Thursday, September 30, 2010

Poetic as shit I tell you

Walked with Trouble along to beach to Lookout Point this afternoon - a good two hours return, but on the way down the beach, and reflective of my mood - one, singular dark cloud followed me.  Remaining above my head the entire length of the beach and occasionally splattering me with sparse drops of rain.

Shit like that is supposed to only happen in books and movies for godsake - it was poetic as shit.
At the end of the beach the cloud dissipated, the day was hot and bright and my mood improved to the point that we scrambled up from the beach to the top of the hill itself- and had fun doing it.

Walked back from beautiful blue sky, to gathering clouds on the horizon, and got into the house just before the newest batch of rain - which steadily progressed into sheeting rain, lightning and thunder.

(as shit)
(It was not as perfect as this.  Unfortunately.)

Who enforces this still?

So apparently Germany will pay off the last of its war reparations over the next couple of days - and no, not from the Nazi/Hitler WW2, but World War One.

Who what now?!

Where is the money going, and who is standing there demanding it still be paid?  How can this be helping things?  I must have been living under a rock, but the practice is widespread - Iraq paying Kuwait and Haiti to France etc etc.

Should have studied a bit of history - shit like this wouldn't come as a shock to my poor, sheltered little mind.

His dirt is beautiful

My hero for the week, art from dirty car windows. Scott my man, you are epic.

These are some of my favs, check out the rest of his work in the gallery, here.

Oh dear, you should have seen him coming

I love this, fits in the same category as Food Play by my man Saxton. (Love his work :P)
Something from nothing, eh?

My kind of candy

As a rule I hate sweeties - I am a chocolate kind of girl.  But I would make an exception for these, both science and disgusting.  Perfect.

Inspired by the TV show Dexter, they are clear sugar candy with a drop of red food colouring.  I love the presentation too - good use of a slide box.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Read this

It's spooky.

The MacGyver:

"Look at this scanning electron microscope I built out of toothpicks, baking soda, and a hairbrush!"

Good stuff.

“Why do you have all these weird toys?”

SM Morgan, Lab for Evolution & Development.

The student write-up room (post grad/student office) for our lab is decorated with lovely pieces of random detritus collected from various conferences and meetings across the world. I don’t usually notice it – but we do have quite a range of...well, crap. This week, an innocent wee lass asked us why we had all of these “weird toys”. And ‘weird toys’ is possibly the best reference to all of it.

Conferences are like Comic-Con for scientists – massive gatherings of like-minded people, talking about their work, their passion – and being ensnared by advertising for scientific products. You might not even think of it – but there is fierce competition in the test-tube market. Like all good geek-gatherings, give-aways are a must.

There’s the classic stress ball gimmick – because everyone knows science students and academics are all stressed out of their brains – that, or it’s common knowledge that we all need something to throw at one another during downtime (aka incubation steps).

The thoughtful and initially useful, but ultimately annoying and pointless stationary equipment:

And of course, the non-science related kitchen equipment; Mugs, cups and tools. ‘cause, like – scientists drink bucket loads of ‘coffee’ right?!

And then there are the real toys; the branded Rubik’s cubes, magnetic balls, clippy stackers etc etc.

And even inflatable friends.

Finally, the most abundant of all: pens. Pens of all colours, sizes, ink types, add-ons and quality.

Pens with 2 ends, pens pretending to be ink - but turn out to be erasable, pens with sticky notes hiding inside, silver pens and pens in the shape of pipettes.

quite possibly the best find at a conference ever

Clothing is another issue all together. I know many a scientist (both student and academic) who is smugly proud of their free, science t-shirt collection.

What is it about gimmicky free stuff at conferences that make scientists go wild?
I think it is the young-at-heart factor – the creativity, the (not so)hidden child in all of us. Something that none of us lose (hopefully) since such a skill is required to dream up new experiments and ways to tackle problems daily. Show us free stuff, cool toys and neat crap and we all go a bit nuts – pens are ultimately useful, I’ll grant you that - but most of it is just junk. The idea of getting something free, something fun – is magical.

