Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Staring at other people’s grants

So I’m writing this grant that (or which???) is kind of important because if I get it I have a job back in the home country. I have papers that I need to read, I thought about the aims, hypotheses and experiments and I have a bunch of successful and unsuccessful examples of this particular grant. But instead of reading and writing I am staring at these example grants, wondering if I need a better CV or a different topic to work on. “Oh hey, this person got a travel award in 2005 to go to meeting such and such”. I’m thinking this is NOT why you need those example grants…

The way I work best is by reading background papers first, then thinking about what I am going to write, and then sit down and in a short amount of time write the background. However, at the moment I haven’t read enough to do that. So I think instead of marveling at other people’s grants, I should read papers, do a boring task in the lab and think about how I am going to write MY background. Alright, I’m off to do some histology or aliquoting or something. Also, what are your sekrits to successful writing??

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An animal model for psychiatric disease

Two rat syndrome:

Image source
 Okay maybe sitting inside waiting for Sandy to pass doesn't make me much funnier...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I love watching the Tour de France (that’s cycling for the ones who have no idea what I’m talking about). The home country’s public television always live broadcasts all the entire stages of the Tour, so for me the ultimate feeling of being too bored during the summer holiday is to watch an entire stage of the Tour de France. And the Tour de France helped me survive the week between BlueEyes’ due date and his actual birthday, when my belly was too big and it was too hot outside to do anything else than bounce on a yoga ball and watch entire days of Tour de France. So why write about the Tour de France in October? Because the UCI just decided to take away all of Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour titles after the US anti-doping agency released a huge amount of evidence against him. This enormous amount of doping use suggests that Lance Armstrong was not the only one, but that some/most/all (?) of the professional cyclists in the Tour used some form of doping. This has caused some of the big sponsors, like Rabobank,to quit sponsoring cycling teams. But it also means that somewhere in the world there are teams of doctors that are able to mix drugs, vitamins and blood transfusions in such a way that a man who was once a cancer patient, can a few years later make it seem like he is the only one cycling while all of the others are standing still (like in the prologue in 2005 when Lance Armstrong flew by Jan Ullrich). Any other medical success of that size would for sure be discussed on TV, but these people have to stay anonymous because what they do is not legal.

So does knowing that some, most or all of the cyclists use doping make it less fun to watch? To me it doesn’t. It’s not like with doping it’s easy to cycle 3500 kilometers in a couple weeks. It’s not like any person could do it with the right amount of doping and it’s not like the athletes are not sacrificing their life in order to train enough to be able to cycle in the Tour de France. 

So why not make it legal to use doping? Then the sport would be kind of like Formula 1 or Nascar racing, where teams of people try to make the best and fastest car. In this case teams of doctors and scientist would build the best body to cycle with. We could study how that works, and test all sorts of things, like viral vector mediated expression of genes to enhance muscle fiber and oxygen transport. And the people behind this don’t have to hide anymore but can share their knowledge with the world. I even thought of a name for this discipline: cyclingpharmacology. Has a nice ring to it right?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Introduce people to each other!

My most awkward experience at the Society for Neuroscience meeting was the following: I was checking out posters and walked into one of our collaborators. I wanted to have his input on my work so I showed him some of my data and asked him what he thought. Before he had finished another person from the same field showed up. He’s a friend of the collaborator, but I also know him because he was at my old university. So we talked for a bit about how things were going, but I was still sort of waiting for our collaborator to finish what he had to say about my data. Next, another big shot in the field showed up and said hi to the two men I was talking to. They slapped each other on the back and started talking. I was kind of waiting for either the collaborator or the guy from my old university to introduce me but that didn’t happen. And I now realize that I should just have introduced myself, but they kept talking and I didn’t really know when to say something so in the end I said nothing. I was still kind of hoping to finish the conversation with the collaborator, but after some time it felt like I was obviously not part of the conversation anymore. I excused myself, left and kept feeling pretty awkward and regretted that I hadn’t said anything. 

So the point of this story is that it’s a small gesture to introduce people to each other, but that it makes a huge difference in how you make people feel. I’m glad that my advisor is really good at this and has introduced me to a lot of people he knows in science, and I try to always introduce people to each other too, because it just sucks to feel so left out.

Friday, October 12, 2012

How to dress as a woman.

This morning I wrote about how some women choose to dress in a style that I would call ‘sexy’ while they present their poster at a scientific meeting. I choose to ask it in a provocative way in order to get people to read and think about it. Understandably, this rubbed some people the wrong way.

So I said I would write another blog post about it, asking the real question. But is the real question: “why do women feel they should dress sexy for science?” or is the real question: “why is it so much harder for women to choose the proper outfit?” I guess the answer to the latter question really answers both.

Let me start with telling you about my own experiences:
My mom has a PhD in chemistry. When she was an undergrad, she was one of two women in her entire chemistry class. She made a point by showing up in miniskirts and cute dresses to show that she was a woman.  She even wore a lab coat with short sleeves, because she felt that that looked more feminine. That vanity has cost her the skin on one of her arms, because one day her distillation setup caught on fire and she had third degree burns on one of her arms. You can see exactly where the sleeve of her lab coat started on her upper arm. I was brought up with the price you can pay for looking feminine. And even thought my mom told me about how she wore miniskirts to her lab classes during undergrad, she told me multiple times how it was important to dress professionally, and to not have people think that you got somewhere because of your looks, but because of your brains. 

When I was taking my high school exams, we had a couple of oral exams and it was custom at our school to show up in suit. All the girls in my class wore skirts, but I choose to wear a suit with pants, because I didn’t want to be different from the guys. I did however wear high heels under my pants.

Fast forward to now: I like to dress feminine most of the time; I wear dresses and skirts, and wear a bit of make-up every day. I like to innocently flirt with people to make the day a little happier. But I also like to be able to just wear jeans and sneakers to the lab. Since I already dress pretty professionally I don’t have to think too much about what to wear to a conference. But I do realize how unfair it is. How as a woman, it is almost normal to be catcalled. Especially back home that happened on more than a daily basis (I guess Americans are more polite maybe?). And it’s unfair that for example Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton are judged about what they wear way more than their male counterparts.
So why is this?

Yes, I guess this is why. And I admit that I’m not helping by calling other women sluts. Or that the EU is helping by making the “science it’s a girl thing” video. Will this unfairness change now that more than 50% of neuroscience graduate students are female? Or do we need more than that?