Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vitamin D: Not Just Fun, It's Good For You

From an interview in the Nutrition Action Newsletter:

"Sixty percent of people in the US and Europe get too little vitamin D.  The percentages are higher in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.  The most important source of vitamin D is sun exposure, which increases the body's production of vitamin D.  The diet is not rich in D.  There's a little in fatty fish and in eggs, but by and large, people without sun exposure will need a supplement."

From what my sister's doctor says, everybody in San Francisco is deprived of vitamin D.

So I am going to consider my al fresco Saturday lunches on Jason's patio not only an enjoyable, relaxing break from the trials and tribulations of grad school life, but a bona fide health behavior.  You know, as long as I avoid the chocolate mousse with chocolate chips from the salad bar and the mini muffins that have calories into the fourth dimension.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Is That a Joke?

It still surprises me when my students can't tell when I'm joking in class.  Today, one of our labs required them to fabricate data for 30 participants such that there was a positive correlation between two variables, and some students were like, What?  How do we make up data?

I was like, OK, everybody pay attention because making up fake data is one of the most important steps in your development as scientists.

People looked at each a little uneasily.

Then I said in a dramatic voice, I'll not have anyone saying that I did not train you properly in the crucially important task of making up fake data to get the results you want.

Now people started to laugh.

And I am pleased to note that I did not make any reference to Chinese scientists during this discussion, even though they demonstrate a much greater aptitude for this particular task.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Application Blues

I should start this post with some good news. 

(1)  I got a 39.5/40 for my grant proposal in the class that is now finished, and the prof noted that my proposal is the one of the class that would have been funded.  I actually quite liked my design, and I'm keeping it as a back-pocket idea if the opportunity ever arises to use/implement some (cheaper, easier) version of it.

(2)  On the neuroscience midterm, I got a 36/40 - so yes, I barely eked out an A- on this thing, which is absolutely delightful.  I do not anticipate being able to replicate this score on the final because it's two days after the big-ass take-home final in my other class, so I will not likely be able to put as much time into studying for it.  But I'm still stoked about the midterm grade if for no other reason than it gives me a little bit of play going into the final exam and the term paper (because my goal is to get a B).

Now for the whining part of this post.

Applying to 17 PhD programs is haaaard.  This weekend, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get stuff together for my recommenders, especially the one prof who wants to do his on paper rather than online.  (He says that online adds time he doesn't have when doing letters for about 40 people every year, and I absolutely don't blame him for making this harder on me so it's easier on him.)  I think I will have everything put together for this (forms partly filled, printed, signed, matched up with pre-addressed envelopes; all the info profs need put into folders) for tomorrow.

One annoyance (among oh, so many) is that several of the programs do not send emails to your letter writers to solicit their recommendation until after you complete the application, which means not only filling out page after page of information, but appending your finalized CV, statement of purpose, writing sample, and so forth.  So though the application deadline might be Dec 1, you need to finish and submit it enough early that your letter writers have time to send their stuff in by that date.  At least, that's my read of the situation; I haven't seen any indication that reference letters are due at a later point than the application itself. 

It's a good thing I don't have any other responsibilities aside from applying to grad school.  Oh wait...

I would like to publicly praise my personal PhD Application Guru, RVman, without whom I don't even want to think how behind I would be on getting my stuff together.  Behold his awesome visage as he outwits the unbelievably crappy University of Texas transcript ordering process.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bad Web Page Layout

There is no reason I can think of that it makes any sense whatsoever that the ApplyYourself university application web page should have the button you push for "logout" and the button you push for "submit" be overlapping buttons.  I am half-paranoid every time I try to log out from this program (that is used by many of the schools I'm applying to) that I will accidentally submit an only partly-completed application.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Let the Applications Commence

My current list has 17 programs, but it will probably go down by a few depending on which programs / labs are taking new students for the fall.  Tonight, I started the online application for 6 of them by filling in all the easy stuff; later I will go back and upload my statements of purpose, etc.  It feels good to have this process underway.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Title After My Own Heart

The Pavlovian power of palatable food: lessons for weight-loss adherence from a new rodent model of cue-induced overeating

(Boggiano, M., Dorsey, J., Thomas, J., & Murdaugh, D. (2009). The Pavlovian power of palatable food: lessons for weight-loss adherence from a new rodent model of cue-induced overeating. International Journal of Obesity, 33(6), 693-701. doi:10.1038/ijo.2009.57.)

It's only missing the inevitable "and monkeys!" follow-up study.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wizard of Oz

Robert was walking drama-stiffly toward the chair I was sitting in (and from which I demanded that he help me straighten out my left leg which I was too lethargic to straighten in anticipation of getting up).

S: "So, what - are you the Tin Man?  What is it you need?"

R: "A heart.  And the scarecrow needs a brain."

S: "What about the lion?"

R: "He needs courage."

S: "But I don't understand.  Courage isn't a body part."

R: "Yeah, but I'm pretty sure it was courage."

S: insistently "But that isn't a body part."

R: "It was a kid's movie.  They couldn't very well say that he needed a pair of balls."

Instead all he got was this lousy medal.  (And personally, I think he needs a make-over.  What the hell is with that red bow in his fur?)

Surprisingly, I don't think I've ever seen this movie all the way through.  This part with the handing out of the medal of courage, the diploma (see: a degree is a substitute for a brain! Heed this well, little children), and whatever the tin man gets (a heart-shaped watch? what?) is totally unfamiliar.

