In the spirit of Thanksgiving, ‘tis the season’ to reflect on the reasons I love my job.
I get paid to continue to learn! The way I figure it, each year I’m smarter than the year before. At our school there’s tremendous freedom for students to design their own research projects, so I never know what’s coming next. I feel like I’ve been asked to help out with a little bit of everything.
These daily serendipitous surprises keep the job interesting and increase my curiosity about the world in which we live.
What are some things that I’ve learned that I definitely didn’t know when interviewing? Glad you asked:
- People think about sharks in the ocean but not in rivers…. In our part of Florida, we should watch out for bull sharks in the Manatee River because they give birth in the brackish water near the bay and can thrive in both saltwater and freshwater. Scientists hypothesize that that it gives them a competitive advantage when searching for food and habitat.
- The early press in New England was partially dominated by postmasters who took advantage of their position to reprint (cough cough plagiarize) in their own newspapers articles from European papers before anyone else had the stories. Original local material was minimal and buried on internal pages.
- Carrie Nation was a radical Midwestern Prohibitionist who fought for the cause of temperance. She was arrested over 30 times for her “hatchetations,” where she, often accompanied by other women, would march into a bar while singing hymns and use a hatchet to smash bottles and fixtures.
- In the early 20th century south, before Cracker Barrel restaurants had been created, the term “cracker barrel” was well known. Farmers would gather around the “cracker barrel” as an analog form of social networking before digital technologies took over.
- The mucus of the murax snail was used to make “Phoenician purple” in ancient times. Because this was a costly and labor-intensive process, this Tyrian purple was reserved for royalty, which is why we still associate purple with royalty today.
- Cuttlefish are the most amazing invertebrates. (The octopus may argue…) They have chromatophores on their skin and can change color and texture instantaneously. Not only is this good for camouflage, it can be used to hypnotize prey.
- Some New England families of the 1800s believed their deceased family members were vampires and exhumed the graves. The reason for the panic? Tuberculosis has a long incubation and illness period, and the disease progression involves wasting away and coughing up blood. So some families incorrectly assumed vampirism rather than disease.
- Many of the etiquette laws regarding Medieval European feasting could actually be considered hygiene laws. Diners were asked to wash their hands before eating, have visibly clean fingernails, and not pet dogs while eating. This makes sense when you realize that generally guests shared dishes and did not use silverware. Instead they ate with their fingers and dipped meat by hand into shared bowls of sauces.
- There’s a Native American Creek legend about why possum has a bare tail. He so admired raccoon’s bushy striped tail that he asked how he could get one. Raccoon told him to wrap bark around his tail and stick it in the fire. Possum was so excited and gathered so much bark and let the fire get so big that when he finally stuck his tail in, all the hair burned off. Even though he waited for it to regrow, ever since possums have had bare tails.
- This was from my Academic Team and not research per se, but I’ve since spent many hours watching University Challenge; it’s my new obsession. As a word nerd, I love new vocabulary: hapax legomenon-a word or term used only once in a given language. Welcome to University Challenge
Anyone else love being surrounded by learning and knowledge? Cool facts that you can’t help but want to share? I’d love to keep on learning—Happy Thanksgiving to all!