Thursday, January 1, 2015

Female Scientist + Nematodes = best Vogue article ever

Without a doubt, this has become my absolute favorite photo EVER in Vogue magazine (and with any luck, maybe one day I will have a similar photoshoot...swoon...):

While unpacking some moving boxes, I came across an article I had saved from the October 2013 issue, profiling Cori Bargmann. Her research focuses on neural pathways in C. elegans (yes, a nematode in Vogue too!), and all around I think I have found my new science idol: Bargmann not only lives in New York City and works at the unparalleled Rockefeller University (where she is a Howard Hughes investigator and National Academy of Science member), but has a "predilection for Christian Louboutin high heels", goes to the opera regularly, and has a twitter feed peppered with both science and fashion.

My favorite, but slightly depressing, quote from the article:
"Being a scientist is extremely boring and frustrating. You have a good idea and it doesn't work; you write a grant and it isn't accepted; you submit a paper for publication, it's rejected. You basically have to be able to delay gratification indefinitely."
Unfortunately I can't seem to find an archived version of the Vogue article anywhere online, but I've scanned a copy to PDF (tweet/email me if you want to read it!)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Scientific Productivity Series: Evernote

After seeing so many conversations on Twitter, I've decided to start a blog series about scientific productivity. This is something I think about ALL. THE. TIME. I'm constantly trying to make my work (and my life!) more efficient, so I've played around with a lot of different tools in the search for what works best. A short disclaimer: what works for me what might not work for you, so this series is meant to be a showcase of the software and methods I've found most useful.

Part 1: Evernote

Evernote is one of my favorite pieces of software, a note-taking platform offered as a freemium service (offering a free basic tier and paid premium option with expanded features). There are tons of articles on how to use Evernote - like this one on Lifehacker and also this other one on Lifehacker (yeah I'm a little addicted to Lifehacker).

Evernote offers a desktop version (what I primarily use) and mobile apps (invaluable for accessing info on the go - like a grant code or your airline frequent flyer number).

I've found Evernote to be invaluable for the following things:
  • Having a quick reference list for administrative details - grant codes, office phone numbers (mine and other people), shipping addresses, wifi passwords, serial numbers for computers, product keys for any software I buy
  • Archiving notes from any type of meeting or conference call - I have notes from conferences/workshops, Skype calls, seminars, and lab meetings I attend. These notes now go back to 2011 when I first started using Evernote.
  • Writing email drafts - especially if you're on a plane with no wifi
  • Storing email drafts, for formal messages you send out frequently - inviting speakers for departmental seminars, logistical information for recurring workshops/events, acceptance and polite rejection letters for any kind of event that has limited spots (in my case, an undergraduate bioinformatics workshop that pays full travel costs for applicants)
  • Brainstorming and collating resources for grant proposals - usually I keep a note for each grant I'm applying to (records of Skype planning chats, links to RFPs and template documents, my general outline/vision for the grant)
  • Cheatsheets for any sort of software or command line tools - especially ones you use too seldom to remember from memory, but often enough where you should write it down. One example - my list of Wordpress HTML tags
  • Organizing job applications - for faculty jobs last year I had one note listing all the jobs I was applying to, with jobs ordered according to application deadline. I'd change the color of the job depending on status (application submitted, invited for interview, rejected, etc.), and I had a checklist of reference letters for each job so I could confirm that my letter writers submitted their documents by the specific deadline.
  • Blog posts - I do very rough drafts of blog posts on Evernote (often on planes or other places with no wifi), although the Evernote XML formatting makes copy-pasting into Wordpress a bit of a pain. So once I get towards the advanced draft stage I finalize the text and add formatting and pictures in Wordpress itself.
  • Any type of professional or personal development plan - I'm a little bit of an obsessive organizer/planner. I have Evernote notes listing my New Years resolutions each year, my 5-year academic and research plan, my "mission statements" for various things (I wrote a personal document to help effectively guide/plan my social media use)
  • Links roundups for any topic - For example, I have a list of online clothing shops that I want to try. Or a list of books I want to buy. Or Christmas present ideas for friends and family.
  • Travel Rewards Club numbers - A list of all your frequent flyer numbers for airline, hotel, car rentals, etc. Invaluable when you're on the go and need the number!
  • Digitizing important/interesting articles or documents - I'll scan articles from travel magazines because embedding the PDF in Evernote looks prettier than just typing out the information, and gives me a bit of inspiration when I'm planning a trip. Or I'll scan some documents as backup into an Evernote note - like the packing list and movers' business cards I got when I shipped my stuff from California to the UK recently.
  • Travel packing checklist - I always used to forget at least one thing when I traveled for work. Then I decided to brainstorm a master packing checklist in Evernote and now I (almost) never forget anything! I have one master packing list with a separate "appendix" for international travel (gotta remember that passport and plug adaptor).
Just to give you an idea how I organize my Evernote, here's a screenshot of my notebook stacks:

