Dear EMCR Self — Happy Academic

This is great, thanks Happy Academic for some inspiration on a Tuesday morning. We get stuck in the day-to-day complexities of life, so it’s great to step back and contemplate how far we’ve come and also the exciting places we’re going.

L.

 

What advice would world-leading academics give their EMCR selves? One of the best things about a career in academia is that you get to work with some of the smartest people in the world. As serendipity would have it, I’ve found that most of those people are also incredibly generous with their time, energy, ideas […]

via Dear EMCR Self — Happy Academic

The One Where We Problem Solve.

Is it just me, or are the problem solving abilities of the younger generation getting worse?

This isn’t a very optimistic view on my part, but I have wondered for a little while now if the ‘Google’ and ‘iPhone’ generation (which I’m not much older than!) have not developed the problem solving capabilities of earlier generations.

The ability to be able to look up answers to questions or problems at the touch of a button possibly means that we don’t search for and/or contemplate answers as we might have done in the past.

I grew up with a mobile phone, but smart phones, and on hand internet, did not become main stream until I was well into my University degree. Which meant I still had to attend lectures in person and write notes in a notebook with a pen!

At University we are trained in critical thinking, being able to think laterally, outside the box, and to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. That’s the aim anyway. Especially if you do a postgraduate degree, such as a PhD.

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With the internet and the introduction of smart phones with the ability to search for answers almost immediately I feel there is a link with decreased problem solving skills. I also am not sure if it’s just my expectations of other people’s problem solving skill level which is actually the real issue.

I (ironically) Googled this very issue, which resulted in various editorials with startling headlines; ‘How the internet is making us stupid’; ‘Is technology producing a decline in critical thinking and analysis?’; ‘Why technology is affecting critical thought in the workplace and how to fix it’. Some say the internet has created an overstimulation of our minds, which distracts us from what we should be doing/remembering.

This is not a new theory or phenomenon. But I guess it has become more salient to me recently when interacting with some younger students. I have continually been surprised by their lack of what I see as problem solving skills, and I have brushed this off as lack of experience and confidence.

I can’t provide an answer, but would love to hear your thoughts and impressions on this theory!

Until next time.

L.

5 Ways to Be a Better Mental Health Ally (#Take5) — Academic Mental Health Collective

This is great advice, not only for academics, but everyone in general. Be aware of those around you, if their behaviour changes, maybe ask why, do they need to chat. All it takes is asking ‘are you ok?’

 

If you’re in a place where you want to do more to support the mental health of those around you, here are a few tips.

via 5 Ways to Be a Better Mental Health Ally (#Take5) — Academic Mental Health Collective

The One Where We Try To Balance Things

As I embark on a short break away from the lab and the university next week, I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about the issue of the work-life balance.

Most of us try to get the balance right, but it doesn’t always pan out the way we’ve planned. For me there are two categories of work-life balance; planning my day-to-day life and taking extended time off (holidays).

Day-to-day

Getting work-life balance right day-to-day can be hard. We can all be our own worst enemy, saying to ourselves that ‘we’ll just answer those emails’, ‘just fix that computer problem’, ‘just go and talk to that person before I go home’. And before you know it, you’ve spent 10 hours at work or uni.

But if we don’t complete these tasks right now what’s the worst that will happen? They will still be there tomorrow, or the next day, or even next week.

There is no question, there are some days that are just long, no getting around it. Sometimes, when I’m in the lab I can be at work for upwards of 12 hours per day, but I keep this in mind, and when I’m having a slower day, I make sure I leave work a little earlier.

Although there are days which are long, stressful, and downright not enjoyable sometimes, I’m tough on myself, and make sure that I look after my number one priority, me.

I’m also more tough on my students than I used to be. They often request vast amounts of my time, and I initially thought I needed to be by their side every minute. However, I have grown to be able to distance myself more; but this is a juggle, which I’m still working on.

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Holidays

I love travel, it is definitely a high priority in my life, so much so after I graduated with my PhD I quit my job, sold all my possessions, and went backpacking for a year (stories for another blog post maybe!).

So I’m always planning my next holiday, sometimes I’m even planning two holidays ahead! In terms of this type of balance I usually use all my leave per year, and take well deserved time off.

But this type of work-life balance creates anxiety for me about leaving things, tasks piling up while I’m gone, dealing with a gazillion emails when I return, and not remembering where things were up to before I left.

I probably won’t ever get over this, but I have learnt to manage it more. One thing I do is to make a clear list for tasks to complete when I return; this really helps with the anxiety upon returning to work and not knowing where to start, or not remembering where things were up to. It allows me to spend the first day upon my return achieving small tasks that don’t require much thought.

