Archive for: November, 2012

Friday Weird Science: Grin and bear it

Nov 30 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

I think the fine folks at NCBI ROFL covered this one recently, but it's too good not to share.


Have you ever been in a terrible mood, and someone tells you to smile? It usually doesn't make your mood any better to be TOLD to smile, but what if you actually DO smile? Does it help?



Well, according to this paper, actually smiling may really help. But if you're holding chopsticks in your mouth in a truly ridiculous manner, can you really HELP feeling a little better about life?

Kraft and Pressman. "Grin and Bear It : The Influence of Manipulated Facial Expression on the Stress Response" Psychological Science, 2012.

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8 responses so far

Getting a PhD to become a science writer

Nov 29 2012 Published by under Academia

Last night, while doing the classic late night science (timepoints happen to us all), I saw a conversation around the topic of getting a become a science writer. It turned out that the conversation was based around this post over at SciLogs, where Jalees wrote that getting a PhD, in order to become a science writer, is a reasonable thing. I have to say that, as someone with both a PhD and a good bit of experience as a science writer, I strongly disagree. And I'd like to lay out why.

But first, let me be clear: There is NOTHING wrong with being a science writer who also has a PhD (after all, I do it!). There is also nothing wrong with being a science writer without a PhD. But I think, if you want to become a science writer, pursuing a PhD with that in mind is daft not the best use of your time.

Jalees lays out the pros and cons of doing a PhD to become a science writer, but I think that many of his pros...are really cons in disguise. Let's go through this point by point.

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Crowdfunding, part the second: another SciFund, and the chance to learn more!

Nov 29 2012 Published by under Academia

Since writing about a pharmacology crowdfund, which raised money to look at localization of amphetamine inside neurons (and which got funded!), I have received emails asking me to "advertise" other crowdfunds. I decided to use this latest opportunity to ask the willing scientists some questions about how, exactly, they came across crowdfunding, whether it was working for them, and what they planned to do with it.

So today I would like to talk up the latest crowdfund: Computer-based behavioral interventions for autism. It's a really interesting idea. Elizabeth Whyte and her colleagues have been working on a "game" to help people with autism develop their skills in making eye contact, recognizing faces, and understanding emotional expressions. They've been using little figures called "Greebles", and looking at the impact in children with autism. In order to help kids work with the Greebles, the writers of this study want to make Greebles more like a game, making it more interesting to "play" with and learn from.

The Penn State lab where this study is based wants to use the crowdfunding to help them finish up the first phase of their study (measuring the impact of the Greebles on how well people with autism process faces), and to move on to the second phase of developing the game. The study authors have a lot of experience in fMRI and the lead author also has a lot of experience in gaming (she plays World of Warcraft), which she hopes to apply to making the Greebles a popular intervention for people with autism.

And the author of the study (Elizabeth Whyte), and another study looking at protein markers for autism (Alisa Woods) were kind enough to answer some of my questions about crowdfunding! Check below the fold to learn all about it.

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Welcome Scicurious Guest Writer Nicole!

Nov 28 2012 Published by under Scicurious Guest Writers

At SciAm Blogs today, I'm proud to present the first Scicurious Guest Writer, Nicole Baganz. She's writing about the possible link between sickness behavior and mental illness.

In the case of infection, sickness behavior is a normal response to halt the spread of the bug and help the organism get better. In the absence of an infection, however, depressive symptoms could arise from inappropriate immune system activation. Ultimately, these studies could shed light on what happens in the depressed brain and begin to erase the stigma that remains attached to mental illness.

Head over, check her out, and let her know that she did a great job! And keep an eye out, the next guest writer is just around the corner!

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Are you interested in being a Scicurious Guest Writer?

Nov 27 2012 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

From SciAm Blogs:

I would like to announce the beginning of my own Scicurious Guest Writing series! If you are a young (or old!) scientist, interested in trying science writing, and wanting to find out how to begin, this is for you! I would like to lend some of my “expertise” (well, at least I’ve been doing it a while) to helping other scientists work on communicating science via social media. Each month, I will feature a guest writer for one piece on the blog, here at The Scicurious Brain. That writer will work with me prior to the posting of the piece, going through several drafts and producing what may be their first piece of science writing.

If this is something you're interested in, please head over and get more information! I'd love to help a few brand new writers get started.

2 responses so far

Stress really DOES make stress worse

Nov 26 2012 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm Blogs today, talking about a study about stress. It turns out, just basic acute stress can be fine, but SEVERE stress? Well that just makes it all worse. Head over and check it out!

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Friday Weird Science: Beer vs Liquor, which one makes you anger quicker?

Nov 23 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

I'm sure you all have heard "Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, everything clear"? Whether or not it's true (and honestly, it's not true), most people talk about differences in alcoholic drinks. Some people love wine, some people get horrible wine headaches. Some people are happy with beer, others find it makes them sleepy. Some people think whiskey is great, while others report it makes them fighting machines.

Well, does it really? They're both, at the bottom, alcoholic drinks, but do beer and liquor have different effects on how we behave? And I'm talking more than just the hangover.

Pihl et al. "Alcohol and aggression in men: a comparison of brewed and distilled beverages." Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1984.

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4 responses so far

Knowing what I know now

Nov 21 2012 Published by under Academia, Blog Carnivals, Uncategorized

I felt very inspired looking at the recent post from Jeremy Yoder, 'Knowing what I know now'. Well, first it reminded me of this:

Though of course this is the BEST song of that title:

But then it made me think of all the things that I WISH I'd known in grad school, the things I did right (though unconsciously), and the things I should have done better.

