Life

The Yia Yia

There’s this old Greek woman and her stocky son who live on our corner who remind me of my Yia Yia and Uncle, especially since she has this beautiful garden that he’s always tending to for her. Her house is on the way to the coffee shop I’ve been writing my thesis at a lot, so frequently I pass by and see the old woman sitting on her porch, especially now that the weather is getting nicer.

I can’t help but smile at her when I go by since they remind me of my family. She always smiled back, and our smiles have upgraded to smiles and waves. When I walked by this morning, she said to her son “That’s the smile lady!”

I’m glad I could brighten her mornings enough that she’d tell her son just from a smile. But at the same time, I think of the hundreds of other people who must walk by her and not even notice she’s there, and that it’s kind of sad that I’m notable because I just smile her way.

Called my grandparents after that.

Come see me speak at Town Hall Seattle this Monday!

Come see me speak at Town Hall Seattle this Monday!

I know I’ve been in a blog/speaking hibernation for a while – grad school can do that to you. But I’m happy to announce that I’ll be coming out of my cave to give a talk about my research at Town Hall Seattle this Monday, May 11. This talk is specifically tailored for non-biologists and will not be overly technical or jargony – at least, that’s my goal!  Here are the details for all of you locals:

What:
What Makes Us Human: Decoding Our DNA
“What makes us human? Scientists and philosophers have been asking the question for years. This age-old query is also the subject of UW genome sciences student Jennifer McCreight’s research. She’ll compare the DNA of humans to chimpanzees, monkeys, and lemurs, sharing how genetic differences help paint a picture of how Homo sapiens walk, talk, and have larger brains.”

When:
6:00PM, Monday, May 11, 2015

Where:
Downstairs at Town Hall
1119 Eighth Avenue (enter on Seneca Street)
Seattle, Washington 98101

Cost:
$5, UW students (with Husky card) get in for free.
Double feature with Leonard Mlodinow’s talk “The Evolution of Scientific Discovery” at 7:30pm.This event is part of the University of Washington’s Engage program, which teaches effective communication skills to scientists who may not otherwise receive that training. I absolutely loved the class and recommend it to all UW grad students, and I’m excited that it gave me the opportunity to speak at Town Hall.

Please spread the word, and I hope to see you there!

Indiana is forcibly dragged into the 21st century

A federal judge has struck down Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban, and couples can marry right now. I know I should probably have something more eloquent to say as an escapee Hoosier who’s a huge LGBT rights activist, but all I can come up with is:

Hahahahahahahhahahhahaaaaaaaaaaaa, suck it, bigots!

I think that’ll do.

My odds of becoming a professor

Not good, and worse because I’m a woman.

Now, I’ve known that for a long time. But it’s not until today that I could see a number representing just how lousy my odds are. In a paper published in Current Biology, three scientists were able to take citation data from PubMed to calculate your odds of becoming a PI (Principal Investigator, or in layman’s terms, a professor who is the head of a research lab). They built a statistical model that took into account how various factors – number of publications, highest number of citations on a paper, gender – affected your chances, which you can figure out using their app.

PI_Predictor

My current odds of becoming a PI are 14%, but they’d be 26% if I were male. If I publish at least two first author papers before I graduate (a reasonable assumption), my odds go up to 23% (still not as much as a male scientist with my current status), while a man would have 34% chance.

Just to give these numbers some perspective, they’d be depressing even without the glaring gender differences. Most grad students nearing their defense are going to have odds around mine; some better, some worse. I have three papers (one first author), they’re in average journals and have almost no citations (hey, kangaroo rat copulatory plug genetics is a pretty niche field, ok?). I’m pretty average when it comes to the variables that affect your chances. And our odds are still crummy. Or at the Onion put it in “New STEM Education Initiative Inspires Girls To Earn Less Than Men In Scientific Career,”

“”Today’s girls have the potential to become the physicists and chemists of tomorrow, powerlessly watching as their male counterparts are promoted over them, their intellects are ignored, and their research is underrepresented in scientific journals. Our mission is to let every young woman know that such a future isn’t a fantasy; it’s a reality they can most certainly achieve.” Grant admitted, however, that such opportunities depended upon the slim chance that these girls even managed to be hired from a predominantly male applicant pool in the first place.”

Don’t mind me, just walking my Dalek

image

Seen on Capitol Hill Saturday night. My shoddy night time phone photography doesn’t do it justice – this looked like something off the set. It was enhanced by a number of onlookers yelling “EXTERMINATE!” for extra ambiance.

I love how nerdy this city is.

I never hate my past self more than when…

…I’m trying to decipher mysterious comments I left in an old piece of code. Comments that made perfect sense a couple of months ago and that were painstakingly written so they would still be clear in the future, which still despite all that end up being completely nonsensical.

Honoring my mom through art

Honoring my mom through art

Since my mom passed away in April, I’ve been constantly reminded by how many lives she touched as an art teacher. So many students considered her a major influence on their life, even if they didn’t end up going to art school. I wanted to share an example of one of my mom’s favorite students, Surbhi Agarwal, who recently honored my mom in a wonderful way.

