Thursday, 25 November 2010

Legal Highs - a few thoughts

Legal highs have been splashed all over the news recently, but what are they? Are they actually legal? Does that mean they are safe?

The expression ‘legal highs’ is not a new term, all it means is that the active compound in the drugs is not a controlled substance. Les Iverson, a retired pharmacology professor and chairman for the Government Advisory Council on the misuse of drugs recently presented a lecture titled, ‘Can we control legal highs?’ at the University of Aberdeen for the opening of the new Kosterlitz research centre. His definition for ‘Legal highs’ was, “[they are] defined as psychoactive substances obtained legally or by diversion from medical use [they], are not a new phenomenon. We are all aware of solvent misuse, nitrous oxide, party poppers and 'magic mushrooms'”.

The new wave of ‘Legal highs’ that have been plastered across the media over the past few months are mostly based on mimicking the effects of well known illegal drugs such as ecstasy. Some are herbal, which only means they are extracted from a plant, but many are drugs that have been synthesised in a laboratory (for example, K2 and spice, two cannabis alternatives which are purely synthetic). Because the compounds are different to the illegal drugs it makes the drug not illegal (although that does not mean the substances are legal).

There is a new system of a temporary 12 month ban on any new substance deemed as a ‘legal high’ but this seems to be a rather vague grey area (how do you define a ‘legal high’ ? What does a ‘ban’ mean?). Some drugs previously known as ‘legal highs’ are now definitely illegal, Mephadrone (also known as meow meow) was classified as a class B drug in April 2010 and Naphyrone (NRG-1) was classified as a class B drug in July 2010– along with some others.

As Les Iverson explained in his lecture, the problem with these types of substances is the speed at which they are becoming available. The majority of them are synthesised in a laboratory and no one can predict what effect these alien compounds will have in the body. Legal prescription drugs have to go through rigorous testing before they are deemed safe for use, this testing takes years and involves controlled human and animal trials. The drugs being sold as ‘legal highs’ have not been tested; they are created as alternate versions to illegal drugs. They are not legal drugs. Further, as with any  substance that is not regulated, you do not know what you are getting. The government is busy consulting and trying to work out the best way to control and classify these compounds over the next year new advice and information is expected to become available.

I wrote this article for the student newspaper, I had a few other thoughts on Legal Highs that I wanted to discuss.


Reporting on ‘legal highs’ in the media hasn’t been incredibly helpful or clear. I know reporters have taken legal highs to report on their effects (if anyone has the link to any of these articles it would be appreciated!). I don’t see this kind of reporting being helpful, it brings up the argument ‘because they have taken it, reported on it and survived does that mean it is OK?’

People are clearly curious about ‘legal highs’ (whether this is as a result of the press coverage of them or not is another debate), the website FRANK reported in February 2010 that 1 out of 5 of all visits to its website were to look up information on legal highs (80,000 hits in one month). I expect that these people didn’t only look at the FRANK website, but checked on other drugs websites and Internet forums where (as you would expect) the advice ranges from the sublime to the obscene. The government has launched an awareness campaign aimed at students (although I haven’t seen any evidence of this on my campus – also do they know that it is students that are mostly using these substances? Or is that a presumption?) . The campaign to me (as a student, in their target group) looks shocking. Even the Daily Mail ran a story on how rubbish people think it is. A lack of informative educational tools, clear advice and position on ‘legal highs’ from the government doesn’t make it any easier for people to understand and make up their own mind about legal highs. I think communication on drugs has many problems. It does have many limitations too, how do you educate people without increasing the interest and popularity of the drugs? I expect fewer people may take and be aware of ‘legal highs’ if they hadn’t been so widely covered in mainstream media.

Les Iverson did get asked during the lecture, could the government legalise some of the drugs? His reply was based around the funding for research on the drugs to ensure that they were safe for use (they would need to be treated the same as prescription drugs). Would the tax payer be keen on funding trials with these drugs for recreational use? I think not. There is also the cost to society involved with people taking recreational drugs. I am not against legalising currently illegal drugs and actually my view drifts over to the side of legalising some recreational drugs, however, I do understand the huge barriers as to why this doesn’t really seem to be an option for the government at the moment.

Going back to ‘legal highs’, in order for the government to have any kind of control over the situation, I think better classification is needed to allow differentiation between substances that are legal but abused as recreational drugs, drugs that have been deemed illegal and unsafe and drugs that are unknown. Education needs to be improved about drugs (and correctly targeted), I think proper definitions so people know where they stand would aid this. There are a lot of grey areas and there are definitely no right and wrong answers in this debate.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Cooking -art or science?

Firstly - a quick plug of my jobs.ac.uk website blog - a blog about life as a PhD student and some advice/tips and experiences which is now up and running. 

I am sat here, watching Masterchef. Feeling very hungry. On Friday I am going to the BBC Good Food show in Glasgow and I am VERY excited. I LOVE food. I love eating, cooking and playing. I have often thought to myself that doing experiments is quite similar to cooking - sometimes following recipes and sometimes going off the wall - sometimes being successful (and sometimes not). Equipment can play a large part in the success of an experiment/cake (my oven does not distribute heat evenly and therefore I always create wonky cakes).

There is an awful lot of money spent on research into food - how to make food taste better, the science behind what we taste. Just recently there was a report on why plane food always tastes rubbish (apparently due to the high noise levels). Heston Blumenthal as made a good fortune from mixing 'science' and cooking to create things beyond the imagination that are out of this world (I dream of going to The Fat Duck). He often goes beyond what people can do in their own kitchens though. So what can science offer for the home cook? Anything?

I came across an American website which explores the science of cooking and answers simple questions such as why do you get a green ring between the yolk and the white of a boiled egg? It also gives ideas of how to use science in cooking and how to use cooking ingredients to demonstrate some science (you wouldn't believe the number of things you can do with eggs!). As far as I can see this is the only website like this and I think its fab. A great idea to help improve cooking skills, demonstrate some aspects of science in lay terms and also for creating an interest in science and cooking with kids.

I am also loving Channel 4's FOOD programme which goes back to basics with food and looks into what goes in pre-made food and how food gets to us. The only criticism from me is that it doesn't have much about the science of food..... but that's just my point of view.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Shuttle pilots, news and new stuff.

I have had a busy few weeks and due to some new things my blog may change slightly...

I have been asked to become the 'real life PhD' blogger for http://www.jobs.ac.uk/ - so I will be posting regular career type information on that blog, I will post the proper URL for this when I get it. I have also set up a science journalism society at the university, we have had some sucess this week with two articles being published in The Gaudie (student newspaper). Small but a start!!

