Friday, March 28, 2014

Behind the Scenes of a Broadcast

So, two weeks ago we held a massive live-streamed seminar special event to high schools around the country.

I was one of the team running the chat session, where kids who were watching via the internet (as opposed to being in the studio audience) could ask questions, talk with other students/teachers/us/guest scientists, and have some of their questions read out loud for our VIP to answer.

It was very cool.  We were all set up in the kitchen of the venue, with the production crew, the IT internet dude and the sound guy.  I had the extra task of writing the live text - the words that show up on your TV screen to introduce a person or show a question in its entirety.  I've never worried more about my spelling in my life.

Heaps of very cool equipment, and seeing the way they all worked, and the way the tech team all worked together, was awesome.

Very keen to do something like that again.  Fingers crossed, eh?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Random Cool for a Week

Had dinner out with The Hopkins One last week, and we popped up Mount Eden for a looksie after.  It was gorgeous.  She's a local, and grew up Under the Mountain, so it was cool hearing names put to sights.

Friday night The Financial One got us last minute tickets to the last Breakers game in town, at Vector Arena.  I'd never seen Basketball live, nor been to the Vector, so it was pretty cool on both counts.  Not as good as ice hockey, but...

The place was fairly packed, apparently the biggest crowd they'd had.  I was surprised at the noise and music - making noise when the opposing team is trying to shoot is encouraged, and they play some beat-laden pop every time the home team has possession.  Very strange.  But fairly infectious - there were some hilarious kids in the crowd.  And basket-ballers are exactly my kind of tall.  So it was, indeed, fun.

It was The Financial One's birthday on Saturday, and we went for dessert at Milse.  It was amazing.  We got seats at the 'chef's table' so we could watch everything being made.  So cool.  I had a pumpkin, maple and walnut flavoured dessert - very weird and different, not at all that sweet; overall it feels like a palate education.  One of the chef's was hilarious, keen on photo bombing our pic; we just invited him right on in.

Milse does desserts only - out the front you can get wee desserts in jars, macarons, chocolates and frozen stick-icecreams which are fancy in the extreme.  Exotic flavours, the lot.  Out the back there is only seating for about 16 people, and they don't take bookings.  So - you rock up, put your name on the list and then go away for an hour or so to wait for them to call.  Very cool.

The beetroot-based dessert included a 'chocolate balloon' filled with beetroot mousse - they actually put the chocolate in a balloon and pump it up a bit before chucking the lot into liquid nitrogen.  They then cut the balloon off, punch a small hole, and pump it full of mousse.

We could see the eggs they're preparing to go on sale next week - epic Easter eggs.  Hate to think how much they cost, but I'm tempted to get one to take home to the whanau for Easter.

Whittakers has a Big Egg Hunt promotion going on for Easter - some of them are pretty cool.  Big egg art, scattered about the city - 4 (?) of which are in Britomart.

I'm getting the feeling that Easter might be coming...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Highest High Tea

Part of The Bustling Metropolis One and my's fabulous Cyclone Lusi Weekend was high tea up the Sky Tower.

Yep - we went for high tea up the Sky Tower on the day of the cyclone.

Because we laugh in the face of danger.

...yeah ok, the cyclone was practically non-existent, on the cyclone-scale of things.

But look!  Rain on only one side of the tower proper!  I thought that was kind of cool.

That morning we went to smash through some personal boundaries - we got neck and shoulder massages.  Not at all a big deal for TBMO, but if you know me -  a big deal letting this happen.  Turns out - it was great!  The lady pummelled the crap out of my shoulder muscles (damn computers and that shitty stressy week) and I felt wonderful after.  My shoulders were lower, I swear.  I'd never had one before, so am pleased I gave it a go (seems to be the year for new things, big and small).  TBMO is back in town at the end of this week for another Master's Supe meeting, so we might just have to go do it again.

With all of the crazy warnings about the cyclone on Friday night, the three of us thought it best to act like good little kiwi kids and prepare a survival kit.  Turns out our basis for 'survival' has been somewhat skewed (Dunedin?  Yeah, lets blame Dunedin).
The pot and wee teapot had water in, I swear.

But, back on track - the high tea was good, if a little non-traditional.  The food was fabulous, as you would expect from the Orbit restaurant.