While I don't have a time machine and can't go back to tell my naive self how to GIT IT DONE, I do have YOU! The grad students who will come after me. And you can benefit from my experience! There have been some posts I've written on this before, I'll try to link to them as I go along.

So here you have it. My entry for the "Knowing what I know now" carnival. 5 things I wish I'd known before I started grad school.

1. You will hit that slump.
THAT slump. The research slump. The writing slump. Usually around your 3-4th year. Maybe again if you're still working in the 7th year. The slump where nothing works. Where going to lab makes you irritable and snappish. Where you hate your PI, your lab, and pretty much your life.

Everyone has it. You are not alone. You can DEFEAT THE SLUMP. You can. Find and talk to friends. Maybe take on a side project, something easy and achievable to get a second authorship. Develop a side skill (teaching or writing, something to develop your CV). Approach your question from a new angle. There are lots of things you can try, but know that you WILL hit the slump. Everyone does, some just lie and say they don't.

2. Organize. Organize and plan. Routine and efficiency are your friends.
Jeremy said something about this as well, and I think it's very wise (it's also the one there here I managed to get right the first time!). After classes are over in grad school, you make your own hours. You make your own research. You make your own productivity. There are very few deadlines, and if you're not careful, you're going to spin wheels and get nothing done. Organize. Write an NRSA or another predoctoral grant. It's good practice, and even if you don't get it, lays out the experiments you will do, and gives you a guideline and a map for where you need to be. Keep a bible (not that kind). Practice efficiency. Make lists, see what you can get done in a day. Learn how to effectively manage your time. This will help you...

3. Stay productive...
...when you get in a slump, productivity can be hard. We make our own hours, and a string of defeats can leave those hours slipping from 8-8, to 9-5, to 10-3, to 12-2...well, crap. And that doesn't look good for anyone. Find ways to stay productive, whether that's developing new skills or new techniques, or just getting the little things done that help your work run more smoothly. Don't let yourself slack. It feels so good, but it ends in panic.

Keep doing what you need to do. If you want to develop things on the side (like, say, science writing or teaching), DON'T let that eat into your research time. Do it ON THE SIDE. Meet expectations. Get your stuff done.

4. ...but don't burn out. Meet the standard, yes, but don't work yourself to the bone to exceed it. I've seen way too many grad students burning the midnight oil til there's nothing left to burn. The end result is not pretty. I used to tell people when they joined the lab "congratulations! By the time you leave, you will be an alcoholic, or an untramarathoner. Pick one." These are extremes, but I have seen both, and it highlights the kind of stress and constant desperation that you go through in grad school. This is because, no matter how well we are doing, we grad students are competitive. We know now that tenure track jobs don't come free. The demanding lifestyle of science is glorified in the scientific culture. Don't buy into this hype. Do NOT give in to the pressure to over-exceed all expectations. Meet expectations. Exceed them when you can. But take breaks. Stay sane. Seek balance. Balance means that you won't always be the absolute best at what you do. But that's ok, because...

5. Welcome to the world of average.
Many young grad students come into grad school out of a stellar undergraduate career. We had two majors and 10 extracurriculars. We excelled at all of them. And held down a side job. We did undergraduate research. Even at our Ivy League specialty schools, we were above average.

This ain't undergrad anymore. When I started undergrad (at a rather prestigious uni), the president gave us a speech. In high school, he said, we were all in the top 10% of our class. But now you're here, he said. And that top 10%? That's now 100% of your class. The message is: YOU WILL BE AVERAGE.

But for those of us going to grad school, it gets even worse. You see, most of us were in the top 10% of THAT top 10% in undergrad. Among the above average, WE were above average. Well guess what, now those 100 people who were the top 10% or higher of their Ivy League schools? These are your new colleagues. These are the grad students you will meet, work with, and compete against.

You WILL be average at something. You'll be BELOW average at something. If you haven't failed a test before, you will. If you haven't made a very, very stupid mistake before, you will. If you haven't made bad choices...oh you're in for a lot of those.

And that's ok!!! It's really OK!! It will teach you things. It will teach you HOW TO FAIL, which is something that some people have never faced before grad school. It will teach you how to fail, get up, and try again.

Don't let yourself lose the perspective though. You're still in grad school. You're still in that tiny percent. You may have failed once, but you're still smart, you can still do this. You can get up, and you can try again. After all, all those people around you? They are doing exactly the same thing. They will fail things, too. They will mess things up. And they, and you, will learn from it, and go on, and do great things. When you are down, in that slump, remember that. Learn what you can, get up, and try again.

Does anyone else have any advice? What are the things that you learned on the way that you wish you'd known? Let me know in the comments, or better yet, write a post and submit it to the carnival!

6 responses so far

Nematode lovin': nematocin

Nov 19 2012 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Or rather, not nematode "lovin'" but definitely nematode mating! Last week I talked about the new oxytocin analogue in C. elegans: nematocin, and its role in learning and memory. Today we have a paper from the very same issue of Science, looking at nematocin and its role in mating behavior. Because molecules this conserved in evolution never do just one thing. Head over and check it out.

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Friday Historical Science: Giant's Shoulders #53!

Nov 16 2012 Published by under Blog Carnivals

Instead of Friday Weird Science this week, Sci is playing host to the Giant's Shoulders carnival, the carnival on the history of science. And there's plenty of weird and wild science in there! Everything from flesh eating mammoths to corpse stealing! Head over and check it out.

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