I wrote an article about a talk called 'Reaching for the stars'  which was part of TechFest in Aberdeen . A great science communication event with loads of interesting talks and other funstuff. I spent some time at TechFest at 'car boot science' and it was great fun & extremely messy (lots of coke/mentos/vitamin tablets/rockets) !! 

I thought I would share the article I wrote on my blog as unfortunately I do not think that the newspaper is online. I could have written lots more but unfortunately due to restrictions in the newspaper my peice had to be shortened (boo)!

So here it is -

REACHING FOR THE STARS

Techfest started with an ex NASA shuttle pilot, Duane Carey, giving an inspiring talk about his fascinating life as an air force commander, test pilot and astronaut.

His talk covered many of the interesting and exciting parts of being an astronaut, including showing a short film that was made in space by himself and a friend (including how to sleep, eat and go to the loo in space). What struck me the most though, were the images of space that he showed; some were of the earth, and some were taken by the Hubble telescope of the many thousands of galaxies which exist in the vast expanse of space. Space is mind-blowing; its sheer size is beyond what most of us can comprehend.

Duane believes that there is life in space. His view, everthe scientist, is that statistics suggest there is life in space. The huge numbers of galaxies are full of stars and planets, so it would be incredible for our planet to be the only one perfect for life. He also believes we should continue exploring in space, send people to Mars, (people could learn a lot by forming new colonies on another planet), as well as leaving the human race in a better position if anything happened to earth. For this, engineers, physicists, and biologists are needed - Duane recognises and praises greatly all the NASA experts on the ground; without them there would be no space exploration.


So how to become an astronaut? Duane tells the story of how anyone can achieve their dreams through persistence and hard work. Duane himself says that he isn’t anything special; he failed science at school, didn’t go to college straight away, but decided on what he wanted to do withhis life and went for it. So if you have a dream and think it is impossible, how do you get there? Some of Duane’s advice was: if you have a dream of something you want to achieve, plan how you are going to get there. You may have to go through years of doing things you do not enjoy, but remember why you are doing it. The easy option isn’t always the most rewarding. The final piece of advice is incredibly important – don’t give up. If someone tells you no, find out why, work harder and then try again. His story is one of genuine determination and hard work.


Duane retired from NASA; he and his wife promised each other that when their oldest daughter went to college they would travel the world on motorbikes. They are now spreading the word of science, technology and inspiration as they go. Life is about living; not just about work. Make sure that what you are doing in life makes you truly happy - create and stick to career AND personal dreams.
 
If you want to know more about Duane 'Digger' Carey his website is here - http://astronautbiker.com/index.html
 
 
 

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Great Science Communication Debate

This blog post will be of no interest to people not actively involved in science communication. It is not accessible for people 'outside' of the science communication scene and for that reason I was reluctant to write it, it is also a rather grumpy post, but there were some things I just felt I had to get off my chest.

I stumbled upon  what is known as 'Science Communication' through my interest and love of science & talking & writing. I love sharing ideas and thoughts and meeting new people so I have become actively involved in 'communicating science'. I have communicated to school children, fellow students & strangers. The people I have spoken to have been interested in what I have had to say. I started this blog because it seemed like a fun thing to do in between waiting for experiments to finish. I get annoyed with news articles that do not present data/facts & research correctly. I read BadScience and LOVED IT. I even joined Twitter (after refusing to for many years) after finding out that there is quite an active science community on there. I am based in Aberdeen, I moved up from London so I do not know that many people, I wanted to meet more science geeks up here I am (along with a science geek colleague) starting a Skeptics in The Pub meeting as a platform for people to meet. So this is my 'science communication' journey.

What I didn't realise until a few weeks ago is the massive debate that is going on about how to communicate science. I am including within this debate the skeptics (which are too militant), the bloggers (that blog but do little else), the journalists (which seem to debate endlessly on how things should be done), the academics who are a mixed bag... this is just the impression & some of the views that have been expressed by people since I  'joinined the scene'. The whole scene like many other scenes is quite elitist, mostly run and governed by a select few that interact with the media already. So why the constant put downs within the 'science communication' group of people that don't do enough or do things in a way that other people dislike? I thought the whole scene was based on a shared interest in science (or maybe I was being too naive there) and encouraging a wider interest in science? That was my purpose for getting involved.

From what I can see, it appears that the whole scene is being blurred. Take for example, 'science bloggers', they may not be blogging in order to communicate science to a wide non scientific audience. They may just want to share their thoughts and writing with a group of scientists or friends. It depends on the nature of their blog and that is the beauty of blogs - it is up to the individual what they write & who (if anyone) they target it at. The group shouldn't be lumped together as one.

The 'Skeptics' seem to like to raise awareness (but sometimes struggle to reach out of their own group) but from what I can see they are trying and are sometimes successful. I do not agree with instant dismissals of papers/information/formulas without first looking at the evidence, which I fear is where the skeptics sometimes let themselves down (and go against the whole nature of being a skeptic).

Then there are the science journos, the media bods. I have noticed a  change in the way science has been reported over the past 12 months, a lot of science news is reported fully with pros and cons and less of the 'miracle' cure' hype. I know that things aren't perfect and that they never will be, but it is better/getting better. So here there seems to be some winnings! But should they preach to the scientists how they should share their data and ideas before publishing to get a news story out of it? No.

The phrase 'science communication' is massively overused and encompasses a whole range of people who are communicating for different reasons and purposes. A lot of this communication goes on 'underground' in blogs etc. Really the only people that actually communicate science to lay audiences are the few 'celebrity scientists' (maybe they will become like celebrity chefs), the journalists, the endless number of scientists that give up their time to do work in schools and science teachers.

I think the greatest challenge for all communicators (not just science, science isn't special and greater) is to be accessible to who you are trying to speak to. Not all communications should be targeted to a lay audience, nor should it all be targeted towards the science community, but depending on what you are trying to achieve you need to think about who you are trying to reach out to. I think a lot can be learned from other areas and communications experts. The science community in general has a disregard for anyone that doesn't come from a science background or isn't a scientist. I think science communication is failing here because the two groups (science & communications/PR) are so alienated from each other and more allegiances here would make communications more successful, to whoever you are trying to reach out to.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Suffering from Information Overload... BING.

The Microsoft advert for it's Bing search engine has been stuck in my head for the past few weeks now. Do you like mustaches? As someone that fell head over heels in love with Apple products about a year ago I was slightly reluctant to go back and try something that Microsoft has created. The persistent marketing tells me that, Bing promises to make search results easier to read by being 'visually organised' - I am presuming that is a fancy term for 'uses pictures', but I wouldn't know, I haven't used the system yet. I generally use Google and Pubmed to search (along with a few other sciency search engines).