There was oxtail patty things and spinach & feta quiche (which was so light and fluffy I imagine they had unicorns breathing into the mix), baked salmon, wee sliders with lamb (?) and sauerkraut, and then the middle-layer-of-dreams was lemon meringue pie, strawberry custard tart, chocolate dipped berry (?) macaron, whiskey trifle cups and opera cake.  The only thing I was disappointed in were the macarons, but then we all know I have a soft spot for good macarons. (their middles were rubbish, and the chocolate made them a bit soft/stale).

The view was, as always, fabulous - we could see the dark storm clouds skirting us, and I had fun showing off my knowledge of my new city to TBMO.

I can see my house from here!

The tea sitch itself was a bit sad - they kept trying to offer us coffee instead; I definitely got the impression not many people actually wanted to drink tea with it.  *shakes head* Aucklanders, eh?  So we had a big white pot of hot water and two...tea bags.  Yep.

Not terrible, just not...high tea.  It was Dilmah though, so at least it wasn't (shudder) Bell.

Both TBMO and I love tea, but the increasing swayiness of the tower was a bit unsettling.

We both got dressed up for the event, it was great fun waltzing in our finery up through town and then up the tower, if a bit windy.  As we were leaving I asked if they ever had to evacuate the tower - we were promptly informed that they were starting to evacuate right now.  It was rather perfect timing.  I didn't fancy their having to work up there with swaying-induced seasickness; it was a bit ick, at the end.

And finally, I call you all to witness the remarkable transformation from crazy, to crazy, to..."normal", that tea is capable of inducing in me.  Heh.  Love tea.

Peace out homies.  Go enjoy a cup of tea!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Apartment Livin'

Apartment living is...different.  Especially noticeable going from a house and lawn I own, to not even being able to have my dog live with me.

New tenants in my house, btw.  Good news on that front.

Anyway - apartment.  The search was...unpleasant.  It was early January and what felt like every single person in the city was looking.  All the people kicked out from their old leases (there was a spate of sellings, apparently) and bloody students.  I started out looking at spare rooms in established flats and it was impossible.  Flats were having ~20 people through each day and the entire process was ridiculous.  At one flat viewing the next viewee turned up when I was still there chatting and turned out to be an old friend (The Financial One).  We decided after that to look for a two bedroom lease together.  A definite improvement, but fraught with its own issues.  The rent prices in Auckland are extremely variable, you pay way more for a flat in summer than you do in winter - the market is that flooded.

But eventually (took a month) we found a place (and got in early enough) that ticked the majority of our requirement-boxes (a kitchen you can actually cook in, two bedrooms you can actually fit beds in, and a car park).  Its at the top end of my decided budget, but is liveable (its actually lovely - I just have issues with the window sitch).

It's by no means perfect (is a 'fully secure building' so the windows don't open), but we were getting desperate to make a decision, and the lease is only for 4 months, so we have time to find something better, and in a better rental climate - which is a win all round.

The agent/building manager pictures manage to make any apartment look huge, but these aren't too bad:

We have a full sized kitchen, which is fairly unheard of, and the bathroom is positively spacious in comparison to some of the apartments I saw through.  Apparently they had professional cleaners through before we moved in, and were told the dark stain in the bottom of the toilet and the murky glass of the shower were permanent - one round in the toilet bowl with duck and a brush took care of the first and some elbow grease and a good cleaner took care of the second.  These so called 'professional cleaners' need to take lessons from my mother.

Took us ages to sort out furniture, though TFO got off her airbed before I did, but her new mattress has yet to acquire a base.  I managed to pick up a rimu bed off trademe (and a set of restored rimu drawers), a lovely low-profile thing which takes up no more space than the mattress itself, which is exactly what you want in such restricted space living-styles.  All of the kitchen stuff I had in storage from Dunedin, and I picked up a new cheap-and-half-cheerful couch for the mean time.  We still lack a table and chairs, and a TV, but don't really feel the lack of either - especially now that we have internet.