Of course I generalise the smallest, weeniest bit. There are those rare scientists out there who do not appreciate this stuff. Scientists who insist such things do not interest them at all, is a waste of plastic (mostly) and shifts the value of products away from their quality – to the quality of advertising. I...agree.

But - having wee distracting toys close to hand is sometimes a life saver; just playing with something can help to clear a mind. Even the boss has been seen to play with the magnetic stick-&-ball sculpture...thing, on occasion. So it must be alright, right?

It seems to be particular to New Zealand conferences that so much free stuff is available - and wanted. We have a fair amount of international conference attendance between the 15 or so of us in the lab and the general consensus is that the best loot is to be had from internal conferences, or even international conferences hosted in New Zealand.

This phenomenon is not specific to conferences either – product launches and department visits from Sales Reps (a whole other species of science-associated persons) are occasions resplendent with food (“[insert brand here] Morning Tea!”) pens, toys, clothes – and paper.

Reams of paper advertising various products for sale. Turns out scientists are swayed by the exact same advertising strategies as the rest of the population – fancy graphics, bright colours, shiny paper and catchy fonts.

Turns out – Scientists are kids too.


This post appears on SciBlogs today also.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Life sucks hairy donkey bollocks sometimes

I feel like I have lost an arm.

Stupid arm, I never liked you anyway.  Go away.

I like where this is going

Sharktopus has discovered a natural born enemy (natural born - Ha!).  Shark Crab by Michael, here.  I love it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Biotech genetic engineering mad scientists rock!

I love info graphics!  This one is cool - I obviously chose the right profession for my movie-preferences.

From here. Click for full size!

I love rotting timelapse!

Oooo pretty maggots.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Career Session, Part III

Guest speakers: Julia Horsfield and Peter Dearden.
Thus follows the final round up of all the wisdom and advice given at the ‘career path’ Genetics Otago postgrad monthly colloquium. Last time we left at the most current point of Peter Dearden’s career path, and a discussion of academic job applications.

An important question was asked of Peter – whilst in Canada (and stuck in a horrific postdoc position), did you want to quit science? The answer was yes, every month, but he had no idea of what else to do. Science is hard – to further illustrate the point, he talked of a paper which has been rejected for the 5th time this week – a career in science is composed of extreme highs and lows: an average of one rejection letter per month, or you have an idea that you think is amazing – but no one else likes it. You write a grant for the best idea ever, and are told to forget about it.

No one ever regrets doing an actual PhD, and it should be noted that doing a PhD and then not continuing in science is not a failure. Having a PhD opens doors – you get that taste of being on the edge of discovery, and if you do continue in science, this experience has to sustain you through a vast amount of bad. With regards to the lows of research science – teaching helps, training the next generation of scientists is a high point for both of our guest speakers, along with constantly meeting new & interesting people. You get to design fun experiments, you can wake up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea to try out in the lab – and no one can tell you not to do it. Academic salaries do not reach that high – but no one can tell you what you cannot do that day.

I notice a trend in the scientists at this point – some are, or were at one point, ridiculously shy. Peter claims to have been so at one point, and David Winter has to bully himself into approaching people every time he does it – but the convincing factor is that you have nothing to lose. I know very few people would believe it, and it is perhaps a wee secret, but up until the end of my second year at university I was introverted and shy to the extreme. In my third year I got a mohawk and the rest is history. It is comforting to know senior lecturers, and one of the best student speakers I have ever heard, both still have issues with approaching the ‘important people’ to introduce themselves. What is it that can make a scientist out of a wallflower? And that despite the massive hurdles along the way – the people at the end would choose to do nothing else with their lives.

One of the reoccurring points throughout the discussion was the need for space, and the ability to switch off. Julia used to compete in triathlons – eventually your body huts so much you cannot think of anything else, and are able to have a break from worrying about that grant you need to write, or those papers that need to be accepted. Julia also noted that in further defence of physical hobbies – you try harder, you very reliably get fitter and go faster. Reward! Science – you try harder – nothing happens....usually just as reliably. Julia is also a keen cyclist, but Peter has a dog who benefits from his thinking space – long, long walks in which to sort out ideas and take a break from the office.