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So, take a break, even if for only a few hours. Put yourself first, you are the only person who truly has you as their number one priority. How do you achieve work-life balance?

L.

You won’t believe the size of this spider! — Why Evolution Is True

Yes, I employed clickbait; my bad! I am not afraid of spiders; in fact, I used to have a collection of about half a dozen tarantulas when I was a graduate student, and would let them walk all over me. (I was never bitten.) They are fascinating creatures and mesmerizing to watch, especially when you […]

via You won’t believe the size of this spider! — Why Evolution Is True

The One Where Your Heart is Immune to Disease

Here are the facts. Cardiovascular disease kills an Australian every 12 minutes. Nearly 30% of all deaths in 2015 (45,392) were due to cardiovascular disease.

So if there were ways of targeting new treatments, we’d jump at perusing them.

Recently, various researchers have been harnessing the power of our genetics to achieve this. You see, there are a small number of people who are, as the headlines say, ‘immune’ to heart disease.

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These naturally occurring genetic mutations, even when other risk factors are present (smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes), lead to extremely low triglyceride levels in these people.

Briefly, triglycerides are fats in your blood, and they provide energy to your body. But if you have too many triglycerides, these fats can be stored in various places in your body and it is these excess triglycerides which some researchers have linked to a higher risk of heart and cardiovascular disease.

Researchers earlier this year demonstrated that approximately 1 in 309 people carried a genetic mutation in both pairs of a particular gene, ANGPTL3.

A very quick genetics lesson: we carry a pair (two) of every gene that makes up our DNA, one inherited from each parent. Sometimes one, or both pf certain genes can be altered, or missing.

So, back to the above study; both pairs of the ANGPTL3 gene in these people was found to be totally inactive, both pairs of this gene (one inherited from each parent) did not work. Properly functioning ANGPTL3 is involved in inhibiting the breakdown of triglycerides, with high levels of ANGPTL3 associated with increased triglyceride and other fats. So in theory, lack of functioning of this gene would mean these people break down triglycerides in a very efficient manner, protecting them from any signs of heart or cardiovascular disease.

Interestingly, this was not the only gene found to be involved in protecting people from heart disease.  Once again, an incidental finding from the Amish community found that the gene apo-III, which tells our body to produce the protein called ApoC3, was found to be mutated, and these people appeared to be protected from the development of heart disease.

Similar to ANGPTL3, ApoC3 usually slows the rate that the body breaks down triglycerides. So theoretically, if we do not have both ApoC3 gene copies working, then our triglycerides would continue to break down – helping to prevent the development of heart and cardiovascular disease.

Not surprisingly, pharmaceutical companies have grabbed hold of these findings to develop drugs which mimic the genetic mutations of ANGPTL3 and apoC-III. Promising initial results have demonstrated these drugs have the ability to lower triglycerides in people with high triglyceride levels.

This story highlights an unusual path to drug discovery; a natural gene mutation found incidentally in a small subset of people, translated to preclinical models to develop drugs, which can then be tested in people with cardiovascular disease – quite remarkable!

The human body still has much to teach us.

L.

The True Test of Science is How it Faces the Unknown — The Truth about Serge Benhayon

Long before the discovery of bacteria, people were getting infections of many kinds and foods would still go rancid. Science didn’t invent bacteria, neither did it understand it for a long time… until it had the tools to measure it with. Long before the Geiger counter, the uranium rock carried radiation, as do other minerals […]

via The True Test of Science is How it Faces the Unknown — The Truth about Serge Benhayon

The One Where Ravens Outsmart Chimpanzees!

A memory like an elephant, that’s how the saying goes isn’t it? But, as new research published in Animal Behavior this week shows, ravens may not be far behind.

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Müller et al. found that ravens were able to remember specifically if people were fair or unfair to them during an interaction (food exchange). In the future, the ravens were more likely to choose to interact with people they remembered as having a positive experience.

Even more amazing was that these ravens could remember this for up to a month after the first exchange!

Only about a week ago a colleague of mine was talking about how she had had some experience with ravens and how incredibly smart they are.

She told me that they had to be extremely careful when working with ravens, especially how they unlocked, and locked gates. The ravens would watch them and then would try to open the locks and were sometimes successful!

This meant a very complex process of opening and closing the gates needed to be employed.

Ravens demonstrate remarkable problem solving skills. They are known to utilise tools, often using twigs or branches to catch food and also dropping nuts in the path of cars so the outer shell can be broken open!

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Ravens are known for their logical thinking and ability to follow processes to solve problems, some researchers comparing their intelligence to chimpanzees, who have much larger brains. So why is this so, when ravens and other birds lack a cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for cognitive functions such as learning, language, and memory?