From sitting in the lounge, panorama from couch, 'dining area' to the massive window through which we can see many, many weird and terrible things in our neighbours apartments.  (seriously - what have Auckland people got against curtains?!):

And from standing in the 'dining area' (it doesn't deserve to be said without the quotation marks).  Bathroom is in the space behind the couch, my bedroom is immediately to the right of the front door and TFO's room is the one immediately to the right of the 'dining area':

And then my bedroom with last year's gorgeous quilt.  Can't even imagine when I'll have time to make another such.  Pretty tight, but with economic furniture choice - not bad.  The lack of openable window sitch means both of us have fans in our rooms, and apparently this is normal in Auckland in summer.  I found it hideously hot and humid in comparison to Dunedin (and even Ohope), but I've been informed it was a relatively cool and low-humidity summer (it's just started to cool down).  Hopefully by next year I have acclimatised.

The apartment complex according to Google:

My goal is, of course, to make things exceptionally easy for stalkers.  (I kid.  Who would bother?!).

I honestly thought I would hate living in Auckland, but with the exception of boys making retarded decisions, I completely love it.  And I actually love living downtown.  We're so on top of everything, it's awesome.  Britomart is right there, and Queen St is just around the corner.  I have a season pass to the NZSO, the Aux Museum has always been my second fav, the art galleries are pretty fly, there's always something on or a new place/suburb/restaurant to go explore.  Plus all of the theatre.  There are ferry's to jaunt across the harbour for brunch, the coffee is epic and the people are getting better the more I meet.  And of course, flying out to anywhere in the world is easier here than anywhere in the country.  (haven't been out yet this year, but boy do I have plans).

And, for the first time in my adult life, I can feasibly/realistically pop over to visit the whanau for a weekend.

Not bad, Auckland, not bad.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Internet and Karmic Excrement

Finally.  It only took us a month to sort that out.  But now - internet!!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  It's goooooooood.

I think The Financial One and I have been in withdrawal, because since Friday at about midnight when I finally got the wireless modem set up, we've been drinking from the internet tap pretty solidly.  I think neither of us got to bed before 2 am Friday night.  ...this perhaps does nothing but paint us with the label of 'geek'.

I'm fine with that.

So - an update!  Umm, I don't even know where to start.  Bare with me while I back read for a mo.

*elevator music*

Ok, so you got the job update and the 'I'm an Aucklander now, boohoo' updates - the only other major thing has been the finding of an apartment...and things I want to keep private (Hah!).

Ah, the sporadic draft-writing of the busy.  The above is now a week old, and hideously out of date.  How can things change so, within a single week?  Very easily, apparently.

Since moving to Auckland I have been delightfully busy.  A brilliant state of affairs, inclusive of a fabulous job, catching up with old friends now within same-city (or island), and a boy.  I know - you're shocked.  I was too.  But it was great.  Great.

This last week was completely crazy, and now, at Sunday evening, I am more than ready for it to wane in a burning ball of fiery doom.

Monday we had a VIP visit the classrooms at work, Tuesday I got dumped, Wednesday we had the dress-rehearsals from hell, and a 14 hour day at work for me, (which finished at 1:30am).  Thursday we had 2 live-streamed broadcasts to thousands of students around the country (more on this later, despite the stress and issues (and my sporadic moments of melancholy), it was so, so fun) and I started work at 7:30 am (tired, as you can imagine; after no sleep from Tuesday post-dumpage, then ~4 hours Weds night), Friday started at 7:30 again since The Bustling Metropolis One was visiting (thank god for coincidentally perfect timing) and had an early meeting with her Masters Supe.  We were supposed to go to the zoo Friday avo, but general exhaustion and the promise of Cyclone Lusi had us staying home with a Sherlock marathon and wine.

Red wine is my homeboy.  And my friends are some of the most brilliant people on the planet.  Feelin' the love.  With the exception of one (whom obviously needs to lose the title) they were so there.  God, love.

Saturday was fun and deserves its own post, but ended with the work twitter account being hacked and my having to scramble to fix that.  I am baffled at the speed a bot can work, but can only say - thank god I was on twitter and follow the work account.  I shudder to think what it would have been like had I not caught it till Monday.  We lost a bunch of followers, which sucks.  I feel personally responsible, which is ridiculous - but it has been a week of 'feeling personally responsible' for things.  Not healthy.  Acknowledged - dealt with.

