Scientists Simplifying Science

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June 2016

Maria Sibyllia Merian, who rendered science pretty

in SciWorld/Theory of Creativity by

Maria Sibyllia Merian was an illustrator and entomologist (1647-1717). At a time when education was scant for women, she learnt miniature painting from her step father. She used this skill to depict her observations on insect metamorphosis across a variety of specimens. Her work contributed to the shift in belief from theory of spontaneous generation prevalent at the time. She travelled to the forests of Surinam where she spent six years studying insects and plants. She worked at a time, when illustrations were the only ‘photographs’ available. For financial support, she sold her work as art and published books. Linneaus later used her work to classify insects. Here are recreation of four of her plates.

maria betonien rose 1

Bentonein rose

 

maria chocolate tree

Chocolate pod

maria lime tree with butterfly

Lime tree with insect metamorphosis

maria insect of surinam

Insect metamorphosis

 

While Maria used copperplate etching for her illustrations, here Adobe illustrator software has been used to revisit those.

 

IMG_20151008_111034_1444282874501

About the illustrator: Ipsa is pursuing a Ph.D. at Indian Institute of Science. She loves to draw and paint. Biologist by training. Wants to gather and spread interestingness.

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This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Mentors’ Perspective

in That Makes Sense by

mentor

The discussions in the Career Support Group for Science PhDs have always been a live wire. As the group nears its one year anniversary and embarks on the Mentor-Mentee initiative, ClubSciWri is pleased to bring out the first brain-storming session that led to this initiative. One such interesting discussion took place a few months back. Dr Moloy Goswami asked, “Among this group are many who are Principal Investigators (PIs). A lot is been discussed from side of graduate students and post-docs. It would be lovely to have perspective from looking glass.” So the questions he posed to the group were:

  1. What it means to be a researcher and a mentor?
  2. How to be a good lab manager?
  3. Is it compatible with right science and competitive nature of grants?
  4. What have the PIs done to boost science career of next generation?

Moloy believes talking it aloud will help investigators reflect in addition to adding value to those who believe science is what they were born for.

Here is a summary of the opinions expressed by some of the faculty members in the forum.

  1. You cannot control every aspect of the experiment.
  2. Some phd students/postdocs are more independent than others, do you know where your mentee stands?
  3. Taking a graded approach with PhD students helps: start with a greater involvement and release the brakes slowly after changing gears.
  4. Encourage healthy disagreement to develop better proteges. Your success depends on their success.
  5. Be inspiring, especially in the disillusionments through paper and grant rejections.
  6. A good read: By Santiago Ramon Y Cajal (the father of modern neurobiology), called ‘Advice to a Young Investigator’.
  7. Try to be a mentor and a friend, and let your mentee’s speak their mind.
  8. Lead by example, not by tyranny.
  9. Be super selective of the first person you hire
  10. Compartmentalise, because there’s never going to be a block of time for anything that takes too long: there’ll always be a meeting, students asking help, emails that need replying, other admin work that cannot wait and so on.
  11. In the beginning you are your best postdoc and you set the culture in the lab, the rigour, the fun and the discipline, all of it.
  12. I’ve also noticed it is best to offer career advice when asked by people who have some idea of what they want for themselves. No career is better or worse. We have an open door policy and students/postdocs can approach any PI for advice.
  13. It is best to offer career advice when asked by people who have some idea of what they want for themselves. No career is better or worse.
  14. Each person is different. Your interactions with personnel in your group are never alike. One-size-fits-all approach is bound to fail.
  15. Conflict Resolution: Universities offer courses like ‘Dealing with difficult personalities’ which might be useful to some extent. I think having mentor (other than your PI) at workplace is very important.
  16. Judging talent: In terms of expectations – I feel motivation and interest in the project at hand are most important. A super smart student who is not interested in the laboratory projects is unlikely to make much progress. And to a large extent, at that level, the whole class is intellectually similar. So attracting the students/people most interested in your work is better for both parties.
  17. How to help the mentees transition? Well, this is what they had to say:-