In addition to being a wonderful artist, Surbhi is applying to medical school to be a cancer researcher. She founded All Things Pink, “an organization founded by young women, for young women, to empower them with the knowledge and resources to reduce the risk of breast cancer by implementing prevention, early detection, and awareness into all aspects of their life.” Even when my mom was bedridden and barely had the energy to use the computer, she made sure to personally go online and make a donation to Surbhi’s organization.

Surbhi used that donation to honor my mom in the most appropriate way – through art. She hosted an event where in addition to some information about breast cancer prevention, yoga, and some good wine, everyone painted. It was a mother-daughter event, so a number of families attended.

surbhi_event_1

I want to close with this beautiful statement Surbhi wrote about my mom:

“Mrs. McCreight was not only my art teacher, but an amazing mentor and friend. Her contagious spirt, love for art, and creativity rubbed off on me and all of her other students. She taught me not only art, but the importance of passion and creativity in every aspect of my life.  Even after spending two periods a day with her (one in regular art and one in honors art) I would make sure to visit her after school because those two hours were never enough time with her. She always put up with me with a big smile, and I never wanted to miss school because I couldn’t bear the thought of missing her class. The few months she was gone from school when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer were so dull and empty, and the day she came back everything seemed right again.  She was so lively and happy, and she never once let us get even a glimpse of the hardship I knew she went through. Her strength and courage inspired me, and those values she instilled in me have gotten me through every difficulty that has come my way. Words can’t describe how much I miss her and the enormous impact she has had on my life.”

surbhi_event_2

Hola, Puerto Rico

One of the perks of grad school is that I occasionally get to travel to some amazing destination that I couldn’t otherwise afford. It’s enabled me to travel to Alaska, Portland (back when Oregon was exotic to me), Dublin and by proxy Paris, and Moscow. …Okay, it was Moscow, Idaho, but close enough.

My next grad school adventure is taking me to San Juan, Puerto Rico in June. I’m giving a talk about my research for the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution, which was a great conference when I attended in Dublin. I’ll be able to vacation in Puerto Rico for three days after the conference, since my department doesn’t mind if you take personal days as long as it doesn’t make the flight more expensive.

So the big question is…what the heck do I do while I’m there? Other than sit on a beach sipping rum, of course, which is how I plan to spend at least half of my vacation time. I’ll already be hiking in the El Yunque rainforest, which is a trip organized by the conference. I’m excited because not only have I never visited a tropical rainforest before, but I get to do it with other nerdy evolutionary biologists. I’m also considering visiting the Arecibo observatory. Contact is my favorite movie of all time, so I feel like I kind of have to visit the gigantic telescope.

Do any of you have suggestions on what I should check out? I’m still debating if I’ll stick around San Juan, or if I’ll rent a car and be more adventurous. I will be traveling alone, so I don’t know how brave I’ll be about heading to the opposite side of the island or a totally different all together. But if you’ve been to Puerto Rico, I’d love to hear what you think!

The Heartland is Heartless

One thing hasn’t changed since I last blogged – my home state of Indiana is still completely terrible. A federal judge ordered Indiana to recognize the out-of-state same sex marriage of a couple with one terminally ill individual. Indiana, showing it’s true Christian love and compassion, has asked the judge to put a stay on the ruling and also has filed a formal appeal. Because allowing one lesbian couple to be recognized as a couple is one too many for this bigoted state.

The Indiana attorney general’s office said in court documents that recognition of the couple’s marriage now could raise false hopes for others because courts might eventually uphold the state’s gay marriage ban.

“The traditional definition of marriage has been around for a long time. Its validity is hotly contested, but the outcome of these legal disputes is uncertain,” the state said in its request for a stay.

So let me get this straight. Indiana doesn’t want to get false hope to LGBT couples, because it knows it’ll be the one personally squashing their hopes. How…considerate? And don’t even get me started on the outcome being uncertain. If you look at the wave of states legalizing gay marriage and the fact that the majority of Americans now support gay marriage, and you don’t see the inevitability of the whole situation, you’re in denial.

This case makes me sad on a personal level. Again, the couple is from my home town of Munster, Indiana (what are the odds?). Not only that, but the woman is dying of stage four ovarian cancer, which is what my mom passed away from. Watching my mother slowly waste away and have her life destroyed by this horrible disease was so painful to watch. Her only solace was having her family around her and knowing we would be well taken care of when she was gone. I can’t even imagine dealing with that nightmare while also wondering if you’ll be able to visit each other in the hospital or receive any death benefits to support your children.

But good job, Indiana. Because you stuck by your “values,” you’ve managed to make a dying woman’s last months of life even worse, a truly impressive feat. A couple of years from now when gay marriage is legalized everywhere and you’re dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, I’m sure your decision will be completely worth it.

The derpiest fish in the Seattle Aquarium

I’m about to fail you as a biologist because I have no idea what the name of this fish is or anything about it as a species. But I do know that I’ve spent way too much time laughing at this photo:

20140426_151900

The Homo sapiens boyfriendii in the background agrees that this is indeed a silly looking fish.