This morning I have been dealing with/suffering from information overload (apparently soon to become a medical term, 'information fatigue syndrome'). I am trying to figure out a puzzle in my PhD project and I am attempting to do this by going through the literature. It's tough going. A search produces 1000s of results and the information thrown back at you can vary from being relevant to being useless. Trawling through endless papers to try and decide a) if it makes sense b)if the paper is actually talking about what you want c) if it's credible and useful. I just did a quick google search just now about 'searching for scientific papers' helpfully it threw up this result from the New Scientist stating 'most scientific papers are probably wrong', they most certainly nearly all are out of date - see my last post on e-lab books for my thoughts on making scientific information available instantly.

So, is a simple search on Bing going to change my life? Will I find all the information from the search clearly laid out and will it be obvious which site/sites I need to visit? I am going to try Bing with a search for 'number of scientific publications per year'.... here goes..... HMM, disappointing. The results page looks similar to a google search... I won't go through what results I did get, let's just say I didn't get what I was hoping for, which was a nice graph showing the number of papers published yearly per journal/country/region. Maybe this information doesn't exist, but I am sure it does. I would try searching for images, but I can't seem to find this option on Bing. Maybe I am being simple, but I can't see why I should use this over Google. I did the same search on Google, for comparison purposes didn't find a graph there either, however I did find this, from http://www.americanscientist.org/my_amsci/restricted.aspx?act=pdf&id=3263000957901

Showing that the number of publications per year is increasing (up until 1998). I presume that the same trend is going on (I will look further into this).

If the amount of information just keeps going up and up and up how on earth are we supposed to find out what we need and prevent duplicating work that someone has already done?! I really can't see what solutions there are to this, other than spending increased amount of time researching topics and trying to keep on top of what is going on in the world. For now, here are a few tips that might help:


1) Start big, if researching a new topic perform general searches with a couple of key words to get an overview of what is current/popular about the topic at that time. DO NOT STOP THERE THOUGH!

2) Learn how to use search engines properly, especially scientific ones, then you can use advance search options and narrow down the number of results you get and you get results that are more specific to your needs.

3) Learn to scan read scientific papers so you can quickly identify if the paper will be useful or not.

4) File properly, save files/links appropriately in a system you can use simply, this will save a lot of time and effort later when you suddenly think 'ah I read that somewhere, I think, now how did I find that... where will it be'

5) Make notes on things you have read and link to where you read it, this helps and can help you prevent doing dupicate information searches six months down the line

6) STAY UP TO DATE. Make sure you sign up for updates from pubmed etc and regularly (weekly) do searches on your topic so you are sure that the information you have is the most current.



By the way, I am dubious about 'information fatigue syndrome' as a medical term. All I know that trying to find information is increasingly becoming a pain in the bum due to the the fact that the amount of information we have is increasing. It makes the mind boggle. 

Friday, 13 August 2010

Science - all about the new, in an old fashioned way.

Scientists work on the unknown; they are at the forefront of knowledge. They know what is new in technology, engineering and medicine before anyone else. Ironically, the way scientists record their information is firmly stuck in the dark ages, they hand write stuff, with pen and paper. The record of the experiments they carry out is contained in handwritten lab books. Hardly anyone still works with paper and ink anymore, is this an example of where something that isn’t broken shouldn’t be fixed, or can technology help make life easier?

Filling out a lab book is annoying. Just writing one basic experiment can involve 2/3 pages of handwritten notes, 3 trips to the printer and a lot of cutting and sticking. As most experiments are repetitions of previous ones the methods are the same but the methods still need to be written out by hand in the lab book. For the majority of experiments results are revealed through a computer and the graphs created from results are also created by a computer. To record the results from the computer you have to print them out, cut and stick in your lab book. It's a laborious job. I sometimes feel a bit like a primary school student with all the cutting and sticking! It doesn’t help that the scissors I use are actually from a primary school!

Accurate recording of results, methods and thoughts is priceless. Lab books are actual legal documents, they can be called upon in court to help resolve patent disputes and plagiarism disputes. They are also invaluable in that they help you remember what you did 6 months ago! Sadly many lab books are not up to scratch, a lot of them are illegible and experimental methods are badly recorded. Making the process of recording experiments easier and simpler would save time and effort and potentially would make people record their work a little better. Some people do have extremely neat, fully completed clear lab books. I would say mine lies somewhere in between super neat and a big mess, it depends how busy I am and how much effort I can be bothered putting into it. Think about being at school and writing in exercise books, some peoples are super neat, others are a scrawling mess that only they can understand - this is what lab books are like.


These days nearly everything is done electronically, so why can’t science catch up with the times and use an electronic lab book to record lab experiments and information?  Surely other people have thought of this before me, I know many people that grumble about having to update their lab book. Data could be recorded easily and simply in an e-lab book, results and images from experiments could be directly inputted from the system/software used for the experiment, saving time and effort. Methods could be copied and pasted and altered as required - typed text is always legible, it beats handwriting anyday - this could make the court cases easier! The e-lab book could be date controlled, every time a entry is inputted the lab book could automatically record the date. Any edits to the information could be recorded on the system, so the opportunity to fudge results is reduced and the e-lab books would be as fool proof as hand writing the results/ideas. Another major advantage is one to the wider world of science, E-lab books could be made available on the Internet - no waiting 6/12 months to publish a paper the newest data would be accessible to all, this could potentially speed up science and research and reduce repetition across labs. When a research paper is produced, it could link back to the e-lab books where the experiments were carried out so the original data is available. This would be another great step forward, interactive research papers would be more useful than the standard ones we have today and also far more exciting!

So why aren't we there already?
There are of course disadvantages to using e-recording.Technology can fail, I think nearly everyone that has completed a PhD in the last few years has gone through the drama of losing some results/PhD thesis through system failures. In these cases the paper copies of their results become extremely important. Until e-recording is absolutely fail safe then there is a huge risk here. Opportunities for altering results are potentially higher if everything is recorded electronically, however I think if someone is set out to fudge results they could do that through the paper recording method too. Having a date monitor on the e-lab book possibly could help prevent results being altered. Ultimately, until industry decides that what they want and need is e-lab books, it won't happen. I very much doubt that in this economic climate academia will lead the way, but you never know. 

