Highlights from Graduate School

Here’s some of the nice things that happened to me while putting my nose to the grindstone (most of the time, at least!) and learning all about how satellites can be used to study rivers, lakes, bays, and water pollution.


Grand prize winner of American Geological Union/NASA Data Visualization and Storytelling competition, 2016

I got to present my research about the Tigris and Euphrates at the NASA “Hyperwall”, both for a conference in San Francisco and in Vienna, after winning this data storytelling award. I had a packed audience and met so many nice people!


University Delegate to UN Climate Change Talks

I was one of four UNC students sent as an observer to the UN climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany, in November 2017. It was wonderful! I blogged about it for the local newspaper, and made videos. Check out my articles here and here, and my videos here and here.


Selected to attend ComSciCon, 2017

This is a very nice workshop – hosted by graduate students, for graduate students – and it’s all about science communication. It was really fun, and they fed us so much great food! I was one of 50 participants selected, out of 1050 applicants. The conference takes place at Harvard.


Junior Rapporteur at World Water Week, Stockholm, Sweden, 2015

I was one of about 20 students chosen to be “junior rapporteurs” – we attended talks at the World Water Week conference, summarized the main points, and contributed to the final conference report. Stockholm is so beautiful, and the conference was wonderful. These were the best two weeks of my life! I wrote an essay about my experience here.


Opinion columnist, Daily Tar Heel

The Daily Tar Heel is one of the best college newspapers in the country, and also serves as the default newspaper for all of Chapel Hill/Orange County. It’s that good. I got to be an opinion columnist for it for 1.5 years. You can check out my articles here, and you can also find them, with the rest of my writings, here.


UNC Libraries are one of the best things about this place. They are crammed with old books, rare books, little known books. I’ll be keeping a list here of ones I’ve read, and maybe you can check them out if you’re around.

The Alhambra, Washington Irving – The story of when the author took a trip to Spain, and swung by the city of Granada, and spent several weeks hanging out at the old Moorish Castle, the Alhambra. It was nice to get to walk in his shoes, see the sights with him, and read the magical and somewhat wild legends of long ago.

The Land, Mildred D. Taylor – This book was published in 2001. By then, I’d kind of grown out of this series (the Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry family) – or maybe this book just wasn’t published as widely as the other books, because this was the first I came across it. This is one of the very rare books out there that tells the story of Black people in the south right after the Civil War ended. The only other such book I can think of is the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. So it was very interesting from that perspective. Also, seeing who Cassie’s great-grandfather was was mind-blowing. And when I looked at the family tree at the beginning and discovered that Stacy’s real first name is Robert, and Uncle Hammer’s name is really Hammond, well, my jaw dropped. So it was very interesting; I will just say, though, that the second half of the book reads more like a historical document listing a series of events, rather than a story.

Road to Memphis, Mildred D. Taylor – This was book amazing! Again, I’ve read it many times before, but maybe not for ten years. It was thrilling, suspenseful, made me think, made me put myself in the parts of the characters and wonder how I would react. It had twists and turns, and there was a pretty great romance, too. They honestly should make this book into a movie, it would be really good.

Let the Circle be Unbroken, Mildred D. Taylor – I read this a couple times, but all over 10 years ago. This book is full of voting rights, law studies, interracial marriage. Honestly, when I read it now, I felt surprised that I’d been able to read it when little, because it was quite technical in many places. As for the interracial couple, I had a hard time seeing why they’d be having marriage issues. “If they love each other, how could anything get in the way of that!?” my teenaged self must have wondered. But I can see it now.

The Trumpet of the Swan, E.B. White – when I read this in maybe seventh grade, I thought it was it was one of the most beautiful books ever. So I decided to read it again. It is very nice.

Stuart Little, E.B. White – I think I read this is third grade. I think I remember being intrigued, but a little lost. On re-reading it, I can’t blame myself. It’s a cute book. But why does Stuart leave his family at the end?

Ghetto Diary, Janusz Korczak –  A Jewish man stayed with his orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II, doing his best to get food and medicine for all his small charges amidst starvation rations; then he, his staff, and all 200 children were deported straight to gas chambers in 1942. This is the diary he kept of the last months in the ghetto as they maybe start to realize they’re all going to die.

Daisy Miller, James Henry – I’d never even heard of James Henry; but Davis Library has about 1000 books by him! So I guess he’s a big deal? However, I didn’t like this book that much. I didn’t get it. What was the point? If I have to read one more book by an old man who can’t keep from fawning over the perfect beauty of some teenaged girl, I am going to throw it at the wall – and I am morally opposed to throwing or harming books.