Bhismadev Chakrabarti said, ” for good phd students coming to the end of their term, i’d unashamedly push his/her case to colleagues in labs that i know are doing good work. this approach has resulted in good postdoc positions for several of my students. applying ‘cold’ is ok too,though what is really important is for the students to ‘prepare the ground’ in conferences (through initiating contact with the relevant PI) at least a year before the application process starts. it is important to realise that the ratio of applicants to positions for postdocs is often 30:1 (and the top five or so candidates all look very similar on paper). for postdocs coming to the end of their contract, i strongly encourage applying for fellowship applications (e.g. marie curie in the EU) which provide the ideal bridge between senior postdoc and PI. the other alternative is to get a lectureship position. the slight risk of getting a teaching fellowship/ teaching-intensive lectureship is that it risks having less time for research; so one of these career development awards (or equivalents ) and situating oneself in a good lab is the best way forward in my view. usually the home institutions will absorb the researcher at the end of the fellowship into their tenure track stream (at least within UK).”

Dev Sikder said, “Postdocs are weaved into many projects. As a consequence a productive postdoc publishes about 3-4 first author papers and few additional ones as coauthor. As a PI you realize the bigger picture, by assisting a postdoc’s transition into academia or industry, you also build your own legacy. Long story short, a PI’s interest isn’t limited to keeping students/Postdocs in laboratory Indefinitely just because of good match. Once the papers are published he will be happy to help the transition. But Postdocs need to be proactive in the process. Talk to PI about the help you need, help the PI clearly see your vision. Just asking them to write a strong recommendation will NOT land you a position. Build that trust to the extent that he will place a call to the hiring department/institute/ industry. PI’s contacts with industry and academia will help you segue. Having said that you must the prepared to grab the right opportunity. For example when your PI presents your work to Scientific Boards, you should find a way to network with board members. Be proactive in seeking out opportunities in conferences, and approach your PI for making that call.”

Moloy Goswami thanked everyone for their inputs. He said, “It is to bring out and layout such points that I raised the questions. I also believe, getting funding and starting lab do not immediately qualify someone to be good mentor. It is a learning curve for those willing to learn.”

 

The perspectives and questions will be undergoing a continuous evolution as the biomedical workforce in the US and across the world undergoes re-organization in the days to come. The years of investment, training and perseverance that goes into creating a scientist deems a re-thinking in the way we are educating our mentees. This becomes more important when we start to prepare them for the a variety of science careers that are non-traditional.

 

Our Participants

 Moloy Goswami is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor).

Avinash Shenoy is a Lecturer in Molecular Microbiology at Imperial College (London).

Bhismadev Chakrabarti is an Associate Professor at the University of Reading (UK).

Devanjan (Dev) Sikdar is an Associate Professor at the University of Florida (Gainesville).

Anindita Bhadra is an Assistant Professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (Kolkata, India).

 

 

 

Self2015

About the author: Abhinav Dey is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University and a Young Investigator Awardee from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. He is also the co-founder of Career Support Group (CSG) for Science PhDs and ClubSciWri

(https://www.linkedin.com/in/abhinavdey)

 

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This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

The Dancing Scientist

in Theory of Creativity by

 

Dance pic

For a typical middle-class urban Bengali child, along with studies one must have one or more serious hobbies. This can be singing Rabindra-sangeet, classical dances to reciting poems and playing cricket (after the success of Sourav Ganguly). These hobbies are meant to instil an artistic behaviour in young children so that they can grow up to be a complete ‘Bhadrolok/Bhadromahila’ (a.k.a gentleman or a lady) donning many hats. Wait! Don’t stop reading the article! I promise this is not about just the Bengalis. As a Bengali myself this was no exception. Every Sunday I would go to learn Kathhak (yes your hobby must have a formal training) from a master. I won’t deny that I enjoyed dancing, but those ‘lessons’ took away the fun, and the routine made it unexciting. Soon enough it became an added ‘class’ in the long list of what was in my syllabi. As I grew up, the board and the entrance exams took centre stage and as with a lot of Bengali teens like me, life was too hectic to accommodate dancing (I was never the multi-tasker!).

