kitchen table math, the sequel: yes! (summer plans)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

yes! (summer plans)

I'm apparently working with the Department of Energy's Ames Lab over the summer under chemist Ning Fang (the guy whose research is on the front page of the web site). While I'm really excited to be investigating the in vivo rotational dynamics of biomolecules by getting cells to "swallow" gold nanoparticle probes, it's also a little out in the middle of nowhere. (Ames, Iowa...)

What do NSF kids do for fun when they're not in the lab? Especially when the lab is out in the Midwest?

The internship also runs from Jun 1 to Aug 6, I also need to figure out what I'm doing between May 15 - May 30 and Aug 7 -- Aug 23 (the days of summer that aren't being used for research). I do not have my own car. In fact I don't yet know how to drive so maybe this would be a good opportunity to take a crash course (literally).

My home is about 700 miles away from my school ... so I don't know if it's worth it go home. My family is a single-parent household and we live on the humble income side so I don't know if it's worth it to go back home to stay cooped in a small apartment for two weeks! (Though the NSF will only pay for transport to and from your home/school, and not say, your uncle's place in NYC. I think. Maybe I can check if they'll be a bit flexible.) Actually I have not yet been to my mother's place ... it's in a totally different city since I moved to college (it's smaller and closer to her work) -- so none of my high school friends are there. So I kind of feel semi-nomadic!

The NSF will also be making me $4250 richer. OK, deduct $300-400 for groceries and the occasional eating out (do people even eat out in Iowa??) ... but I don't know if that affects my EFC (expected family contribution) on my FAFSA, especially if it's government-funded? I know I have to pay tax on it. Should it go to a car... or a med school / grad school fund? My undergrad debt will be about $8k ... assuming my FAFSA EFC doesn't go up. My earnings this year (excluding work-study) are about $1.5k, and AFAIK student doesn't start affecting EFC until it's over $3k. Do NSF stipends count as student income on the FAFSA?


Genevieve said...

Even though I attended Iowa State, I don't really know what the kids do for fun besides go to the bars.

If you can find a ride down to Des Moines (about 50 minutes) there are a lot of things to do.

If you are interested in Art we have a downtown sculpture garden from famous modern artists. There are also some pretty good restaurants nearby.
I would visit the website and its forum. It's mostly about development, but it is a great resource for learning about Iowa.
If you want to learn how to drive, my mother-in-law knows the owner of a local driving school and they will often teach adults to drive, but it could be pricey.

lgm said...


Summer interns usually find their own fun according to their budget. There's more than cow tipping available in the midwest. The nice thing about summer is that campus is emptier, so you can use the rec facilities (weight room, pool, tennis, racquetball courts) at reasonable times. The dept will probably have some social functions and they all remember being a poor student, so you'll find a ride.

To be really cost effective, you're better off staying at your school during the breaks and working. But, seeing the parent for a weekend is a good idea.

As always, skip the car until necessary. It's a huge cost and you're better off walking or biking and taking the occasional cab.

Congrats again!

Genevieve said...

I forgot to say that Ames has a pretty decent bus system for a smaller town in the Midwest. (Unless it has changed in the last three years) You can live in Ames without a car. I rarely used my car when I lived there and that was with a baby.
Do you know where you are living yet?

linda seebach said...

Congratulations on your NSF internship.

Just one suggestion, before you go to Ames; lose the sneering attitude. You reasonably aspire to belong to the bicoastal elite that despises flyover country, but the people who live there aren't all that admiring of them either.

You never know -- the same young, enthusiastic assistant professors who will mentor NSF interns will, in 20 years or so, be the grizzled veterans who will be serving on the review panels for your federal grant applications. "Oh, him?" one will say. "I remember him from a summer program. Snotty kid. I remember he asked, 'do people even eat out in Iowa?' " And everybody will chuckle, because they knew kids just like that, and poof! that's the end of your grant application.

Why would you want to go there?

le radical galoisien said...

Sorry I didn't mean to sound sneering. What I meant (being like, Asian and all) is that I know nearly nothing about Iowa other than through Little House books, movies and other forms of popular culture. I'm really curious and open-minded (so I like to think) just that google isn't helping.

le radical galoisien said...

According to Taylor Swift and other popular culture, it sounds like you need a Chevy or some sort of other 4x4 to enjoy the American countryside.

I'm from Maine and Singapore ... so Central Virginia was already like a little cultural shock to me.(Induced by people from cosmopolitan NoVa as well as people from Southern/Western Va.)

