Mar 212017
 
time for a career change

If you’ve come across this post because your last set of experiments went to shit and your supervisor is currently being a massive paper-demanding douche, now is absolutely not the time for you to leave research. I know that it would feel awesome to march into your supervisor’s office, flip the bird, expose yourself and leave a shit in the corner of the room, but this need’s a little more thought than your last break up.

On the other hand, if you can’t get to sleep at night for thinking about ripping off your lab coat and fingering it, unceremoniously, into the vice chancellor’s bum, and you’re desperate to try something else, perhaps it is time to for an exit strategy.

This is assuming that you’ve got the time to figure something out. More than ever, post-docs are relying on short-term contracts to feed and clothe themselves. If this is you, do what you can to live – don’t make any rash decisions.

Before you start planning your exit, you have to remember that short-term disappointment, feelings of anxiety and self-negativity are normal in the research arena. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Addressing them, and seeking help if they persist, will ensure that you start your new career path in the right frame of mind and not as a way of running away from problems. Mental health issues have a way of following you wherever you go.

The start part:

You have got to where you are because there’s something you like about science. Perhaps there are things that you prefer over everything else. Maybe it’s the fact you’re teaching, writing, doing new experiments, presenting your research, learning new skills, operating fancy equipment. Whatever it is, find it and write it down. Don’t rush this part – it’ll be the foundations for your new career.

 

There are certain professions that will absorb science graduates in all their forms. Some even love Ph.D. graduates. Patent Attorneys, IP examiners, and R&D companies are examples of places that employ PhD graduates. If you want to use all of your skills in a new forum then this is a great option for you. If you are not sure if you’d enjoy these jobs speak to someone who’s doing one.

You could be in the “I fucking hate science in all its forms and wish I could do *insert hobby here* as a job” box. That is OK too. All we need to do at this point is identify what you enjoy doing.

The hard part:

Once you have identified what you like doing (besides wanking and injecting marijuana) you need to start doing more of those things. Simply build skills in the things you like doing.

For skills like writing, consider starting a blog (not like this one, you fucking copy cat), you could write alongside your day job for a publication in order to produce a portfolio of work. Many publications offer internships and opportunities, all you have to do is ask.

Get actual qualifications, if you can. Real paper qualifications that your mum hangs on the wall. There are plenty of masters courses, diplomas and vocational courses that you can take alongside your job, in the evenings for example. Like I said, it won’t be easy, but it is completely doable. And, if you like what you are doing, you’ll make time for it.

If you want to turn your hobby into a job, start small. One day/evening a week and see how you go. The important question when turning a hobby into a job is: Do you actually like it as a job or do you prefer it as a hobby? It’s fine that it’s the latter, now you know.

NETWORK YOUR FUCKING ARSE OFF.

Start making contacts in jobs you may want to do. Sneak your way into their office by asking for a discussion about their profession. Everyone I’ve asked is more than happy to help. Once they’ve seen that you aren’t a psycho, and you don’t have sticky hands, you’ve made a new professional friend that may help you in the future.

The scary part:

After a while, apply for those dream jobs with the new skills you’ve gained. If the answer is no, ask why. Put that academic thick skin to work and think of it as professional peer-review. You may not like what you hear but it’ll make sure you are focused on the skills that your dream job needs.

 

It’s rare that as one job finishes your next begins. You may find yourself having to take a leap into the unknown. If you’ve done the hard part, it’ll be way less scary. Leverage your networks, let them know about your new availability, get a mentor and be open to new opportunities. These things, along with some good old fashioned hard work, will eventually pay off and you’ll be on your way to a brand new career.

What’s your story? Do you have any advice for leaving research?


Further reading:

Young researchers thrive in life after academia

Is academia a happier life than a life in industry?

Why So Many Academics Quit and Tell

The ‘system’ failed me. It should have failed me sooner.

 

Feb 142017
 
Mouse that hates cocaine

Even your favourite teacher loves doing drugs. Drugs are one of the cornerstones of life along with food, sex and using internet explorer to download chrome or firefox.

