Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Status of the Memoir--working away

At my "office" in Mariposa, photo taken by Caroline Korn

            I am now working on the 7th major version of my memoir. Over the past several months, I have received both verbal and written comments on older drafts. Every day, I tinker a bit with the writing, taking into account what folks have suggested to make the book more interesting and understandable to a wider audience.
            I have been helped with the “Pitch” by Cat Jarman who is currently writing her own book “River Kings”. I met Cat in 2014 in Kiel, Germany, at an archeological isotope meeting. She was just finishing up her PhD work with Brian Popp, University of Hawaii. Cat’s dissertation work is on the isotope ecology of people from Easter Island—a topic that I’d worked on earlier with Noreen Tuross. Cat and I met again in 2016 at the Marilyn Madness workshop at the Geophysical Lab and share some life experiences. 
Marilyn (left), Cat Jarman (next), Kate Freeman (far right), Marilyn Madness, 2016

            I’ve received many line-by-line edits from people including Valery Terwilliger, Merri Wolf, and Roxane Bowden. Valery has been a tough and valued reviewer of my writing for many years. She went through both major manuscripts—the Geochemical Perspectives article and then the memoir. She made me make hard choices of what to include. Merri Wolf, now retired, was for 2 and a 1/2 decades a Library Technical Assistant at the Broad Branch Road Carnegie campus. She has talents as a playwright and satirist and encouraged me to put more “Marilyn” into the writing. Roxane, my former lab manager at the Geophysical Lab, wrote a commentary that I have largely pirated and revised under the section “Who will be interested in this book and why.” Her insights into what would make this a more understandable book for a wider audience have been invaluable.
Chris, Roxane and Pete Bowden with Marilyn, Joshua Tree National Park, 2018

            Dave Ardell, colleague from UC Merced and neighbor, came by one afternoon and gave me his personal impressions about what he’d read so far. Dave’s an evolutionary biochemist who loves to think about arcane scientific issues. He basically told me—you need to write more, not less. Don’t sideline things—mainstream them. Great comments for me to think about. I’ve been working on interweaving the science with the life stories.
            In my quest to get more male opinions, I’ve heard from Marc Fries and Bruce Curtis. Marc’s a former collaborator on the AMASE project. He’s worked his way through the beginning making sure my writing can be understood by people who don’t know all of those “ologies” as he said (geology, astrobiology, ecology…). Bruce Curtis, the dad of an Isogeochemist colleague, is a retired English professor from Michigan State. He wanted a timeline and a glossary—which I added. He also provided guidance on making sure I had connected the threads of my life from “quiet, shy” to outgoing, leader. He also suggested a new title! Let’s see how this flies.
            Meanwhile, I’m no closer to finding a publisher or an agent, although I’ve sent out several inquiries. I understand this takes time. So, as I continue to revise, I’ll continue to send our more queries and improve the manuscript. Have a look at my pitch and the Who and Why and the latest table of contents. The timeline is at the end after the table of contents. Suggestions are always welcomed for topics to include in new blogs.

Queen of the Isotopes:
Memoir of a journey in bio-geo-chemical-science

Marilyn L. Fogel
January 17, 2020
Version 7.0

The Pitch

I aim to appeal especially to educated readers with an interest in science, distilling complex concepts down to understandable explanations, focusing on stable isotopes - the extraordinary, invisible factor that binds all of these questions together: How do we find out if there is life on other planets? How can life survive in extreme conditions? How can we track migration in people and animals? How do humans change climate on continental scales? My memoir will show what it's like to be at the forefront of investigating these fascinating questions; making new discoveries whilst challenging both established authorities and gender roles, surviving and thriving as a woman in a male-dominated field. And finally, what happens when life throws you the ultimate curve ball of a cruel disease just when you've managed to smash through the glass ceiling.
Who will be interested in reading this book and why?