And because one tool is never perfect for everything, here's what I've found Evernote to NOT be useful for:

  • Keeping up on the scientific literature - Instead I use Feedly to subscribe to new articles via journal RSS feeds, and Papers3 to organize, annotate, and read my PDFs.
  • Project management - I've tried project mangement with Evernote, but for some reason it's just not interactive enough for me; I've even used shared notebooks for one of my research projects with collaborators, but I never remembered to check or update the shared notebook. I think I just I see Evernote as more of an archive and planning tool. So for project management I use Trello to define tasks, set weekly goals, and list tasks I've accomplished.
  • Documenting code or commands - Evernote kind of sucks for reproducible research. I've tried it, along with an online lab book, plain text files, and iPython notebooks. The XML formatting makes documenting commands hopeless - and its a b**ch to copy and paste anything because of line breaks. The text formatting options are also limited, so you can't denote code by font, e.g. by using Courier New, because that's not a font listed in the drop down menu. I pretty much gave up on Evernote pretty quickly for this. Right now I'm heavily using text files and iPython notebooks to document all my data analyses, along with posting other files, logs, and protocols in GitHub.

I'm going to write blog posts about all these alternative tools I mentioned in the above section - so stay tuned.

Also note - there are many features of Evernote I haven't really got around to trying - like the screenshot feature that makes a new note. Or the ability to record audio. At some point I might play around with these, but if anyone has any experience or feedback with other Evernote features I'd love to hear about it.

And to end with a nice picture - here's another screenshot showing my travel notebook, where I've scanned PDFs from magazines:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The social media revolution in fashion (and its parallels to science)

I came across this article in the May 2014 issue of Vogue: "Follow Me! Kate Upton Leads the Charge of Models Who've Gone Crazy for Social Media". The entire article itself is worth a read, and as I was paging through I noticed some quotes that could have been easily applied to social media and science:
Is fashion, at least as it is presented on the runway, really still doing this? The no-personality, samey-samey thing? Is it any wonder so many models have taken to Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and Tumblr to establish themselves as actual humans, with quirks, style, and interests all their own? No one should be the least bit surprised that Upton, who looks nothing like most models, has stormed the gates. The hunger for personality—for stars—in the modeling world is just that great.
Are scientists still really being presented as stereotypes, the parade of old white men? It's no wonder that the younger generation of researchers are now presenting their own, diverse public faces on Twitter and other social media.
For models these days, social media offer the promise of a different kind of career: one that is more connected, more fulfilling, and, if they are lucky (and want it), lasts longer than three or four years. And while there’s nothing surprising about the fact that this new crop feels comfortable on social media—they are part of the generation that’s grown up on them—it still takes a certain mastery of the form (your own jargon, an irresistible personality) to really stand out. Even then, the top models might have only one million followers, as opposed to the tens of millions that actors and pop stars have. 
In the wake of Kate Upton’s social-media-fueled rise, models are grappling with exactly how to present themselves. “It’s a really interesting opportunity for them,” says Lara Cohen, Twitter’s head of TV and film talent, “because it gives them a voice and makes them more three-dimensional. There’s no shortage of pictures of Coco Rocha out there, but to know that she likes watching New Girl humanizes her.”
I strongly believe that social media helps to humanize scientists too, and steer us away from the "unfeeling robot" perception.
There’s no such thing as living in the moment anymore. Thanks to social media, every event, from the Super Bowl to the State of the Union, from the Olympics to your best friend’s wedding, now happens in real time and “real” time. It certainly has completely transformed our experience of Fashion. As Zac Posen says, “I think the big transition started almost a decade ago, with the realization that fashion had gone beyond the industry and had become fashion-tainment.” Posen, of course, is a judge on Project Runway, a show whose success has served to point out that, surprisingly enough, untold millions are fascinated by how dresses are made—and how someone from Kalamazoo gets to Fashion Week.
Social media is changing science too, helping connect people to the researchers doing the work and relaying the process of science itself. Just look at the online buzz that #cosmos created!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dressing for interviews, finding your style, and why you need to think about your clothes.