If someone’s love of drugs becomes an obsession it can completely alter the reward system in the brain and lead to long-lasting behavioral changes that make them a junkie. In other words: the brain learns that drugs are fun and wants to do them more and more. In the worst cases of addiction, addicts even stop correcting someone’s online grammar in favour of doing more drugs.

Scientists at the University of British Columbia report in Nature Neuroscience that they have genetically engineered a mouse that would leave Charlie Sheen’s parties at a reasonable hour because it doesn’t become addicted to cocaine.

The finding adds to the evidence that drug addiction is more a matter of genetics and brain chemistry than just someone saying “fuck it” and taking drugs to impress their friends and piss off their parents.

Despite having access to a big bowl of cocaine and working in the academic environment it was also found that none of the researchers became addicted to cocaine. Probably the more surprising conclusion.

In a moment of accidental honesty, the researchers stated that they were trying to create the biggest rodent drug fiend EVER by engineering the mouse to have higher levels of a protein that strengthens the signals between cells in the brain.

By strengthening the signals in the brain the researchers were hoping to increase the rodents reward response to cocaine but actually managed to decrease it. In other words, their experiment went wrong – but wrong enough to be able to publish it in a fancy journal – lucky them.

The team of scientists injected cocaine into mice over a number of days and immediately placed them in a distinctly decorated compartment in a three-room cage, over time they associated the drug with that compartment. After several days of receiving cocaine this way, the mice were put into the cage and allowed to spend time in any compartments they preferred. Normal mice gravitated towards the psychedelic room while the engineered mice didn’t go in there as often.

Watch the mice here:

Looking into the brain revealed that an important message chemical had been blocked by the protein in the engineered mice. The mice just hadn’t managed to create a strong association with cocaine, despite having a fucking great time on drugs bought by someone else – the best sort of drugs.

This study revealed the importance of brain chemistry on addiction, and it could lead to greater confidence in predicting who is more vulnerable to drug abuse, helping them before they take that first smooth, life destroying hit.

References

  1. Fergil Mills, Andrea K Globa, Shuai Liu, Catherine M Cowan, Mahsan Mobasser, Anthony G Phillips, Stephanie L Borgland, Shernaz X Bamji. Cadherins mediate cocaine-induced synaptic plasticity and behavioral conditioning. Nature Neuroscience, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nn.4503
Feb 072017
 
Ugly face completely bandaged

YOU LOOK FABULOUS DARLING! And a little bit like an android…

Bandaged faces and leaky wounds are one side effect of facial cosmetic surgery. Now researchers from Australia (Oi, Oi, Oi) have found one side effect that doesn’t make your friends throw up in their mouths – increased job satisfaction.

Fear not you ugly fuckers. This week, researchers from the University of Melbourne have found that, following facial surgery, ugly-in-the-face-region people had more self esteem and experienced higher levels of job satisfaction, both in the short and long term.

The world we live in is a horrible place. We judge people on their looks and we shout across the street to them: “Hey, you! You look like a melted bag of used waxing strips!”

As people grow old, wrinkly and see-through, they may start to feel down about how they look. Whilst others have always looked like they fell out of the ugly tree and hit all the branches on the way down.

Confidence is an important part of attacking the day with your head held high and is the boost you need to high five a barista like in an advert made by a shit advertising company.

Researchers analysed responses from 121 adults who had recently undergone facial surgery. Unfortunately, because some people didn’t answer the questions properly the study ended up with a sample size of 106.

Proving that people can be both stupid and ugly simultaneously.

Not only did the results show that people were more satisfied in their jobs after surgery, there was also a negative correlation with respect to job burnout (that’s a good thing).

Researchers Alicia Kalus and Christina Cregan, from the Faculty of Business and Economics, said “some of the participants looked surprised” and they were unsure whether that was due to the surgery.

In the future, researchers hope that objective processes for selection and promotion will help break the attractiveness bias found in the study.

