Well, it seems I am back from my hiatus, and boy do I have a lot to tell you.

I am leaving my graduate school program.

There is a TL;DR version at the bottom of the post. But if you want the details, and something to think about, read the whole thing. Fair warning, this gets a little personal, so if you’re not comfortable with that, feel free to read the TL;DR version.

I know not everyone will understand why I’ve made this choice, given that I’ve been in this program for a while and I am “close” to finishing, and that’s ok. This post is not a defense of this choice I have made. It may sound like that a times, but really I just want to explain what I’ve been going through over the past year. I know some people will be curious for an explanation, and I also want this to serve as a warning to anyone considering graduate school in the sciences. That said, I am certainly not trying to talk anyone OUT of going to graduate school. Rather, I am trying to tell you to follow your dreams, as unexpected as they may come about, for your own happiness, not for anyone else’s. It may sound selfish, but I have learned that essentially torturing yourself because you think it will make someone else happy is a terrible way to live your life. It took me a horrible year of graduate school (I am now 2 and a half years into my program as I write this) to figure this out, so hopefully I can help others figure this out sooner.

There are many reasons why I have made this choice, but I’m only going to talk about a few of them that may be relevant to other people struggling with a similar situation.

Let me start by stating that I don’t really like doing research, particularly laboratory/computer-based research. This is something I learned mostly while in the process. Data collection can take a really long time to generate and then analyze. Some people love that. Turns out I’m not one of them. No one really warned me about HOW tedious research can be, and it’s the kind of thing you can’t really understand until you’ve tried it for yourself. I also really rely on structure in my life. Term projects, like those I experienced in my undergraduate science courses, are completely different from masters theses or PhD dissertations. They’re smaller, they have concrete deadlines, rather than the sort of nebulous “when will I have done enough to wrap this up into a manuscript” deadlines of graduate school theses/dissertations. I hate never really knowing when enough is enough until you’re past it. There is a lot of uncertainty in research that really doesn’t work for me. It took me actually doing a TON of this type of research to figure out that I really don’t like it. That said, if you love research, by all means go to graduate school and do a big research project. I’m just saying, it’s not for everyone, and it’s not for me. There are also some programs that don’t have thesis projects attached. I almost went to one. But those non-research advanced degrees generally don’t pay you to do them (I’ve been paid as a teaching assistant the whole time I’ve been here).

The main takeaway here is that if you are thinking about graduate school, ask a LOT of questions about how the process usually works. Be very inquisitive. Tell people to be honest with you about what the experience was like for them. Ultimately, the graduate school experience should be a good one, even if it’s really difficult. If you’re in the middle of it, and you’re miserable all the time, consider trying something else.

Another reason that I’ve decided to leave the program is that I have this problem where I want to make everyone happy. My anxiety problems all stem from this one core aspect of myself that I am trying to change, because in reality – no one can make EVERYONE else happy. Someone will always wind up disappointed or angry or sad or whatever. For the past year, that someone has been me. It’s exhausting and unsustainable, especially when I now know what I want to pursue as a career goal, and it doesn’t require this degree. But I was so focused on doing this because I thought it was what other people wanted for me, that I ignored how miserable I was trying to do it.

Here is a request for all parental-figure-types (parents, grandparents, advisors, etc.): Please don’t pressure your children to go to graduate school. Tell them they have all the options in the world. Encourage them to make the right decisions for themselves, what’s best for THEIR lives and career goals, things THEY want out of life. Emphasize that you will be ok with whatever they choose – that you will support them and love them regardless. Just, be careful how you phrase things when you’re inquiring what your children are going to do with their lives, especially if you hope they go to graduate school. And remember, money isn’t everything.

I don’t want to go into too many details about what I’ve been dealing with, but I would like to share this comic that someone made that explains anxiety PERFECTLY. So if you don’t have any kind of anxiety problem, please read this to better understand what people like me are going through.

