Put on your headphones, this is a listicle.

I can’t believe it’s December already! It feels like yesterday that 2015 began and now it’s coming to an end. A lot has happened this year and I have been mysteriously (well, I say mysterious you say writer’s block) absent from this blog. This is the first post, hopefully of many, that I have been planning on writing for the last six months.

Today I have a list of podcasts to share with you that I listened through for most of last year during lab work. They have introduced me to more than a few remarkable authors and narrators. From early in the mornings yelling at the PCR machines to late in the evening as the fishes swam in their tanks, these stories have kept me company with wondrous adventures and spooky whispers. And while I would like to ask them to take my money and just keep doing what they do best, I am but one person and sadly not made out of money. This is where you lovely people come in. If you can, please consider donating/subscribing to one (or all of them if that floats your boat) of the podcasts mentioned below. In no particular order:

  • Far-Fetched Fables: Part of the District of Wonders, this is one of those podcasts that is guaranteed to transport you to another world.
    Favourite: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Monsters by Alex Shvartsman (Ep. 52)
  • Clarkesworld: This really doesn’t need any introduction. A Hugo award-winning magazine that you should feast your eyes and ears on.
    Favourite: When Your Child Strays From God by Sam J. Miller
    Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer

I personally can only be of so much help to the wonderful people running these podcasts, but I still wanted to do something else as a thank you for keeping me entertained for the better part of a year. So here you are. Let me know which stories tugged your interest!

This is not a sponsored post.

Belonging Nowhere

“I want to go home.”

As far as I can remember, I have uttered these words in that exact same combination at least three times. They were a wish, a desperate longing and a plea clawing itself out of my throat. They used to be a tether to return to somewhere I thought I belonged, but these days they have become an exasperated sigh and the stark realisation that I don’t belong, at least not anymore.

People often talk about how they outgrow the places they are tied to by birth. I always thought it carried a note of escapism coupled with the need to have an explanation that isn’t rooted in ourselves. If I had known I would be in the same boat, then I probably would have listened to them better.

Home for me has never been about the place but rather the people I care for. But it seems the geography does shape the landscape of the mind and I am now on the other side of the fence, looking in.

To be honest, I don’t know when I changed into the me that I am right now. Maybe it was gradual enough that I didn’t notice. Or maybe it was sudden enough that I was shocked into forgetting. Either way I have changed and the places I carved out of myself in a frantic need to fit in have been stitched together with the self I have since discovered. And this hopelessly ragged piece of the puzzle no longer fits as elegantly as it once thought it did.

A part of me misses the ease of consumerism, how easy it was to get the things I wanted overseas. A slightly less superficial part of me longs for the ability to blend into the background and go about her ways. But instead I am left with the sense of unease that only a woman would ever feel in this society. I am caught in the disastrous struggle between gritting my teeth, never raising my head lest I create a “scene” and my stubbornness to meet the cat-callers, the oglers in the eye. There is no winning in this struggle. In this place, my desire to find meaning in work, in my choices is something that needs to be rectified through marriage. My voice, my opinions are something that should never be heard or seen for how else do you “tame” a woman? My politics are something that are unseemly, my nonexistent faith is something that requires either a noose or reluctant tolerance that hinges on my silence. My annoyance at a society that refuses to let go, to change, to stand by everyone and not just the select few is troubling for most. I am either a mindless, self-centred, upper-class consumerist voyeur or a conniving peddler of “western” ideologies, hell-bent on ruining our society. Either way I am not welcomed.

Have I outgrown this place or is my romanticism of what I had left behind finally out of steam? Even as I type this, a voice whispers that perhaps this has a veneer of pretentiousness. I never felt like I belonged but now that I see that I can’t belong, am I grasping at straws to legitimise this realisation? Am I justifying my wanderlust by pushing against the “norms” of this society? After all if I can’t mould myself to fit into the place that reared me for 18 years, where do I belong then?

Artist’s Statement ….Part Two

The Pale Rook

The Pale Rook

So remember that thing I applied for?

My application was successful.  I was selected to take part in a project at Scotland’s Craft Town,  the wonderful West Kilbride.   I’ve been a massive fan of the Craft Town since I first found out about it a few years ago, so I’m massively chuffed to be a part of it.  The project I’m involved in takes selected craft makers based in Scotland, at various stages of their careers and gives them specialist business mentoring and studio space for six months.   For the first time in over a decade I am being mentored rather than mentoring others, which has been quite a shock to the system.