“If workplaces reward talent and effort, women and girls may come to rely less on the traditional emphasis on beauty as a basis for self-esteem.” Ms Kalus says.

 

References

  1. Kalus, A. R. and Cregan, C. (2017), Cosmetic facial surgery: the influence of self-esteem on job satisfaction and burnout. Asia Pac J Hum Resour. doi:10.1111/1744-7941.12137

 

 

Jan 312017
 
tomatoes that look like a willy and a vagina

Dissatisfied people from every part of the globe are rejoicing as two teams of researchers have identified how to put the flavour back into two important aspects of life – tomatoes and sex.

Although this week has been a fucking nightmare for the free world, two teams of researchers have tried to bring a little bit of happiness back into people’s lives. Thank you, science, thank you.

As my dear old granny used to say:

“…life is not worth living unless each day contains a rip-roaring orgasm and mouthwatering food”

She was such a wise woman, and explains why grandad’s hips were the first thing to go. RIP Gran.

In our first incidence of happiness, a person by the name of Denise Tieman was eating a tomato and thought to herself  “this is a bit shit, I wonder if I can make it better?” Luckily, Denise was a scientist with all of the right skills and decided to do something about it. Good on ya, Denise!

Dr Tieman and her team of clever foodies, from the University of Florida, decided that achieving the perfect tomato would require identification of the important flavour factors that have been lost.

In a study published in the really fancy journal Science, the tomato team found that modern tomatoes lack sufficient sugars and smelly chemicals. These are very important in achieving a better flavour. These sugars and smelly chemicals had been lost due to years of breeding without paying attention to how the tomatoes tasted.

Because breeding takes time, and the tomato team is studying five or more genes, the changes from their latest study may take three to four years to produce flavour in new tomatoes.

Yawn…

While you are waiting for science to actually live up to its promises, our second study may help you fill time more productively:

In our second incidence of improved happiness – scientists have finally worked out what women want in the bedroom department – and we are not just talking 1500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. Although, I’m sure that would be nice too.

In a selection of 159 Swiss women, 61% of them were having sex and thinking to themselves “this is a bit shit, I wonder if I can make it better?”.

A study wanted to find out exactly how the dissatisfied majority wanted to make things better and, more specifically, looked at the attitudes towards sexuality-boosting medication.

The study found that the dissatisfied women wanted to use the pill to increase orgasm frequency and intensity and sexual desire. They wanted a pill that would take about an hour to get them going and not many wanted the pill to have an effect in less than 15 minutes. Once again, evidence that there’s a global conspiracy to manipulate partners into giving massages – “Just give me a massage while we wait for the sexy-pill to kick in. I’ve put a towel on the bed already”

As an interesting comparison between the two papers, while it takes twenty people to work out how to make a tomato not taste like shit, it only takes two people to find out what women want. Apparently, you just have to ask them – fancy that.

Also, this is what happens if you type tomato sex into Youtube. Magnets or stop motion? I can’t decide.

 

References

  1. A chemical genetic roadmap to improved tomato flavor. Science, 2017 DOI: 10.1126/science.aal1556
  2. What Women Want—An Explorative Study on Women’s Attitudes Toward Sexuality Boosting Medication in a Sample of Swiss Women, The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2017 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.12.238.
Jan 102017
 
Fancy New Labs

One thing that I’ve noticed during my 10 years in a moderately productive scientific career is that, over time, the laboratories have become less busy. I remember times, early in my PhD, having to elbow-fight for lab space on 1960’s style wooden benches. The labs looked like how an escape room business would furnish a murder mystery theme. The benches would be stained with decades worth of chemical spills and scorches from hot glassware. Each discolored ring telling the story of an experiment that could have gone a little better.

Nowadays, researchers regularly receive a call to action, flaccidly ejaculated from the supervisor’s omnipresent email account: “I have visitors/photographers/collaborators visiting this morning, please make the lab look busy by scheduling your experiments for this time.”




