MS PHD’s: Daily Blog from the SSEP Meeting in Potsdam, Germany

2016-06-29T10:51:12+00:00 May 26, 2006|
During their time at the IODP’s Science Steering and Evaluation Panel Meeting (SSEP) held May 29 through June 1, 2006 in Potsdam, Germany, the MS PHD’S students wrote daily blog entries about what they were doing, seeing and learning. Following are their entries:

Friday, May 26

Author: Jozan Powell, MS PHD’S Program Coordinator

Day 1 group shot
The MS PHD'S group in front of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the central train station in Berlin. From left to right, Warner Ithier-Guzman, University of South Florida, Elizabeth Padilla, Georgia Tech, Juanita Escalera, Universidad Metropolitana, Puerto Rico, Treda Smith, VIMS, Sekeenia Haynes, Florida A&M University, Amy Castner and Carl Ebeling, JOI, Jason White, Howard University.

This MS PHD’S PDP/ JOI at the SSEP of IDOP blog is a celebration of our community. This virtual communication allows the MS PHD’S PDP delegation to share our experiences, successes and lessons learned.

So let’s begin at the beginning . . . Developed by a courageous scientist, Dr. Ashanti Johnson Pyrtle of the University of South Florida, the NASA and NSF-funded “Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science”® Professional Development Program (MS PHD’S PDP) initiative provides professional development and mentoring experiences that facilitate the advancement of persons of color committed to achieving outstanding Earth system science (ESS) careers. There are three phases to the program, the first of which was held in conjunction with the Fall 2004 American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting. MS PHD’S PDP participants engaged in a series of community building, leadership and professional development activities. Participants were paired with program and AGU mentors with whom they developed strategies to achieve their academic and professional goals.
Following a similar model of Phase I, MS PHD’S PDP is currently engaged in Phase II activities. As an organizational partner, JOI is hosting seven MS PHD’S PDP students at the Science Steering and Evaluation Panel (SSEP) of IDOP. Members of the 2005-2006 MS PHD’S PDP Cohort are here to participate in a science advisory meeting aligned with their academic, research and professional interests. At this meeting, we will benefit from a science meeting mentor.

We arrived in Potsdam, Germany on May 26, 2006, a little tired but mostly excited for our adventure together. After an orientation with our dynamic and witty organizers, Amy Castner and Carl Ebeling, I knew that this experience was going to be intellectually, professionally and personally transformative for those involved. This vision was affirmed on our second day in which we began with a great breakfast and rich food for thought, three SSEP proposals. We then spent the next 10 hours talking, laughing and touring Potsdam and Berlin. For me there was song and twirling and extreme joy.

What makes this group so special is that they are among the emergent leaders of the scientific community. When I look around at my peers and organizers, I felt hope for the future of our world because we are all united in the goal of actualizing JOI’s mission elements: to develop a geosciences literate society, to create future generations of science leaders, to foster global alliances and to explore new endeavors.

Thank you for joining me in this literary celebration of all we have done and all we are yet to do. Throughout the week, we will keep you abreast of our awesome adventures.

Welcome to our blog.

Saturday, May 27

Author: Warner Ithier, University of South Florida

Day 2
Warner Ithier in front of the Berliner Dom

Pretzel man
The pretzel man in front of the Deutscher Bundestag

Today is our second day in Germany. The days started with a smooth discussion of the proposals and learning more about the science terminology in the proposals from Carl Ebeling. Carl is a very knowledgeable person and gave vital information needed to understand the nature of each proposal. After briefing the proposals, the first German adventure began. We explored the community market next to the hotel and realized how important it is to know German. I tried to communicate with the people there but it was hard because they don’t know English and my German is just obsolete; the only word I know how to pronounce correctly is “Danka,” which means thanks. A while after that we headed to Berlin. Berlin is a big modern city; the first place we visit was the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the recently built central train station in Berlin. It opened today, so there were tons of people and lots of celebration.

The station is huge, it has several levels and thousands of people were there to proudly explore their most recent acquisition. After eating some traditional sausages or Riesen Krakauer mit Brotchen, we moved to the Deutscher Bundestag and from there to the Brandenburger Gate. The architecture in Berlin is very impressive and contemporary, high columns everywhere as well as green areas surrounding the historical monuments. Another impressive place is the St. Mary Church and the Berliner Dom. After visiting the church, it started to rain and the return journey to Potsdam started. On the way back I was mentally briefing my own experience in Berlin and I can conclude that German culture is unique. Each country has their own personality and enchantment and Berlin and its people have one as well. The cultural experience I gained today is invaluable and I hope that this experience can be repeated by my fellow partners in the future.

