carbon dioxide, they’d be satisfied.]


Gremlin infecting vacuum line

IsoPope was dragged by the Ghost past the campus Bell Tower and heard the words “Fame” and “Distinguished” and “Workaholic.” Then she saw her mass specs lose vacuum and grind to an eerie silence.


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The Ghost of Isotope Christmas Yet to Come drifted to her next—a shadowy filmy ghost dressed in black. IsoPope was taken to a memorial service on Zoom where the attendees fiddled with their phones, told jokes, and logged off after only 20 minutes. She recognized her old Soul Mate, postdoc, grad students, and IsoHope in the Gallery. The ghost dragged her to IsoHope’s apartment where she sat alone without her son, now a teenager serving jail time in Juvenile Hall for stealing toys from Target.


Stricken suddenly with compassion, IsoPope was shown a simple cardboard box with ashes titled: “IsoPope: 1955-2025” sitting on a shelf, covered with dust, forgotten.


She awoke with a start.


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Source Gremlin: Hard to get rid of them

 It was the morning of the 25th, her long strange dream had lasted a day and night. IsoPope hustled to get dressed and drove the 7 miles to the Target store that stayed open until noon for last minute shoppers like her. Rushing in, she saw a picked over display of stuffed sloths. But to her chagrin, it was mostly the sloth’s friends—parrots and monkeys. Deflated, she rummaged through the pile, and lo and behold found one remaining sloth! “Holy s*$^,” she hollered and sprinted through the store throwing snacks, new towels, a soccer ball, and some fancy Christmas decorations into her cart before checking out.


Now traveling fast, she stopped by the only grocery store open in town, found a roasting chicken, fresh salad greens, a good bottle of Chardonnay, and for good measure, a fruit cake. She arrived at IsoHope’s apartment building just before 9:00 am (sharp), knocked on the door, left the packages on the doorstep, then retreated behind a parked car and watched little Delta open the door. “Mommy, look! Santa left us some extra gifts.”


Satisfied, IsoPope drove home, savored a cup of strong coffee and opened her email. In her Inbox, a message from the 24th popped up: “Last minute Invitation” greeted her. Her neighbors were hosting a Friends Christmas Party—informal, bring something. Running into shower and getting dressed in an Ugly Christmas Sweater, she wrapped up one of her books, a bottle of botanical flavored gin, and a fruit cake.

Determined to change her life and treat everyone with kindness and compassion, IsoPope committed herself to generosity. The mass spectrometers felt the new energy and smiled, joining hands with the Gremlins for a peaceful vacation.


Just before leaving to celebrate , she hopped onto Isogeochem—her favorite listserve—and wrote “Happy Holidays to All!”


Non-fiction: Max Coleman, John Eiler, John Hayes, Ed Young, Marilyn, AGU 2016




Rounding Third Base and Heading Home

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