Sanity Enhancement

Mar 20 2014 Published by under Productivity

Often I get a sense of renewal after attending a conference. I see colleagues and learn new things, and I return to my job refreshed and ready to conquer the world.

I cannot always leave town when I need a pick-me-up. We all need things that give us that lift, like No Doz washed down with a 6-pack of RedBull. Following are some of my favorite things:

  • Songza: Sure there are a number of streaming music services, but this one has so many options. You can select from tunes for your time of day, activity, and mood. Most options are safe for work as well. Earlier today I used the "Busy Coffee Shop" as background noise while I did some tasks. Now, while I await the arrival of my first afternoon patient, I chose to go with the Hawaiian genre and Tiki Bar selections (I figure I can blog with Tiny Bubbles playing in the background). I also got a Bluetooth portable speaker so I can stream the sound from my iPhone without any plugs or cords.
  • Cute stuff: Emergency puppy, need I say more?
  • Physical activity: The standing desk helps my back and energy level, but it cannot completely replace a brisk walk around the building.
  • Online shopping: Really bad days call for drastic measures. Sometimes a quick browse through new items at a favorite site provides the lift; other times, nothing short of a new pair of shoes will lift me out of my mood. Yes, this can get expensive; reserve it for the very worst times.
  • Movies: This is mostly an after-work activity, although occasionally I find the need to shut my door and divert to a video that makes me feel empowered. My all-time winner in this category is Fried Green Tomatoes. I would love other suggestions.

What other activities, internet sites, or items help you through slow times at work? Leave your suggestions in the comments, please!

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What I Am Reading: Better Presentation Design Version

Oct 10 2012 Published by under [Information&Communication]

When I first started in this business, slides were actual slides. With our early model computers, we carefully printed out our slides, had them photographed, and collected our 35 mm slides for loading in carousels. If the presentation were a big deal, like a national meeting, our art staff would generate blue diazo slides.

Soon we had PowerPoint. For a hefty fee, we could purchase full color slides. As the cost of slide printers dropped, we began to see the unfortunate consequences of eliminating designers and artists from this process. Now, with inexpensive digital projectors (some of which can present from your iPhone) we not only face the dilemma of unlimited colors, but also the potential for motion sickness from ill-advised animations and transitions.

Click to Amazon

I cannot remember where I stumbled across the recommendation for slide:ology by Nancy Duarte, but I am grateful. You probably know her group's work; they designed a little slide show for Al Gore called An Inconvenient Truth.

I have made my way through 80% of the book now. In general, it recommends a "less is more" approach. Uncluttered backgrounds, limited words, and striking images improve most presentations. Most chapters include before and after slides. If I could boil the book down to one line, it would be something like:

Step away from the templates!

My favorite part so far is the chapter on creating movement. We need to view our presentations not as a series of slides, but with a more cinematic approach. Careful use of animations and transitions can achieve this effect. I have screenshots of a double-paged spread below, illustrating a series of slides:

Click to enlarge

For those of you who cannot see the movement generated through transitions, color, and graphics, I captured images of each slide and put them into PowerPoint to generate this video. Please forgive the fuzziness of the enlargements!

Academics depend on clear presentations to get our message across. When was the last time you felt inspired by a slide show?

I thought so.

slide:ology is available in both dead tree and electronic format. Click, buy and make your slides better.

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Extra Credit

My favorite comic of all time

Last year at Science Online 2011, as we discussed the role of blogging in scientific outreach, the topic of academic "credit" for blogging arose. Mostly junior participants lamented that blogging would never be taken seriously until full professors had it on their CVs.

I went back and added a section of online activities to my own CV. As one of those full professors, I felt it was the least I could do.

Earlier this week Kate Clancy wrote about her upcoming 3-year review, including the difficulty the committee will have discussing her blog:

It doesn’t help that “blog” doesn’t sound very academic (oh, if only I had thought to call this the Context and Variation Monograph). And it doesn’t help that this writing isn’t just for scholars, but for everybody. That’s not because non-blogging academics don’t see the point of interacting with the public, but because this particular way of doing it is so strange to them. This isn’t a radio interview, or a book, or a talk at the local library, but a style of writing where the jargon is not academic but from the internet. We talk in ALL CAPS, we use emoticons and use extra exclamation points!!1!!1

WhizBANG! Letters...hmmmm...

She goes on to outline the virtues of blogging for a junior faculty member, including building networks, public outreach, improved writing skills, and even (gasp!) scholarship. I suspect a number of us bloggers do not really get our thoughts organized until we write them down (that's why there is a huge whiteboard in my office), and playing with a new idea in cyberspace can generate valuable feedback from a great audience. Blogging about academic works increases the audience substantially; I hope that mainstream journals can eventually embrace this robust discussion as part of the post-publication review of work.

So back to January. As a full prof, my CV did not really get examined by anyone last spring. This week I found out that I have to undergo tenure review for my new employer, and my CV must be completely rearranged. I prepared a draft, including my posts for Scientific American and Biocareers as non-refereed publications, complete with hyperlinks. I also listed my project, Academic Women for Equality Now, as an "Other" activity. [Yes, this blog got left off, mostly because it includes any shiny thing that catches my eye, especially shoes. I cannot classify my thoughts on fashion, including bottle sweaters, as any sort of academic activity.]