Here are some of my favorite pictures of academics holding things:

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A never ending battle is fought between research leaders over scientific territory. Once the territory is won, they need the troops to fill it, and sometimes they just don’t have the numbers. Instead of giving up some space to a larger group, academics will fiercely defend space by marking it with their expensive equipment and not-so-expensive urine. Gone are the days of finding out the door code from a drunk lab member. Should you want swipe card access to their lab, you’ll have to go through an extensive process of chasing the elusive academic around the various campuses of the university.  Should you trap them, this will be followed by *another* lab induction from a dead-eyed lab manager, come post-doc, who will un-enthusiastically gesture towards the first-aid kit and chemical manifests before asking you to kill them under their breath.

An overly excited OH&S representative will easily dash any hopes you have of entering the lab this week. I once wanted to dissolve magnesium sulfate in water for one of my experiments. It sounds scary, but it is most commonly found in bath salts. In order for my carbon nanotubes to take a relaxing bath, I was required to fill out a 24 page form, print off three copies, take them to my supervisor to be signed, place one in the tray in the office, take one to the OH&a;akkjnasljhvci[‘ae9qw[ewfj – what a fucking huge waste of time. To the best of my knowledge, the chemical is still sat in the store room waiting to be picked up. Every OH&S manager should have to shadow an active researcher so that they can see the effect one simple form can have on the productivity of a scientist.

Maybe, just maybe, the labs have always been this empty. The desire for senior management in a university to “show an active research environment” has seen the installation of scientist goldfish bowls and may have backfired. Big windows with inspirational quotes such as, “I will do myself proud” and “fuck yeah, science”, adorn the echoey glass science cage and researchers are forever on show. They cannot pick their noses, pick out their wedgies or scream-swear at the computer without the potential of being watched by a visiting member of parliament.

Surely, if Australia is to become an innovation nation the first thing to do is to remove the reasons for clever people to not be in the lab. That way, they are actually doing science. Give them the freedom to try new things without the burden of excessive paperwork. Allow them access to fancy new equipment without the invisible borders that dissect the research institute’s battleground. And get rid of those creativity killing glass cages of despair.





Nov 292016
 
Don't wank in front of puppies

As it turns out, our adorable and fluffy room-clearing-fart-friends share some of our mental ability when it comes to remembering and reenacting events. Besides providing a seemingly endless supply of turds and happiness, our poochy wet-nosed-companions are able to remember things even though they don’t know that they’ll be tested on it later – in this respect, they are well ahead a room full of undergraduate students.

Most people I hang out with are able to recall events from the past even when they hold little or no importance in their life, this is called “episodic memory”. The ability of people to remember pointless events becomes apparent when someone with a loud voice starts telling a story at a party. Everyone listens in bemusement as the I-wish-they’d-shut-up-story is shared and we all wait in hope for the fun friend to save the party by talking about dicks and drugs again.

Now, researchers from the Comparative Ethology Research Group in Hungary (it’s OK not to have heard of them before) have somehow been able to pass off playing with dogs as “research”. They reported in the journal Current Biology (IF=9.571, yep, seriously) that dogs have a kind of “episodic memory” too. The lead researcher said through gritted teeth,

You’re a fucking fluffy, squish face, aren’t you?

As an aside, their website looks like someone has captured the thoughts of a 12-year-old aspiring veterinarian and translated them to HTML.

Between belly rubs and trying not to kill the canine participants with love, the study found that dogs can recall a person’s complex actions even though they have no motivation to remember.

The researchers trained 17 dogs to imitate human actions with a “Do as I Do” training method. Like teaching your toddler swear words. Next, they did another round of training in which dogs were trained to lie down after watching the human action, no matter what it was.

After the dogs had learned to lie down reliably, the researchers surprised them by saying “Do It” and the dogs did. The dogs recalled what they’d seen the person do even though they had no particular reason to think they’d need to remember. You can see this technique in the video below:

Although wanking is not always a complex task, it’s advisable that you get your dog to look the other way before you start. If you don’t, take solace in the fact that the researchers discovered that the dogs will eventually forget about your shared sexual preference for doggy style and face licking.