In my case, it’s mostly bad reactions to situational triggers. Right now, the trigger is my thesis. I’ve tried a lot of different things over the past 6 months to manage this, but nothing has really worked because this situation I’m in is really difficult, and it’s no longer something that I want or care much about. I know graduate school is difficult – it’s difficult for most people, and all graduate students are stressed out more often than not. But sometimes you reach a point where it’s not worth it anymore, and that point will be different for everyone.

For me, that point was when I realized my anxiety was beginning to cause depression and had started to affect my physical health. I lost 10 pounds in the last 6 months simply because I’ve been too stressed out and anxious to eat properly. My weight hasn’t been this low since at least high school. After a particularly stressful weekend, I developed a cold thanks to my anxiety-weakened immune system.

It’s taken me a really long time to be comfortable with the idea of leaving my degree program. I’m not a quitter. Plus, as a society we have this really weird attitude about quitting a particular career path, even if it’s not what we want and we’re really unhappy. News flash: the world doesn’t end when you quit a job, and it doesn’t end when you quit graduate school.

The highlight of my experience here in graduate school has been being a teaching assistant. Teaching is the most rewarding part of the whole gig for me, and I mostly teach freshmen. So, when my dad and I went hiking last September and he asked me if I’d thought about teaching high school science, it didn’t seem like much of a stretch. The more I thought about it, the more appealing it became. I spent random hours looking into how to get certified to teach. I read my evaluations from past students from the last few semesters – and the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. Teaching gives me a sense of purpose, it makes me feel like I’m actually making a difference in the world, encouraging students to think critically, to get excited about science, to perhaps pursue science in their future, or at least learn something useful. The idea to teach science at the secondary level feels like the most natural choice I’ve ever made in my career path. Writing a research thesis just doesn’t feel right anymore. But you know, if I’d never gone to grad school, I wouldn’t have realized I loved teaching so much, so…

This January I will be packing up my life and moving on to the next adventure. I’m going to spend the next year and a half earning my teaching certification in Wisconsin, and then I’ll hopefully land myself a fun job teaching science in a Washington high school. I’m hoping that as I go through this, Earth Science will grow in popularity in schools (it’s already starting to), and I can be a part of teaching students more about my favorite topic of science. Once I get my footing I’ll pursue some kind of teaching-related masters degree, but for now I’m taking it one step at a time.

TL;DR version:

I quit graduate school (working to earn my MS degree) for many reasons, but mostly because it was severely affecting my mental health with anxiety and depression, which had begun to affect my physical health as well, AND I don’t really care about the project or the degree anymore. This is no longer the path I wish to follow, and since I’ve been here I’ve learned that I really enjoy teaching science, and I would like to pursue that at the secondary education level. I’m going to Wisconsin at the end of the month to begin an alternative routes to teaching certification program, which will end with my certification to teach science in high school or middle school. I then plan to take my certification back to Washington and fill one of the MANY STEM field teaching vacancies (preferably at a school that wants to teach Earth Science).

I really hate how graduate school work requires ridiculously long hours. I was warned about this before I went in, but listening to a warning about something and actually experiencing something are totally different things.

This line of thought is made worse when you consider why graduate school requires such long hours. It’s a restriction applied based on money. Well, money and the convention that a Master of Science degree is supposed to take 2 years, and a PhD is supposed to take 5-6 years. My particular money restriction is just the contract I signed before I got here – I get 2 academic years on a TA. My tuition is waivered because I’m working for the university. But once those two years are up, even if I still have a summer of thesis research/writing to do (and let’s face, I have at least a summer), they stop paying me, and I have to start chipping in for tuition. Nevermind the fact that the methods I’m using are extremely time consuming. Nevermind the fact that I did a summer internship and lost a lot of time I could have been researching. It’s not like they’ll chuck me out (at least, I hope my advisor will let me stay until I’m finished, as does every graduate student), but they won’t help me pay my way anymore.