I stayed back in Charlottesville last summer instead of going home. Without a car. In recession year. The Shenandoah Valley was 60 miles away but I had no means of getting there! So I'm a little wary of going out into the country without the ability to enjoy the ruralness.

Anonymous said...

>What do NSF kids do for fun when they're not in the lab? Especially when the lab is out in the Midwest?

>do people even eat out in Iowa??

Um. WOW. Because, you know, there's nothing to do in midwest. It's the cultural backwater of the world. Do they even have plumbing?

Speaking of're from MAINE and Singapore. M-A-I-N-E. And you're being nasty about the midwest...why?

Ames is roughly 1/6th smaller than the largest town in Maine, or half again as large as the second largest town in Maine. That'll give you a good idea of what's there--and what isn't.

Since Iowa, unlike Maine, has urban centers approaching a size to properly be called a city, though, people are more likely to drive to areas of denser population, so some amenities will likely be sparser in the smaller towns. (Iowa has 6 cities/towns larger than Maine's largest, and 7 between Maine's largest and second largest towns. I don't even like Iowa--yes, been there, too much prairie and cold for me--but come ON, now, MAINE????????)

Public transportation schedule should determine where you'll live since you won't really make enough for a car that'll get you back home plus insurance until you graduate. And yes, it'll be income on your FAFSA, like anything else.

We have something called "interstates" and "state and US highways" and even "county roads" in unpopulated backwaters like Iowa. Translation: Roads are excellent by almost any standards everywhere in the US, slightly dependent upon the recent pork the local senators have managed to secure. No, you don't need a 4x4 to go to any town in the lower 48 unless it's in the dead middle of a blizzard, at which time you'd be advised to stay inside, anyway.


Anonymous said...

BTW, Taylor Swift is the Pennsylvania-born daughter of a stock broker.

This reminds me of the New Yorkers I once convinced that everyone in my Texas hometown rode horses, went to school in a one-room schoolhouse, had no plumbing, and had never seen cars until we came to NYC. Oh, and I managed to convince them that we all wore cowboy hats, too, but they wouldn't let us take them on those "flying machines..."

Linda Seebach said...

This thread reminds me of the year I spent teaching in Shanghai, and how incredibly parochial my big-city students were (not unlike New Yorkers). Several of them were headed to grad school in Lincoln, Nebr., and they constantly pestered me about the weather. It took me quite a while to understand what they were really asking. They knew they were cold and miserable in Shanghai in the winter, they'd looked up the winter temperatures in Nebraska, and couldn't imagine how they'd survive.

What never occurred to them was that people who live in Nebraska have heat in the winter. People who live in Shanghai do not.

LRG said,"The Shenandoah Valley was 60 miles away but I had no means of getting there! So I'm a little wary of going out into the country without the ability to enjoy the ruralness."

Erm, take a bus? Greyhound has direct service from Charlottesville:

We took local buses all over China. It can be done here, too.

Also, in case he hasn't noticed, college students share rides. And, worst come to worst, you can walk 60 miles. Why not, if the purpose of going there anyway is hiking?

LRG says, "According to Taylor Swift and other popular culture, it sounds like you need a Chevy or some sort of other 4x4 to enjoy the American countryside."

Taylor Swift? I am speechless. As Anon says, we have roads all over the place in "the American countryside."

le radical galoisien said...

In Maine you had oceans ... and a port. The roads were pretty pedestrian-friendly. Maine is a different beast from Iowa... but as you can tell I'm not really pumped to go home to Maine either.

[quote]Why not, if the purpose of going there anyway is hiking?[/quote]

Well there's the issue that it needs to be done all in one weekend...

(Oh I'm living in assigned housing. So I can't really choose. It's all for the better since it'll be free...)

"As Anon says, we have roads all over the place in "the American countryside."

Yes, but then it wouldn't be romanticised offroading.

I mention the stereotypes cuz that's all I know. I'd like for them not to be all there is, but that's what I'm worried about.

le radical galoisien said...

When I was young(er), I lived in Cape Elizabeth, a hamlet of 8000 just south of the biggest city in Maine. My family was considerably more comfortable then, and it was full of well-off white kids who'd think Singapore was in China so they'd tell me and my sister to go back to China.

In elementary school they assigned me an ESL teacher for two years... even though I spoke fluent English. Apparently in the American countryside if you come from any Asian country with an accent you're automatically assumed not to be a native speaker of English, because in their minds only white-majority former colonies of mother England are allowed to have native English speakers.

Good times.