Our departmental reviewer got back to me with a bunch of red pixels, none of which landed on these posts. She told me to put AWEnow into my national service section. No comments about these being inappropriate activities for academic credit.

I still have work to do on my packet before it goes to full review. There is still a chance that someone will snub my online work, but so far, so good.

Anyone else out there counting their online efforts as academic work?

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Blog Buzz

Sep 15 2011 Published by under General Health

I found Information is Beautiful in the directory of feeds available for the Pulse aggregator for iPad. If you have not been to this site, click through now. It features beautiful graphical information on a variety of topics.

Click for source

My favorite at the moment? Is The HPV Vaccine Safe? Using clear graphics that even a republican can understand, the latest data on the risks of the vaccine versus fatality from cervical cancer are illustrated. 

Lots of entertaining and enlightening displays of visual data can be found on the site.

So what are you waiting for? Go and read!

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What I'm Reading: Where Good Ideas Come From

Oct 12 2010 Published by under Professionalism, What I'm Reading

Last week a couple of reviews brought Steven Johnson's new book to my attention, so I downloaded it. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation deserves a post, and I'm only about a third of the way through it. The book brings together a lot of ideas about innovation and supports or debunks them. Sudden inspiration? Not so much- most paradigm shifts build slowly in the mind. Only in retrospective telling of the tale do "a-ha" moments occur. When appropriate synapses suddenly get together and form the thought, the thinker is often doing something else entirely. Walking, working other jobs, and dreaming may all allow our brains to mix chaotic ideas and "suddenly" form the "next big thing."

When does most laboratory innovation occur? From hidden camera studies, lab meetings are the most fruitful time. The interplay of perspectives between people provides the right level of disorganization to make the thoughts flow. Being a solo scientist at the bench provides far few insights. Cities provide more innovation than small towns, and open areas in buildings encourage more idea flow than isolated offices or cubicles.

I had previously heard of the concept of "The Adjacent Possible" before, but it was not called this term. What does this mean? Innovation depends on the next step. Once tools have been developed, that next step becomes inevitable, even though it may seem like a paradigm-shifting innovation at the time. Something that is one small step farther away remains out of reach; even though we can think it, the tools and connections are not adjacent yet.

Reading this book provides an entertaining counterpoint to the thoughts of St. Kern, Martyr of Baltimore. He bemoans the lack of passion to pursue evening and weekend work in cancer research. Johnson's book would suggest that the "down time" Kern dismisses may be more important to the creative process than more time at the bench. Indeed, many of the 36 people he found in his last survey of an almost empty building may have been generating data, but not the "discovery." The innovation, the creation tends to come about during interactions with others. Someone may finish the experiment on Saturday, but the meaning, the eureka moment, is more likely to occur at the next lab meeting.

This book is a great read, and I may find more to say as I peruse more of it. If you haven't picked it up yet, you should.

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More Thoughts on St. Kern

Oct 05 2010 Published by under Professionalism, [Science in Society]

Burning scientific passion

By now most of you know about Scott Kern, the martyr of Baltimore, and the kerfluffle he caused last week. My colleagues here at Scientopia (I do have to single out the wonderful Drugmonkey post) and elsewhere have taken on his message, and I have enjoyed the shenanigans on twitter (#K3RN3D). Of course, I consider it hypocritical that he admits to attending football games during his training in Ann Arbor in this bio; I mean, where was his passion then?

Passion is a key component of the scientific process, but creativity is just as important. Looking at the world or a problem in a new way leads to the really important discoveries.

Last week I wrote a short essay for an unrelated activity; they asked, "What gives you your creative jolt?"

Living well provides the most important stimulation. Walking outdoors, listening to music, and reading novels may all provide that spark of curiosity that leads me in a new direction. Cooking can also clear my brain and allow important synapses to find each other. I also find my online interactions provide a new peer group that stimulates me. We tweet and blog together, providing comments and fodder for the next post.

I never know from where my next important idea will spring; it is important to stay active and experience life to its fullest.

Some of my best biomedical ideas came to me while I was working out or reading a novel or watching a movie. We all need periods to recharge and allow our brains to associate new things. One could make the case that cancer might be cured faster if we made its scientists take a break outside on gorgeous fall days. Or even go to football games. Then I heard this morning's story on the Nobel Prize in Physics and the discovery of graphene. These scientists have a tradition of "crazy experiments" on Friday afternoons, one of which involved cellophane tape across a block of graphite. That goofy activity led to the creation of this wonder-material with a multitude of potential uses.

They may not have cured cancer, but they have discovered something incredible! At least in part because they had goof-around time!

Who?

Of course, I also wonder what the editors had in mind when they published this inflammatory piece. Could this be a call for visibility? I mean, Cancer Biology & Therapy is not one of my top 10 journals, but then I have chosen a different path in medicine. It's a young publication with an Impact Factor (flawed as this measurement can be) of 2.71. Cancer Research is 7.54, while the glamour mags score in the 30's. Could this be an attempt on the part of the editors to drive traffic and name recognition for their publication?

Or am I just getting cynical?

My husband worked for a mentor as "passionate" as Kern once, a man who said he really didn't remember much about his children between their births and graduation from college. A man who held his weekly lab meeting at 5pm on Fridays. A man who drove my husband out of science and into the clinic. I wonder how many capable, creative people have left the world of research because of this demand for "passion?" And how many patients they might have cured.

Image of fire courtesy of PhotoXpress.

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