So here I am, working at least 12 hours a day, socializing minimally, if at all, throwing my hobbies (writing, reading, blogging, hiking, exploring the city, relaxing) into storage until my graduate school prison sentence is up. Yeah, that’s what it feels like to me. I go for weeks having forgotten what fun and happiness feel like. I’m not saying it’s like this for everyone, but it is for me. I hope I’ll look back on this experience and remember the good times. But right now they are much too few and far between for me to appreciate.

However, the only way out for me is through, and so I must persevere. I am confident, at least, that I’ll be finished in time for the holidays (hopefully sooner). But the tedium and endless to-do lists that seem to grow on a daily basis are really getting to me right now. I suppose I am in the home stretch, or very close to it at least. But there is still much to do.

In the interest of finishing as fast as possible and retaining a small fraction of my sanity, I need to go on a hiatus from blogging so I can make more time for doing thesis-related things, and so the things I do for fun don’t feel so much like chores that are only there to distract me (much as I enjoy doing them). Removing the need to blog will remove one of my weekly obligations, and theoretically lighten my stress load, which has reached critical mass. When I do anything fun (and I’m sure many graduate students can attest to feeling this way as well), it comes with an unfortunate feeling of guilt for taking a break from the thesis.

This article sums it up perfectly. So in a further attempt to remove distractions, the blog needs to go into storage with the rest of my happiness until I’m finished with this nightmare that is graduate school.

These feelings of misery were also spurred by the realization of a very stupid mistake I made while collecting my data. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a small setback, and I created a bunch more work for myself to re-do, while I should be moving on to something else.

Hopefully I shall return to you by the end of the summer, but for now – farewell. If you need a new blog to read, I highly recommend any and all of the blogs linked on my blog roll on the sidebar. Enjoy!

P.S. – If I think of anything that absolutely MUST be blogged about, you may see some bonus blog posts in the months to come before I graduate. But don’t expect to see anything until the end of August.

P.P.S. – If you are like me and you struggle with stress and anxiety, and you’re thinking about going to graduate school, think very carefully about how you feel about research versus taking classes. There are programs out there with non-thesis options, they just generally require you to pay for them. Consider this a warning from someone who is experiencing this right now – graduate school with research is a very high-stress environment. Make sure it’s what you want to do.

My current thesis research is somewhat tedious and boring. I have to identify the minerals and rock fragments in a bunch of sandstones and while I DO have to pay attention to what I’m doing, I’ve been doing this so long now that it’s somewhat mechanical. I also have to do this quickly.

So I HAVE to listen to things to keep me occupied. Music doesn’t quite cut it – it’s too easy to let myself get distracted. Podcasts are great, too, though I prefer audio dramas, of which there are very few quality productions – all of which I am now caught up on – and I haven’t been given any recommendations that I’ve liked.

Enter audiobooks – my new favorite thing. But in my new dalliance into audiobook listening, I have also found that there are good books, and there are good audiobook readers. But finding where these two spheres cross is a difficult task.

The first audiobook I listened to was Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files book, Storm Front, read by James Marsters – the platinum-blonde vampire from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He did an excellent job, and I’ll be starting his reading of the second Dresden Files book in a few days.

I was in the middle of the second Sirantha Jax book by Ann Aguirre, and I was so wrapped up in the story I managed to get my hands on the audiobook so I could continue it while I worked. Unfortunately, the reader of that series grated on my nerves. Her attempt at using different voices for different characters went too far to be taken seriously and entered the realm of cheesiness, and she was a bit nasal-y to begin with. Needless to say, it was difficult to listen to, because it went wildly against what I would have imagined on my own.

Another problem with audiobooks is that they’re expensive. I’m limited by whatever my public library has available (Audible costs more than I’m willing to pay every month). So, I’ve taken to Twitter to beg my audiobook-fiend friends for recommendations.

One of my friends recommended Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody series, which begins with Crocodile on the Sandbank. The library gave me the version read by Susan O’Mally, though the internet tells me there’s another version read by Barbara Rosenblat, which has good reviews. I’ve also checked out the second book, The Curse of the Pharaohs, which is also read by Susan O’Mally. I’ll say right now – I absolutely loved it. So much that I just finished it today, and I’m devoting this week’s blog post to it.