Memories of an Old Time Tar Heel, Kemp Plummer Battle – This is an important person in the history of my university – he was the president in the late 1800s. He’s also the namesake of a forest that I love to walk through. So I wanted to read the book. It’s full of amusing anecdotes about 1800s North Carolina. But he’s also a big racist, pretty much, and even though he wrote the book in the early 1900s, he still seemed to wish for the days of slavery. How can a person who claims to be a critical thinker, and who led a university founded on “light and liberty”, believe it’s okay to deny a whole group of people the right to develop themselves and feel out all their abilities? He thought it was terrible that all Black men (only men at the time) would have the right to vote! The people who still believe that today will like this book!

The Moon By Night, Madeleine L’Engle – this is about a roadtrip a family takes around the USA during the 1950s. It was fun to tag along through the book and visit tons of national parks in my imagination!

Meet the Austins, Madeleine L’Engle – When I first started reading this book, I was annoyed, because half of her sentences go like this: “We went to the beach, AND it was windy, AND the dogs were barking, AND I wanted to be alone, AND we had lunch under the eaves”. AND AND AND I thought it was really affected. About 70 pages in, either I stopped noticing, or Ms. Madeleine was just doing it less, probably because she got sick of it, too. Also, it’s set in the 1950s and the gender roles are quite jarring. The older brother especially is super stupid. All he does is yell at his little sister with manly authority, and all she does is crumple up and say: “oh, John!” This book made me really happy, though, by the time I finished reading it. It describes how a loving family deals with each other. There are moments of peace and happiness in it that are lovely to cuddle up into.

Farthest North, Fridtjof Nansen – This book was a bestseller way back in 1897! It’s about a polar expedition that made it “farthest north” to the North Pole than anyone had ever been before. Nansen was the head of the expedition, and when they got back, he wrote this book. He’s Norwegian, therefore I am obligated to dislike the book. However, you could read it for sure. It takes you along through the moonlit Polar night!

Lighter than my shadow, Katie Greene – This is a “graphic book” – not graphic in the sense of being crass, but in the sense of being driven by pictures. I’d never checked books like this out, because I figured a book full of pictures would just not be my style. However, I found this at a friend’s house, and read the whole thing right away. It’s really wonderful – it’s about a girl with an eating disorder.

One crazy summer, Rita Williams-Garcia – this is a kids’ chapter book. It’s about three sisters in the 1960s, sent to Oakland for a summer. I learned so much about the Black Panthers and about the protests from that time.

The Truth-Teller’s Tale, Sharon Shinn – I needed something light and sweet to read. This one is a chapter book for young teens, and full of princes, magic, twin girls – you get it. It was actually a really cute book, I loved it!

Vanity Fair, William Thackeray – I know this is a classic, but it is an awful book. The only thing clear from the book is the great opinion Thackeray had of himself – he apparently thought he was the only moral person on the planet, the only one who really knew how to live an upright life. Meanwhile, he wrote before the Civil War and he thought slavery was the best thing ever. When I finally finished and picked up “Farthest North”, I felt like my soul was being washed from all the pollution and grime of Thackeray.

The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell – this was a beautiful book. It’s a biography of my favorite author, and it’s full of her letters, which are just as beautifully written as all her books. Plus, I learned all about the old English moors from back in the day. I was just in despair because right afterwards, I found like 10 huge books with the originals of all of Charlotte Bronte’s letters, and I just won’t ever have time to read them all.

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and how it changed America, John Barry – besides being wonderfully written, I learned so much about corruption and arrogance among key American historical figures. I was disgusted by the old bankers in New Orleans, all of whom were big liars; the poet with the chip on his shoulder who treated Black refugees from the Mississippi River flood like dirt; by the people who forced Black men, at gunpoint, to throw sandbags on the river banks, while the collapse of the land into the river was imminent (they all drowned when the land finally gave way). But we should definitely read this to know what went on, and probably still goes on.

Run-away Ralph, Beverly Cleary – I read this book in 4th grade, and I remember I didn’t understand a thing. I think I was confused the whole time: why is there a talking mouse, why does he have a motorcycle, how is this possible? And when I re-read it now, I could see how some of the vocabulary would have tripped me up back then. This wouldn’t be my favorite Beverly Cleary book.