First US case of deadly MERS-CoV arrives in…my hometown in Indiana

My hometown of Munster, Indiana isn’t exactly the most exciting place in the world. As high schoolers we referred to it as Funster, precisely because it wasn’t. There don’t tend to be a lot of news stories coming out of that suburban sprawl, so I was a little surprised when I saw in the news that the first US case of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus has appeared in Munster, of all places: 

virus

“The infected patient, a health care worker, flew April 24 from Saudi Arabia to London and then to Chicago.

The person rode a bus from Chicago to Indiana, health officials said.

On Tuesday, the patient experienced shortness of breath, coughing and fever. The person went to the Emergency Department at Community Hospital Wednesday and was admitted that day.

Because of the patient’s symptoms and recent travel, doctors tested for MERS-CoV. MERS-CoV is a viral respiratory illness which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.”

It’s a little bizarre reading this, especially since I spent a ton of time in Community Hospital over the last year because of my mom’s cancer treatment. I think I’ve also ridden the same bus from the airport in Chicago to Munster.

What’s especially eerie is that while I was most recently visiting my dad, we watched the movie Contagion, which is about a pandemic of an unknown deadly virus spreading in the US. Whenever we watch sciencey movies, my dad always asks me, “Okay, tell me if this could really happen.” Most of the time I’m rolling my eyes at scientists harvesting unobtanium or sequencing genomes  instantaneously in our current era. But this whole movie I was going “Nope, THIS COULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN.”

Hopefully it’ll turn out to be nothing. Though if my hometown turns out to be ground zero for the zombie apocalypse, at least something interesting will have finally happened there.

Welcome to The Jenome!

Welcome to The Jenome!

Hello, former Blag Hag readers. Welcome to my new home.

The Jenome was created as a sort of rebirth, even though it still falls victim to my curse of only being able to come up with pun titles. I’d like to compare it to a phoenix rising from the ashes, but that’s a little too grandiose. The Jenome is more like Selginella lepidophylla, the “Resurrection Plant”, blooming back to life after withering away into dormancy due to years of drought and hardship.

And you thought there couldn’t be a geekier metaphor for resurrection than a phoenix. Pfft, why turn to mythology when you have biology?

My blogging waned in 2012 due to a combination of graduate school stress and time commitments, a vicious harassment campaign against me by internet misogynists, and a stupid brain that’s predisposed to depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, the following year was even worse. In March 2013 my mother was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, and in April of 2014 she passed away. I simply didn’t have time for blogging or speaking when I was constantly worrying about and visiting my mom, while simultaneously try to work on my PhD.

As horrible as these last couple of years have been, they’ve also given me a new perspective on life. As an atheist, I’ve always believed that this is the one shot we get at life and we should live it to the fullest. But this last year made me realize exactly how true that is. You never know if you’re going to get cancer or get hit by a bus, and all the planning in the world can still get derailed by the unexpected.

This wake up call also showed me exactly what my priorities are. I want to explore how the universe works, share that wonder and excitement with others, and create art to make the world a slightly more interesting place. I don’t want to think writing something is pointless because someone else beat me to a topic. I don’t want to spend weeks debating a sexist comment posted by some random asshole living in a basement. I don’t want to be an unintentional amplifier for hate and vitriol. I don’t want to feel pressured to write about specific topics. I don’t want to worry about creating professional posts for getting a job. And frankly, I can’t totally relate to the “Blag Hag” persona anymore – Blag Hag was effectively my less thoughtful, more reactive college self, and I have definitely changed since then.

I originally fell in love with blogging because it was an open, interactive journal for me to be creative. And this is my attempt to get that back with a fresh start. If I want to write about serious topics like the latest scientific advancements, or religious privilege, or feminism, then I will. But I’ll also feel free to post about my strategy in Civ 5, or what I thought about the latest episode of Game of Thrones, or a random doodle I made of butts wearing glasses.

I enjoyed my time at Freethought Blogs and still consider the bloggers there my colleagues and friends. I don’t want to imply that they restricted my blogging topics in any way, because they gave me absolute freedom. So why did I leave? Honestly, I’m a perfectionist control freak who hates working in groups. I’m simply happier and in a better mental space when I have total control, even if it’s control over minor things like how to arrange widgets in a sidebar or what font color to use. I gave joining a network a chance for the increased exposure and the extra spending money, but I realized that’s not what’s important to me. My anxious brain got too caught up in writing “Freethought” topics, or worrying about the frequency of my posts and how it reflects on the network as a whole, and it sucked the fun out of blogging. What I really wanted was simply a space that’s 100% mine.

So, welcome to The Jenome, where the theme is yet again Shit Jen Thinks About. I really can’t express how thankful and touched I am to have readers who have stuck by me through these hard years. I’ve constantly received messages from people who miss my writing or are just hoping I’m doing okay. I still have to pinch myself that anyone wants to read what spills out of my head, but I’m happy to be able to share it with all of you again.

Edit: Yep, I know comments aren’t working well. I’m trying to figure it out!