Sunday, May 28 (I)

Author: Sekeenia Haynes, Florida A&M University

Jason White, Sekeenia Haynes, and Carl Ebeling taking a break for coffee on Unter der Linden, an area that is still home to the highest concentration of historic buildings in Berlin, even though it took a heavy toll during World War II bombings.

Haynes, ge
Sekeenia and her meeting mentor, Shemin Ge
from the University of Colorado, Boulder

High winds and periodic rainfall did not hinder Jörg Erzinger from leading a group of scientists on an historical walking tour of Potsdam, a suburb of Berlin and the meeting location for the SSEP panel. Potsdam is located in what was formerly East Germany, where the philosophy was “Everything belongs to everybody; everyone takes only that which is needed.” Although this philosophy is ideal, it was not achieveable.

Potsdam is a daily reminder of the devastation and destruction that took place in East Germany during World War II. Buildings that were bombed are currently being restored, while those buildings that were not impacted by the War remain intact.

Whether old or new, buildings in Potsdam have one thing in common: art. For example, gold statues are the main type of art observed during the walking tour, but an aluminum fish also adorned an apartment building that we saw. Art usually expresses what is in a person’s soul. I don’t know why a particular piece of art was chosen for each building, but I can imagine the chosen art may be representative of the owners’ hopes and dreams.

Sunday, May 28 (II)

Author: Treda Smith, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Smith, ithier
Treda Smith and Warner Ithier stopping for coffee
during a walking tour

Today we went on a walking tour of Potsdam, led by our gracious meeting host Jörg Erzinger. We gathered outside our hotel just a little after 10 am, where Jörg gave the group a short geography and history lesson before we began our tour. As I was listening to the account of the local history, it suddenly dawned on me that I was standing in the very same Potsdam that used to be located in East Germany – the East Germany that was practically shut off from western Germany and the rest of the world during the post-Cold War years! Potsdam is located in what was formerly East Germany, and is approximately 30 minutes from Berlin.

I have to admit that I was embarrassed that I didn’t realize this sooner, as I’d learned all about West/East Germany, the Berlin Wall, and Germany’s reunification in several of my German classes throughout high school and college. I guess it really does go to show that you can learn lots of things from a teacher and a book, but many times, you don’t ever fully understand what you were taught until you experience it for yourself.

As we proceeded on the walking tour through the city, the fact that we were in former East Germany made the things that I was seeing all make sense: the random mix of architecture sprawled throughout the city (a mixture of Old German, French, Dutch and even mid 60’s era – think of several federal government buildings in Washington, D.C.), and the look and feel of the city that was somehow struggling to climb back to greatness. Please don’t let me mislead you into thinking that city is not pleasant – there are some beautiful sights to see that are hidden
throughout the city, like Park San Soucci, Mittelstraße . . . Kanalstraße.

I didn’t see huge castles, dense forests and sprawling meadows that I always envisioned what Germany was like; what I saw was much better. I feel that like I’ve seen the real Germany now. My next trip here will be in search of Hansel and Gretel, cuckoo clocks and the Black Forest!!!

Dinner first night
The MS PHD’S students and JOI staff have a traditional German dinner in Potsdam.

Monday, May 29

Author: Treda Smith, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

The IODP Science Steering and Evaluation Panel (SSEP) meeting began today. A group of 50 or so ocean drilling scientists (geologists, seismologists, sedimentologists, microbiologists, hydrologists, etc.) from Japan, Europe and the U.S. have come together to discuss proposed ocean drilling projects from around the world. The detailed proposals will be reviewed by the scientists after which the relevant and most comprehensive proposals will be forwarded on to the next level for further consideration. The meeting began after a round of introductions from everyone in the room, including our group. Next there were overviews of the SSEP’s mission, updates from the last meeting, and the charge to the group for this meeting.