 

References

  1. Claudia Fugazza, Ákos Pogány, Ádám Miklósi. Recall of Others’ Actions after Incidental Encoding Reveals Episodic-like Memory in Dogs. Current Biology, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.09.057
  2. Cell Press. “Your dog remembers what you did.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 November 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161123141547.htm>.

WANT MORE SWEARY SCIENCE?

Check out more irreverent science on the blog page! My personal favourites:

An open letter to Professors – your presentations suck

The alternative to boring academic introductions

How to avoid being a boring science twat

Academic Writing

How not to give a shit presentation

Nov 222016
 
Naked Burglar

The Australian police have been called all sorts of things – sweaty rule-keeping bastards, koala-chasing law wankers, useless BBQ-eating fun spoilers, to list only three of the common ones. But this week, they have really shown their worth by solving an elaborate crime in Wodonga (definitely not a made up place).

The koala-chasing law wankers investigated a robbery at the Wodonga community hall, in southeast Australia (near the not so hot bit). But, instead of fingerprints, police found the offenders had left a big arse mark on a glass door.

One of the sweaty rule-keeping bastards said:

“It’s a big arse, mate. We used $100 dollars worth of that dusty shit, mate. We can, fair dinkum, pinpoint the age and sex of the offender by looking for evidence of hemorrhoids and skid marks”

Arse print on a door

To help the residents of Wodonga overcome their fear of pantless break-ins, they could be provided with a recent therapy created by researchers at a university everyone says they want to go to, but only a few can actually be arsed to work “that hard” – Oxford Cambridge University.

These tea sipping researchers have discovered a way to remove specific fears from the brain, using a combination of artificial intelligence and brain scanning technology.

Currently, one of the most common approaches to help with fears is aversion therapy. This is where a sweaty-palmed individual confronts their fear by being exposed to it while someone says “see it’s not scary”. I’m sure this is just as effective as telling a miserable sibling to “cheer up”.

The new technique is called ‘Decoded Neurofeedback’. It uses brain scanning to monitor activity in the brain and identify complex patterns of activity which resemble a specific fear memory. Even when the volunteers are simply resting, there are moments when the pattern of fluctuating brain activity has partial features of the specific fear memory, even though the volunteers aren’t consciously aware of it. Once the patient’s brain starts to show the same activity as a fear memory the researchers simply reward the patient with something nice, such as money or a kiss from a virgin.

Although this will help the residents of Wodonga with the fear of a naked break-in. It will not help with the fact they live in Wodonga whose Wikipedia page is so dull it will make you want to get nude, high on ice, and rob a community hall just so there’d be something mildly interesting on it.

 

References:

  1. Ai Koizumi, Kaoru Amano, Aurelio Cortese, Kazuhisa Shibata, Wako Yoshida, Ben Seymour, Mitsuo Kawato, Hakwan Lau. Fear reduction without fear through reinforcement of neural activity that bypasses conscious exposure. Nature Human Behaviour, 2016; 1: 0006 DOI: 10.1038/s41562-016-0006
  2. http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/reconditioning-the-brain-to-overcome-fear

In other news, this week I’m curating the @iamscicomm twitter handle

Come and join in the sweary fun!

 

Sep 132016
 
Mr Clever, Mr Men

I love being told I’m clever. It gives me the same sense of accomplishment that I get when I do a poo in the wild and not get it on my legs. Although I am no better than anyone else, when I am told that I am clever it makes me feel better than everyone else and that’s what we all live for.

In science there are a number of pathways to being told you are clever and enjoy the assumed success which accompanies it. The most difficult pathway is trying to get other scientists to call you clever. This is really fucking difficult and that’s because most other scientists have a really good bullshit detector and are also trying to do the same thing.

For this approach to work, you’ll need to have the right combination of luck and opportunity. Much like being able to kiss The Queen on her Prince Edward stained lips. To be called clever by other scientists, you’ll need to publish as many papers as humanly possible as quickly as possible. To maximise the soul crushing effect of comparison, we typically compare a single number so there’s an actual quantifiable amount of how much people are better than you.

