Monday, December 31, 2012
In the merriment of ringing in a new year, a blank slate, a new beginning, I have to pause and think about what 2012 meant to me.
It's been a big year. A year where I made new friends, a year where things went up as fast as they went down, a year where I had new adventures and a year that when I look back on it, I think I learnt more than I ever thought possible. In fact, it's all happened in such a blur I'm not sure if it all really was just some kind of crazy dream, but then I pinch myself and realise, that well, I'm awake. Life really is short, and it seems to just get faster and faster.
So what was 2012?
2012 was the year of in the time it takes to blink everything can change. My opinions changed. The way people treated me changed, and most of all I changed. I expected to be unemployed right now but have finished my PhD. I didn't expect to be back in my hometown for years. Instead in the space of a couple of months I moved over 2000km, am now employed, but alas the thesis isn't finished (but it will be soon, I hope!)
2012 was the year I realised some people weren't meant to be my friend. I also realised that people who I considered friends, were in fact not my friends at all. That people who I thought were good, were in fact, not good at all. All in all, I learnt the hard way that assholes happen and that not everyone will like you, no matter how hard you try.
It was a year I learnt the power of my voice - that if I want to make a difference to the world, I can. It's hard work to make an impact, but I wish more people realised the power they hold as individuals, and that their dreams and goals are achievable.
I learnt the power of hard work, a kind word and how just being there for someone can make profound differences.
I saw the power science has to change the world - from the Higgs Boson, to landing on Mars to the ENCODE project I saw how science inspires others and how many people get excited by science. This has motivated me immensely to ensure to I share my passion and love of science with others.
I learnt that Rome wasn't built in a day.
2012 was a full-on year. A year of growth, of challenge, of living. It is amazing to think a year ago, there were people I talked to that now I don't, there were friendships to be made, there was knowledge I now have that I didn't then, and that I was living in a different town. A lot can happen in 365 days.
So before I ring in the New Year, and new challenges and adventures, I pause to look at the year that was and realise, that living is full of one thing - change; and even though at times I'm afraid of it, and it is hard, that at the end of the day I do welcome it. I also thank the people that in various ways have made 2012 awesome - there are those that make me laugh, made me cry, make me think, make me feel inspired and at the end of it all, made me who I am.
Happy New Year - may it be full of science, prosperity, adventure, living life to the fullest and most of all, full of wonderment.
Monday, December 24, 2012
to make gingerbread men that would rule the street.
She mixed up spices, butter and flour;
and let the mix stew for several hours.
While working to the chants
of Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, Jack White and Robert Plant,
she carefully crafted each and every one,
Rolled, cut and baked, second to none.
Next came the bones made of icing,
The army was cooled and ready for an uprising.
Along the way a few lost arms legs or heads,
but it didn't matter, for they would still fight to the end.
The mad scientist admired her army,
and giggled in delight at her plan to take over Christmas, however it was slightly barmy!
However the mad scientist realised, there was one key issue that would lead to defeat,
for chewy gingerbread were delicious to eat!
The army ran and hid,
however, there was one small problem - they were too numerous to fit under the lid.
The scientist had a thought - maybe it would be best
and give the plan for world domination a rest.
Instead, she decided, let the gingerbread by consumed,
and rule Christmas through good food.
So the ginger army has been shared and eaten
another Christmas treat that just can't be beaten!
Monday, December 10, 2012
While I've been sparse on blog posts, I've certainly not been sparse in living. I've seen some major changes in my life - I've moved interstate, taken up a new job and am now finishing my PhD part-time rather than it being all consuming.
I came across the opportunity to move back to near family, and in the world of science this can be rarity. In fact, I was thinking it would be 5 years or so before I could be within 'quick visit' distance of my family. Despite not being completely finished with the thesis, the fact I may soon be out of money was at the forefront of my thoughts and I had been applying for jobs in the hope I landed something sooner rather than later. In many regards when it comes to finishing a PhD you are damned if you are and damned if you don't.