            Everyone who reads this book will be able to identify with some of my struggles and feel inspired because setbacks do not need to define you or hold you back. I have intertwined my family struggles with my professional struggles and successes which is important because both men and women need to know that everyone has these struggles and one can survive and thrive despite them.  My story is meant to be inspiring--get up every day and carry on! Women, especially, need to be reminded that you can make a poor choice (even if it seemed right in the moment) and still be a success. Everyone has that one experience, that one family member, that one bad idea that brings worry, shame or anxiety. 
Marilyn and her sister Barb, Better days, New Jersey, 2005?
            Women need to know that the path they follow in the work world was barely there 50 years ago, and women like me paved the way, regardless of conscious effort or not.  The struggles I faced are not completely gone, particularly in academia and science. Back in the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s sexism was more obvious. Today women deal with “subtle” sexism, sometimes harder to recognize and combat. Reading this memoir, men should see what real sexism looks like--even men who truly believe in equality and have the utmost respect for women but what they do still may carry subtle biases. My story will hopefully open their eyes--even further.
            My memoir is also written to highlight the life burden women carry.  A lot of ‘enlightened’ men think they know, but they don’t really know. Sometimes the demands placed on women need to be stated clearly, in particular why they struggle with life balance. I have illustrated the impact a supportive partner can have on one’s life. I have also pointed out how much women put up with and do (for example, second and third jobs) to make their life and relationships work. This information is even more impactful coming from a person like myself who has had great success.
            The details I provide about what was required to make the scientific measurements I made in the 70’s and 80’s before current instruments were designed and then fully automated is invaluable.  I have written these sections to give non-scientists a flavor of the ingenuity required for scientific analyses. Some younger scientists think that it’s a waste of time to study publications more than 10 years old! So many young scientists take for granted the instrumentation they now have at their fingertips. 
            Last, my memoir also describes many of the relationships and collaborations that faltered and didn’t work out.  While this may make some people uncomfortable, it is good to see, in writing, that failed partnerships (both personal and professional) happen. I acknowledged it and moved on. Young people today are much more afraid of failure and can have unrealistic ideas about the impact of negative experiences or interpersonal relationships. I hope my honesty will be helpful and encouraging to them.

 Table of Contents


About the author

Table of Contents


Chapter One: Introduction
Isotopes are invisible—why have I bothered
What is an isotope?
   Discovering science as a child

Chapter Two: Life as a budding scientist: The Penn State Years
Standing out as a woman scientist

Chapter Three: Graduate school in Wild Southwest Texas

Chapter Four: Early years at the Geophysical Lab
Early Personal Trials in Washington, DC

Chapter Five: Starting a new field---Biogeochemistry

Chapter Six: Discovering Life in Extreme Environments: Hot Springs of   Yellowstone National Park

Chapter Seven: Getting Started on Nitrogen Isotope Biogeochemistry
Early Years as a Female Geoscientist

Chapter Eight: Geophysical Lab History and Colleagues: 1950s to 2008
2801 Upton St., N.W., The old Geophysical Laboratory

Chapter Nine: The mysteries of Salt Marshes

Chapter Ten: Challenges and triumphs we all face
Family, Friends, and Partners
Family Triumphs and Meaningful times

Chapter Eleven: Biogeochemistry Going Full Speed
Noreen Tuross and Isotope Tracers of Nursing and Weaning
A magnet for hurricanes: Atmospheric nitrogen deposition in the ocean

Chapter Twelve: The stable isotope laboratory
Measuring nanograms of “stuff”

Chapter Thirteen: Adventures in the Australian Outback: How humans can change climate with fire

Chapter Fourteen: Wages and Attitudes for Women in Earth Science
         Implicit Attitudes
         The Wage Gap

Chapter Fifteen: Tropical Adventures in Belize: Mangroves, Muck, and Corals in Belize

Chapter Sixteen: Carnegie’s Lunch Club
                        Tried and true recipes
                        My favorite lunch club recipes
                        Some questionable recipes

Chapter Seventeen: Are we alone in the Universe? Astrobiology
Andrew Steele AKA Steelie
A ride on the Vomit Comet

Chapter Eighteen: Intersection of Biogeochemistry with the Study of Meteorites

Chapter Nineteen: Bringing the study of Astrobiology down to Earth:
Arctic Mars Analogue Svalbard Expeditions (AMASE)

Chapter Twenty: Personal Reflections and Stories
Just plain life
Mentoring notes
Women in Science before the #Metoo era

Chapter Twenty-one: My two favorite publications of all time

Chapter Twenty-two: Don’t take yourself too seriously
Nancy Drew #1 Stories
Slatering or How to confuse pesky colleagues

Chapter Twenty-Three: Earth’s Earliest Signs of Life: If we found it, could we recognize it?
Traveling the world to find old rocks

Chapter Twenty-four: Shifting from Biogeochemistry to GeoEcology
Seth Newsome: Postdoc, Colleague and Friend
Isotopes in Bird Feathers reveal their diet and geo-location
Wombat “hunting” across Australia and a wild ride

Chapter Twenty-five: Chasing Chicken Shit Across the Eastern Seaboard

Chapter Twenty-six: Career Advancement and Forging a new career
Leaving the Geophysical Laboratory
Nancy Drew story #2

Chapter Twenty-seven: The great battleship of the University of California
Starting a new life at the age of 60
Campus Culture