A change in the way people work is always difficult, people mostly dislike change, even scientists that are changing the way we look at the world through their discoveries are still creatures of habit. Some experiments are still recorded by hand, I know I have to count cell numbers by eye and hand - so I would need a way of transporting my computer to the microscope room (4 floors below me) in order to input the data. It’s not so easy to type when peering down a microscope; however, it is relatively easy to use a pen. I do own an iPhone, I could quite easily record my results where-ever I am through my e-lab book on my iPhone. Not everyone has a smart phone at the moment, which brings me on to the next barrier, cost. Technology is expensive; I imagine an e-lab book system would cost a lot more than rolling out paper lab books. I can understand why academia isn't pushing for this option. Other industries with a bit more money to play with could benefit from e-lab books, the pharmaceutical industry is regularly involved in patent disputes where lab books are brought up in court, accurate and clear e-recording of information could potentially make this process simpler and the time saved would make their scientists more productive.
Regardless of what I posted above, sometimes it’s quite nice to be reminded of what writing by hand is like, the opportunity to hand write doesn’t come very often. Writing by hand makes you think before you write, you cannot delete something in ink on paper. In this age where information and thoughts are batted around 2 a penny on the Internet as soon as they appear in someone’s brain, it can be quite nice to write something that you have thought about a lot before hand on paper, especially when it is random notes containing your thoughts, ideas and theories on a subject. I don't think you would get as many ridiculous and offensive tweets if people had to go to the trouble of handwriting them. Writing on a computer/iPhone does not give you the same feeling; it's like writing a letter, old fashioned, but nice.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Conflicts of Interest - What Journalists can Learn from Research

There is a report today in the Guardian covering the 'news' that various PR groups are changing images of areas (such as the country Rwanda) by giving journalists huge freebies (such as holidays to Rwanda) and then getting them to write about it. Of course they are. PR companies are experts in changing the opinions of the general public on people/places/organisations - that is what they are paid to do. I do not have a problem with this, PR is a good thing, it can change lives and educate people on certain topics.  The problem with this sponsored article writing is clear, only one view is being represented by the journalists involved as they are being 'paid' (through the freebies) to represent the people/place/organisation. This leads to an unbalanced article being reported - the journalist more than likely wouldn't have come to the same conclusions if they had been simply told by their boss to 'go and write a report on Rwanda'. Further, it leads to inaccuracies being reported, the reporters are reporting what they are told by the groups they are set up with by the PR company (the Guardian article nicely explains how inaccurate reports on corruption in Rwanda were reported).

The other side of the argument is that without the push from the PR company there wouldn't have been an article on Rwanda at all - so the PR group is raising awareness of the area, and if people are REALLY interested in Rwanda then can then go out and search about Rwanda themselves - however, people only do this if they are REALLY interested - a lot of people will take the article written by the respected journalist in the respected newspaper to be fact. The reader will not know that the report they read was sponsored by a PR company paid by the Rwandan President. The problem here is freedom of information and conflicts of interest.

All research papers have to declare any conflicts of interest, this is standard. Sometimes carrying out research with a conflict of interest is unavoidable and is not necessarily frowned upon. The most important point is the transparency of the report. Why can't this be introduced for journalists? Why isn't it in practice already? I see no barrier as why this shouldn't become standard on informative news articles. It would also help with science journalism, where 'research' is often presented to the public (e.g. a report on walnuts preventing cancer- see earlier blog) seems innocuous enough, however the research actually has a number of flaws and the research only got into the newspaper through a press release which was a result of the research being sponsored by the Californian Walnut Board. The original research paper would state that the research was sponsored by the Californian Walnut Board. No problems there, people need sponsors for research and anyone interested in the information could read the paper (with all the facts) see the flaws and see that the research was sponsored, they can then make up their own mind about the validity of the research.  If you simply read the news article about the research, none of that information is presented (neither is a link to the original research, which also should happen in any science journalism). In order for people to make a balanced judgement on an article or piece of information they need to have the full background, reasoning and sources for the article. This is impossible if information is withheld, like in many cases of science research and PR sponsored holiday guides

So PR companies, you are doing a good job - keep promoting what ever you are asked to do! Journalists - make sure your reports are clear, informative and entertaining but also make sure you declare if you have been sponsored to do the work, i.e. in the introduction state that you were asked to visit Rwanda by xxxx OR have box at the bottom of the article that declares any possible conflicts of interest. I can't see why that would be a problem and also, it would probably make journalists investigate their facts a little better - and therefore give the public better, more informative articles. It's a simple change in the way things are done, that could make a huge amount of difference - and I expect credible journalists would not have any problem with it - much like any respected researcher.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Dance your PhD

PhDs or any form of research can be incredibly frustrating. The nature of what you are doing means that things do not work out as planned and often take 10x as long (for no apparent reason). People that have not undertaken a lot of research may not understand this and may presume that it is down to bad planning of the person involved, sometimes it is, but more than often it is not. I can plan for Great Britain. Day plans, week plans, yearly plans - but I cannot plan for experiments spontaneously not working, or fire alarms interrupting experiments or other random events that seem to happen when an experiment is in mid flow (if aliens were to land they would do it in the middle of a very expensive, very important experiment). As you can probably tell I am going through one of these frustrating times - everything I am doing seems to be failing on me or has come to a complete standstill. HOWEVER, I am not going to moan about how rubbish a PhD is... as many people in the Internet forums seem to http://www.postgraduateforum.com/forum.aspx . I have chosen to do this, I do enjoy it ... and I WILL finish this in 3 years.

I have chosen another way to spend my morning ..... DANCE YOUR PhD! A craze from the country where nearly all crazy ideas come from (the US & A) ... Just search on YouTube for 'Dance Your PhD' and I guarantee you will no longer be annoyed or frustrated with your life/PhD, and a whole world of good feeling and laughter will come your way. It is the best idea I have seen in a very long time - no longer will people have to worry about explaining what exactly your PhD is on, or what you are doing with your life, everything can be made clear and simple via the medium of expressive dance and YouTube. As an added bonus you can actually win real money for your efforts. This is like Glee, but waaay geekier. Glee for scientists.....

This is my personal favourite, mostly because it involves some Daft Punk, ass wiggling and stripping:



More info about the 2010 competition can be found here - http://gonzolabs.org/dance/

Maybe the media could take this mainstream and report all science topics via expressive dance? It would probably make things clearer than they are today.

I will keep you posted, I am off to plan my dance :-)

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Anyone here a Doctor? YES, ME! Oh no, not that kind of Doctor - Gillian McKeith (not PhD)

Last week I gave in, I put aside my pride and joined Twitter. The only people that I thought might be interesting on Twitter are Ben Goldacre, Tim Minchin and Stephen Fry, so I added them and began to follow.......Oh how glad am I that I joined last week!!! Much to my delight (although probably not to my supervisors) I got to watch the unfolding of Ben Goldacre (actual Doctor) vs Gillian McKeith (not a medical doctor, dubious PhD). If you do not know what this debate is about - check out this link for a quick summary of what happened. People are covering this amazing spectacle all over the Internet as it unfolds (and I am sure there is more to come) so I am going to discuss - what does being a Doctor mean? Who is a Doctor? Can you trust people that call themselves Dr ... and what on earth is a PhD?!