Upfront Disclaimer: This is not a post where I tell you what to wear (or what not to wear) to an interview. There are a lot of those floating around this time of year, and this post is partially a response to this seasonal flood of tips and tricks. But I also felt it was time to reflect on what I perceive as a persistent issue in science: people are simultaneously dying for advice, and also do not want to think about, how to dress.

Science lures you in with its false pretense of informality. Sure, it isn't the corporate world (just look around at a conference). But it is also a profession.

You will be judged on your appearance. I'm not saying this is fair, but that is the society we live in. Humans are visual creatures and first impressions are important. The way you dress will have a huge impact on how you are perceived by other people (and can definitely affect how you perceive yourself), so why not give it some thought? Your wardrobe is akin to curating your online identity - it's in your best interests to Google yourself so you know what people will see about you on the internet (and make sure they're seeing your professional website as the first result, instead of those drunk pictures from Facebook). Likewise, by controlling how you dress you are helping to guide people's impressions. Dress in clothes that make you happy and confident, and are true to the image you want to project.

I'll also preface this post by saying that I personally HATE shopping with a PASSION. You will not find me hanging out at the mall on Saturday, and I'll never understand people who do that for "fun".  Over time I've found ways to work around this repulsion: focus on the end result (a killer wardrobe!), go armed with one or two specific goals ("Today I will find a pair of dark wash jeans"), choose stress-free online shopping, or visit stores on Sunday when crowds are much much quieter. Many other workarounds are discussed below. In the end, clothes shopping is like buying groceries: it's an errand you must do occasionally (but not every day or even every week), you might not enjoy it, but if you suck it up and don't focus on the negatives it will be over and you will have a good result soon enough.

I wasn't sure how to structure this post, so here is a general list of things you should be thinking about. Especially if you're going to need an interview wardrobe soon:

Before you do anything, watch TLC's "What Not To Wear" 

(herein referred to as WNTW) Seriously, this show will change your life. You will learn so many things! Like these tips, for example. In fact, a lot of my advice below is pulled straight from WNTW. The hosts, Stacy London and Clinton Kelley, don't just talk about how to style yourself and put together outfits, but they also discuss the emotional and personal reasons underlying the way that people dress. Its amazing to see people regain their confidence and reboot their life with something as simple as a wardrobe makeover. WNTW just had its series finale, so I would recommend watching the last 2-3 seasons (episodes from 2010 onwards, just so you are getting the most "on trend" advice). All grad students and postdocs should definitely watch this episode where they revamp the wardrobe of an algae researcher. WNTW also has a few shows featuring men, but another show for men's fashion advice is "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (although the trend advice might be a little dated now, not sure what year that show went off the air).

Shopping is hard. And emotional. And exhausting.

That doesn't mean you should give up, or not even try. It just means you should be prepared for inevitable frustration and periods of hopelessness. Case in point: every episode of WNTW involves someone breaking down from stress. You are not alone, and it happens to everyone (including me). I'm still traumatized by an incident in 2008 where I spent SEVEN HOURS in the mall shopping for a dress to wear to my cousin's wedding the next day. I learn from these mistakes - I do not leave important shopping trips until the last minute anymore, and I try to shop in spurts (only visit one or two stores on any given trip). I also plan ahead - I always have one or two "unworn" (e.g. I haven't been photographed in) dresses in the closet that I can break out for formal occasions. I buy conference outfits way ahead of time (usually randomly if I see something I like while browsing online or at a store), and I choose items that can be multipurposed for different things.

Shopping is a process.

You won't know what stores you like at first. Hell, you won't even know what stores' clothes you can fit into. Eventually you will have shopping down to a science. Indeed, you should view it a bit like science. Define your aims ("I will find a pair of comfortable heels"), pursue methods that test your hypothesis ("Null hypothesis: Nine west wedges will not be comfortable"), and then observe and reflect on your results ("I could walk all day in those red 2" wedges, but anything higher than that will make me fall over"). Take incremental steps, don't be afraid of this trial-and-error approach, and build on from there. I have a few stores I really like at any given time, and I occasionally add or drop brands from my roster (sometimes stores change their sizing or product quality without notice). One of my stalwarts is Express, and I've gotten to the point where I know my exact sizing and can just order some things online without having to go into a physical store.

Get to know your body type, and what styles work for you.

I will never be able to wear empire lines or bandage dresses - I'm 5'3" and neither of these items have ever worked well when I've tried them on (however, they both look fabulous on leggy supermodels). Dress for the body you have, not the body you think (or want) to have. Otherwise it will not turn out well. Refer to WNTW for lots of tips on body type (hourglass, pear shaped, broad shoulders, etc.).