In order to be able to finish your PhD thesis and walk into a job at the right time is really down to luck - luck with timing, luck with funding, and to be able to continue working on exactly what you want is even another level of luck again. However for the majority it's one way or the other - you continue to work on the thesis full time, submit and end up unemployed or you find a good job and finish writeup in your spare time; really it's stress about money or stress about writing up, there's no in-between.
I've managed to find a job in my hometown, and even better it's in something I want to be working on - I count myself amongst the lucky (especially in the current economic climate). And best of all, I'm happy to say I really like the new job.
However, the relocation, the farewells, the establishment of a routine where I'm making actual progress on the thesis - some things (like this blog) were pushed aside while I dealt with the perpetual whirlwind that seemed to consume the last few months.
So with things now settling down, it's time to breathe some life back into this blog....welcome back to paradigm of one in (almost) 7 billion.
Monday, August 20, 2012
1. Season 3 of the Walking Dead is back soon, and there are some pretty disgusting zombies and a really cool trailer, which makes me even more excited for the return of this show: Walking Dead Season 3
2. If you have arachnophobia don't click this link. But if you like spiders, and really cool photography then cool set of pictures is for you: Amazing Pictures of Raindrops on Spiders
3. There once as a lady who swallowed a pen, and 25 years later they found it, and it still worked: An unlikely story of a pen
4. Like documentaries? Ever wondered about evoution? Then check out this Youtube collection including Dawkins, Attenborough and one of my current favourite series called "Inside Nature's Giants". Many interesting hours of viewing to be had here: Evolution Documentary Channel
5. And for those of you that have agonised over the complex question of "what is better - cake or pie?" Here is the answer, the result of an in-depth and scientific evaluation. I do not agree with the answer however I may be biased in favour of cake. I suggest further, delicious research is needed: Hyperbole and a Half: Cake versus Pie
That's all for now, as you were...
|In this case, the cake isn't a lie. In fact, it is rather delicious (and contrary to scientific evaluation, better than pie)|
Thursday, August 9, 2012
On the Autopsy Table: Bad to the Bone: facial structure predicts unethical behaviour
Authors: M.P Haselhuhn and E.M. Wong
Journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society B
Volume: 279 (2012)
Essentially, if you are a male with a wide face, you are more likely to cheat and lie in controlled tests (and this could be extended to real life). This is due to the underlying genetic trait (i.e. face width) giving a sense of power to the indvidual and/or the likelihood this physical trait is perceived as aggressive to others. This study supposedly demonstrates that genetically based traits (such as face width) can be linked to behaviour. I have to admit it was difficult not to think about the days of the 'criminal' shaped head (aka. phrenology) when reading this paper. However, with all the talk of 'criminal' genes in recent times, I thought it would make for an interesting paper.
The researchers measured a number of people's faces both male and female, then allowed the to play a game of negotiation. The next lot of volunteers were able to enter a lottery, and were told how many chances they had to enter. However the lottery was online, and the recruits had an opportunity to cheat and enter more times than allowed. To generate measurements for comparison, faces were measured and a width-to-height ratio was calculated (known as a WHR). The negotiation test had 192 participants and the lottery had 123.
The title pretty much sums up the results. In both cases, men with wider facers took the opportunity to act unethically. In the negotiation test men with a higher WHR would lie more often, and in the lottery, they would add more entries than told to.
The explanation that the authors supplied for the bad behaviour is actually psychological, and a result of the biological features. Men with wider faces felt more powerful, and thus this power encouraged them to cheat. It is thought that men with wider faces are seen as more aggressive and thus, can take advantage of those who sense this aggression. The authors suggest that if these men are treated like they have more power, they will probably use it to their advantage.
|Would you call this man a liar to his face? And then back it up by saying he is a liar, because of his face?|
So if you have a wide face you'll lie and cheat? Not quite. Looking at the actual numbers in the study, it can be seen that the differences in WHR and cheating behaviour actually aren't large, although it is statistically significant. The authors do admit further research is needed to confirm their findings, and furthermore to confim an explanation; whether the explanation is more related to the genetic trait or a psychological phenomenon, or just due to the subjects used in this one study (it is possible that out of the entire population on earth, these researchers just ended up with a bunch of volunteers who tend to cheat and lie more often than another group).
