nerdy

Nerdy observation of the day

I can still use my iPhone’s touch screen while wearing nitrile gloves! Take that, mittens. And since I’m in the lab significantly more than I’m outside, this is a significant discovery. It’s incredibly important to be able to change songs without drastically lowering my pipetting efficiency.

What? Going outside except to get to and from lab? Crazy talk.

Now I know why I like BLTs so much

From Abstruce Goose:Mmmmm…

This makes me even more motivated to throw the Darwin Day Dinner Party idea I’ve had in my head for a couple years. Everyone brings something they cooked, complete with a list of all the recipes, and you map out everything you ate on a giant tree of life, trying to cover as many orders of life as possible. Then you can look in awe at how millions of years of evolution (and a couple thousand of years of artificial selection) resulted in delicious food that’s now sitting in your belly.

That, and we can always use one more excuse to drink beer – have to represent the yeast!

More quotes from the lab

There’s another first year graduate student rotating in the same lab that I’m rotating in, though he’s working on a different project from me. How do our projects differ, you ask?

1st Year: *talking to another labmate about something completely off topic*
Post doc: Hey, that’s five minutes you just wasted that could have gone toward curing autism!
Me: That’s why I’m not studying autism.
Post doc: *laughs* So you can waste as much time as you like?
Me: Yep. Evolution’s not going anywhere!

Joking aside, I actually have been getting a lot of work done. For the fellow biologists: I run my first microarray on Tuesday! For the non-biologists: I get to do cool nerdy stuff I haven’t done before!

This is why I don’t consider myself a science blogger. Too lazy.

The War on Christmas: Now with biological warfare

I’d totally go buy a little Christmas tree just to hang these adorable ornaments:Of course, I’d rather buy the normal plush microbes to stick in the tree so I can keep displaying them all year long… But come on, how can you not love mononucleosis underneath some mistletoe?! So adorable.

…Yes, I know: biologists are weird.

Dance Your PhD finalists are up!

If you’ve ever had a hard time explaining what your research is about, maybe you should consider interpretive dance. That’s what the Dance Your PhD contest at Science asks grad students to do. It’s fun, but the winner also gets a $500 dollar prize.

You can vote for whichever one you like the best here. To show I’m not inherently biased toward biology, my favorite was actually the chemistry one. I thought it did the best job at actually explaining the concept, while having the least abstract dancing. Oh, and I loved the part with Taq polymerase in the middle. Seriously, just watch it.

…Okay, it still had to do with DNA, shush.

Maybe in a couple of years I’ll be able to do this, though I kind of suck at dancing. Right now my lab rotation project wouldn’t be too interesting of a video though – not sure how to interpretively dance to coding in Python…

Sometimes I forget that not everyone is a nerd

Mom: What do you imagine your wedding being like?
Me: …I kind of need someone to get married to first.
Mom: No, I mean, what would your dream wedding be like?
Me: I don’t really fantasize about my wedding. I don’t know, cheap.
Dad: Good, I raised you right. Now you won’t be the type who gets married too early just because you’re in love with the idea of getting married.
Mom: *disappointed look*
Me: I guess if I had an infinite amount of money, I would chose a really cool place to have it in. Like in a Natural History Museum.
Mom: …With dinosaurs and mummies and stuff?
Me: Yeah! I mean, how cool would that be, to get married under a giant fossilized skeleton of an ancient whale or something?
Mom: *look of horror and disgust*
Me: …Well I think it would be cool *pout*

Oh no! Fellow nerds, they're on to us

They’ve discovered our secret hobbies:

And Jenny, darlin‘, YOU are going to attract people just like me when you are derogatory and ignorant about my favourite Church. M’kay? So if you don’t want a MY reaction… go back to whatever nerds do… endlessly poking each other in the belly-button, or playing with aborted fetuses, or, whatever.

Damn. What are nerds supposed to do for fun now?

I know I always say not to feed the trolls, but when they’re so amusingly ridiculous I feel selfish not sharing it with the rest of you. Especially when I think belly-button poking can be the new euphemism for godless, nerdy activities.

Though, read the rest of that comment at your own risk. If you tend to become enraged after reading nonsensical transphobic screeds… you’ve been warned.

Biology tattoos

I personally wouldn’t get a tattoo, but I can appreciate a good one – especially if they’re nerdy. Here are some of the best biology themed tattoos (most from here):

The tree of life:Darwin’s finches:Muscle anatomy:DNA:Archeopteryx:E. coli:Fig wasps:Homunculus:This is post 40 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Another universal law

From the consistently wonderful SMBC:
Hilarious, but it’s also real research. Read more about how robots evolve to lie here. And if you want some biological examples, I’ve discussed dishonest signaling in deer and fiddler crabs in a previous post.

This is post 16 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

I have my first scientific publication!

My first scientific paper has been published! “Allelic recharge in populations recovering from bottleneck events” by Joseph D Busch, Jennifer McCreight, and Peter M Waser. It’s included in the new book developed by the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, Molecular Approaches in Natural Resource Conservation and Management:The book was actually released in June, but somehow I missed it. Just found out today because my professor gave me a copy as a going away present.

