Science Sunday #25

I came across a very moving article this week that I’d like to share for this week’s Science Sunday.  The article is called One Of A Kind:  What do you do if your child has a condition that is new to science?  It was published online ahead of print in The New Yorker on July 21.

The article is about a family with son had an undiagnosed medical condition, and their journey through trying to get him a diagnosis.  The writing of this article was very raw and real, and captured, as best as words on a page can, the parents’ emotions as they struggled through years of trying to find out what was wrong with their son.

Eventually, he was diagnosed with a glycosylation disorder:  but only after his and his parents’ genomes were sequenced, and there was outreach worldwide to identify other patients who had the same mutation.

From a clinical perspective, it gives hope that with enough persistence, other patients who have not yet found a diagnosis will be able to.  From a research perspective, it highlights the importance of collaboration to further human health.  And from a human perspective, stories like this make us grateful for what we have and sympathetic for those around us who are struggling.

It’s worth the read.

The opposite of what I’d think:

I’ve been talking to my PI recently about going to a conference in September.  Seeing as I just started in the lab at the beginning of June, and that I’m taking over someone’s project, I don’t have a ton of my own data yet.  But, this conference is one that I am extremely interested in going to.  It’s a graduate student-only immunology conference called IGSIC, and I’ll have the opportunity to network with my immunology peers from all over the world.

It’s set now that I will be going to the conference.  The most recent discussion I had with my PI was whether I should submit for a poster, or for an oral presentation.

I went into the conversation thinking that although I feel comfortable talking about the project, I don’t know that I really will have enough of my own data by September to warrant giving an oral presentation.  A poster, on the other hand, is a bit more conducive to showing preliminary data.

Surprisingly, my PI took exactly the opposite point of view!  From his perspective, an oral presentation is more risky when you have more new data and are closer to publishing a paper, because you’ll want to avoid having too much data “leaked” in advance.  He felt that I would be okay applying for an oral presentation because I don’t have a lot of data over what the lab has already published on this project.

Though I’m happy that I got the green light to apply to give a talk, I was a bit surprised by his take on the situation!  I always think of posters as being more preliminary data, and talks being more for cohesive, later-stage projects.  I’m particularly wondering how other labs handle posters vs talks at conferences, and what the rationale is behind the decision.  Obviously I am doing whatever my PI decides, but I am curious about opinions on this topic in general.

Food Trucks in Pittsburgh!

Last Friday, I published an article on the NYC Food Truck Association blog entitled “Food Trucks in Pittsburgh?  Why, Yes!”  I had a fantastic time working to get this article published, so please go check it out– and support the food trucks mentioned!  Pittsburgh’s food trucks are not well-known, but they deserve to be!

If you’re in New York City, the NYC FTA is a great resource for finding out where you can locate your favorite food truck.  If you’re in Pittsburgh, check out PGH Trux on Twitter.

Science Sunday #24

This week:  Vials of Smallpox Found in F.D.A. Storage Room!  It’s crazy that a disease that is supposed to have been eradicated over 3 decades ago was kept unaccounted for since 1954.  A more recent article later in the week confirmed that these stocks of virus are indeed able to grow, indicating that they may be infectious.  Luckily, the CDC has agreed to destroy the virus after this testing is done.  Between this and the anthrax scare earlier in the year, I think it’s time for the NIH to take a closer look at their policies, to ensure that there is no longer the danger of exposure to these diseases- to their employees, or to the public.

Foodie Friday!

Foodie Friday berries


Welcome to the very first Foodie Friday on Isn’t That Grad!  This week, I’m featuring berries.

By day I’m a scientist but at night I love to bake- it’s a great stress reliever and also a fun way to bring people together, so it’s a win-win for me! Cooking has always come naturally to me, but over the years I’ve realized that’s not the case with everyone. Often when I share food with friends I get comments like “that’s so clever” or “how did you think of that flavor combination?” I realized that I have knowledge about cooking that I can share with everyone else– and now, I’m going to do just that, every other Friday!

My cooking point of view is (to take from a common workplace term) transferrable skills. If you know what tastes good together and how to handle ingredients, you can go and put together any dish containing those ingredients! Recipes become less important if you understand the food.  That’s what I’m here to teach you.

Continue reading

Five and a half things I learned this weekend.

1.  The first drive-in gas station in the world was in Pittsburgh!

2.  Enrico Biscotti in the Strip does sell nut-free biscotti!

3.  Downtown Pittsburgh after the 4th of July fireworks is an awful time to try and get on a bus.

3a.  There are plenty of other places with good views of the fireworks, including in Schenley Park.