Hobbies were discussed and I have heard arguments both for and against having something completely separate from your work to distract your thoughts when you need a break. Peter claims his work as his hobby – bordering on the workaholic, he reads, thinks, writes, walks the dog and is a father to three young children; more than enough to occupy anyone’s time. I know people who lose themselves in music, pets, horse riding, snow sports and dance. All a part of working out that mythical work/life balance. Julia commented on how you keep expecting things to stop getting harder all the time – but it doesn’t happen. The better you get, the more you can do – and the more that is expected of you or that you expect of yourself.

With all this talk of needing to stand out from the crowd we digressed in to discussion of publications – and how one learns to write well. The main point coming out from this was repetition – write it, re write it and then write it again. When you get to the point of writing Marsden Grant applications your writing needs to be complete poetry. An entire, convincing, research proposal in one page? Magic. Every sentence has to count and say exactly what it is trying to. One of the first pieces of advice Peter was given was to cover words up – if the sentence still reads the same, cut it out.

It is important to remember that it does not matter if you think that piece of writing is good – in the position of postdoc for example, you are writing for your supervisor. The same rule applies for giving presentations – if someone asks a question you think is crap; it is your fault for not explaining well enough in the talk itself. Peter claims to have no less than 40 people read a grant before it is submitted – both scientists in the field and without, and people not involved in research science in the slightest. Gain critique of your work – and then rewrite it. Even in papers which have been rejected from journals, those reviewers are giving you advice for free which you can take on board to make your writing better. Look at examples of good papers and emulate their style.

Julia actually considered a career in writing at one point, and Peter was handed back his first papers with nothing showing without red pen. Both now write grants with successful regularity.

The session ended with a feeling of both doom and intense encouragement – this career path certainly takes drive, and a stubborn personality, but the possibilities are just as intensely exciting.

– fin.

This post appears on SciBlogs today also.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Oh, so thats what it feels like

To fall under a bus.


Had a committee meeting today - the 2 year PhD committee meeting I was 7 months overdue for, and almost did not have.

Turns out it's bloody lucky I did - ~2.5 years of critique in about an hour and a half.

I feel like shit, and it will probably be a couple of days before I am over the wounded pride, but it was all good stuff.  Being ripped to shit is, of course, an important part of science training - I figure you are going to have to put up with it for your entire career with grants and reviews and so on - but getting it all at once after no critique (either good or bad; none at all) for over 2 years - an hour and a half of it hurts. (every slide, every table and graph -plus some generalities to top it all off).

I should have expected it - but I did not.  My supervisor is an extremely brilliant, but very busy man.  I get it - building an empire is busy work, but we have no meetings, he has no time, and no one else in the lab works on the same stuff as me - so for the most part I have been on my own.  And it's entirely my own fault - I do not push for meetings or help because I think I can, and should be able to do 'it' on my own.  We met for a quick 20 minutes a month or so ago for 'the big meeting' and none of what came up in today's meeting came up then, and then add that to the fact that I have given basically the same presentation numerous times in the past and none of what came up today was raised everHow am I supposed to know this stuff if not by magic?!

So I think that part is unfair.  And thus another lesson in the road to PhD - don't get complacent, turns out you are wrong about most things, - and you have further to go, and less of an understanding - than you thought.


I did what any fabulous woman would do after such a situation - I bought a new handbag, and came home to bake a big, artery clogging, chocolate cake. (it's for a friend's birthday, but still.)

I have to say, however, that right at this point I envy some of my friends - in my sad, old and lonely crone-hood I recognise the absolute pleasure having someone at home to say "Its OK, you're not completely shit - I still think you are kind of OK" would be.

I'll get over it - I always do.  But I can't immediately wipe the slightly betrayed feeling.

Lets give it a couple of days.

Until then, can I have a hug?

Sharktopus T shirts

I'm way to cheap to be paying for the printing of t shirts - as I have discussed before (what a freaking rip! and they have a corner on the market.)

So I got a couple of the cheapest black T shirts from the local big red shed and screen printed them up.

It wasn't until the first print was half done that I realised this was going to come out looking like a heart - so lets call it 'Sharktopus Lovin''

Turns out black was possibly not the best choice, it has kind of a gay bogan thing going on.

Luckily, I have a friend who is all about the bogan style (yeah, She is from Invercargill) and she has taken the unfortunate thing off my hands.