Give some thought to how you want to define your style, and how your lifestyle (or the event you're dressing for) will influence your wardrobe choices.

Above all, clothes must be practical for your lifestyle. But that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice style. Maybe you run around all day and need to buy a pair of chic flat boots instead of those killer heels. Once you build up the right wardrobe and learn how to put together outfits, dressing in the morning should be a snap. It usually takes me <10 minutes to get dressed in the morning: I'll usually know what my day is like (biking around campus a lot? Sitting mostly at my desk?) and then I'll specifically think about something particular I want to, or need to, wear (flat boots are better for biking. Or if I have an meeting, I know heels will make me feel more professional). Then I'll build an outfit from there. I'll admit, this might sound a bit like voodoo - it can be more of an art than a science - but you'll eventually get the hang of it. The most important think is thinking about (and buying!) clothes in terms of "outfits" that can fit together. Again, watch WNTW and see advice about BASE below.

You MUST try things on. 

Even things that you don't think will look good on you (keep an open mind, especially at first). You must try things on in an unfamiliar store to get to know their sizing. If you're interested in a new trend or style, definitely do some experimenting in the dressing room. Trying on clothes is time consuming and one of the reasons I only target a few stores at a time - often I have to go back into the dressing room a few times to make sure I tried on everything I wanted (stores inevitably have limits on how many items you can bring in, which is annoying), and usually I have to exchange sizes and/or colors of items I really liked but didn't quite fit.

Evaluate every piece of clothing you try on using the BASE acronym (straight off WNTW):

Body - Does this suit my body?
Age - Is this appropriate for my age?
Suitable - Is this item suitable for the event/occasion/purpose I'm going to buy it for? Is it multipurpose so I mix it with other things in my wardrobe?
Expense - Is this item worth the expense? Do I already own something similar?

Your local tailor is your new best friend.

If you find a pair of pants that you love, don't immediately discount them if they're a bit too long. It is usually very easy, and relatively inexpensive, to find a local tailor to take up the hem. Same with dresses - loose fabric at the shoulder or waist is extremely easy to get taken in.  In fact, thinking about  tailoring during shopping can make the clothes more comfortable in the long run: you don't have to squeeze into that smaller size (and risk discomfort in certain places) just to get rid of the baggy waist, shoulders, etc. WNTW has some fantastic advice about tailoring peppered throughout their episodes.

Shoes: The Eternal Debate.

#1: These must be suitable for the occasion. Sure, I have 5" diamante sandals that I absolutely loooove. But I cannot walk in them, and they are only appropriate for a fancy event where all I have to do is walk into a room and sit down for the rest of the evening. Personally, I will always wear (appropriate) heels to interviews and important meetings. Heels give me confidence and make me feel powerful, in a way that no other piece of clothing can. I would not sacrifice that feeling for anything, regardless of what people in the room might think or what advice is out there on the web. Plus, I think at this point they're kind of my trademark (I can't help it if I have a weakness for colorful shoes...) - and if a piece of clothing can make you memorable as an early career scientist, hey, I'm all for it. #2: Unless you are going to the Oscars, buy comfortable shoes. #3: Comfortable shoes will not necessarily look comfortable. Try on every pair of shoes that grabs your attention. Every pair of heels I buy gets scrutinized for about 20 minutes. I will wear them around the store while I shop more, run down the aisle, jump around. They must be comfortable or be capable of being comfortable (e.g. putting in gel inserts, or knowing that new leather in boots will stretch out). Some brands are going to be way more comfortable than others (my personal favorites for comfort are Nine West and Calvin Klein). Just like clothes, you will figure out what shoe stores suit your feet best. Places like DSW are great, because they offer a range of brands and both classic/trendy styles at affordable prices. Zappos is also fabulous because you can order online and get free return shipping if the shoes don't fit (also they have comprehensive photo angles and zoom features for all the shoes, making it easier to evaluate what they'll look like in person).

Cheap clothes look cheap.

Unless it is in near-mint condition (and originally bought from a good store), I will be able to tell if you bought that outfit from the thrift store. Now, other people might not notice, but why take that chance? It pays to invest in new clothes. Especially for important events like interviews!

Expensive-looking clothes can be very affordable.