Overall, while this study is interesting, it doesn't quite prove that men with wider faces are unethical. What it does show is that there may be some biological predictors of how people are perceived (i.e. if you are perceived as powerful due to a strong face, your behaviour may reflect this). However, if you look around, I'm sure you'll find people with a large WHR who aren't liars, cheats or are perceived as aggressive as social and environmental influences have outweighed the biological ones. So there's a bit more research to be done before you should go treating people with wide faces as suspicious.
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
|This may be an accurate representation of actual piles of currently unread scientific papers on my desk.|
Monday, July 16, 2012
It's been over TWO months since my last post. Mind you, it's been a pretty trying couple of months and to be honest, I just haven't had the time or the right frame of mind to keep this blog going. However, lots has been happening on all fronts so here's an update on what I've been up to, and a short reflection on some of the recent science news.
Of course, I can't ignore what probably will be the science breakthrough of the year, if not the decade, and for some physicists, of their lifetime: The results out of the LHC regarding that little particle. All So much has been said already by those far more qualified than I, but what I can say is that even as a biologist I can appreciate the amazing result and what it means for the standard model of particle physics. There were the usual cries of "But what does it mean for us? How will it cure, fix, or make life better?" Science isn't just about making the world better or life easier, sometimes the beauty in science is finding out something unknown, of adding a new piece of knowledge to what we know. Where a new piece of knowledge can take us in terms of applications is really an open-ended question. It's well known in science when one answer is found, about a thousand more questions simultaneously arise and a scientists work will possibly never be done. When Einstein published the Theories of Relativity, nobody could predict it would enable us to use satellites to track locations in the form of GPS. Finding the Higgs Boson is another piece of the puzzle, and a wonderful demonstration of how global effort can be enacted to improve our understanding of the world. I listened to the live broadcast announcement of the discovery, and I even understood little parts of it! Despite not understanding all the physics I could hear the excitement, the sheer pride of the chief scientists as they spoke of the result, and this is something that made me proud to be part of the scientific community, and inspired to keep chipping away at my own research questions. The discovery and announcement of this little particle was a wonderful day for scientists of all disciplines, and the result is a shining example of collaborative science at its finest.
I've got some great papers to review for my paper dissection posts including one on how men with wider faces tend to lie, the correlation of size and strength to human formidability and some examples of sci-fi getting real including genes that can be activiated using radiowaves and how methylation of DNA can be linked to memory. It can be said that like New York, Science never sleeps!
Speaking of unrest, on the PhD front it's been a harrowing couple of months. I waited nine weeks to finally hear that my PhD scholarship has been extended. I didn't think waiting would actually get to me, afterall I had good grounds for an extension, but waiting that long without an answer was hard, and stressful and even at times, quite distressing. The story behind the extension is a good one - it involves a mix of an electricity cut, insurance claims, waiting for orders and a supervisor who went AWOL. Basically I was delayed, and thankfully as slow as the government was, my money was approved. The lab work also wasn't going so well - it seemed everything I touched turned to rubbish. And I mean everything - even the most basic of procedures were either failing or turning up cruddy results. Thankfully I stuck it out and thankfully I've done the troubleshooting and things seem to be back to working (for now). I've only got three weeks of lab work left, which is pretty crazy. It's getting hard to say goodbye to things I've been doing constantly for almost three years, it is also exciting to know a new adventure is coming and I since I can see that tiny little light at the end of tunnel, the motivation to keep going is probably what will see me through the hard part i.e.finishing all the loose ends and producing a coherent document at the end of it all.