Amelia Peabody is a Victorian era spinster, but she owns it in a similar manner to Miss Fisher, of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. It also helps that she’s fabulously wealthy, intelligent, and curious about the world, especially ancient Egypt. In this, her first adventure into the mysterious, she travels to Egypt and meets young Evelyn Barton-Forbes. Evelyn is running from a scandal, as well as two potential suitors, and Amelia takes her under her wing. The two women get along splendidly, and Amelia didn’t want to travel on her own.

They spend days wandering down (up?) the Nile in search of ancient Egyptian ruins, and stumble upon their acquaintances, Radcliffe and Walter Emerson, at their own archeological dig. Radcliffe, the elder, has become seriously ill, and the curious Miss Peabody makes herself at home bringing him back to health and helping with his research.

Suddenly, the group finds themselves haunted by what appears to be the new mummy they uncover in a tomb. Not long after, one of Evelyn’s suitors appears, and they all begin to unravel the mystery of the wandering mummy, because it can’t possibly be a real mummy, can it?

There is plenty of mystery, romantic love triangles, witty banter, and snark from all of the characters. Each one has a unique and lively personality, and I love every single one of them. I will admit I found the mystery itself somewhat predictable, but there were enough twists to throw me off plenty of times. Honestly, though, it was the characters and their interactions that kept me interested in the story.

Amelia is a feisty feminist of the Victorian era. She needs no man to make her happy, and appears resigned to die a spinster, though it doesn’t seem to bother her. She wants to explore the world and learn, and she’s starting with Egypt. She has a particular interest in archaeology, and wants to dig in the sand like any man. If I was a rich heiress, I’d probably end up just like her.

Evelyn is a sweetheart, and loyal to a fault to those she loves. She also happens to be a fantastic artist, and demonstrates intelligence that lets her follow in the footsteps of Amelia. She’s not the flimsy damsel in distress of many Victorian era novels (though of course, this was written in the 70s). I could almost see her as a younger, more artistic version of Amelia. Their characters interact much the way that sisters would, and it works well in the story.

Radcliffe Emerson is a more modern man of the Victorian era, though he tries to disguise it with sexist jokes. These soon stop, as he slowly realizes that Amelia is not like most women. He’s witty and snarky, but has an intelligence to match Amelia’s, and an admirable devotion to his archeological work. He’s the best kind of nerd, and sexy to boot.

Evelyen’s various suitors are less interesting. Walter Emerson is adorable and the most likeable. Lucas is a jerk and a character I enjoyed hating for most of the novel. Then there’s the other foreign guy who is just plain annoying, but in a way that is not frustrating to read. They’re good for the story though.

My favorite part of the novel was the way Emerson and Miss Peabody danced around each other. They infuriate one another, but at the same time they both clearly admire each other. Their relationship grows and evolves naturally and it was really fun to listen to.

I cannot wait to see what adventures these characters will run into next. I only hope the snarky, witty banter between Amelia and Radcliffe continues. I normally have to be in the right mood for mystery novels, but these characters are engaging enough that I don’t need to be in the right mood for Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson.

Happy reading!