I guess I’m officially a scientist now. Woohoo!

Thoughts on grad school

“What are you most looking forward to about grad school? What are you hoping to achieve? And, what will you actually be studying? I mean, is there really more to know about copulatory plugs?”

I’m most looking forward to finally be studying what I’ve always wanted to research: human genetics and evolution. I don’t know the exact topic yet since UW has you do a year of lab rotations, but there are a lot of exciting projects going on there. I haven’t been able to investigate that area yet since no one at Purdue really researches human genetics or evolution too much – I think mainly because we don’t have a medical school.

So no, I’m not going to be researching copulatory plugs anymore. Even that wasn’t my main project at Purdue. My bigger project was looking at population genetics and historical demography in kangaroo rats. I’ll be able to talk more about them here once they’re officially published, but until then, I have to keep quiet.

And looking at the bigger picture, I’m excited to be furthering my education and becoming an “expert” in my field. I really enjoy research and teaching, so I think academia is the right place for me. And I just love to learn – I’m geeking out about all the advanced classes that I’ll be taking, which I think is a good sign.

…Okay, and it’s nice knowing I have an assured paycheck for five years in this crappy economy and that I’ll be Dr. McCreight at the end. But really, those are just perks! Really nice perks, hehe.

Your personal opinion does not trump scientific studies

As a scientist, one of my big pet peeves is when someone tries to use a personal anecdote to disprove a scientific study. “Cigarette are bad for you?! But my grandpa chain smoked until he was 96, and he was healthy as an ox!”

Great for your grandpa! …But that’s irrelevant.

The whole purpose of science is to reduce our biases. Looking at your sample size of one (Grandpa) is going to lead you to the wrong conclusion about what’s going on with smoking. Your grandpa was an outlier – and while that is interesting, the vast majority of people suffer harmful effects from smoking.

But my bigger pet peeve is when someone’s culture, personal opinion, or political belief stands in the way of them accepting science.

For example, during our unit on aggression in my Social Psychology class, we talked about cultural causes for aggression. One example was the Southern Culture of Honor. People who grow up in this culture see a perceived insult as a threat to their ego, which increases testosterone levels* and violent cognitions, and can lead to acts of violence. Southern cities and states have much higher White homicide rates than those populated by northerners**, and in Southern states homicides exceed suicides.

Effects of Insults on Testosterone levels in Southerner and Northerner Participants
When I mentioned this in a tweet, some of my Southern followers got angry and said it wasn’t true, and tried to provide anecdotal evidence about how kind and helpful Southerners are. Your neighbors may be sweet, but that doesn’t negate an overall trend. Scientific studies aren’t saying that all southerners are homicidal maniacs. Though you know, getting angry at a perceived insult doesn’t exactly help your cause…

Another topic within aggression that really riles people up is spanking. Numerous studies have been done showing that spanking children increases antisocial*** and aggressive**** behavior. But when people who have been spanked or spank their children hear about this, they get very defensive. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve heard “Well I was spanked, and I turned out fine!” or “I spanked my kids and now they’re little angels!”

I’m sorry, but 1) Your specific experience does not negate the average response seen in hundreds of families, and 2) Your evaluation isn’t necessarily correct. You could very well have had an increase in antisocial or aggressive behavior, but you didn’t have a psychologist assessing your behavior, did you? I’d really like to see a psychological study on why people like to defend spanking. Do they hate thinking that their parents did something wrong? Do they hate having to come up with a better (and possibly less easy) disciplinary action?

And last, but not least: political beliefs that get in the way of accepting science. The one that bugs me the most are feminists who are such huge supporters of female equality that they simply cannot accept that males and females do differ in certain ways. For one, you kind of can’t ignore that (biologically typical) males and females differ physically – we kind of have different reproductive organs and chromosomes. We also have different secondary sex characteristics – males are going to be slightly stronger and larger on average.

And because our biology differs, it’s not insane to suggest our psychology differs. Saying men are better in some areas and women are better in others does not mean one is superior to another. Saying men may have certain mating strategies and females may have different ones does not mean one is morally superior, or that either are things we should actually do – humans are not simply slaves to their biology, after all. There are differences between the sexes in almost every species where there are two different sexes – humans aren’t exempt. To deny these differences because they don’t jibe with your political beliefs is simply unscientific.

Now, I know I’m not perfect. There have definitely been times where I’ve been skeptical of a study when I personally didn’t like the results – it’s human nature (especially when the study is saying something delicious is bad for your health). But the thing about being a scientist is reducing our biases as much as possible. So next time you find yourself giving anecdotal evidence, remember: Your personal opinion may be an interesting new hypothesis, but until you do a study of your own, it does not trump previous scientific research.

* Cohen et al (1996) Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South
**Myers (2008) Social Psychology
*** Strauss et al (1997)
**** Taylor (2010) in Pediatrics