The Future of Online Content in Science?

Last month I attended my first ever unconference about the Future of Content. It was a great meeting about various forms of online media, from blogging to podcasting to infographics. The meeting wasn’t aimed at researchers and/or science communicators at all, but there seemed to be a lot of parallels between issues in the media world and issues in the science world. Intriguingly, the media world seems to have come up with a lot of cool ideas to tackle some of these issues, so thought I’d share a couple of these* here. Continue reading

What’s in a word?

I’ve just walked out of a wonderful meeting that has kind of left me on a “science high”. The Raj Lab (my new scientific home in Philadelphia), Thomas Gregor’s lab from Princeton and Dan Larson’s lab from the NIH had a get-together, talking science, methods, data. It was really great, with loads of lively discussion. But I don’t want to discuss any of the actual science here. Instead, I’d like to share some ideas about scientific terminology, how a given word might have different “baggage” attached to it depending on your background/training, and whether fuzzy definitions may actually be useful in biology.

RNA molecules (white spots) in a cell. The nucleus (the blue blob) is stained with DAPI and the white dots in the nucleus are transcription sites.

RNA molecules (white spots) in a cell. The nucleus (the blue blob) is stained with DAPI and the white dots in the nucleus are transcription sites. Picture from Raj Lab website.

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Some thoughts about measuring the goodness of peer review…

A few weeks ago I attended a postdoc training about responsible conduct in research. A major focus of the event was an emphasis on being unbiased and avoiding any conflict of interest when reviewing a manuscript or a grant. Naturally, that state seems very much desirable. However, some of the case studies we discussed left me with a bad aftertaste: it seemed as if the concern about conflict or bias was massively outweighing the fact that peer review can also provide added value to science. In my – limited – personal experience with peer review, I have found reviews that were comprehensive and thoughtful (even if they were negative) much more valuable and constructive for my research, than any of the 3-liners declaring my paper to be excellent. This dichotomy got me thinking about the purpose of peer review and it’s relationship to science and the publishing process. Here a couple of points I’ve come up with: Continue reading

Fostering impostor syndrome? Thoughts about female role models

I’ve been home for the last month or so, waiting for my visa to the US to be processed, writing papers and catching up with science in general. I might have too much time and energy on my hands, but this week I came across two news items, which really drove me mad. First, I saw a multi-page advert for AcademiaNet (“The Portal to Excellent Woman Academics”), highlighting all the amazing female scientists that are part of their network. Then I read these portraits of female scientists, who double as crime writers, singers, beauty queens… on Discov-her. I’m sure these ads were published with the best intentions: giving women in science role models to look up to. But here’s the thing: I’m a “woman in science” and I ab-so-lu-tely HATE such ads. Is it not enough for me to know how the odds for a career in science are apparently stacked against me from the get-go? Do I also need to be reminded that there are super-women out there who manage to juggle a successful scientific career, a family and maybe even a second alternative career? Being bombarded with such portraits is not encouraging – it’s intimidating.


When role models make me feel like a fake…

Don’t get me wrong: I have enormous respect for the women who were portrayed on these sites. I even find their their stories motivating – but only in low doses. If I come across stories of mega-succesful female scientists everywhere I look, then I all I get is a severe case of impostor syndrome. Continue reading

Polydactyly – it runs in the family?

In case you’ve visited this blog in the last week you might have noticed that I’ve been really engaged in a crowdfunding campaign to sequence Lil Bub*, a cat with very special features. Her features include polydcatyly, meaning that Lil Bub has more than the usual 5 fingers on her paws. During my PhD I studied polydactylous mice,and this connection was one of the things that drew me to this project. Interestingly, however, I found out that the interest for polydactyly seems to run in the family – kind of.

When I visited my uncle in New Zealand this Christmas, I stayed at his amazing little cottage and found, much to my amazement, that he keeps Silkie chicken.

SilkiesSilkie in my uncle’s garden. Silkie looking at you. Silkie showing off her (polydactyl) feet.

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Towards new horizons: sequencing Lil Bub’s genome through crowdfunding

Update 15/04/2105: Crowdfunding just went live! If you’d like to donate, go to our site!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might have noticed a lack of posts over the last couple of months. This was largely because I’ve been busy setting up a new project with two friends (and former collaborators) of mine: to sequence the genome of Lil Bub, an internet celebrity cat – with the help of crowdfunding. We’ve christened the project the LilBubome, and after many months of preparation we’ve finally launched our blog, our twitter and our facebook page. The crowdfunding will start in 4 days.

blog_logov2 Continue reading

Wind of change

Last year I wrote a blog post lamenting that the criteria for obtaining a PhD degree are extremely diverse between different universities. This can be particularly problematic if you have to complete your degree within a limited period of time, but the papers associated with your research need longer to get published. It’s a critical point, because many fellowships require a good publication record, but have time-restricted eligibility criteria – counting from the day you obtained your PhD. The Medical Research Council, a major funding body for medical research in the UK, was one of them. Until recently.

Today, Simone Bryan, Programme Manager for Strategic Projects at the MRC, published a blog post (Science doesn’t only need sprinters) explaining that the time-bound criteria has been removed from their fellowship applications. Kudos MRC! This is great news and hopefully a sign that a general wind of change is coming to the academic funding landscape…


Change? by SomeDriftwood




Marching on the capital

– a personal take on the French #SciencesEnMarche movement

Amélie and the garden gnome

Amélie and the garden gnome

Before I moved to Lyon, my view of France was based primarily on popular media. Looking back at my expectations, I can now report a disappointing lack of obsession with garden gnomes, whereas the myth of exorbitant amounts of dog poo on French streets has proven true. I can’t comment on the quantity and quality of late night porn on national television (supposedly a lot and explicit) since I don’t own a TV. As for endless strikes and protests, after a lackluster year with no major demonstrations, finally something big is happening! Researchers in France are – as someone said on twitter – “doing what the French do best: protesting”. In a movement called Sciences En Marche, scientists from all over the country are cycling, hiking and kayaking towards Paris, protesting against the government’s neglect of science. Reports of the demonstration and the demands have been reported elsewhere (amongst others a detailed write-up in the LabTimes, and also in Science and Nature). So today, having seen Sciences En Marche in action, as the “protests” arrived in Lyon, I’ll share my personal view of things.

SciencesEnMarche in Lyon. The flag of the movement is attached to a Velov bike, an iconic symbol of the city, as Lyon was one of the first towns to adopt a bikesharing system.

Sciences En Marche in Lyon. The flag of the movement is attached to a Vélo’v bike, an iconic symbol of the city, as local scientists join the demonstrators on their way to the city center.

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The Illusion of Safety

Earlier this week – prompted by a new report on safety in academic chemical research labs – Science Careers posted an article titled “Practical steps to make lab workers safer”. The article highlights that students, postdocs and technicians “face the greatest risk of injury […] —yet they are often powerless to make their working lives safer”, and then lists a number of proposals for improvements. While I haven’t read the actual report (available for a mere 45$), this basic ideas resonates well with recurring discussions I have had with friends and colleagues about highly impractical safety procedures. Sometimes these regulations are so stupid, I am convinced they are aimed less at ensuring actual safety than an illusion of it, covering employers assess should it ever come to an accident and/or legal action. Continue reading