The first meeting of the participants, organisers and business mentors involved an exercise where we had to think of things that limited our business or things that we were worried about and then we had to…

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You. Yes, you. You should join Twitter Science Community.

I think over the course of the last year or so I have been shoving Twitter as a platform for science to UnderGrads at every opportunity. This roughly translates to a lot of “You should join Twitter, the science community is fantastic there!” in between serious conversations on how to breed transgenic fish lines to getting over a writing slump. But I figured you need a bit more encouragement or rather a bullet-point list of all the reasons why you should have joined the Twitter Sci Family the day before yesterday. So here goes:

  • It’s a community; alive and breathing and on the constant hunt for coffee. I don’t think I have ever felt a part of such a large, global community despite the geographical distance among us all. If you have a question, I assure you someone somewhere is awake and will try their best to help you answer it.
  • It’s a peek into the academic world of ‘grownups’ for an UnderGrad. If you have ever wondered how this cohesive mess of PIs, grad students, UnderGrads, faculty etc work then this is your chance to peer under the hood of the beast.
  • It’s a great place to see what happens when things don’t work out. It’s always good to remember that not everything will work out exactly how you planned it to and that’s perfectly fine. Trial and error, that is the way of life. I find this to be a comforting philosophy to follow both in the lab and in whatever remaining parts of my life are not hovering around the lab.
  • Networking, the dreaded buzzword of GenX. You can find people working on the same things as you, interesting papers, interesting authors of said papers, potential supervisors and more than a few friendly ears to share lab stories.
  • You are part of a global story of science and Twitter has hammered that into my brain. No matter what you are going through at the moment, you are not alone. From dealing with depression to handling a difficult situation with people in the lab, you can reach out to this community. Sure, they won’t be able to solve your problem for you, but they will be able to nudge you on the path to the solution at the very least. You may be lonely but I assure you, you won’t be alone in this community. And the global perspective you get on how the other side of the world runs is invaluable in making several decisions.
  • If you are like me and fancy yourself to be sort of Jack of all trades than twitter is like a digital library of the weird, the unusual and the check-this-out links to papers and science reporting. Also, you learn new things almost every day and that is just fantastic!
  • Research tool. Now, I saved the best for last. Twitter Sci Community, may you live long and prosper, is a treasure trove of resources from handy lab techniques to writing tips and books and blog posts on how to science… you just have to silently look through the blogs of the scientists in the community.

Now was I convincing enough for you to at least give the Sci community on Twitter a try? You can go through the list of people I follow on Twitter as well to get an idea of the variety of scientists that’s there. By the way, Chloe Warren has written an excellent starter guide for the Twitter-inclined academic and you should go read it.

It can be a bit like this as well. Control your fangirl/boy-ing though.
It can be a bit like this as well. Control your fangirl/boy-ing though.

Ooops? Fraud and the young scientist.

By now you have heard of the mess that is following the study by LaCour and Green. No, this isn’t another one of the 204 articles talking about this, so please come back. What I want to talk about in this post is the tense relationship young scientists such as myself have with academic fraud.
Every time I come across instances of academic fraud in science (usually via Retraction Watch) I feel a deep sense of paranoia over my own data and run the statistical analysis again and again to check if I am not accidentally committing fraud or p-hacking (read more about that in this paper by Head and colleagues, 2015). The thing is this paranoia is good in some ways, especially if it stops me from publishing fraudulent data and reaching erroneous conclusions that could tie up some poor sod somewhere else trying to disprove it. No one deserves to be stuck in this-doesn’t-work-times-100-oh-wait-this-is-fabricated hell.
So other than feeling like scrambling against a wall at the back of your brain every time you hear the phrase “academic fraud” what can you do as a young scientist*?
Repeat. Well repeat within acceptable limits that is. Unless you have severe time constraints repeat everything that tells you on the first run “Hey here’s something”. Show your raw data to your PI/Supervisor. All my raw and the analysis went through my PI first. It also made for some simple adjustments in my hands on technique and some great learning experiences.
Also, ask others in the lab. I may or not may not have been accidentally resizing my fluorescence images the wrong way. Turns out you crop it first, lock the aspect and then resize… Oops? And I would have gone my merry way and continued doing it if senior PhD students didn’t correct me because I didn’t know any better. I know how flimsy that sounds even to my own ears. But that’s the truth, knowledge, especially in this case, IS power. So ask. Yes, you may get “Are you an actual idiot?” stares but ask. I would rather be thought of as an idiot than a liar.
You may also want to check out Retraction Watch because I swear half the things in there will make you pay a lot more attention in how you handle and report your data. Especially if it involves a lot of figures and what not. I feel like that site is a handy list of things you shouldn’t be doing as a scientist.
So go forth and science young one, just be cautious.