I was preparing to write a whole post about the latest discrimination against gay people – namely, the proposed bills that would allow businesses to deny service to gay people, and the potential GOP presidential candidate claiming that PRISONS are evidence that being gay is a choice (and his subsequent apology) – but then I got sick this weekend, and have been playing catch-up with grad school work all week. I want to do this topic justice, but I also wanted to post SOMETHING before the deadline for next week’s post, so here’s the short version (and in the meantime you can exercise your rage meter by reading the articles linked above): This discrimination is despicable. We have done this sort of thing before. With black people. Remember how we, as a country, decided that discrimination against people who are different from you is wrong? News flash, folks: this still applies. But part of me almost wants to let them deny service. Because not only will they lose the business of gay people, they’ll also lose the business of people like me who believe in equal rights. In a perfect world, allowing them to do this would run their business into the ground. It’s also really frightening to me that someone who could potentially be governing the country would claim that being gay is a choice based on what happens in prisons. Luckily, he is a neurosurgeon, and is probably closer to the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to potential GOP candidates due to the lack of a job in politics. But I don’t know that much about him other than that he is obviously not a scientist. Ok, I have to cut myself off now, because I’m about to give a geology 101 lab midterm! I might come back to this topic. Or I might post a bunch of dog photos detailing the many nicknames we have for our household’s labs. I will leave you with this: I have snakeskin hoop earrings. I like to tell people I made them from the rattlesnake I killed doing field work to save the life of my field assistant, who had a particular fear of them.


You may have heard about the new push in some states to allow guns on college campuses. The NY Times recently published this article about the latest argument some are using to justify allowing guns on college campuses.

My rage meter is on full blast and set to explode about this.

I do not make my distaste of guns a secret. I think this country needs a hell of a lot more gun control than it has. That said, I don’t have a problem with people using guns to hunt game. It’s all the other reasons people own and use guns, outside of law enforcement, that drive me crazy. But this goes WAY beyond my personal feelings about guns.

The people who are trying to push the allowance of guns on college campuses – which in most cases have already made their decisions either at the campus level or the state level to NOT allow guns on campus – have decided to exploit the hot issue of sexual assault to justify their arguments.

The argument is this: if women are allowed to carry guns on college campuses, they will be less likely to get raped. The ability to carry a gun would be a deterrent to rapists.

Are. You. Frakking. Kidding me.

Personally, I would prefer to simply NOT BE RAPED, thank you very much. The fact that it is a horrible crime against basic human rights should be enough of a deterrent for rapist scum. I should not have to carry a gun in order to prevent someone from raping me. Rape culture, in the USA especially, is still massively misunderstood, but this does not mean a bandaid (guns on college campuses) is even a remotely valid solution.

Then there’s the statistic that most rape victims are sexually assaulted by people they already know, so they might not actually think to pull a gun on them until it’s too late anyway. (Thankfully, the NYTimes article mentions this. The number is 2/3, in case you were wondering.)

The people using this argument have failed to acknowledge the fact that allowing guns on college campuses would also allow potential rapists to carry guns. So explain to me how forcing a shootout between a rapist and a victim is a good solution to this problem.

The first quote the NYTimes article uses is from Florida State Representative Dennis K. Baxley is, “If you’ve got a person that’s raped because you wouldn’t let them carry a firearm to defend themselves, I think you’re responsible.”


The ONLY person who is responsible for someone getting raped is the rapist themselves. No one else is responsible for that. That is extremely unhealthy thinking. If you think you’ve ever been in a position to stop a rape, only to realize it later, do not blame yourself. The only person responsible for a rape is the rapist committing the crime. Don’t let people like Baxley use guilt like this.

What about the countless women, like myself, who can’t even begin to imagine using a gun on another person, no matter what crime they were about to commit. The very idea is terrifying. I don’t want to have someone else’s blood on my hands. You can have all the training you want, but still shoot someone in a bad place under the pressure of fear.

Now, the potential ramifications for sexual assault aside, there are many other reasons allowing guns on college campuses is a terrible idea.

Lockdowns spring instantly to mind. Last year, we had a lockdown at my school because an armed man tried to rob a couple businesses north of campus, and decided to escape through campus. Students, faculty, and staff were required to stay locked in their classrooms while the authorities (campus security and the city police) searched for the guy.

Imagine what could have happened if students were allowed to carry guns on campus? How many of them would try to be the hero and go hunt the guy down themselves? How would the authorities know who the real criminal is if half the student-aged people walking around were carrying guns? Chaotic disaster.