Chapter Twenty-eight: Teaching the students I have—not the students I thought I would have
Bobby J. Nakamoto—Mr. POM soon to be Dr. Fish

Chapter Twenty-nine: University of California research
Hydrogen isotopes in Amino Acids tell about an organism’s food and water
Vernal Pools and Soils

Chapter Thirty: Diagnosed with ALS

Chapter Thirty-one: Interdisciplinary research
Journals I’ve published in
Final Project: the EDGE Institute at UC Riverside

Chapter Thirty-two: Hitting the glass ceiling—then breaking it




1952---Born in Camden, New Jersey on September 19; First years spent in Collingswood, New Jersey

1955---Moved to Moorestown, New Jersey

1970---Graduated from Moorestown High School and left for Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania

1973---Graduated with B.S. with honors in Biology from Penn State

Winter 1974---Moved to Port Aransas, Texas to begin graduate school at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute; married Jack Estep

Fall 1974---Moved to Austin, Texas for course work in Botany at the main campus of the University of Texas

1977---Graduated with Ph.D. in Botany and Marine Sciences in May; Moved to Washington, DC area in July

Summer 1977---Began Carnegie Corporation Fellowship at the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington; Started work on hydrogen isotopes

1979---Appointed Temporary Staff Member of the Geophysical Laboratory; Constructed my first isotope vacuum line

1981---Appointed Staff Member (Senior Scientist) in Biogeochemistry at the Geophysical Lab; Started fieldwork in Yellowstone National Park

1982---First postdoctoral Fellow, Stephen Macko arrived at the Geophysical Lab; Started work on nitrogen isotopes

1983---Completed studies at Yellowstone National Park; Started work on compound specific amino acids; Separated from first husband

1985---Began sabbatical leave at Carnegie’s Department of Plant Biology with Joseph Berry; Met future husband Christopher Swarth

1986---Married Chris Swarth; finished sabbatical on oxygen isotopes in the atmosphere

1988---Dana Swarth, first child born; Started isotope study on nursing infants with Noreen Tuross

1990---Began studies on atmospheric nitrogen deposition with Hans Paerl in North Carolina

1991---Evan Swarth, second child born; Started studies on plant decomposition; Installed first gas chromatography-combustion-isotope system

1994---Chief Scientist on the R/V Cape Hatteras; Caught in Hurricane Gordon at sea; Started work on the paleoclimate of Australia with first field trip

1995---Visiting Professor Dartmouth College; Colleague Thomas C. Hoering is honored at Hoeringfest; He passes away in July

1997---Became a member of the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board; Moved to new home in Silver Spring, Maryland; Both children in school fulltime

1998---Started astrobiology studies with Ken Nealson at Jet Propulsion Lab and George Cody, Bob Hazen, and Hatten Yoder at the Geophysical Lab; Second fieldtrip to Australia

1999---Keynote speaker at the 1st Stable Isotope Ecology meeting in Saskatoon, Canada; Started fieldwork in Belize with Matthew Wooller, Myrna Jacobson, and Candy Feller; Installed first automated isotope system

2000---Carnegie Evening Lecture at Administration building on P. St., NW; President of my son’s elementary school Parent Teacher Association

2001---Awarded the Mellon Fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution’s Environmental Research Center

2003--- Elected as Fellow of the Geochemical Society and European Association of Geochemistry

2004---First trip to the Arctic with AMASE (Artic Mars Analogue Svalbard Expedition) with Hans Amundson and Andrew Steele

2006---Fulbright Scholar, University of Oslo, Norway

2008---Chief Scientist on the R/V Lance on AMASE in Svalbard

2009---Program Director for Low Temperature Geochemistry and Geobiology program at the National Science Foundation; Dana and Evan both at Universities; Chris and I are empty nesters

2011---Field trip to Hudson Bay to collect Precambrian rocks with Dominic Papineau

2012---Final year at the Geophysical Laboratory as a Staff Member

2013---Began position as Professor of Ecology at University of California Merced; Awarded Treibs medal for career in organic geochemistry and elected Fellow of AAAS; Chris and I moved to Mariposa joined by Dana at the end of the year

2015---Last international field trips to Ethiopia with Valery Terwilliger and to Svalbard with Steelie and Liane Benning

2016---Started position as Director of the EDGE Institute and Wilbur W. Mayhew Endowed Chair of Geoecology at University of California Riverside; Diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in May; Evan and his partner Meghan moved to Los Angeles

2019---Elected Member of the National Academy of Sciences; Promoted to Distinguished Professor

2020---Retired from active service in June

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