(I kinda wish my parents had picked Northern Virginia. In the most classically Asian way to decide things ever, they picked Maine because it came up 1st in some ranking of the best place to raise children or something.)

lgm said...

The Student Union Board will have entertainment and recreational opportunities over the summer, just as they do during the school year, at prices affordable to students. You'll be able to meet more people than are at your dorm or your lab as well as sample new activities.

To enjoy the 'ruralness' you might consider biking with a club or a friend. You'll see more and interact with more folks than you will driving through. If the county fair is being held while you're there, you should go over the weekend (ask the dept secretary if SUB doesn't run a bus over).

I don't have a good picture of your stereotypes, but do note that midwesterners are good hosts (IMHE), so if you present yourself as sociable, honest & a hard worker you'll probably get invites to come over for a meal & to see a bit more of the area.

Look for opportunities to share your passions or hobbies. I interned in Michigan one summer at a private company ...after work I hopped the bus and went down to the local U and played in their concert band. I saw the countryside playing Sousa music,on an instrument loaned to me, and hopped a ride with the director (loading and unloading the equipment van) in small towns all around. That was worth sooo much more than hanging around with other interns back at the housing or road tripping into Detroit.

Kids can be unfriendly worldwide, till the barriers are broken down. I met with the 'americans go home' deal when I was teen living overseas. You can't let it bother you or turn you cynical. You have to develop your social skills, break down those barriers etc. My kids' foreign national and immigrant friends that are successful are successful b/c they've been taught good social skills, they join clubs and activities, and they are interesting people with passions to share. (not saying that you're not, but making friends and being accepted is a lot easier if social skills are average or better and the student has interest/talents that are being developed so there are some commonalities with others in the community).

Anonymous said...

Get a bike! Ames and surrounding areas are great for biking--you could even expand your horizons and do the Bike Ride Across Iowa in July, if you have time. (It's a GREAT time!!) You don't really need a car in Ames. Join a softball team, hang out at bars, enjoy the midwestern sunsets over the rolling cornfields, read books, write, don't miss that state fair if it's going on (or head to some county fairs). And don't be so snarky about Iowa--people are friendly and smart there.

Anonymous said...

Ames is a college town and you are likely to find that it is pretty similar to the college town you are presently living in, with similar vibes and amenities. Des Moines is a 30-40 mintue bus ride away if you want to visit a larger metropolitan area.

Go to a bookstore or library and get an Iowa travel book ("Iowa off the Beaten Path" or something similar) and look up the Ames and Des Moines area to get an idea of things to see and do while you are there.

Spend some time looking at Iowa travel guides online.

I would second what the above poster mentioned about midwesterners being good hosts. Be polite and friendly and your department head or others at the lab will either include you in their activities or point you in the right direction for fun things to do.

A final piece of advice: Resist bragging. It doesn't go over any better in Iowa than it does anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

>In the most classically Asian way to decide things ever, they picked Maine because it came up 1st in some ranking of the best place to raise children or something.

Probably took Asian-style vacations, too, then--which would be why you've never been much of anywhere! *shudders in horror*

Maine's smaller towns are notorious for their unfriendliness to newcomers, deserved or not, FWIW.

Around here, at least, the most classically Asian way would be to check out the best schools and then choose Ellicot City.

If you want free info and lots of pictures, go to Iowa's tourist site and have them send you their travel guide. Most states release a new one every year.

Why don't you use the "down time" to get your driver's license? Even if you don't use it in Iowa, you'll have it when you need it.

Anonymous said...

(Last one was me--SameAnon.)

Raymond Johnson said...

Having grown up in a town of 5,000 about an hour north of Ames, I still think of Ames as a "big" city! Here are my recommendations:

Eating out: There are plenty of places to go, but if you have to be thrifty, at least try to make it to Hickory Park and the Great Plains Sauce and Dough Company (great pizza).

Downtown: It's not big, but it's pretty nice. I haven't been there for a while, but you could walk to everything, and browsing bookstores and antique shops was an easy way to spend time.

If it's not seriously hot and humid outside, you might enjoy (if you can get transportation) a trip to Ledges State Park. I worked at the Boy Scout camp just down the river, and it's nice to see rural areas of Iowa that aren't plowed and planted. (If you include land for agriculture, Iowa is the most developed state in the U.S., with only a few percent used for state parks or forests. Iowa is the only state without a National Forest and has very little federal land of any kind.)

Above all, if there's something you want but haven't found, ask! Iowans don't have a reputation for being friendly for no reason!