*By young scientist I mean Bambi fresh out of Undergrad with starry eyes and an anxious heart.

Ten Tips (and One Question) for the UnderGrad in Research

Since I am nearing the end of my Honours course I figured now is the time to write a little something for all the fresh-eyed Undergrads going into research. (Also I don’t want to look at my thesis right now, so this is one of those productive procrastination incidences.)
So first things first. Dear UnderGrad pay attention to the following:

  1. Actually believe when other people (and by that I mean other HDR/Higher Degree in Research students) tell you how gruelling research is going to be. Real life research is very different from what the movies would like to tell you. Though you still get into accidents but it’s usually without the perks of superpowers. Some days you will be excited to start an experiment, other days you would just want to hide under your desk (true story). And then there will be days when nervousness at trying something new will battle it out with the urge to just get it over with. These are all valid emotions. Research for all it’s reliance on numbers IS emotional. You will experience a wide range of emotions, from frustration to pure elation and every miserable thing in between. Remember that ridiculous chart with faces to rate your pain? That chart is you. And you are experiencing most of those feelings all at once on any given day.
  2. Make full use of all the support systems available to you. These include guidance counsellors on campus, your best friend, your significant other (if you have one), your family if you are living close to them (unlike me who is in another country) and your official/unofficial mentors. It’s always a good idea to have an unofficial mentor outside your supervisor/PI who you can go to should things go hay-wire (or even if they don’t). And your program co-ordinator. Seriously, get their contact info and know that they are the one who usually have your back (at least in my experience).
  3. Get a hobby. Research can be physically, emotionally and psychologically draining (see #1). You are going to need something you can cling to when you are going at crashing speed. It can be knitting, writing a blog, photography, gymnastics, cooking… the list is endless.
  4. Be prepared to learn, unlearn and relearn a lot of things. These may include things in your field and/or things about yourself and other people. Evaluating and re-evaluating things in light of new data is part and parcel of science. Embrace it.
  5. Get on twitter. No, I am not kidding. The scientific community on twitter is beyond fantastic and I probably owe them some form of internet-cake for being there for me, be it related to science or science-induced frustrations. They are phenomenal and you should be a part of this community too. It also helps to remind you that you are not alone.
  6. Pace yourself or you will wreck yourself. It’s good that you are invested in your work but please prioritize yourself first before everything else. Think about it this way, if you are feeling wrung out and tired then your productivity drops and you feel even more tired and frustrated and the cycle goes on. You don’t have to do everything all at once, talk to your PI if their expectations of your progress feels unrealistic or is coming at the cost of your mental and physical well-being.
  7. Do NOT compare yourself to others. One of the beauties of being in research is that it is, to some extent, free of the tight schedules of a normal UG semester and is at it’s core, flexible. This means that everyone can set their own pace (again #6) and move accordingly. Just because a fellow student is at a place where you are not (yet) doesn’t mean you have to panic and push yourself to the brink of exhaustion. That will get you nowhere.
  8. Sleep. Just try to get 7-8 hrs of sleep please. Break them down into small periods for all I care, just get some sleep everyday.
  9. Attend other people’s thesis defences, mid-year candidature reviews, final year presentations and if possible journal club meetings. Also, bring a piece of paper with you because you will get so many ideas that you might want to write them down.
  10. Ask questions. That’s the entire reason why you are here. So ask questions. Lots of them.

An extra tip:
Enjoy yourself. Despite all the anxiety and headaches I can honestly say I enjoyed the last 7 and a half months. They were, against all odds, fun!

And a question:
Do you need a hug?

You get a hug!
You get a hug!