I continued to stay away from dancing while I was pursuing Science for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. As I entered the intense life of Ph. D student at the Indian Institute of Science, someone or something deep inside me started longing to dance. This time around I wanted to take formal lessons that which my younger self rebelled against. It is was probably an escape route possibly due to the existential crisis every Ph.D student goes through, especially in the final years. However, I managed not to give in to the temptation with the excuse of lack of time coming handy every time. Thinking back I have to say, there were many braver and more able souls around me who were connecting to their inner longing and doing science at the same time. This, alas, was not me.

Finally, the arduous journey of Ph.D came to an end with a little title added to my name, and I found myself in the exotic city of London. This time as a post doctoral research associate (PDRA) in Imperial College, a job much like Ph.D, it demanded a lot out of you giving the minimum in return (the gain is proportional to how optimistic you are). This however, more alarmingly, left me staring at my future life with a minimum clarity and little conviction. New workplace (lab), new boss with newer training (may I say, torture) techniques, new set of people (mostly lab mates) to build your social circle from scratch in a fast and fabulous but ruthless city. I was once again the awkward teenager who was trying to fit in. Then I discovered Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, a place in London where one can learn Indian classical music and dance. It offered lessons in Oddisi -the ancient dance form from Odisha (I was mesmerised by Oddisi when I watched the breath taking performance at Nrityagram in Bangalore). I did not let my practical self argue against it; instead I enrolled in the class on an impulse. It may sound exaggerated, but the dance lessons worked like magic. It was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. In retrospect, I can see the dance was having a clear effect on my work. Suddenly, I was this calm person who started enjoying the experiments more than ever. I found myself discreetly practicing a footstep standing in front of the centrifuge as I was pelleting culture sample at 10 pm or suddenly realising the position of ‘Tribhangi’ is easier if I bend more because my centre of gravity comes closer to the ground making the posture more stable! It has been a year and half now since I re-started dancing. Almost 2 years into my PDRA, I am glad to say that I am enjoying both research and dance. These two are in perfect harmony making me a better Bhadromahila after all.

The other day, while the membrane for the western blot was in the blocking step, I sneaked out of the lab to perform a little dance piece in Victoria and Albert Museum Diwali celebrations. As I was drawing perfect geometric patterns on my Oddisi dance steps, my agnostic soul thanked God for the flawless performance. At the same breath, I also quickly prayed the blot look perfect to prove my hypothesis.

Author pic
About the author: The author, Paramita Sarkar, is a Ph.D. from Indian Institute of Science, currently working as a Research Associate at Imperial College, London. Her research interest delves into the exciting world of host pathogen interaction using E.coli– bacteriophages as a model system. She is also a first year diploma student of Odissi at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, London.

Edited by: Sitharam Ramaswami (https://www.linkedin.com/in/sitharam-ramaswami-ram-a0ab0660)

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This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Laapataa- One Among Us

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD/Theory of Creativity by

One Among Us - June 2016

Editor’s note: The last 24 hours have been abuzz with J1 waiver through NORI (No Obligation to Return to India). As a constant viewer of CSG forum, I can vouch that Immigration issues are the most sought after topics of discussion. Everyone has their own reasons for staying back in a foreign land or return to India to pursue their careers. Generalizing the reasons may be of importance to statisticians, but migration and speciation is a universal phenomenon. The debate will continue and whether this migratory behavior of scientists leads to a speciation that affects human development across the world will be the core issue. As trained thinkers of the highest calibre, are we thinking right? Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti has nicely summed up the dilemma in the current Laapataa cartoon series. Let’s provoke some thoughts!

 

15aug14

About the cartoonist: Sujit did his PhD from CSA (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) and joined Philips. After few years in the industry he joined IIIT Bangalore as an Assistant Professor and continues to teach there. Creator of ” Lapataa”- A fictional IISCian as he dodges through the reality of PhD. It is one of the fantastic piece of art which ClubSciWri thought needs to preserved and showed to the world and other alumni. The clips connect all of us whether it is an IIScian or a non-IIScian who did their PhD in India.

 

http://www.iiitb.ac.in/faculty/sujit-kumar-chakrabarti

https://sites.google.com/site/sujitkc/professional2/professional-biography

©Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti

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