So perhaps not black, and not metallic paints.  I'll try again, and conveniently the blue paint is now gone.

The Career Session, Part II.

Guest speakers: Julia Horsfield and Peter Dearden.


Associate Professor Peter Dearden, Principal Investigator of the Lab for Evolution & Development and Director of Genetics Otago was our second guest speaker for the ‘career path’ discussion at the Genetics Otago postgrad colloquia meeting in August; on a side note – we were intended to have three speakers, our third was called away at the last minute to deal with sick children and perhaps highlights perfectly some of the topics discussed.

Peter started his career at Victoria University, Wellington, and completed his honours degree in the same lab as Julia – all be it several years afterward. Andy Dowsett’s lab was responsible for teaching Peter all about molecular biology, but at the end of his graduate studies Peter wanted nothing more than to get out of the country –and did not even consider staying in NZ for his PhD as an option.

Peter wrote about one hundred letters to labs in Canada and the UK, was offered three positions – and then applied for every scholarship under the sun. He was awarded two, and ended up accepting the Wellcome Trust Prize Studentship and took up a PhD position at Imperial College, University of London, under the supervision of David Hartley. Peter met with various difficulties in that lab, and never considered publications until right at the end of his three years. He completed his thesis in 3 years exactly, and flew out of the country the day after submission – lack of funds, expiring scholarships and study visas a constant thorn for international students.

Luckily, in his PhD lab Peter had the help of another brilliant PhD student who passed on a lot of his technological skills. He describes his PhD as not the best, yet not the worst and about 6 months before submission was already considering his future options. Peter describes his hurry to get things done as a result of being brought up during the cold war – everyone was convinced they would die in the next couple of years from some form of bomb, and you should hurry to get as much done as you can in the mean-time.

Peter applied for postdoctoral positions initially via letter to Michael Akam at Cambridge University. He had decided who he wanted to work with and had gone about making it happen directly. He was invited up for a visit and spent the day under inquisition – and gave a seminar over lunch. Having heard nothing back with regards to performance, upon arriving back in New Zealand he found an email telling him he had a month to move to Cambridge and start work. Being at Cambridge and not a student proved to be a very lonely existence – all of the students reside in colleges, but as an early career researcher Peter lived in a dodgy flat – and worked hard.

Peter describes his break coming when Akam had cause to shift labs – from the Wellcome Institute to the Museum of Zoology. No one having any clue on how to go about it - he and one other knuckled down to pack everything up, shift it, and unload. There is a certain advantage to being one of the only two people in a lab to know where everything was.

Peter was at Cambridge for approximately 3 years – and had 5 papers from his time there. It took until the end of his second year before he started publishing and at the end of his time he followed a fellow postdoc over to Canada to start a new postdoc position in his new lab.

This appointment proved challenging for personal and immigration reasons, however, he published two papers and then left after only one year.

Upon his planned return to New Zealand Peter applied for and accepted a position in 2002 with Marion Maw in the Department of Biochemistry, at the University of Otago. Within 6 months he had applied for and achieved an advertised lectureship position and started up his own lab. He is now running an empire of 16 people, is the Director of Genetics Otago and Associate Professor.


Insider information has it that the applicant pool for any new academic appointment is initially narrowed down by selecting the people anyone on the selection committee knows – so being a fairly public figure is an absolute must. Attending local meetings and symposiums, presenting posters etc and being pushy with regards to introducing yourself and speaking out at those meetings is essential.

Julia gave an interesting piece of advice with regards to getting known – to apply for grants, awards and scholarships even if you know (or think you know) that you have no chance at being successful. The people in the selection committees will see your name and hopefully remember it, and your great science, at the moment when it really matters. You need to be able to say ‘yes’ to almost anything. Over the next couple of years the job situation for postdocs is only going to get direr – with a 25% cut in funding in the UK for example, the market is only going to get tighter and more competitive.

Peter and Julia both argue that as New Zealanders we have an edge, but you need to be able to aggressively back yourself, be confident, and if you need to – pretend that you are that person.

– To be continued.

This post appears on SciBlogs today also.

Cutest, smallest stop-motion *ever*

Awww! Run Dot, run!