I’m a biologist, studying benthic ecology to be exact. My research revolves around aspects of benthic community and structure in shallow water estuarine systems, which is on
a much, much smaller scale than the type of work that the scientists are talking about here. I think in terms of days, weeks, and years, while the ocean drilling scientists think in terms of tens, hundreds and thousands of years. The cores I work with are a few centimeters to a couple of meters in depth, while the ocean drilling cores are often kilometers in depth. It’s amazing to me that we are all speak the same language (science), just differently. I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve had several geology and marine geology-related courses, as they have provided me with a basic understanding of the concepts discussed here this week.

Tuesday, May 30 (I)

Author: Jason White, Howard University

Jason White standing with a German in period dress

Hail and rain
Seeking shelter from hail and rain in Potsdam …
and Berlin …

Last night we were treated to a wonderful dinner as we cruised along the river and viewed all of the wonderful sites of historical Potsdam identified by our meeting host Jörg Erzinger.
Although it was raining slightly and was a little chilly on the upper deck, the night was filled with good food, fellowship, fun, and laughter. After such a great night, I should be in a great mood today, however, I’m still slightly depressed because upon arrival to Germany my laptop decided that it wanted to take a vacation and would not be working. Despite my best efforts, all I have been
able to get from it is a few flashing lights. Today, of all days on the trip, is the day that I am missing it most of all. We have a presentation to prepare, blog entries to write, and of course there is my ever-present research to work on. It is only through the kindness of my colleagues and there willingness to share their computers that I will be able to get anything done.

After being a part of reviewing proposals in individual breakout sessions, the entire panel was back together. Today, members of the smaller groups presented their findings and recommendations on proposals to the panel, and an overall consensus was reached as to what to do with each one. It is interesting to witness the process in which the proposals are introduced, debated, and decided upon.

We had a final brainstorming session about the presentation that we will be giving to the panel. After some debate, we reached a consensus on the format and the content, and began to draft the final version. It has been a busy week thus far, with still more work to be done. However, tomorrow is the last day of the conference and hopefully it will run smoothly so that we can all be in good spirits and have one last night of fun, adventure, and memorable experiences in Germany.

As we were leaving the building at the end of the day, we were once again caught in a thunderstorm. This time as an added bonus, we were pelted with hail. For all we know, it must rain here everyday, because that is what has happened all week long.

Tuesday, May 30 (II)

Author: Sekeenia Haynes, Florida A&M University

Jörg Erzinger toasting the good work of SSEP panelists during the dinner cruise of Potsdam.

Today is our 5th day in Potsdam and the 2nd of the SSEP Meeting. We began our day with the long walk from the hotel to the Albert Einstein National Research Facility. I expect this is where the brightest and best geoscientists in Germany come daily to develop their innovative research ideas, nurture the minds of young scientists, and get really good lunch meals.

As we began to observe our first proposal review session, I realised that I was sitting at the head of the table next to the moderator (and U.S. Co-Chair) Mike Underwood. I was immediately excited because I believe my position at that moment was not coincidental. It was a glimpse into one of many roles sure to come in my own academic career.

Mike led the discussion in a very relaxed manner, asking the watchdogs very thought-provoking questions. He really has a great ability in carving a pathway toward consensus verdict on each proposal. He was excellent at leading the panelists to final agreement.

My fate was also observed by one of my colleagues, Jozan, who said, “Don’t you see yourself in this lead position? Because I can totally see you as a moderator.” Of course, I agreed with her and we shared a toast during the coffee break.

We ended our day with a 3-hour dinner cruise tour of Potsdam along the River Spree on a two-deck boat. Here is where we engaged in enjoyable fellowship with our mentors and the scientists of IODP. We all had a great time.

Wednesday, May 31

Author: Elizabeth Padilla, Georgia Institute of Technology

Padilla and wall
Elizabeth Padilla standing with one of the few remaining pieces of The Wall still standing in Berlin

An evening shot of the Berlin Cathedral

Today is Wednesday, during the day we’ve been attending the ongoing discussions and final decisions on various proposals. This is a very interesting process; I’ve gotten to witness how manuscripts are evaluated in terms of weakness, strengths, feasibility and broad impact. I think that the procedure is exceptional, the panel really engages in a nurturing process by making clear recommendation to each proposal individually. These suggestions are fed back to the proponents, giving them the opportunity to re-submit their proposals and achieve funding approval. In my eyes, this organization has made clear that their main objective and final mission is to make good science by improving efficient scientific writing and pushing the excellence in the planned/proposed expeditions.

