Book review: How to change the world

Hi all, 116

Long time I haven’t written a book review, but here we go. A few month, when I was going trough my “PhD dip” (more on that later), this guy, a PI from the lab, recommended me to read this little book.

“How to change the world” by John-Paul Flintoff. 

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The timing was perfect, as I started reading it in times were I thought there was nothing I could do to improve academia and science. Well, the book proved me I was wrong. And since then, we started, in our institute, a little initiative to improve things.

I would recommend that book to anyone, because it’s a very good rampart to resignation or resilience. The book it structure in small chapters, starting with “How to start to make a change”. First, it will show you how to overcome defeatism, explain strategies, and how to take the first step. I will also help you to identify what exactly needs change. And then, help you to make your idea beautiful, fun, appealing, etc … many important factors that come into account when one wants to change things.

I loved reading that book. It was a perfect, short, simple, motivational read. I would recommend it to anyone that is slowly sinking into resignation, or thinking of giving up. Because on should never stop fighting or give up on important matters. Especially not in the societies we live in, where it’s easy to do so.

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A paper. A day

a aper

I am now, very officially, in the last year of my PhD. In about a year, a big chunk of results will be published, and I’ll be defending my thesis in front of a committee. One of the things I don’t do enough, in preparation of this, is to read. It’s difficult to find time for it -especially during busy days-, but I decided I just have to take it, anyway.

I ambitiously decided to read 1 paper each day, until the day I defend. With a few exceptions authorized, I am not a robot. Hey.

I’m not very good at keeping resolutions, but that one, I’d really like to. I also see it as a bit of a challenge. So, to keep track,and also share it, I decided to create a Tumblr. account especially for this: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/drosophilista

Basically, I’ll post each day the paper I’ve read. Not sure I will have time to incorporate notes. But I’ll tag is at open/closed access. Good way to estimate how many papers I would miss if my university didn’t have a suscription to all main journals.

I started already last monday, and have been quite diligent since, so let’s hope it continues like that. How much do you read ? How do you do it ? I’m interested to hear your experience, so please leave a comment !

Ode to the Fruit Fly, by Curt Stern.

This week I was browsing trough this new book the Drosophila world is happy to place on the lab shelf, next the the red book*, blue book**, and fly pushing***. It’s the Atlas of Drosophila Morphology, written by Sylwester Chyb and Nicolas Gompel. It’s absolutely beautiful, and will be helpful to all fly pushers.(here is a  professional review)

At the beginning, there is this citation of Curt Stern I just love. I think this is a beautiful description of how every true fly pushers feels when looking at flies under the binocular microscope.

“For more than 25 years I have looked at the little fruit fly Drosophila and each time I find fresh delight. When I see Drosophila under moderate magnification of a binocular microscope I marvel at the clearcut form of the head with giant red eyes, the antennae, and elaborate mouth parts; at the arch of the sturdy thorax bearing a pair of beautifully iridescent, transparent wings and three pairs of legs; at the design of the simple abdomen composed of a series of ringlike segments. A shining, waxy armor of chitin entirely covers the body of the insect. In some regions this armor is bare, but in others regions there arise short or long outgrowths – the bristles – strong and wide at the base and gently tapering off to a fine point. Narrow grooves, as in fluted columns with a slightly baroque twist, extend along their lengths.” -Curt Stern, 1954. Two or three bistles, American Scientist, 42, p. 213.

Don’t you feel exactly the same way when looking at your flies ?

* The Genome of Drosophila melanogaster, by Dan L. Lindsley and Georgianna G. Zimm

** Drosophila: A Laboratory Handbook, by Michael Ashburner , Kent Golic and R. Scott Hawley

*** Fly Pushing, by R. J. Greenspan

10 simple rules …

Just discovered this a few days ago … a little series of articles from Plos Computational Biology entitled “10 simple rules …

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Pretty interesting and nice to read, these articles are giving advice to people in science of all levels and areas. Among the ones I liked the best were:

Ten Simple Rules for Getting Grants

 Ten Simple Rules for Getting Published

 Ten Simple Rules for a Good Poster Presentation

 Ten Simple Rules for Making Good Oral Presentations

 Ten Simple Rules for Selecting a Postdoctoral Position (ahhhh)

 … and finally Ten Simple Rules for Graduate Students

In the latter, you will find the following recommendations:

Rule 1: Let Passion Be the Driving Force of Your Success

I could not agree more.

Rule 2: Select the Right Mentor, Project, and Laboratory

Essential, but also very very difficult to do. Often, it relies more on an impression, a gut feeling, a connection; then on a conscious or rational choice. Like Blaise Pascal once said, “Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ignore”, which in english would translate as “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of”.

Rule 4: Remember, Life Is All about Balance

True. True. True. We should not feel bad about it.

Rule 9: Build Confidence and a Thick Skin

For sure necessary to survive now and later on …

 

 

If you feel like reading more, all hyperlinks are already in the text. Ok, if you don’t feel like scrolling all the way up, here you go.