And all shot with a Nokia phone camera and microscope attachment.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Career Session, Part I.

Guest speakers: Peter Dearden and Julia Horsfield.


Genetics Otago postgrads meet monthly for presentation of their work, discussion of skills, problem solving and development. This past month we had two guest speakers attend to talk about their career paths and to hand down some general advice and knowledge to the aspiring (or undecided) future academics in the audience.

Dr Julia Horsfield started off the session with a quick run-down of her path from an Honours degree at Victoria University, Wellington to her current appointment as a senior lecturer at Otago and the Principal Investigator of the Chromosome Structure and Development Group in the Department of Pathology, Dunedin School of Medicine.

After her honours degree Julia travelled around the world a bit – not yet convinced that an academic career in science was the path for her. She ended up at Cambridge University with a job involved in the Drosophila mutant identification work being carried out in the late 80’s, and found the environment exciting – she emerged from that job inspired to continue in science – and to remain involved in Developmental Biology (the study of the growth of things – from egg to adult: Dev Bio).

Julia considered doing a PhD at Cambridge University, but unable to obtain funding returned to New Zealand to work in a lab for a couple of years. Eventually she got out the Otago University phone book, threw a pin in it and rang the target to enquire about who might be working in Dev Bio. The person who ended up answering the phone was Warren Tate, now Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at Otago, and Julia complete her PhD in his lab, working on HIV.

Julia’s first postdoctoral position was in Adelaide, Australia, working with Drosophila again, and in 1999 she returned to NZ to a job at Auckland University (gasp!) to begin work with Zebrafish. She was in Auckland for 8 years – it took 3 years for her to realise she could start her own lab – and then another 5 years to achieve that appointment.

It took Julia a while to figure out just what she wanted to do with her life – and that she could do it, she was both capable and stubborn – and eventually ended up exactly where she wanted to be. Whilst in Auckland Julia started her family and understands how hard it can be to achieve that ever mysterious work-life balance; and the extra pressure felt by women, and mothers in research science. Being in Auckland, and with 5 long years stretching before her with reasonably steady income promised – starting a family at that time was a logical choice.

Some of her best advice included to be stubborn – constantly network and introduce yourself to everyone so that everyone might know who you are – and that at some point in the future, when you need them to know your name, they will remember you – and hopefully give you that job. It helps to know your community – to be seen at seminars and events, to meet the professors and lecturers at your institution and outside, and to refrain from being shy and retiring. Be the squeaky wheel – get heard and noticed, constantly push your own boundaries and you cannot help but go up.

The topic of women in science – and women hoping to juggle both a scientific career and a family, are very much in peoples’ minds at the moment. Julia’s frank advice was to find the perfect husband – support at home when you are balancing both a scientific career and a young family is crucial. As an example of good planning and brilliant timing, Dr Megan Wilson, a postdoc in Peter’s lab, has had two children while thus employed – and her CV shows no break as evidence of it. This is more, perhaps, a credit to her very great family support and amazing ability to write papers whilst still on maternity leave than the equal status attributed to mothers and fathers in research science in NZ.

Another point was to have matching ambitions in the relationship, but mostly – know what is important, and don’t lose sight of it. Julia says her kids keep her sane – and that being a mother has made her a better scientist. Though she has perhaps less time to spend on her work than her male colleagues (those who choose not to be both full-time parents and scientists) she says it has made her more efficient, and places a slightly different value on her work – she could not go home to her family and hold her head up high if she had not put 110% effort in to her research.

Julia currently runs the Otago Zebrafish facility, is a senior lecturer, mother, supervisor and boss – she has a team of postdocs, research assistants and students all working with her to achieve something great.


At this point we digressed in to alternate careers – both Julia and Peter know people who have diverged from science into law; company law – what not to invest in, in biotechnology, patent law, Chief editor of a major scientific journal, Executive at Unilever, Biotechnology companies, Industry and Research Management. The options are certainly there to be investigated. With regards to an academic career – for the last available position in the Department of Zoology, for an example, over 120 people applied. So how do we look amazing? How do we obtain that elusive academic appointment?