Think about the negative ramifications for loosening gun control on college campuses, not just the potential positives. In my opinion, the negatives here far outweigh the potential for women (who actually can see themselves using a gun) to protect themselves against rapists. We shouldn’t have to carry guns to prevent people from wanting to sexually assault us. Human decency should do that on its own. I know we don’t live in a perfect world, but this is not the answer.

Award season is winding down, and I have seen NONE of the best picture nominees this year, so I figured I should at least make an attempt at one of the categories. I ended up going to see the Oscar-nominated animated shorts, since I went last year and it was pretty fun.

Unfortunately, this year none of the animated shorts really blew me away. I found most of them rather blah, actually. Also, a surprising number of them were from the USA, and the others were from England and Canada (and maybe one from Norway?). Can’t say I’m surprised, considering the nominations in the bigger categories. Yeah, ok, so the Academy Awards are hosted by Hollywood, but would it kill them to consider diversity a bit more?

But I digress. This is about the nominated animated shorts, and the runners up, and my film-uneducated opinions of them.

Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts 2015

The Bigger Picture

The Bigger Picture

This short was from Great Britain, and probably had the most interesting art style. It was part 3D, part 2D, but I thought they did a cool job of blending them together. The story is of two brothers, one who takes care of their aging mother, and the other, who appears to be the favorite, and takes all the credit for the care. While I was impressed by the art style, the story was not unique. It didn’t add anything to this story, which has been told many times before. The mother dies, neither of her sons were with her, it’s very depressing and tragic, but in the end the brothers reconcile (the reason why was not very memorable), and then it’s over. This one felt like Oscar bait to me, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it won, but I don’t think I’d mind either.

The Dam Keeper

The Dam Keeper


The Dam Keeper is about a town full of anthropomorphic animals, and focuses on the children. One of them is the Dam Keeper, a pig. The only pig. And he’s an orphan child. So already we’re supposed to feel bad for him, and then he shows up at school and all the other kids make fun of him, because he’s a pig. Also a little bit because he’s often dirty because he works at the dam, but mostly because he was a pig. Let me remind you that all the characters are animals, and the pig was one of the cuter ones. The new girl, a fox, befriends him, but then the pig thinks she’s betrayed him, and he lets his dam duties slide. For some reason, this dam keeps away noxious fumes, so when he neglects his duties, the fumes enter the town below the dam and everyone starts getting sick. Eventually he realizes that she HADN’T been mean to him, and he rushes to save the town and fix their friendship. It ends happily enough. But again, this was a very tired story, and the animation was not all that impressive to me. I’d be surprised if this won the Oscar.




Of the animated shorts that actually got nominations, this one was far and away my favorite. Feast was Disney’s contribution to the animated shorts, and it was MUCH better than what they gave us last year. The style was typical of Disney’s animations, so it was very clean and well-practiced. It tells the story of a dog owner and his love life as seen through the eyes of the dog. The owner finds a stray puppy and lures him into his home with delicious french fries. The puppy grows up accustomed to other scrumptious human meals and snacks… until the owner gets a girlfriend who is super into healthy food and only gives the dog veggies on top of his regular dog food. The people split up, and after seeing how sad his owner is, the dog finds a way for them to meet and reconcile, despite his distaste for her food. Eventually the happy couple gets married and has a baby, who becomes the dog’s new best friend. Like many other babies, this one finds great joy in spilling its food on the floor, straight into the dog’s waiting jaws. This was a super adorable film, and I enjoyed it for that alone. I wouldn’t be surprised if it won by virtue of the very well-done animation, but it wasn’t that unique. I’d be happy if this one took the Oscar, even though I’m not a huge fan of Disney.

Me and my Moulton

Me and My Moulton


I found this animation to be the most boring of the bunch. It is simply one girl telling the audience about a short period of her life in which she and her sisters wanted a bike. Spoilers: they get a bike. There were a few funny bits, like when she tells the doctor she feels sick because her dad has a mustache and no one else in the town does. But it’s the kind of story that only really feels interesting or important to the person living it. The narration was dull. The animation was simple, but clean. But I was bored.