Doctor type 1 -  Medical Doctor, usually found in hospitals/GP surgeries looking a bit ropey due to overwork and stress. These people have studied Medicine at a university. Medical Schools in the UK are governed by the GMC, in the US they have a similar system through the AAMC. This is in order to ensure that all students with a degree in medicine are capable and educated to a certain standard. All of these courses are deemed to be 'equal'  - therefore churning out equally able trainee doctors. More training then has to be carried out before medical graduates can practice as GPs, Surgeons, Consultants etc. Other countries have similar systems and to practice as a medical doctor in the UK you have to be approved by the GMC. These people are trained and well equipped to give advice on various health topics. Gillian McKeith is definitely not a medical doctor.

Doctor type 2 - PhD/Ph.D./D.Phil. Where PhD means - Doctor of Philosophy. These people are called Dr as recognition for their expertise in a certain field - usually where they have researched and studied a certain field or topic for a number of years. This is where it gets a bit complicated..

The requirements for a PhD differ from country to country but the main point is, wherever you study for a PhD you have to demonstrate that you have carried out novel, independent research. In the UK this is generally done by researching a topic for 3-5 years then summarising the work in a thesis - the PhD student is then examined on the thesis. The thesis exam or viva is carried out to to check that the thesis is PhD standard and to check that the student is worthy of being granted a PhD.  Students are examined by an internal examiner (from their university - but not their supervisor) and an external examiner who is generally an expert on the PhD topic to be examined. Some countries require a presentation to a panel and a certain number of published papers before a PhD is granted. Basically, as I said above you have to demonstrate novel and independent research into a topic and prove to others that you have done this. PhD thesis are usually kept in the university library and are freely available for others to read. Some PhD thesis contain confidential information and therefore are not available (this can happen if the research is done on something patentable, such as a new drug) but thesis are only kept confidential in these instances for a certain period of time (e.g. 5 years).

The strength of the PhD is based on the thesis and the institution from which it was granted - much like how traditional degrees are judged. For example, a degree from Oxford = good. Degrees and PhDs can also be accredited from certain institutions e.g. a Geology degree can be accredited by the Geological Society ... this gives some some degrees more weight against others.

Gillian McKeith studied for her 'PhD' in Natural Health from a controversial unaccredited institution (not a medical school nor is it accredited by the American Naturopathic Medicine Association) in the USA. With somewhat excellent comedy timing it was revealed this week that this institution where McKeith 'studied' has now shut down -  see link.  Also her thesis is unavailable to read - but this book is supposedly a published version of her PhD. I haven't read it, but from what I have heard it would not be worthy of a PhD from any established UK institution. Ben Goldacre has covered this in much detail... and there we have it - twitter - '#gillianmckeithhasnophd'

Doctor No 3 - the Honorary Dr - this is when an educational institution gives someone they deem as doing a lot of work for a particular field (without studying at the university) an honorary degree/doctorate. These as far as I can see are handed out by universities as they wish and are not really seen as proper qualifications, but they are quite often an ego and publicity boost and people like to be recognised for doing good work. I believe Dr Ben Goldacre is receiving one soon from Loughborough...

SO the answer to my question is,  you can trust some Doctors and calling yourself Dr after studying for a PhD is fine (anyone with a PhD definitely deserves recognition for their work, very few get much  monetary recognition, so an ego boost is given instead). Misrepresenting your qualification (which is the accusation against McKeith) is not acceptable - although if you do not know how the system works then it is difficult to question what people are telling you. My Grandma does not understand the concept of a PhD - my parents barely understand what the point of it is, but they do know I will be called Dr .. in a few years. If you tell someone you are 'Dr so and so' and proceed to hand out advice about food and health - the majority of people will assume you are a medical doctor - someone like McKeith as a public figure who regularly gives out advice, should make it extremely clear what her qualifications are and what research she has done. A respected doctor of any description would happily do this - people rarely ask about PhD topics - let alone request to read their thesis, normally people would be flattered.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Women in Science

I haven't posted anything for a few weeks as I have been running up and down the country living in a field and giving presentations to my PhD sponsor.

I did manage a visit to the hairdressers (I seem to think more at the hairdressers than anywhere else, maybe its the massaging chair) which made me think back to one of my earlier posts Women in Science and the media where I had a bit of a moan about how women in science are often ignored by various 'women of the year' award type efforts in womens magazines. I never did get a response from the editor of  Red magazine ... Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to see an article in one magazine (2 page spread in fact) about L'oreals women in science award with an article that featured two proper lady scientists. It's great that a brand like L'oreal is supporting schemes like this (it does add a hint of glamour to the world of science) and its also great that the magazines are giving it some space (although I suspect L'oreal may have had to pay for the privilege). Unfortunately I can't find the article online, so I am unable to link to it, but here is the link to the L'oreals women in science website.

I managed to read two magazines in my time in the chair and I was even more surprised to see a mentoring scheme in Marie Claire which offered the services of a female scientist! Julie Mcmanus a scientist at L'oreal (it seems L'oreal seem to be pushing the boat out a bit here on promoting females in science, yey for them!) is offering to mentor one person for 6 months. I think this is a fab idea, I have learnt that mentors can be invaluable in the advice they offer  - no matter what job role you have (science or not) and I have also been told that they are incredibly useful at any stage in your career, many good managers still have mentors. Seeing a female scientist offering up her services in a womens magazine I think is incredible, I hope whoever she mentors makes full use of her! I also hope that it leads to more people getting involved with mentoring schemes!

Friday, 18 June 2010

Dejunk/declutter/simplify your life.... by buying more!

Since the CREDIT CRUNCH, quite predictably there has been a big interest in thriftiness (or at least the media are presuming that people are interested in it). To live your life properly now you must have - Auntie Gok's capsule wardrobe (consisting of only 24 items - from the high street), a variety of craft skills so you can fashion homemade gifts/trinkets/sellable items and of course you must de-clutter and sell all the crap you have accumulated over the 'glory years' on E-bay.

I found this article in The Sun, at first glance it appeared quite helpful - 'How to beat a beauty cream habit'. It reveals that  British women have 50 million skin products that they will never use. I don't know who they polled for this, but I imagine I have 10 million skin products personally lying around in my drawers, bathroom, kitchen and car (yes car). I do have half an excuse though, I did work for one of the worlds biggest personal product manufacturers in the world... so most of them were free, or 1p. Is that an excuse? I am not sure..