The most important thing – networking. Ask questions at seminars and journal clubs, put your hand up for things, be seen – make people know you are there. Whilst looking for jobs in New Zealand – Peter applied for the job at the Biochemistry Department and then attended every seminar, every journal club presentation, every gathering - and made sure to have his voice heard.

– To be continued.

This post appears on SciBlogs today also.

Awesome like my Nana

With crafts in my kitchen.

T shirts are so amazingly expensive to get made in any volume less than one million (OK, maybe about 25 upwards is getting reasonable) I have been looking at alternate methods for my sharktopus t shirts.

Different printing shops, ink methods and fabric styles - but still too mush dosh.

So - I printed the shapes out on OHP transparency sheets, sliced and diced with my handy dandy fly scalpel and popped in to the local craft shop for fabric paints on my way home.

Chopped up some old sponges and tadaa! Screen printing a la cheep.
Test worked beautifully (bar the little smudge of blue by the tentacle tips) so I whipped out a black top to try it on - it worked even better.  The paints took longer to set, and needed more for a good coverage, but looked better overall.  Least my efforts turned out too well - turns out I did it on the back of the shirt.  So - Shartopus bum.

Sharktopus (the Quiz Team) won last night, which was fitting since one of our members is leaving.   Off to Oxford for a PhD no less.  Pfft - Otago is so, like, waaaaay better.

And also - took my sample bag print along and no one was impressed.  I also took cookies, so perhaps I have saturated the market.  I shall enjoy my artistic efforts in quiet isolation.

(Lab coat printing sesh?!...)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fly sandwich

Sounds gross right?

Wrong! (silly, silly you.)

Baked sandwich cookies - has taken me longer to get into it than I thought it would, have been meaning to for a couple of weeks now.

So, baking Sunday: I was met with a conundrum - what shape?! I could go rectangle or circle with zigzag edges, only I do not possess such banal cutters. Every other shape I do have, (including the alphabet - stay tuned!) but what beats Drossie?!


Basic sweetened condensed milk biscuit batter recipe (would have gone the plain rolled cookie dough, but I had half a tin open in my fridge) with added spice magic. Wee dash of cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger. Mind - my 'wee dash' is not so wee in all honesty.  Massive, massive pile of flies.

For the filler I wanted to have jam, surrounded by vanilla icing, but the flies are a bit too wee, so it's jam icing instead - about a cup of jam in normal butter cream icing.  Made the pile much more manageable.

Of course after using these cutters to make iced cookies, they looked dull and boring, so I had to do a wee icing sugar dusting to stop myself from further decoration.

I have finally switched over to the new post editor and it is playing with me something horrible - I want the old one back!

Also - have Bob Dylan's 'Lay lady lay' stuck in my head, whats up with that?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sharktopus! Finally caught on 'camera'.

There are no good photos of sharktopus available.

And by 'photos', I mean 'artists rendition'.

Silly, shy Sharktopus.

Anyway - drew my own.

My own 'artists rendition', not my own good 'artists rendition', mind.

Drew it last night, spent most of the day today digitising, cleaning-up and fucking around with Photoshop filters. Fun.

Re-drew a simple, outline version for 'application' type use:

Gonna make T shirts!

More piccies, because I can.

Look at my terrible duo cohabiting the couch so peacefully:

And Logan is so cool he high-fives in his sleep:

And it's spring, and my yard is slightly less ugly than normal:

I love my two trees! (was three for a short while - planted a wee pohutukawa, but unfortunately it resided far too near the trolls den (read 'Trouble's Kennel').

Friday, September 17, 2010

What the hell?

I have little brown dots in my eyes.

What does it mean?

WikiAnswers tells me it's 'to do with a persons genes'.


Wait, I have genes?!

For now I'll pretend my eyes have freckles.

An amazing 24 hours

Got home last night to a package - 11th Doctor's Screwdriver.

I played with it all night and didn't do any work.

I'm not even embarrassed to admit it :D

Turns out sonic works on both cats and dogs - makes them freak out a tiny little bit.

And then this morning is beautiful again (yesterday the avo turned to rain, but the mornings make me ecstatic) and an email in my inbox from what I would absolutely love to be my science future.


And - it's Friday.

*contented sigh*