A Single Life

A Single Life


This was maybe the most entertaining of the nominated shorts. A Single Life is a very short animation about a woman who finds a record that, when played, can speed up or slow down her life, depending on which direction it’s played in. She jumps from young adulthood, to childhood, to parenthood, to old age, to death. It’s pretty funny, and I like how simple the concept was. The animation style was also a little different, which I liked. I’d be happy if this one took the Oscar.

Runners Up:

Like last year, I found I liked the runners up better than the shorts that actually got nominated. Oh well.

Bus Story

Bus Story

This story was told in a similar style to Me and My Moulton, but it was considerably more humorous, if totally strange. It tells the story of a woman who has always wanted to be a bus driver, because she wants to say hello and wave at people and things. She finally gets her wish, but it turns out she’s pretty terrible at it. The students are weird, she breaks a mirror, she runs over a dog, and eventually she lands the bus in a ditch. It reminded me a bit of that Ed, Edd, and Eddy cartoon that used to be on Cartoon Network back in the days I used to watch that channel, at least in style. It was fun, and I wish it had been nominated, despite how weird it was.



I really liked Duet. It was a really pretty, fairly simple animation style. It tells the story of a boy and a girl from birth to adulthood – their separate lives, how they finally meet and, of course, fall in love. The animation was very fluid, and each scene morphed into the next. The story itself was not that unique, but I liked the way it was presented. This deserved a nomination.



The story was funny, weird, and a little mind-bending, but the animation style hurt to look at. It was that weird shaking sketch-and-watercolor style (if that description doesn’t make any sense, watch the trailer, you’ll know what I mean). It’s the animated version of shaky camera, and it was really distracting and obnoxious to look at. Footprints is about a man who is woken by something breaking his window. He immediately leaves his house and searches the globe for the “creature” that committed the crime. The whole while, we see this monster evolving and growing in the man’s imagination. Eventually, he thinks he’s found it, and shoots it, only to discover that he’s shot at his own house. HE was the monster who broke his window all along. See? Mind-bendy. It may not have been great, but at least it was interesting. I’m not offended that it didn’t get a nomination.

Sweet Cocoon

Sweet Cocoon

Sweet Cocoon might have been my favorite of all the animated shorts we saw. The concept was simple, the animation was pretty and well-done, and the ending was excellent. This short tells the story of two bugs trying to help a caterpillar fit into its cocoon so it can turn into a butterfly. The caterpillar is a bit too bulbous for its cocoon, and so it is a great struggle, and therefore pretty hilarious. Eventually, they succeed, and the two bug friends watch as the caterpillar emerges as a beautiful butterfly. Everyone is pleased with their efforts, and everything is great. That is, until a bird flies up and snatches the butterfly out of the sky. None of them saw that coming. I wish this short had gotten a nomination.

And now it is time for the red carpet! Time to make burritos and live tweet the event!

A sedimentologist friend of mine just graduated, and last week she was organizing her high school’s rock collection. We got to talking about how rocks are named, and concluded that sedimentary rocks (clastic at least) have the best naming system of all the rock groups (sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic). This week in the geology 101 lab that I teach we start talking about rocks, so this seemed like an appropriate time to blog about rock names.

Let me take this moment to say that there is nothing serious about this post. I am a sedimentologist. I am extremely biased. There will undoubtedly be many flaws in my reasoning. Just don’t get your knickers in a twist if you’re a geologist and have different opinions. I’m also going to make a ton of simplifications for the non-geologists reading this.

If you’re not a geologist, which I assume most of the people reading this are, I’m gonna try to keep this simple. There are 3 main groups of rocks: sedimentary (sandstone, mudstone, etc.), igneous (volcanic rocks, granite, etc.), and metamorphic (marble, schist, slate, etc.). (I’m hoping you’ve heard of at least a couple of those rock names.) They are all united in the rock cycle. This will be relevant later.