Today has included a brunch, an airport run, and a phone call from my bank to tell me that my credit card has been hacked and has been solidly racking up charges since 9am this morning.  They must have some impressive scripts running to pick up abnormal activity, but they caught it pretty damn quick and I've only lost ~$3; the rest is reversible.  Since I had not lost nor had the card stolen they said it was most likely a vendor I had used were hacked and my details obtained, or a vendor I had used had sold my credit card details.  Now I have no credit card till they send the new one to Mum and Dad's (the post box here is...dodgy) and I visit at Easter.  Will wait and see how desperate I get for it before then...Easter is so far away.  Good reaffirmation of lessons, though - my credit card has a low limit and all internet purchases go through it.  Def recommend the same to others.  Big ups to ANZ, the first time you've impressed me since you swallowed my beloved National Bank.

So yeah.  First world problems, I know.  But seriously, karma, are you done shitting on me for a while?!  I would offer to sacrifice a goat, but even that thought is now tainted.

No goats for you, karma, you bastard.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My obligatory 'how I quit academia after PhD' story

I was invited to be profiled in an article this past week and the questions prompted the scripting of several points that I have been meaning to get out of my head for awhile now.  Since some of it is not at all appropriate for inspiring high school students to study science - I am reproducing the first version here.

My new job is summarised, along with my 'quitting academia' story - and in line with recent revelations; a surprising twist at the end.


How do you describe what you do?
I am the Science Writer & Designer for LENScience, a research group at the Liggins Institute, University of Auckland.  The institute researches the developmental origins of health and disease (the DOHaD field), and we translate that research for use within the community – high school teaching modules for joint intervention programmes and science literacy development, through to primary end users (people like nurses and midwives) for reaching the wider community.

My job description includes a wide variety of things circling around science communication – I help to write papers, I write blog copy and manage the social media accounts (Twitter, for example), I have been coordinating the redesign of our web community page & will mediate that after the re-launch, I help mentor the PhD students in our group and any summer students that happen along.  I amend illustrations for use in teaching resources (for example altering the clothes and tanning the kid cartoons used in our Pacific Islands module books), design print media, and design and write scientific posters for presentation at international conferences.  And, strangely enough, a lot of generic comms administration.

Writing, graphic design and talking a lot – pretty much my dream job!

What do you love about working in science?
I love science in general – I’m one of those people who just love learning random new things.  Any piece of trivia will grab my attention, and sharing that knowledge is one of the best things in life.  I love the academic traditions and community (most of the time) but I especially love the front line clash between scientists and the rest of the population; I fully believe that every person should hold a basic understanding of science.  Every person should know the basics of how the world and our society works.  A whole raft of problems could be tackled, or just discussed in a more productive manner: water fluoridation, genetically modified food, non-communicable diseases, biofuel development, vaccination, eco-conservation – I could go on for ever.

The people too, are fantastic.  The inspiration from hearing a scientist speak with passion about their field of research and their brand new discoveries is ridiculously exciting.  As is being at any large gathering of scientists – this typically happens at conferences, but is basically Comic-Con for that particular scientific field: such great energy.

What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in your field?
I actually quit academic science after my PhD – I was sick of the stifling of creativity (in that particular career-track situation), the inherent sexism in the industry and the ridiculous expectations around a complete lack of work-life balance.  I heard the old “you just don’t love it enough to put up with it” reprimand very often after my decision; but I don’t believe science has to remain to be that way.  

I believe (or at this point hope very much so) that you can have an academic career and also see your children for more than 3 hours a week.  That you can take evenings off and pursue ‘normal’ hobbies.  That when a woman and a man are both due for promotion; they will be judged against each other by the quality of their work, not their sex (for example; the possibility that they might take time off to have a baby).

The bias between scientists and educators is evident of this prejudice also: ‘scientists are stereotypically socially maladjusted and disconnected from the reality of the normal person’, verses ‘educators falling into their role because they couldn't get any other job’.

The lack of respect for other fields, careers and life goals is especially bad in traditional research science.  I think it is so hard to succeed, and the commitment and sacrifice so great, that you lose sight of the value of any other choice.  This bias is not at all productive for inter-sectorial collaboration.  I grew up with a teacher-mother, who did not just fall into the job, and a lasting scientific curiosity: I see great value in the best examples of each profession, and a staggering potential for the two to work together.

After I ‘quit’ academia I started looking at my other options; options that utilised my creative and interpersonal skills rather than disregarded them as superfluous.  One of the first industries I stumbled upon was Medical Writing, and through a grapevine begun at the Australasian Medical Writers Association with Sarah McKay (@SarahMMcKay), I ended up grabbing Blair Hesp (@kainicmedical) as a mentor.  Blair completely opened my eyes towards a model run through business and market sense, rather than ivory towers, and I am immensely grateful for his teaching and support.

