No really, talk to strangers

You don’t have to talk to everyone in the crowd but you should talk to at least a few people.

I’ve always been resistant to “networking”. Going up to random people I don’t know and talking myself up seemed ridiculous and weird. I avoided events that were specifically organized for that purpose. It’s not that I can’t talk with people I do, in fact, have a few friends. I just didn’t think the helpfulness of the exercise outweighed the intense awkwardness I would feel.

Turns out, I was wrong. I know, I know, everyone is always saying how important and easy networking is. I don’t think I’m the only person (definitely scientist) that had this same aversion. I hope sharing my (limited) experience will encourage those of you who still think networking is awkward and weird.

When I moved to DC and started my post-doc I was determined to put myself out there both to make new friends and to make job connections. I cold emailed a list of former NIH fellows to see if they would tell me about their current jobs. Most of them said yes, to my shock and  horror, because now I actually had to talk with these people. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed talking with them, I learned a great deal about my career options, and it wasn’t awkward at all. After getting my confidence up, I even attended a “networking happy hour”, the event I spent all of my previous life avoiding. Despite being terrified that I was the awkward girl in the room, I was able to chat with at least five different people. Of course it’s hard to walk up to people you don’t know, but at an event like that everyone is expecting it so it’s fine. I haven’t met my new BFF yet or gotten a connection to the perfect job but I am definitely more comfortable meeting new people.  The moral of this story is, just talk to people, it won’t be as terrible as you think. Along the way, you may make a new friend or meet someone who knows of the perfect job for you.

Don’t worry, it will dissolve

Each generation has its “badge of coolness”. For, kids it may be the latest superhero lunchbox. High schoolers need a car, any car. Some 25-30 year old nerds, who shall remain nameless, may feel the need to get a PhD. In the near future any member of the 60-70 year old set without a dissolving electronic implant could be doomed to “uncoolness”. Last Friday, Hwang et al published their work on dissolving electronics in the journal Science. Yes, you read that correctly, dissolving electronics.

One of the most common implantable electronic devices is a pacemaker. A pacemaker helps a heart maintain a constant beat. Sometimes, the need for the implant passes. Making a pacemaker go away requires serious surgery with all the risks to the patient that entails. Making a dissolving pacemaker go away only requires water, and our bodies have plenty of water.

The researchers built the structural components of dissolving electronics out of biocompatible silk from the silkworm cocoons. They were able to adjust how long the silk lasts in the body by subtly changing the processing of the silk. By producing silk that lasts only as long as the device is needed, surgical removal would become unnecessary.

Normally, there are metal components in electronic devices. Dissolving heavy metals into a patient could create more problems than it solves. To address this issue, the researchers used magnesium as a conductor because it is very reactive and because magnesium is a necessary nutrient, it poses no danger to the patient.

Now that these electronics exist, it can’t be long before patients will be receiving temporary, dissolving electronic devices. I, for one, welcome our robot overlords.

Always leave a paper trail

Photo by Jeff Werner

Lab notebooks are one of the less glamorous parts of being a scientist. You must meticulously record what you do each day so that some day in the future, someone could read it and replicate that day’s work. Or when you realize you discovered something you would like to patent, you must prove that you indeed thought of it on a particular day.

Confession: I am particularly terrible at maintaining my lab notebook. Continue reading “Always leave a paper trail”

Do as we say, not as we did

In the recent Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Washington Update, there is a letter to NIH director Francis Collins that supports recommendations from the Biomedical work force working group’s recent report. The report recommends, among other things, shortening the average Ph.D. training time to five years, while increasing training in skills targeting scientific careers outside of academia. How practical would it be to implement these recommendations? Continue reading “Do as we say, not as we did”

Don’t knock out your toddler

Your child tripped on the back steps and has ended up with a long deep gash on their leg. You head to the ER to get it stitched up. Turns out your toddler has other plans and wails and thrashes around whenever the doctors try to take a look. In many ERs around the country the doctor will recommend sedating your child to prevent the trauma your child is experiencing as well as the anguish you must be feeling watching your child suffer.

For the last ten years, evidence has been building that giving young children anesthesia can be bad for their developing nervous system. The evidence in juvenile rodents is extremely compelling while studies in humans show a trend but some variability. Links have been shown between anesthesia before 4 years of age and increased rates of ADHD and cognitive dysfunction. While there are many cases that require surgery before the age of 4, there are often elective surgeries that would be better postponed. Continue reading “Don’t knock out your toddler”