The beauty industry is HUGE, it makes big money. People are vain, they want to look and feel nice, so they will pay for it. Most moisturisers/face creams are quite similar, they are moisturisers and they do work - they moisturise! Which makes your skin look nice and feel nice (not dry and flaky). Some have SPF too, which is good, sun burnt/leathery skin is not a good look. However, many of them are extremely similar, just in different bottles, in different colours and with different additives - which largely do not very much other than allow the manufacturers to claim that the product contains 'wonderaminoacidantioxitantX'. Which makes people want to buy them. I think people really do get addicted to spending money on these products in the hope that their life will be transformed, I know sometimes I walk out of various shops having spent far more than I intended too!

Back to my point, the article. What you should do is throw out all of your creams/wonder potions and just keep a few which are useful and targeted to your skin type and ones that you aren't allergic to (a problem I personally have). Sounds reasonable so far - the obvious benefit is that it would give you plenty of extra drawer space for more wonder mascaras and foundations. The next obvious and predictable move from the article is to move to the advice of an 'expert', so they bring in the Dr, Dr Patrick Bowler (Dr's are good for advising, beauty editors are not). Dr Patrick Bowler now advises some lovely ladies on their skin and he recommends two or three products for them to use (I thought we were de-junking here?) he also recommends that you change brands because if you keep bombarding the skin with the same products the favourable response will stop. SO YOU NEED TO BUY MORE CREAM ?! - this isn't the usual advice that people give to addicts.

I know nothing about Dr Patrick Bowler, so I cannot critique him and his advice, all I can end this post with is a link to his website, which specialises in skin advice and sells skin creams, anti aging treatments and links to a cosmetic surgery clinic.... To be fair to him, he doesn't recommend any of his own products in The Sun article. He is however helping to convince people to buy more, rather than use and understand what they have, which unfortunately seems to be a running theme with the majority of beauty and 'thrifty' TV programmes and articles around at the moment.....

Friday, 11 June 2010

Science Story Tracking

The Guardian newspaper is way ahead of the rest of the UK media when it comes to science reporting. They actually publish science articles written by real scientists who have a real understanding of what they are talking about. It's quite simple really. Newspapers wouldn't employ someone who isn't an expert in finance to fill out their Finance sections - so why do they feel that it is OK to get any Tom, Dick or Harry to cover a big science story? Newspapers like science stories (especially health related ones) because the resonate with a large majority of people - so why not spend just a little more time doing it properly? I am pretty sure I can speak for a lot of people when I say that everyone is sick to death of the 'Meat/Bananas/Talcum powder cause cancer' stories.

The latest idea from the Guardian is for a 'Story Tracker' . This week an article on Autism was published in Nature, the Guardian ran an article about the paper and now they have set up a way of tracking how the story is covered across the world - http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2010/jun/09/science-story-trackers#start-of-comments.

When a science news story appears in the media, I always try and track it back to where it came from - quite often there is no actual published data and the story comes from a press release (see my Walnuts and Prostate Cancer blog). This method of story tracking - along with Nature making the paper free for everyone to see allows transparency in the system. No research is perfect - ever. There are always limitations and people will always have different views on how good the research is - how it can be used and what benefits it may have in the future. The 'story tracker' allows people with a good knowledge of science to easily read all the articles published by the media of the paper and can also read the paper to make their own mind up. It also allows an interested person with maybe less of an understanding to easily read all of the information - from this they can form opinions, rather than being limited by reading one or two articles on the subject (which could be misinformed).

So, all in all a great idea. I have already emailed in 4 articles I found on US websites about the research. I hope this trial is a success and something like this becomes common place with science reporting!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Simon Singh (get a new hair do)

I was very excited last Friday that I got the chance to listen to and meet Simon Singh at the Aberdeen Word Festival. If you don't know who he is - he's a physicist and writes a column for the Guardian. He has a bizarre haircut.  He is an advocate of evidence based medicine and wrote the book, 'Trick or Treatment' (looking at the evidence for and against alternative medicine). He was sued for libel in 2008 by the British Chiropractic Association, you can read all about it on his wikipedia page and all over the Internet -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Singh and if you haven't heard about it then you probably haven't seen any news from the UK regularly for the past 2 years.

Anyway, it was a good discussion which focused on the libel case.After the talk, my boyfriend asked  Simon Singh, if you make it easier and less costly to sue someone for libel, then surely then people will be suing each other more? But he made the clever point that other countries seem to survive quite well without incredibly stupid libel cases carrying on every second - plus everyone should have the right to sue for libel. One thing I didn't realise before the talk was the incredible cost of a libel case (running into millions) and even if you win your case you will not receive all your money back - which is a ridiculous situation. Making libel cases less costly, quicker and easier should help the situation an awful lot.

Even better news came this week that Lord Lester QC has filed a bill in Parliament to reform the libel laws. So that's something to look forward to and hopefully things are on there way to being sorted out. If you haven't signed the petition yet and this is the first you have heard of it - go and do it now http://www.libelreform.org/sign !

I really like Simon Singh - he was brave to stand up for something he believed in (on his own, without the support of The Guardian), if you ever get the chance to meet him/see him talk I would recommend it. I haven't read all of 'Trick or Treatment' yet so I will reserve judgement there! I don't mean to be nasty about the hair... but it really is quite bizarre!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Election Fever

Its the day before the election and to be completely honest I am  REALLY excited. An election appeals for my geeky love of numbers and stats. I am loving reading the many articles and Internet tools devised to determine how much your vote would count, who you are most like and my favourite Facebook group ' We got Rage against the machine to number 1, we can get the Lib Dem's into office' !. My favourite election 'tool' by far is votemach, matching your views to the party policies. Simple!

The big topic is how each party is going to cut the budget deficit without harming the economy.. all parties will need to save money somehow whilst still making sure that  the country doesn't come to a standstill. So what does that mean for science? Luckily politicians seem to take the view that science seems to be a hot area for investment (quite rightly). The Lib Dems, Labour and Conservative all pledge to continue investment in science - so that is good news.

I had a read of the three manifestos and there is just one thing that stood out for me. The Lib Dems are the only party in their manifesto to dedicate a whole section to science (The Conservatives do have a section on 'Making Britain the leading high tech exporter in Europe' but its not nearly as explanatory as the Lib Dems).