Book review 3: Sydney Brenner – A Biography

I’m reading more and more often now, and continuously buy book from amazon, on hardcover or kindle version. One of the latest is this one:

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“Sydney Brenner : A biography” by Errol Friedberg. (Amazon link here)

What did I think about it ? 

LOVED IT !  Sydner Brenner is one of these scientists that enters in the “living legends” category. If you wouldn’t know he still lives on the same planet then us (and gives conferences), you would bet this book describes a fictional and slightly unreal character.

I read it more like a historic novel about molecular biology then a biography; and was totally hooked to the story. For the biologists of my age (25), DNA, RNA, PCR, molecular cloning, sequencing genomes, are stuff we learned from text books as undergrads, without realizing it was such recent history. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that 40-50 years ago, people where trying to figure the very basics of DNA, genes, genetic code, mutations, etc … 

When reading the book, you are not even tempted to think  “come onnnn, how was that not obvious to you, geniuses ?” or be bored, because it’s written so well that you forget about your own knowledge, and “live” the discoveries with Brenner, Watson, Crick, Nirenberg, and so on. Seriously they could make a nerdy TV Show out of this. 

And you realize (because you tend to forget) that it’s easy for no one in science, not even “geniuses”. The chapter describing Brenner and Jacob doing the “Tape experiment” in California was an eye opener. For a month, they did not get any results and where completly depressed about it. But they did this “extra-mile”; taking a deep breath (at the beach); and going to the lab one more time. And make it work. Good to remember it when stuff fails.

Aside of the anecdote, the book is literally a journey trough Brenner’s scientific, from school in South Africa to Singapour & beyond. From the birth or molecular biology to next-generation sequencing. 

I learned so many things reading it, but also laughed a lot; because Brenner seems to be one quirky and funny fellow. One anecdote I can remember is this fake “personal communication” they put as a reference in a 70 pages long article as being from “Leonardo de Vinci” ! An one of the reviewers picked it up saying “Who is this italian guy ?” There are so may of these little jewels in the book, I will probably read it all over and bookmark them ! 

That last sentence probably tells you everything that actually needs to be said … 

Book review 2: I wish I’d made you angry earlier

I bought that book because I was intrigued by the title.

I wish I’d made you angry earlier is actually a series of essays on Science, Scientists, Humanity; written by Nobel-prize laureate Max Perutz.  (Amazon link here)

It is impossible to present Max Perutz in a few lines (That’s why we have Wikipedia); but basically, among his many achievements like solving structure of hemoglobin, he was also member and chairman of the Medical Research Council Laboratory (MRC) of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. It is just one of these places significantly enriched in Nobel Prize winners. (14 for that particular lab; like Fred Sanger, Watson & Crick, Sydney Brenner, …)

Getting back to our subject, his book was a delight to read. It is a series of essays that can be read more or less just by cherry picking the one you feel like reading at a precise moment. I like to say that it describes History and histories of science of the 20th century.

Thereby, it contains chapters about the making of the nuclear bombscience during cold warphilosophies of science, and the advent of molecular biology after WWII. (And more …)

I liked it because it does not contain meaningless gossips about scientists, but stories of the men and women behind famous scientist names. It makes these big names of science more human. The fact that they did their research in sometimes dramatic and difficult conditions makes you feel so lucky about our nowadays research conditions we tend to complain a lot about.

The preface is incredibly meaningful, and I probably read it about 10 times. Max Perutz notably writes : “Like children out on a treasure hunt, scientists don’t know what they will find”. This kind of sets the tone of the book.

One hidden jewel is Max Perutz’s “Commonplace Book” were he lists all the quotes of philosophers, scientists, writers that he likes. It’s such a pleasure to read them over and over.

I would definitely recommend this read to all people, scientists or not, who like to read about science. It is very accessible, witty, and clever.

 

PS: You’ll know why it is called “I wish I made you angry ealier” when you read it. That’s my cliffhanger.

About being at the right place, at the right time

 

Although I don’t like the idea that much, I do believe that part of the success of a scientific career relies greatly on the people who trained you, the labs where the training took place, and the field you “fell” into.

On that subject, I’d like to share a link to an article written by Ronald Dale in the latest issue of Nature Medicine, in the “Lasker Award” special edition. Is is entitled: “How lucky can one be? A perspective from a young scientist at the right place at the right time” 

The article in not open access, but I hope you’re part of an institution paying for the access; because it is a nice read.

Basically, this person has been lucky and hard working at the same time, which is the perfect combination for success in the tough world of academic science 🙂

He started his own lab at 27; after publishing shitloads of Cell papers, and doing some ground breaking research. And he basically gives advices to us, the young scientists. Among them are the importance of having great mentors, and squeezing down your laundry time (yep) ! I will not spoil it more, but just give the proper reference for it !

Enjoy !

Vale, R. D. (2012). How lucky can one be? A perspective from a young scientist at the right place at the right time. Nature Medicine, 18(10), 1486–1488. doi:10.1038/nm.2925