I’m also very happy because so far microbiology directed projects have been part of several proposals. Therefore, microbiologists and young investigators like me should all feel excited because we are living in very interesting times. The exploration of the Life in the deep biosphere is just beginning and its findings could revolutionize how we think about our planetary evolution, life in the primitive earth and also possible life elsewhere . . . from classical evolution to astrobiology, how cool is that?? The microbial component of these Ocean Drilling Proposals also shows a joint effort from scientists from different fields and the integration of the sciences, and I’m also very happy to see that.

Back to my day, at 6pm we left the hotel to tour Berlin we got there around 7 pm. Warner and I were delighted by the scenery . . . the sun was going down giving the buildings and monuments a more mystic feeling, enhancing their stylistic baroque architectural features.

We headed to Potsdam Plaza to check if we could see any of the few remanent sections of The Wall. On most streets the former course of the Berlin Wall is marked by a doubled row of paving stones; but a small segment stands in front of the train station. It has a big Peace and Love sign painted on it; I stood in front of it thinking in how such a little piece of concrete has so much meaning. That segment is a historical landmark, a symbol of the of the Cold War that today stands as a witness of turbulent times but also as advocate of justice and democracy in the free world.

I guess I can keep on writing, but I’ll conclude here. There is so much to learn around here. This experience has been all about great science, history, building relationships, among many others. It has been in one world: amazing.

Thursday, June, 1 (I)

Author: Juanita Escalera, Universidad Metropolitana (P.R.)


When I found out that I was selected to participate in the IODP-SSEP Workshop, I was a little worried. I asked myself if I was going to get something useful from this experience “beside the wonderful opportunity to go to Germany and see this beautiful city”. I decided to be open-minded and willing to get whatever I could out of the experience. I was wrong to be worried, because as a chemistry undergraduate student, this meeting has been a great experience. I got to engage in the panel discussion and understood what was going on. The experience will help me in my development as a person and as scientist.

I am so excited to go home and begin to put together all my ideas for the next level of my career, which is to go to graduate school. I have to work on a proposal to get funding for my gradate school. I haven’t yet made a decision on where to go, but I do have an invitation from Howard University in Washington, DC, as well as other places where I will able to get an Environmental Science Specialization in Environmental Toxicology.

Now going back to the meeting, I learn that a good proposal needs to be in good shape to be considered for funding. Reviewers reading your proposal need the proponent(s) to be specific and clear about what they are proposing. Reviewers don’t need fancy words and terminology that are not necessarily globally understood. I have really enjoyed the opportunity to be here. I have had a lot of fun in a place that wasn’t in my list of places that I want to visit, but it was wonderful.

Thursday, June, 1 (II)

Author: Amy Castner, Joint Oceanographic Institutions

Powell, padilla, castner
Jozan Powell, Elizabeth Padilla and Amy Castner relaxing on Unter den Linden

Today is our last day together as a group. Once the plane leaves the Berlin International Airport in Tegel, tomorrow, we will all go our separate ways and return to our own lives, but I suspect we have built a small but lasting community. As the JOI “leader,” I have somewhat of a unique perspective, and where the students focused on the science and interacting with their mentors and the SSEP panel members, I was more focused on group dynamics and facilitating the interactions.

We gelled as a group very quickly . . . not to suggest that we never experienced conflict during our time together . . . but we were able to navigate those periods with grace (sometimes) and emerge stronger, with a better understanding of each other and our values (always).

My hope for our experience is for growth and broadening of perspectives for each of us. I hope the students come away with a broad understanding of scientific ocean drilling, its multidisciplinary nature and how it might connect to their own research and/or career(s); insights into the international nature of science and how culture can influence panel interaction in significant ways; and an excitement about the wide world of experience possible to scientists working in the global sphere.

I have learned much from the students. I have learned that I “can be a bit OCD,” as a colleague stated, and I do not disagree. (. . . although I was relieved to hear that most of the time I am obsessive compulsive about the right things at the right time!). I learned new perspectives on the emerging goals for professionals working to encourage more diversity within the sciences. By working with the group on their blog entries and presentation, I learned more about the subtleties of and the risks required for good group facilitation.

Our adventures in Germany – both science-based and interpersonal – have been a real gift for me and I have enjoyed every minute of it . . . yes, even the challenging ones! Thank you for sharing it with me!

The students were asked to give a presentation on the MS PHD’S Program, their individual research areas, and what they learned by participating in the SSEP Meeting. Download their presentation here.