You just have to know where to find them (and initially, this might take some work to figure out). I personally am a big fan of H&M and Nordstrom Rack, two places where you usually get durable jeans and nice dresses for $25-50. More classic styles can be found at stores such as Banana Republic (they have a great Mad Men collection), although this is a more upscale store and more thus more expensive. Other places I love are ModCloth and vintage stores such as Concetta's Closet (my former local haunt when I lived in New Hampshire) - often you can nab unique, quality goods at these kind of quirky stores for $50-100. Note here: I typically spend $50-80 on each of my dresses, and I get good use out of them at multiple conferences; usually I "retire" a subset of dresses every year if I'm bored of the item, if it shows wear & tear, or if it isn't fitting quite right anymore. I'm always willing to spend more money on quality fabric/sewing so I don't have to be afraid of things falling apart (this is especially a problem with some of the cheaper clothes from H&M and Express - you often have to be careful how much you wash them...).

Accessories make an outfit versatile.

A little black dress can be uber-fancy or super casual depending on how you style it. WNTW has awesome advice on accessories, but the bottom line is: accessories make an outfit interesting, and either dress it up or dress it down. They're an essential part of constructing outfits and should not be overlooked. Accessories include jewelry, belts, hats, bags, and yes, even your visible tattoos. For example, part of your interview outfit should be a professional bag (briefcase, purse) that is not a) a backpack or b) in tatters or showing serious signs of wear. These details can make or break an outfit.

These are just some general musings and not meant to be a comprehensive guide or hard and fast rules. Above all, remember that your wardrobe will require a time investment, but it will be 100% worth your time. Please discuss and add further comments, and I will update this post as necessary!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Combining art & science in college courses - a case study from DePaw University

I recently stumbled across this paper in PLoS Biology:

Gurnon D, Voss-Andreae J, Stanley J. (2013) Integrating Art and Science in Undergraduate Education. PLoS Biology, 11(2):e1001491.

The article describes Villin, an amazing art-science collaboration at DePaw University. Students and faculty from the chemistry department teamed up with those in the sculpture department to produce abstract sculptures representing folding protein chains:

I loved the sculptures (I want one in my house!) and I loved the trial-and-error, interdisciplinary approach. The authors capitalized on the similar underlying force that motivates people in both disciplines, noting that "what drives innovation in science is inseperable from the elemental urge to express ourselves artistically." The art was produced for an annual on campus event called ArtFest, but the authors had some insightful words about how similar projects might be funded at other universities:
Projects like Villin can be challenging to fund, but they can also be a good fit for more than one funding source. We were able to make ours work by combining resources from the science class budget and from money allocated for special events. (Gurnon et al. 2013)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Darshan Project - photo art of Hindu deities

I found out about this project through Yoga Journal - and I had to post it here because this photography is absolutely stunning:
THE DARSHAN PROJECT, an ambitious work in progress from New "Vork artist Manjari Sharma, features the Sanskit word dar shan, meaning "vision" or "view." In this case, says the Mumbai-born Sharma, the term can be denned as "an experience that ignites an understanding of the spiritual realm." Her goal is to install nine four-by-five-foot prints of meticulously staged photographs of Hindu deities in a gallery, along with text, incense, lamps, and taped invocations. It is an enormousand expensive- task. Dozens of craftspeople need at least four weeks and require elaborate sets, jewelry, and prosthetics to create each photograph. (Yoga Journal, March 2013 issue)

"Maa Laxmii", by Manjari Sharma

Initial funding for this project was raised through Kickstarter, and Sharma is now selling prints on the Darshan Project website to raise further capital in order to continue this gorgeous series.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Truth Values" - a one-woman show about Gender and Science

I've been dying to see this one-woman show ever since I met Gioia De Cari at a party on the Upper East Side last Christmas (sidenote: This is why I love parties. You never know who you'll meet.)

The show is called "Truth Values: One Girl's Romp Through M.I.T's Male Math Maze". Given the increasing scrutiny on gender bias in science, I thought that shedding light on this issue through theatre was a fantastic and novel idea. A synopsis:
Created as a response to former Harvard President Lawrence Summers' now infamous suggestion that women are less represented than men in the sciences because of innate gender differences, Truth Values: One Girl's Romp Through M.I.T.'s Male Math Maze is a true-life tale that offers a humorous, scathing, insightful and ultimately uplifting look at the challenges of being a professional woman in a male-dominated field. Performed barefoot on a bare stage with only a chair and small table, writer/performer and "recovering mathematician" Gioia De Cari brings to life more than 30 characters in a hilarious and deeply touching performance that has earned raves from critics and stirred audiences to standing ovations.
You can find out more (performance schedules and photos) on the show website, Facebook page, or Twitter account.

When I talked to Gioia she indicated that she'd bring the show to wherever there is interest. I would LOVE to bring this to UC Davis...anyone want to start a petition with me?