I nabbed a short-term contract and then through that reconnected with a researcher who I had worked with as extracurricular, during my PhD.  I am now working full time in her group and completely love it.

Were you interested in science at school, and what was your academic path after school?
I loved science during school.  I used to volunteer to help clean up the labs just to get more time within them.  I was one of the last years to go through bursary, but took all the science subjects every year and got scholarship in biology.  Perhaps indicative of my eventual career path, I studied the mis-matched English, Stats and Accounting too.  During summer holidays I went on the various science camps offered to school kids by the universities, with Otago’s Hands on Science program eventually cementing my desire to study down there.

During undergraduate study at Otago University, I took an eclectic group of papers.  Initially enrolled under a BSc Genetics and BCom Management double degree, I took extra philosophy and psychology papers in first year.  I ended up bored with- and dropping the BCom, to complete a minor in Psychology and Honours in Genetics.  A lot of people fall into the trap of a prescribed first year course such as a Health Sciences First Year – this is perhaps essential if you want to get direct Med admission, but for developing varied interests and skills it is particularly detrimental.  Universities offer so many diverse opportunities; you should definitely consider exploring them.

After my Honours year in the Microbiology department, I jumped straight into a PhD in molecular genetics based in the Biochemistry Department, also at the University of Otago.  My PhD was investigating the genome of fruit flies for a genetic switch responding to changes in nutrition and resulting in extended lifespan.  I did a lot of molecular genetics, and bench-based protocols.  While I loved the experiments, I loved the undergrad lab teaching PhD students typically do, equally as much.  My PhD years were stuffed full of extracurricular activities.  I taught in undergraduate labs, I spent a year in student politics as the Science rep on the Otago University Students Association board of executives.  This student rep role included crazy things like sitting on the University Board of Graduate Studies and the Board of First Year Health Sciences – I learnt a lot about the inner workings of the university.  I also helped to found and then ran the Genetics Postgrad Student colloquium for several years, and acted as the post grad student support contact for several more.  I wrote blog copy for my supe’s collaborative group blog and developed my own personal blogging and twitter skills.  I attended conferences in Christchurch, Queenstown, Auckland, Edinburgh and Washington DC; I worked experiments in a lab in Sydney for 3 months and visited labs in London.  I developed my graphics skills through designing first my own and then others posters for conferences, and playing around with photography of the lab and research subjects.

After my PhD and aforementioned revelation, I worked a couple of short term contracts; one writing and designing print media for a museum day and the other coordinating the writing & construction of a very, very big government grant application.

All of my previous random and eclectic skills and experience appear to have coalesced into the perfect CV for my current job, and I love it so much I can’t wait to go into work in the mornings.

How do you think your job might change over the next five or ten years?
We are actually looking to switch me back from professional staff to academic staff around mid-2014, and start working on a research project or two.  After ‘quitting’ academic science this strikes me as delightfully ironic – but the research is so far removed from that which I was doing during my PhD, I am confident it will be a better match for my skills and personality. And it means I can continue to fight for equality, and inter-sectorial opportunities and collaboration, from ‘inside the fence’ so to speak.

For me, the best things about science are learning things that have never been known, the people, the travel, the interaction with the lay community from a scientist’s perspective, and occasionally; the opportunity to influence change for the better.

It might work out that a traditional career path in science is not for you, or it might happen that you are just walking on the wrong footpath.  Science is a fantastic setup for life – there are so many different career paths, a lot of them unexpected.  The skills you develop in curiosity, creativity, hard work and problem solving are useful in almost every other employment sector.  

And, you know, science is cool.


This piece was reproduced here, on the New Zealand Association of Science Educators website.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Symposium Dinner 2013: photo from the archives

While I was working on contract last year I was invited to the annual Symposium, the same one I used to go to as a PhD student funded by the same group.  So of course, it largely involved catching up with friends who are still students and postdocs around the country.  This gorgeous group is The Token Boy, me, The Crazy One and The Honours Student who are still in the old supe's lab (or were, late-2013).

There was a professional photographer, which makes a difference.  (If you look closely you can see TCO's engagement ring on the side!).