A Life in War and Peace, Brian Urquhart – This is by a British man who dropped out of Oxford University to fight in World War II, then he was one of the first people working in the United Nations when it formed right after the war. He devoted the rest of his life to it. The book tells about trying to get ridiculous world leaders together to stop fighting and act sensibly. The book is written with a great sense of humor.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath – I read this book in eleventh grade, and I loved it passionately! I was sure I’d feel the same way this go around. Imagine my disappointment when I got through the first chapter or two and thought: this girl isn’t deep and complex, she’s just annoying and likes complaining. BUT! I kept reading and the old camaraderie with the book came back. I loved it.

Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh – I first read this book in the fifth grade. It suddenly occurred to me I should read it again. I’d forgotten pretty much everything; but then it would talk about Harriet’s tomato sandwiches, and it would ding some hidden, mysterious echoes in the chambers of my memory. It was like that with pieces of the whole book. I didn’t remember Ole Golly at all – and then I did. There’s a lot in the book that I wouldn’t have understood at age 10.

Work, Louisa May Alcott –  I read this because I read anything by her. It’s kind of a plodding book, but it’s pretty nice, overall. The ending was very predictable. So much moralizing in the book.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – I liked it, but the plot isn’t as super-tight, with a hundred pieces coming together in the most intricate way, as the first seven Harry Potter books. But obviously, I could never forego reading a Harry Potter book.

Hospital Sketches, Louisa May Alcott – I loved this book. It’s about when Louisa May Alcott (“Little Women”) left home to treat injured Union soldiers at a hospital in Washington DC during the Civil War. It is very funny, and also of course sad.

The Blythes Are Quoted, Lucy Maud Montgomery – This is a book of short stories and poetry from one of my favorite authors, and parts of it were published for the first time just a few years ago … long after she died in 1942. So this is very special. You think there won’t be new books, but then there are. Anne and Gilbert, at least in bits and pieces, make appearances; and so do their kids, and their grandkids, which is so nice. Some of the poetry was also beautiful. I copied some of it down so I can read it whenever I want!

Ragged Dick, Horatio Algiers – I remembered learning about these books in US history. They’re from the turn of the (19th) century, and it’s just a rags-to-riches story; just a be-honorable-and-you’ll-make-it book. This book and others by the same author were very popular back in the day.

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling – I actually didn’t like this so much! This book was okay, but then I skimmed the second in the series, and just read the summary of the third on Wikipedia. But you should definitely try them out, since it is JK Rowling.

Selected Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Volumes 1-3 – Lucy Maud Montgomery is one my favorite author (Emily of New Moon, Anne of Green Gables fame), and her whole journals (ten volumes) are stashed in a blessed shelf on the tenth floor of Davis Library. Bliss!! Although, they are also very sad. But very interesting, and if you like her books, surely you’ll like her journals.

A Room with a View, E.M. Forster – this was a pretty good book, I think from the late 1800s. I kind of didn’t get it, but it had a nice way of writing, and raised some interesting thoughts.

A Tangled Web, Lucy Maud Montgomery – A bit of a syrupy novel, where everything works its way out in the end, but obviously, I would never pass up the chance to read an novel by her.

Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen – sort of a boring Jane Austen novel, in my opinion. My favorite Jane Austen book is Mansfield Park. I nearly jumped out of my skin over impatience at who the main character would finally pick to get married to.

Agnes Grey, Anne Bronte – not really that good. Not as good as her sisters’ novels. But might as well read it anyways.

The Grass is Singing, Doris Lessing – I didn’t get this book, and I didn’t like it much either. The main character is ridiculous and not very good.

Markings, Dag Hammarskjöld – this is a book of poems by the Swedish Secretary-General of the United Nations. It’s a small, sad book.

Dag Hammarskjöld: A Spiritual Portrait, by Sven Stolpe – a short, sad, wistful book.

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevesky – I’d wanted to read this ever since they gave it a very convincing shout-out in my 10th grade literature book. The low point is a 70-page speech given by the priest on his deathbed that you have to slog through; but this is a very profound book, with many amazing and clever bits of writing, and ways of turning a situation around to see it from an entirely new point of view. It will definitely stretch your mind. I copied down several parts of it – lessons that I don’t want to forget, and can go back and learn from whenever.

The Railroad Children, E.B. Nesbit – this is a beautiful book about four brothers and sisters back in the day traipsing around the English countryside, waiting for their father to come home from jail. I loved it! And this author is highly recommended by JK Rowling!