The metrics used for comparing academics include the H-index, m-index, h2 index, g-index, c-index, s-index, e-index, I10 and the O-index. H-index is probably the most commonly used and although it seems confusing, just make sure you tell people about the one that makes you look the best.

At some point, after sustaining the minimal effort to scrape by (for long enough that you’ve reached the age where masturbation is a boredom activity) perhaps you’ve come to realise that science is really difficult and you are too scared to just leave to try something else? Well, my friends, it’s time to self-sabotage.

Self-sabotage is the perfect way to appear like “it just wasn’t meant to be” whilst not having the balls to quit and just do something else. Here are 3 quick techniques to help you along your way:

1.The internet is the perfect place to start. When asked about your H-index, tell people that you don’t really care about metrics then go back to your desk and zombie your way though countless hours of YouTubeFacebook and Twitter. It’ll make the time pass really fast and you can always pretend that you were looking at sciencey stuff.

2.Be a dick to everyone. If someone sends an email to you immediately send a pissy reply and be sure to copy in your boss and their boss.

3.Constantly compare yourself to others and their metrics. Become overwhelmed by the amount of work you’ll have to do to match their stats and dwell on it – a lot. So much in fact, it should take hours out of your day and only be interrupted by toilet breaks and sending pissy emails.

These techniques should start to work within about 3 months. If these techniques don’t work, just punch someone in the balls and/or boobs  – that’ll quickly get you on your way to a forced career decision.

Jul 192016
 
Comparison of safe sex with a condom and safe science communication with peer-reviewed journals

Science communication is a strange mistress. People like it done in different ways and most will be happy to tell you the way they prefer it. Here are the other ways that science communication (or as the cool kids are saying – SciComm) is like sex:

Don’t start doing it in public unless you are invited

This one should, hopefully, come as no surprise – at least in regards to the sex bit. In terms of science communication however, maybe it isn’t as obvious. As a young, and not so young, scientist I’d quite happily shout down anyone I encountered at social gathering who dare spout unscientific nonsense in my vicinity. I’d think to myself “how dare they not know everything that I know!” and proceed to unleash a barrage of, what I thought, was a very useful explanation of why the foot detox machine their Auntie sells is rubbish. Sometimes I’d squeeze an entire university module into about 10 minutes of explanation. This approach can leave the person you are trying to “communicate” with convinced that science is “preachy” and “thinks it has all the answers”. Of course, if asked a specific question about science, and I knew the answer, I’d happily whip it out for people to be in awe of.

Sometimes people do it better than you –  and that is OK

We all had a friend while growing up who loved to tell you that they were having frequent, wild sex which definitely did NOT include premature ejaculation. Your experience was, at best, tepid and scary.. But, just like science communication, practice makes perfect. Don’t let those awesome science communicators put you off, you can take inspiration from their best bits and apply them to your own performance. You can also find many talks and tips online that will help you hone your skills and impress the other people in the room.

You don’t need a partner – it’s just more fun if you have one

Both sex and science communication can be done a variety of ways – on your own, in a group, while thinking about other things and in the back seat of a car. Doing it solo means that it can be done anywhere and at anytime according to your work schedule. I have really enjoyed my solo activities since it is me, and me alone, who decides how it turns out. However, I am confident that we can all agree that when two or more people are involved it makes a huge difference to motivation levels. I have particularly enjoyed my interactions with The Science Nation and hanging out with good friends and producing Publish, Perish or Podcast. Including more people draws on different skills, which some people are better at than others. Collaborations also share the work load required to satisfy your audience – particularly if they are a little more fussy.

Start slow and build it up

The act of communicating science should follow a narrative in order to draw in your audience. In other words, tell a story. Don’t rush in, build a story that the audience is willing to invest time in. If you give away all of your best bits within two minutes you risk leaving people underwhelmed and bored. Work your way up to a satisfying end and, as I have said before, know who your audience is and adapt your performance for them.

 

What other ways do you think science communication is like sex?


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