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.

5000 words, 3.5 years, and …

and now it really starts. La merde. The past week has probably been one of the most hellish week of my PhD.

See, the last 3 years, a.k.a., phase 1, I’ve been happily working on a research project. Starting almost from scratch, developing hypotheses, performing lots fo experiments, and slowly building up enough data for a good research paper, making the final figures, and writing (summarizing) it in 5000 words. That was the good, innocent and enjoyable part of being a PhD student.

Then came phase 2. Submission. And rejection. And submission. And rejection. And submission. And rejection. And submission. I don’t know when it will end.

Nooooo, I wasn’t cranky. No, I wasn’t sad. No, I did not feel like my main job had become formatting stuff in Word. And counting character numbers. And converting PDF’s. And all of this meaningless s*****, just to be done for one or two days, before it came back, again, without explanations. Or standard letters. No, I did not half-joke with my supervisor I would open a bakery after my PhD and be done with all this non-sense. No, we did not have that depressing debate at university, about non-existant career perspectives, burn-outs, and universities being ruthless and terrible employers.

So let me make it clear: I know that no paper ever gets accepted just like this. It’s normal that it gets rejected, and reviewed, and edited. Nevertheless, it’s hard, because this is my work. My project for the last 3 years. Week-ends and late evenings. Overall, very hard work. And I find it impossible to stay calm, neutral, unaffected, placid, and objective in that case. We are people, not emotionless humanoids.

Yes, this is all normal. And it will eventually go away, because, yeah, experiments need to be done. The classic 4 phases I described previously. (I’m almost in phase 4, by the way).

 It is a bit less normal that subjective (or do I want to say, profit and hype-driven) editorial decisions control your scientific career. And by this I mean, it is even less normal that an impact factor, which is nothing more then a stupid number, is almost the only, yes, only, indicator, on paper, of the quality of your science.

And you know the part that revolts and disgusts me deeply ? It’s that we, scientists, do nothing about this. Or let’s say, almost nothing. “It’s the system, you have to play the game, it’s a phase we all go trough, you’ll never change it, bla bla bla …” .Yes, we are scared people, collaborating with an unfair and stupid system that ultimately drives good scientists in an other direction. Or should I say, kicks them out as soon as they are not productive enough. But why should it matter when you have tenure, or publish enough, or get grants … everything’s fine, right ? And why should it matter when you know the expiration date of your career already ? Haha.

Now, the question that I haven’t figured out yet is, can I comply to these unwritten rules ? Can I accept and play that game ? When do you stop looking at yourself in the mirror ? Frankly, I have no idea. I’ve written on this blog mostly positive things about science (1,2,3,4, and many more). They remain true, and I do still enjoy all these things. This hasn’t changed.  But is the price to pay really worth it ? That’s the million dollar question. Bah. Future me will figure it out. For now, I have to get back to the paper factory sometimes called university.

And, if I ever make my way in there (less then 10% chances, yes), dear bloody system, I am coming for you. I’m not alone. And you don’t know who you’re messing with. Like all revolutions, this one will start when the last straw breaks the camel’s back.

 

–Sorry for slight excessive dramaturgy, I really needed to rant write this down and get it out of my head.

Can you … Count flies with your iPhone ?

… The answer is YES !

I got this question from a reader of this blog a few month ago on a previous post. I thought I would share the answer I had given him over here as well. Just in case a poor student, somewhere, spends time counting manually and googles something like “isn’t there a better way to do this ?” …

If you recall, I wrote about this app called Fast Counter, developed by Shazino, and available on the App Store. It does a very decent job counting bacteria on petri dishes, as long as there are not too small and dense.

For a drosophilist, the connection from counting colonies on a plate to counting flies on a pad is not too difficult to make. So I tried it by myself (because, really this was a high priority ;)) and it worked very well.

Of course, flies should not be too dense, and not sticking to each other. By setting the detection threshold in the app, you will actually get an extremely decent accurate number.

Here is an example of the read-out you get:

Experience_#16

Pretty good stuff, huh ?

Maximal number of flies you can count would be around 200-300, accuracy of course is better if you put less.

Have you eve tried it ? If so, what are your impressions ?

 

 

 

Science Stereotypes -5- Challengers

2010-02-04-questions

The challengers can stay hidden for quite a while at conferences or institute seminars. They will sit quietly trough most of the talks; but while have intermittent and impulsive needs to provoke speakers.

  • They will ask questions in such a way that it makes the speaker look like a 5th-grader, or like a incompetent abuser of taxpayers money.
  • They will typically revoke the entire data set on the basis that they ”just don’t believe it”, or that the contribution to the field is just as high as the latest season of  “America’s Next Top Model”.
  • The challenger might also interrupt you every 20 seconds during your poster talk, or interrupt you discussions to challenge you on very detailed technical questions about your experiments.

How to deal with them ?

The fact that they might lack basic manners, courtesy, and diplomacy, does not mean you should loose those qualities. Try to stay professional, composed, and logical. Especially if you’e answering one of their weird questions, statements, or opinion in front of a larger audience. You don’t wont to look like a jerk as well.

Science Stereotypes -4- Loners

Loners constitute an other crowd present at any science event, and like the celebrities, and raising stars, they are quite easy to spot.

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  • They generally stand alone in corners or secondary rooms
  • They play games on their phones when everyone else is socializing or hanging out at the coffee break
  • They might give awkward glares
  • They might try to form a little group of loners at some point

This is harsh, but nobody notices them, knows their names, or even really wants to. I believe science attracts and somehow selects for people with poor or akward social skills, so it’s better to get used to them.

As a nice person, you can make a communication attempt by reaching out to them with a basic conversation opener : “The coffee taste so bad here, no ?”, “How boring was that last talk ?”, “Hey, where do you come from ?”, “May I borrow your pen ?” … bla bla bla. Despite all the efforts, please do realize that it will still probably result in a 5-minute conversation with lots of awkward silences and little eye contact.

Science Stereotypes – Raising stars

14964941-illustration-of-white-rising-star

After the celebrity, the raising star is the most wooed person of the conference. Probably an ambitious post-doc, or young PI, with one or some papers bringing seminal contributions to there field.

They generally developed cool techniques, ideas, and started tenure-tracks in fancy institutions. They can be divided in 3 sub-categories:

  • The ones who are not aware of their status yet, and behave just like another random person.
  • The ones who are aware of their status, but stay simple and accessible, and hang out with you at the bar despite the sudden spotlight.
  • The ones who are aware of their status, and suddenly feel like they are kings of the world. Will hang out only with other celebrities and other raising stars. You might just be good enough to bring them refreshments during poster sessions, or wax their shoes.

You really want to hang out with the two first categories; the third if you can take it. These people are the future of the field, and you will for sure have great conversations and laughs with them.