The Lib Dems promise funding in science (as do the other two) but they go further, pledging that they will use independent advice to create science policy and safeguard academic freedom, so that advisers are able to provide advice without fear of bullying or mistreatment. They also support open access academic publication, so everyone can see the results of state funded research. I think it says something about the Lib Dems that they make a point of drawing these out in their manifestos - where the opposing parties are staying relatively vague.

I think another difficulty when it comes to science and politics is that so few politicians understand important topics in science and so understandably feel somewhat uncomfortable discussing them  aaaaaaaaaaaand swiftly moving on to another stat... 110 of 645 MPs have a BSc (about 17%)  you may say the number is quite high, but that includes many social science graduates and arts degrees  that carry a BSc. According to the article, the number of MPs with a background in science is likely to fall after this election. I do not think that Parliament should be run by scientists and I know that a lot of people think 'What's the point in science?'. But as key player in the UK economy and a growing field I think its only right to suggest that all political departments should have a scientific advisor on hand (you never know when a killer virus crisis could strike).

Anyway, enough about that, it all comes down to tomorrow night... I will be watching the numbers come in whilst  flicking over to Channel 4's Come Dine With Me Election special which I am equally excited about!!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Women in science & the media

On a rather long visit to the hairdressers (yes scientists do visit the hairdressers) I was handed a copy of Red magazine. Now I enjoy a glossy, trashy, gossip filled magazine as much as the next person but Red is a little different, it's a little more 'serious', it isn't based solely around fashion. Currently it is promoting 'Red's Hot Women' which is a competition promoting intelligent women that work hard and have showed great achievements in their field. The article was entitled 'the top 20 under 30' and all the women featured in the magazine are extremely talented and inspirational... I just have one problem, not one of them was a scientist.

Now this is just one example, I am sure there are scientists that were in the shortlist but didn't make it for whatever reason. I am also not saying that women scientists are better than anyone else. I just want to highlight the fact that the world of science and women scientists get practically ZERO mention in women's magazines.

I can speculate the reason for this, people that work on the magazines probably do not have an understanding of what goes on in the career of a scientist and lets face it, science doesn't equal glamour.

But I do believe they are missing out on something here... who better to debunk the latest beauty fad than a level headed scientist? 'Wonder cream claims 0 wrinkles in 30 minutes'. Someone who understands the basics of skin science, formulation and statistics could give a pretty well rounded view of the truth behind claims like these. I don't want to bring doom and gloom to the whole picture, I know these magazines are largely used for escapism and if buying that cream makes you feel good, then it make you feel good and I wouldn't want to deny anyone that pleasure! But if someone could give the truth behind what is being sold, it might enable people make their own minds up a little easier, rather than being clouded by opinions.

They also have many articles on various diseases that effect women and regular articles on breast cancer, in fact lots of them are linked to fundraising for charities that support research in these areas. So why do they never cover where the money goes? They never cover the path to drug discovery, the fact that it takes a bare minimum of 5 years to get any new treatment out and available for public use. I bet the majority of people don't know that the money that they provide goes to fund short contracts in research - meaning that the majority of scientists doing the work never have job security as their contracts only last for 3-18 months.

So, off topic I am going to give my own little dedication to women from science and the good that they have done.

Marie Curie (Named New Scientists Greatest Female Scientist of all Time)

Nobel Prize winner (x2!), Chemist and physicist - Created the theory of radioactivity, many people (men) refused to believe that it was the work of a woman. Through her direction, the first studies into using radiation to treat cancers were carried out.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Curie

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson - The first British woman to gain a medical qualification in the UK (Elizabeth Blackwell was the first British woman to gain a medical qualification, but that was in the US)

She went on to build a  medical school for women

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Garrett_Anderson

Sorry to overdo the wikipedia links a little bit.. but this is an excellent article about women in science throughout the centuries.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_science


Rosalind Franklin - The somewhat unsung hero

It was her data Watson and Crick reportedly used to formulate their hypothesis of DNA structure.


And there are many many more! Also, I never knew that Beatrix Potter was a mycologist!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Election Fever

Things have been pretty quiet on the scaremongering science news report front, probably because there is plenty of actual news with the announcement of the general election. I think it is a little early to pass judgement on what it would mean for science depending on which party gets into power (partly because I haven't had chance to have a good read through all of the 'promises' yet) so I will save that for another day.

I did however come across this little gem lurking on the Daily Mail website,

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1265857/Dieting-exercise-NOT-help-lose-weight.html

Headline : Dieting without exercise 'will NOT help you lose weight'

Actual meaning: Reducing calorie intake in monkeys reduced their activity levels and thus resulted in no weight loss. SURPRISING? Not really.

My rough translation of what that means for humans, if you eat 3 cheeseburgers a week and run for the bus everyday but want to shift a few pounds, don't eat salad then take the car - keep running for that bus.

It's fairly simple really, if you take more calories in than you burn off then you will get fatter, take fewer calories in and burn more off you will get skinnier*.

I am not sure why so many people struggle with this extremely simple concept, maybe its because people want to justify eating that extra bit of cake.




*Of course there are some exeptions to the rule,  people with thyroid problems for example.

Friday, 2 April 2010

The Press and Journal and the Ginger Gene

Following on from last week, I contacted the newspaper that printed the walnut/prostate cancer story and I was pleased that I got a response quite quickly. The editor pointed me in the direction of this website which he assured me 'would answer my questions'.

http://www.webmd.boots.com/prostate-cancer/news/20100322/walnuts-may-help-fight-prostate-cancer

This report seems a fairly well rounded view of the research which was apparently presented (I still cannot find any details of the original research) pointing out that the research has yet to be subject to peer review. There are quite a few discrepences between the Boots article and the one reported in the newspaper, so I sent a polite reply back to the editor,

Dear SIR

Thank you very much for your reply and pointing me in the direction of the article on the Boots website.

The article on the Boots website makes it clear that this research has not yet been subject to peer review and also that the test was carried out in test animals. It does not indicate that the test results are directly related to humans.
On the subject of, ‘Prostate cancer growth was reduced by 30% in mice...Tumours in mice given the nut diet were half as big as those of animals not fed on walnuts’ the Boots article clearly states that ‘The walnut-fed mice developed prostate cancers that were about 50% smaller than the control mice. Those cancers also grew 30% slower’.
I appreciate that newspapers wish to report on breaking news stories/new findings but I suggest you exercise some caution in how you report this information. It is unfair to mislead people (especially those which may be suffering from prostate cancer) by incorrectly reporting on a scientific study. The headline used ‘Researchers hail walnuts as prostate cancer treatment’ is a fairly big over exaggeration of what the study actually showed.
I don’t wish to come across as a complete pain and I am all in support of encouraging people to eat healthier, however, as I work in the field of scientific research I regularly come across articles in the news that incorrectly interpret study results and so I feel it necessary to highlight the problems it causes.