The big news is that I submitted my first paper from my thesis - it is still sitting with a sub-editor waiting to go to review. It was a great feeling to finally press submit, but there was also a touch of trepidation. I've been in the field long enough to know sometimes getting a paper published is like a lottery. Sometimes you get good reviewers, sometimes you don't, sometimes the comments are mean, sometimes they are helpful and sometimes it feels like a merry-go-round. Just when you think you've achieved something, there is a peer reviewer who will bring you right back down to ground with a resounding thump. It does seem for every 10 steps you make, there is at least one setback - grant rejections, paper rejections, nasty comments, politics, no money, failed experiments. But all the setbacks mean when you do something great, or your paper does get published, it is all the more sweeter. If I've learnt anything in this PhD (aside from science) is that we are all full of far more fight and passion and endurance than I ever imagined.
So stay tuned, the blog is well and truly back! And I have a new motto especially in times of stress, of which there will be several between now and when I submit the thesis:
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Monday, April 16, 2012
1. DNA sequencing in the palm of your hand, and run by USB (yes, it is very cool!): Nature News: Oxford Nanopore
2. Possibly one of the best sites on the interwebs - full of science, art, philosophy, music, books, and great lists. Go pick the brains of the internet: Brain Pickings
3. Want to be an astronomer for a few hours (or days, or months)? Check out Galaxy Zoo, and help with characterising just what is out there: Galaxy Zoo
4. Regina Spektor releases new music - it is glorious and just a little saddening thinking of all those paintings 'imprisoned' in galleries: All the Rowboats
5. Next time you are bored, play this game. You hit cute things, and if you don't do it fast enough you literally die from boredom! Bored to Death
Ok, you're late, you're late for a very important date! Better go focus on that....
Monday, April 2, 2012
Monday, March 26, 2012
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Monday, January 23, 2012
So 2012 has gotten off the ripping start. I hit the lab with great energy, I completed a draft and generally things are getting there. But the mountain remains just that, a mountain. When faced with nothing but an uphill climb, one feels like running, like pulling the quilt back up over one’s eyes and going back to sleep. Except you will wake up, and you can’t run away from this mountain.
This is the year I face the end, and it’s coming like a steam train. Whilst climbing the mountain is gradual, and I admit feels pretty good, it really is never ending. So I get all my experimental work done, I write it up, and I compile it into a nice little thesis. For a PhD candidate, submitting is a git of a nightmare. You finish and with it comes hope of an awesome position. But there’s a period of uncertainty, between submission and conferral. You don’t have the qualifications to take a post-doctoral position, but you don’t want to take a permanent position, only to have your dream research job come up and an angry boss demanding why you took a job only to be leaving a few months later. Some are lucky, they score a casual position in their lab while they write up. But then, inevitably, writing up gets pushed further and further back, and the submission date gets moved and moved again, as writing makes way for the need to pay the bills.
So one might ask, where is the university in all of this? Well, the university expects you will dot the i’s and cross the t’s but that’s about it. In fact, the pressure to take a safe option, to do the most basic of what is needed to pass a PhD is what is being put forward as the ideal model. Finish in as little time, hand in and then there is the door. At the university I attend, there is barely any support for PhD candidates in their final throws - no help with job searches, no assistance with stress and the icing on the cake really comes when you finish – often you will get emails within days of submission to clear out your desk and make way for the next number. Yes, you are a number, and yes, it seems the university really only does see dollar signs, which is a sad sign of what is becoming of once what was an honourable undertaking. The undertaking of a PhD was a process of becoming a an enlightened thinker, and someone capable of being able to synthesise ideas and then turn them into scientific results, addressing all the spectrum of challenges which arise along the way. Now, its seems it is all just a fancy exercise resulting in a few more letters after one’s name.
If it is just a case of churning out people with the correct piece of paper, what happens to the skills of the scientist? Science is about the ability to think, being creative, being able to look at things critically, and to ultimately think outside the box. Research isn't about being able to recall facts, it's about being able to use them. Simply filling out the correct forms, and doing the bare minimum to get the thesis does not make a scientist. In fact, this checkbox type approach discourages all the things that make scientists good at science. Treating a PhD like a simple exercise in producing the bare minimum without developing those necessary skills will result in many scientists who just won’t have the skills to do science. And this begs the question, with scientists who can’t live up to their namesake, what future does research have?