It was found that ravens are able to problem solve just as well as chimpanzees due to the large density of neurons in their brain, particularly the forebrain. This potentially enables ravens to problem solve, utilise tools, and demonstrate a memory of events.

If you need to see some evidence of these amazing birds using tools, have a quick look at some of these videos!

I’m sure the next time you pass a raven, you won’t look at them the same way!

L.

 

The One Where We Give Thanks

I’m going to change tack today. I am going to talk about how amazing and world killing women are. Especially women in STEM roles (for those of you unfamiliar, this means the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

I attended an event last week focussing on, and highlighting women in STEM positions. The panel included four amazing women who relayed their experiences to a crowd of enthusiastic young scientists of women and men. These women have all established incredibly successful careers in science whilst also being mothers, partners, friends, and daughters.

Whilst all coming from different backgrounds these women all share a passion and drive for science and a curiosity for the unknown. They all highlighted times in their careers where they have felt undervalued or dismissed, possibly because they are women.

But one thing I would like to highlight is these women all said that they would not be where they are today, or be as successful as they are, if it was not for an amazing support network behind them.

Having a supportive family was important, but even more crucial is having a partner who is your number one fan.

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I’m not trying to say we, as well-equipped, driven women can’t achieve amazing things by ourselves, but having the support and reassurance that ‘someone’s got your back’ in life can be a very powerful tool.

Whether it’s a career in astrophysics, writing a tough research grant, or just trying to get that bowl of spaghetti to taste good for Sunday dinner; when someone’s there, by your side cheering you on, you really do feel like a world killer!

So here’s thanks, to all the people in our lives who support and nurture us, no matter what the outcomes or complications of our careers (and lives) may be.

Thanks cheer squad.

L.

The One With Our T Cells

T cells. The name makes these little guys sound quite simple, but T cells are incredibly intelligent and important for fighting disease.

T cells make up a very important part of our immune system. More specifically, T cells are a certain type of white blood cell called lymphocytes. Other types of lymphocytes are B cells and natural killer cells (very cool name! I will cover these guys another time).

All of the blood cells in our body originate from our bone marrow, which essentially gives birth to and coordinates the sending of stem cells (baby, underdeveloped cells) to other areas of the body. These other areas of the body then help foster the development of these baby cells into specialised adult cells. For example, T cells are called T cells because they turn into adult cells in our thymus, which is right next to our heart.

There are many different types of T cells, but most can be categorised into killer T cells (how cool!) and helper T cells (below). Killer T cells are exactly like they sound, they can kills foreign objects (or pathogens in science speak) that enter our body.

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(picture https://pixabay.com/)

The way they find these is also pretty cool, they swim around our bodies and scan our cells to see if there are any pathogens inside our cells, and if there is they destroy these cells. Helper T cells play important roles in our immune response, such as developing a memory that they’ve seen that pathogen before (by producing antibodies).

Most of our T cells are part of what is called our adaptive immune system, which is responsible for developing immunity to specific pathogens when they enter the body. Think of this as like a specialisation, one T cell becomes a specialist in its pathogen, knowing what it looks like, why it’s not part of our body, and what to do about it when the it encounters that pathogen and how to tell other T cells what to do.

One of the amazing things about T cells is how they can tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy (e.g. cancerous) cells within our body. T cells can read the signals on the outside surface of the cell and determine if the cell is healthy or not. If the T cell thinks the cell is unhealthy then it activates a pathway which ultimately leads to inflammation and destroys the unhealthy cell.

Unfortunately, sometimes T cells can become susceptible to a cancer called T-cell lymphoma. More broadly, lymphoma is a group of blood cancers that can develop from white blood cells, lymphocytes (mentioned earlier). T-cell lymphoma accounts for about 15% of all blood caners and there are a number of different subtypes of T-cell lymphomas, which usually cause people to present to their doctor with symptoms similar to the flu.

Fortunately, research is amazing, and there are some great researchers who have discovered a way to utilise T cells to fight cancer. There is a technique called chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) T cells (big words, but let’s focus on what it actually is!), which gives T cells the power to fight certain cancers. They achieve this by attaching an antibody (or signal) of a specific cancer to the T cells outer surface, so then the T cell will hopefully search for and find those cancerous cells and destroy them. In this process the T cell will also employ other T cells to help it out, hopefully overpowering the cancer.

This is just a mere speck of what T cells can do, so if you’d like to know more about T cells there is a great webpage called the Beginners Guide to T cells – http://www.tcells.org/beginners/tcells/, well worth a look.

Until next time.

L.