Many thanks and regards,

Their reply,

Thank you for your further e-mail.


I will forward your comments onto the news agency which supplied the report. It may well be that further information they have elicited indicates the relevance of the findings to humans, or that the Boots report is only a partial record of findings disclosed to the conference at which the research was discussed.

I hope he did pass on my comments to this mystery news agency.

Anyway, moving on to this weeks excitement...

I have enjoyed following the evolution of an article written by a student in the EUSci (University of Edinburgh Science magazine) particularly as I am a lone ginger in my family. The original article is very entertaining however what is more entertaining is the way in which national newspapers picked up on the story and turned it into their own story. Here's a link to the website, http://www.eusci.org/ if you want to read it.

The Daily Mail reported that The 26-year-old came up with the theory, 'genetic mutation + bad weather = red heads'


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1256269/Emily-Pritchard-Scotlands-weather-ginger-hair-linked-says-genetics-student.html#ixzz0jwEUeDGa

The Times, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/genetics/article7053424.ece

and The Sun's expert reporters said, 'LOUSY weather is responsible for Scotland having so many red-heads, a study claims.' (which she clearly didn't)

Read more: http://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/scotsol/homepage/news/2884336/Poor-Scottish-weather-is-why-the-nation-has-a-high-number-of-redheads.html#ixzz0jwFEdtDk

Just another example how newspapers and journalists can twist a science story into something it isn't. I know this is a fairly lighthearted ginger story (and everyone loves a ginger story) but this exactly how more serious health/science stories can be misinterpreted and come out of nothing. It shows how something fairly obscure in the world of science can become mainstream and blown into something bigger.

I have had a quiet week research wise as you can probably tell. Everything is at a standstill at the moment (waiting for kits for experiments/cells to grow) and I am not the most patient patient so it is driving me nuts!! I am just glad there has been a good ginger story and plenty of April Fools stories to keep me amused!!

Friday, 26 March 2010

Holiday & Badscience

I took a much needed (due to the severe lack of sunshine in the far north of Scotland) holiday for a couple of weeks. It's amazing how good a few hours in the sunshine can make you feel!

I took 6 books with me, most of which were trashy rubbish. Two days before the holiday I bought a book called Badscience on impulse after drinking a few glasses of wine at lunchtime. Wine clearly improved my book choices, Badscience turned out to be the only decent book out of the 6. I really would recommend this book to EVERYONE especially if you work in media/PR/marketing. It really hammers home how science is misrepresented and 'dumbed down' in the media.

Here is my own short example,

I had a little look for the latest ‘revolutionary’ health story in the local newspaper. It didn’t take long to find an article entitied 'How walnuts may fight prostate cancer'.

I will just share with you this small snippet, taken from the article, ‘Prostate cancer growth was reduced by 30% in mice fed the human equivalent of two handfuls of walnuts every day for two months. Tumours in mice given the nut diet were half as big as those of animals not fed on walnuts. The US researchers believe the findings are directly relevant to humans.’Read more: http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/1658509#ixzz0jIcnnlEH

I only did maths up to G.C.S.E but I am pretty sure that in no way does 30% = half. Also I am not sure how these findings relate directly to humans.

I wanted to investigate further. Despite me having access to many academic journals through the university intranet I could find no trace of a scientific paper related to this study, nor on study leader Paul Davis’ university website does it mention the study.

I am going to write a small note to the paper shortly.

I really want to make sure that in my career I can help change some of these problems with the way ‘science’ is reported. I have started the blog already (although I haven't said anything on this subject previously). Following the lead from Ben Goldacre, the Badsciences author, I will make sure I contact and explain my problems to the writers/sources of science stories I come across that mislead/confuse or incorrectly report findings.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Frustration

I am suffering from my first bout of PhD frustration and I am pretty sure this will not be my last!!

My cell cultures have an infection, which means they go in the bin and I can no longer carry out any experiments on them. So I am stuck, I have to wait and grow some more...

I like things to move quickly, I like getting results, I like jumping from one thing to the next and being rushed off my feet!! If I don't have too much to do its likely that I won't get anything done... (bizzare logic, but how I work).

It seems that other students I have spoken to are rushed off their feet, their supervisors seem much more hands on than mine (mine never enters the lab). Both ways have their advantages and disadvantages but I think at the start of the PhD at least it would be really helpful to have someone in the lab - if you don't get told you are making mistakes you may never know and by the time you find out you may have wasted a lot of time!

I am lucky I have a post doc around to help me out...

Anyway, I am going to try and do something productive and write up a method (hopefully in the correct way, but we shall see!)

Friday, 5 February 2010

So it's Friday! (Yey) and I am finishing the week on a high, I have my first big data set of results!

I have spent the past 3 hours creating many colourful graphs and I have no idea what the results mean yet... my brain is too frazzled to start thinking about it!

I went to a 'science communication' course this morning which was interesting, they set a challenge - describe your research in lay terms in less than 60seconds. It may seem simple but it is actually quite difficult when you are used to talking in acronyms and technical language! I have to say though, I was a lot better than others!! My thoughts were that you have to think what other people want to hear, you need to give them a reason to listen, how will your research impact them? Or impact something they can relate to? All research, no matter how narrow and in depth it seems can be brought back out to the bigger picture somehow, whether its to help save energy, help someone with disease or studying the universe! I might attempt to explain my research to my mum and dad now... because they don't have a clue what I am doing!

Anyway, it's Friday afternoon and it is time to go and start the weekend!

Monday, 1 February 2010

New Scientist

This is my first experience at blogging, so to tell you a bit about myself.

I am a new scientist, I started a PhD in Medical Sciences about 4 months ago. I gave up a good job and moved 500 miles in the pursuit of love and freedom... (very sad but true and the translation of that statement is - I moved to be nearer my boyfriend and away from a job that was working me 10hrs a day and the odd weekend).

I currently spend a lot of time sat at my desk wondering what I should be doing and thinking up elaborate goals and experiments that I won't be able to do. If I am not doing that I am on facebook or planning a ridiculous holiday experience that I have neither the time or money available to go on.

I do spend some time in the lab, mostly getting lost!

I have seen online quite a few blogs about science/PhDs etc and it seems to me all people do is moan (my boyfriends theory is that people, "don't go on the internet to say nice stuff"). I am a pretty positive person and can stay happy throughout many a drama, so hopefully my blog will make people smile or maybe it will be a story of the slow decline of a happy person to one with no social skills, friends or ability to smile as 3 years as a PhD student has worn me down, let's see!

:-)

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