4.  The cooking demos at the Bloomfield Saturday Market are a great way to try (free) food from local restaurants and chefs.

5.  When your parents visit you for the first time, you will take/be in an inordinate number of pictures at every location you stop at during the entire weekend ;-) (and you’ll be okay with it).

Science Sunday #23

This week in science news:  Stem Cell Research Papers Are Retracted.  This has been a huge debate in the science world for the past few months, ever since the original papers describing a method of making stem cells using an acid bath were published.  Almost immediately, there were questions of the integrity of the papers. After a lot of debate, including many many articles drawing the public’s attention to the case, the papers were finally withdrawn this week.

What I think is important in this case is two things:

1. That cases like this are not the rule in science, they are the exception. Full retractions of papers are rare and I hate that often it is these negative articles that persist in the public media. More common is either corrections (often of a figure or a legend) or partial retractions of a paper. Which brings me to my next point,

2. Cases like this spiral out of control when the media sensationalizes scientific discoveries before they have the opportunity to be vetted by the scientific community. I imagine that these papers would have been retracted anyway, but it would have happened without bring such drawn out, negative publicity to the research world.

I hope this saga will inform more scientists to work and publish with integrity and with a sense of responsibility to the community they represent.

I’m also curious as to what other scientists think about this and similar cases of whole papers being retracted. Do you notice the effect of the negativity they bring to science? Is it more noticeable of an effect if you’re working in the same field as the paper?

Happy 4th of July!

This week has flown by!  It’s certainly nice that tomorrow is a university holiday, so I’ll get a break, but this week felt so rushed knowing that I only had four days to get things done instead of 5.  Plus, I’m busy all weekend (more on that in a bit) so I don’t have Saturday or Sunday to get anything done in the lab, either.  Because of that, as soon as I leave lab this evening I am going to try to clear my mind of science for a couple of days!  I have a lot of questions and experiments that I want to work on next week, but it’s going to do me no good to stress about them all weekend.  I’m beginning to realize how much science is a “lifestyle” more than just a job.  My mind runs through experiments at all hours.  Hopefully I can turn that off for a few days while…

my family visits!  They haven’t all been out to Pittsburgh since moving me in last August (and I can’t believe it’s nearly been a year!).  My mom came back out in early September, but since then I’ve actually had no visitors.  I am quite glad that they will be the ones traveling this time, instead of me.  I’ve actually been back to NJ five times since moving out here.  That’s a lot of miles that I am happy someone else will have to cover for once, while I sit in my apartment and wait.  And it will be nice to be able to show them some of my favorite places in Pittsburgh now that I’ve been out here long enough to identify them.  I hope the weather stays nice because the plan right now includes fireworks, farmers’ markets, and the Strip District!

I hope everyone else enjoys their festivities this weekend, too.  Happy 4th of July!

Science Sunday #22

This week’s Science Sunday focuses less on the nitty gritty of biological sciences and instead, more on the ethics behind conducting research.  The big headline this week in research ethics was about Facebook’s social psychology experiment (scientific paper), in which they manipulated News Feed data for over 600,000 users in order to determine whether the positive or negative emotions of the posts they were reading impacted what they posted themselves.

Science Sunday #22Legally, Facebook claims that they did everything according to book, while they admit that how they manipulated users may have been in an ethical “gray area”.  This brings me to the point of discussion that I wanted to start with this post:  when is what is legally right not ethically right, and how can this be reconciled in the name of research?  And with humans being the subject of Facebook’s study, how much should/could users have known before being used as participants?

In the biological sciences, it is now a requirement for scientists to study scientific ethics, also known as the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR).  I just completed the RCR course required by the University of Pittsburgh.  I can say that while the rules and regulations about how to handle situations (both related to humans in research, and many other situations that may be encountered) are clearly spelled out, most of the case studies we discussed still provoked debate and do not always have a clear-cut answer.  Ethics is not an easy field to navigate.

So:  was what Facebook did okay?  Legally, yes, but ethically…what do you think?

My NatureJobs articles!

About a month ago (I can’t believe it’s already been a month!), I traveled to Boston to write for the NatureJobs Career Expo.  This post today is to share the three articles that I had published on the NatureJobs blog, based on sessions from the conference.


I hope you’ll click over to the NatureJobs blog to check them out!  I had a wonderful time writing each article and I know that they contain useful information for scientists in any type of career.  Besides the text that I wrote, you’ll also find links out to other content in each topic to further broaden your knowledge of the area.  Enjoy! :)