Also, I just want to advise anyone who may be considering a sexy cowardly lion costume for Halloween: just because you can buy it on the Internet does not make it a good idea.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yet Another Paper Word Cloud

It's going to be hard to tell what this paper was about, but try your best.  (Tam, at least I am covering the "regulatory" bit in this one.)

It's hard to believe that class is already over.  (It was only a half-semester class, but still.)  A new class starts on Monday (unconscious processes).

Tomorrow is our one day "fall break," which means I have the day off to work on PhD application stuff (e.g., the dreaded statement of purpose) and my thesis proposal.  I left my neuroscience book and articles at school and am looking forward to not really thinking about it again this weekend...wait, except to send the professor my ideas for the paper I will be writing for the class.  Oh well.

UPDATE: I was just thinking how nice it will be that starting a new class on Monday means no readings or assignments to do for Monday.  Then I checked my email: be expecting an assignment in the next day or two.  Sigh.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Neuroscience Word Cloud

I am pleased to report that my neuroscience midterm is over - it took me a little over 3 hours and most of my classmates were still working on it.  (Overachieving P. is probably still working on it.)  I think I can reasonably expect to get a B, which is fine.  Below is the word cloud I made from my extensive study guide.  (Click for a larger view.) 

Seeing the word "nervous" confused me for a moment until I realized, Oh yeah, as in nervous system

Because bunnies disapprove of neuroscience, I selected the "organic carrot" color scheme to appease them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Unwittingly Derogatory Language

In class today, we were talking about discrimination, stereotyping, various "-isms" (e.g., sexism, racism, heterosexism), etc.  A couple of people mentioned that they used to employ the phrase "That's so gay" as a general commentary on something being stupid.  (Is it a marker of my age that the phrase of my youth was "That's retarded"?)  One guy said, "Yeah, I used it when I meant to say that something was stupid or lame."  I said, "Yes, 'lame' is another good example."

You could see people recoiling with the realization that this innocuous-seeming phrase is, indeed, ableist.

Another favorite of mine is the use of the term "gypped" for swindled.  People do not seem to make the connection to "gypsy."  I mean, it's not like the Romani are a major ethnic group in the US, so it's somewhat understandable that people don't recognize the word's origins, but still - not good.

I'm not sure where I stand on the "dumb" = stupid idea because I've heard conflicting stories about whether the origin meaning of dumb was incapable of generating speech (a disability) or being of low intelligence.

Do you have any favorite terms or phrases of this kind?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Alternative Titles

Clearing off my desk, I just found a reaction paper in which I wrote:

The paper...may have been more appropriately titled "Eking out another publication from an old data set and an unrelated convenience sample: A couple unrelated findings about self-enhancers."

I guess this would be like Crazy People in Academia.  I mean, unless that's redundant.

This is Your Brain on Neuroscience

After our 3 hour review session (in advance of the exam on Wed.), my brain is now dripping out my ears.  I think it's going to be hugely helpful, though.  (As a side effect, I have been reduced to making bad neuroscience in-jokes on Facebook.)

It may not be a great sign of my self-confidence going into this exam that I checked the student handbook to determine what grade in the course I have to get to pass.  It appears to be a C.  This may sound ridiculous (e.g., to the people on the Chronicle forum who state that getting B's indicates you're not really cut out for grad school), but:

1) My sense from talking to my fellow students is that the grading in my program is a lot more like undergrad than what many people describe their grad programs like (i.e., many more lower grades are awarded; in some of my classes, I think the average was a B). 
2) Last year, my office mate failed this class and had to take it again.
3) Waaaaah.  It's hard.

I did sort of have fun playing with this Nernst/Goldman simulator this weekend, though.

Oh, and to get me through the week, I have just bookmarked the Disapproving Rabbits web site.  These rabbits really, really disapprove of neuroscience and neuroscience exams.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Animal, Vegetable, No Mineral

I just posted a photo album from the Dixie Classic Fair last Saturday on Facebook. 

Robert had noticed that the rabbit fanciers were having a show there, so we went to check out the bunnilicious excitement.  Not only did we get to see (and pet!) many rabbits, including several mini rexes, we took in a tour of the ag tents for the other animals, and vegetables, on display.

These are probably my two favorite pics:

1)  The sleeping fuzzball

2) The tribble-groucho mix

And now back to neuroscience exam preparation for me. Bah!

Quote of the Day: Nobel Edition

On Konstantin Novoselov winning the physics prize:

"A 36 year-old won a Nobel for wrapping a pencil in tape in 2004."

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Easy Peasy

I agree with this blog post that:

1) Frozen vegetables are awesome, and
2) The fact that fresh veg can be a pain to prepare is not the reason people are eating junk food instead of veg (contra claims in the NY Times article he links to).

Further, I believe that Steamfresh frozen sweet peas are the bomb.

Tonight, after getting home from dissecting a sheep's brain (and yes, thoroughly washing my brain-speckled hands), I ate baby carrots with light ranch dressing for "dinner."

Monday, October 4, 2010


It would be really nice if professors were to update their university web page to indicate whether or not they are taking students for the upcoming intake cycle.  Then I wouldn't have to email them to ask, and they wouldn't have to hit the delete or spam button in their email program to get rid of this email.  But since a surprisingly large number of profs list "in press" articles that were published in 2005, etc., I guess updating the web site is not a priority for most. 

To Professor D. A., who did update her page to say that she's taking students:  Thank you!