Rock Cycle all labels

Below are a few sedimentary rock name charts. Rock names often have 2 parts: one for the grain/crystal size, and one for the composition. Sedimentary rock names are the best because they have clearly defined grain size cutoffs. The grains also don’t grow into each other like they do in metamorphic and igneous rocks, so it’s easier to determine size in most cases (this is somewhat of a simplification, but now is not the time to explain cements). When you’re looking at a rock sample, it’s pretty easy to figure out grain size with your eyes, maybe a little hand lens (magnifying glass) and one of many small charts you can take into the field. It’s even easier in a microscope, but generally that’s not necessary to determine the grain size part of the name. If the grains are bigger than 2mm, it’s a breccia or a conglomerate. If you can see sand grains with the naked eye, it’s a sandstone. If it all looks like one uniform thing, and you can’t see grains, even with a hand lens, it’s in the siltstone/mudstone range. That’s it.

sed rocks photos


Composition for sedimentary rocks (mostly sandstones) is based on the relative amounts of quartz, feldspars, and rock fragments (lithics). A rock’s composition is plotted on a ternary (triangular) diagram, and wherever it falls determines the rock’s compositional name. The label at each corner of the ternary diagram indicates that 100% the rock is made of that grain type. The less the rock has of that grain type, the further away it plots from that corner. Most rocks fall somewhere between the 3 corners. The ternary diagram has nice, easy, straight lines dividing the different names.


The only group of sedimentary rocks that I find a bit confusing are the carbonates. Those seem a bit subjective to me too, but the Dunham classification (chart below) is about as straightforward as it gets.




Metamorphic and igneous rocks, on the other hand, exist on more of a spectrum of names. I’ll save igneous rocks for last, because I think they are the biggest nightmare. When I teach the Geo 101 igneous rock lab, my students always struggle. The following week, they have to ID both metamorphic and sedimentary rocks in one lab, and they always find that process significantly easier.

Metamorphic rocks are mostly problematic when you’re talking about slate, phyllite, schist, and gneiss, which are all on a spectrum. Shale (a sedimentary rock made of silt-sized grains) turns into slate when it get metamorphosed by extreme changes in temperature and pressure. Further metamorphism turns the slate into phyllite, and then schist, and finally gneiss. More metamorphism generally means more shinyness, and larger crystals. I kid you not.


meta rock name chart

So those rocks I just discussed are foliated, which means the minerals align themselves perpendicular to pressure (that’s how you get the shinyness). In the chart above, there are also non-foliated metamorphic rocks. Individually, these are pretty easy to distinguish and name. So metamorphic rock names get points for that. But the foliated rocks are still on an annoying spectrum. And if you want to know more metamorphic rock names, here are a few more:

metamorphic rocks

Finally, we have igneous rocks, which are the most obnoxious to deal with of all. Igneous rocks form when magma cools and crystallizes. Technically, they are divided by crystal size. Big crystals are intrusive, which means they cooled slowly in the crust. Tiny, microscopic crystals are extrusive, which means they cooled really fast on the surface. Seems straightforward, no? But then you throw in the rocks that have both big AND tiny crystals, and sometimes this makes them “porphyritic,” but it’s kind of subjective (in my experience).


Then there’s composition. This is where igneous rocks get their awful spectrum just like the foliated metamorphic rocks. Composition boils down to the relative amounts of dark and light colored minerals. Compositions are curvy and highly variable.




Igneous rocks are a nightmare. I don’t understand how people can comprehend how to name them. And I haven’t even mentioned the volcanic igneous rocks, like obsidian and pumice. Admittedly, those are easier to identify, but they can still be confused with things like rhyolite.


These are the primary tools we use to name rocks. I think the sedimentary rocks make the most sense, and perhaps that’s part of why I’m a sedimentologist. You can take a look at these charts and diagrams and draw your own conclusions about which group of rocks are easier to name. If you have any questions about rock naming and identification, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to use my teaching assistant skills to answer them.


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