Happy Thursday

November 17, 2011

When you invent the music video, you can deconstruct the music video.

Grad school is…

November 17, 2011

fostering time away from your work.

One of my mentors as un undergrad at the University of Nebraska, John Janovy Jr., wrote eloquently of time spent in the lab at the end of the day, washing glassware, his hands in the warm sudsy water, his mind adrift. It is not a coincidence that ideas pop into your head when you least expect them, on a long walk, in the shower, …

It is all the more important in these days of iPhones, iPads, iPods, and iThink, to find time away from social media, away from the web, lost in your thoughts. So volunteer to do the dishes, clean the house, mow the lawn. You get a karmic two-fer: time with your thoughts, and somebody–your housemates, your spouse, your cat–will think better of you.

Image from “Mr. Natural does the dishes” by R. Crumb.

Will Youtube replace lectures?

November 16, 2011

Imagine a course where your read articles and watch videos at home, then come to class to work on problem sets. We’ll have more to say about this in the future, but I suspect if you want to work on your teaching chops, focus on how you interact with small groups, say, leading an exam review.

I mean, can you imagine a more succinct introduction to the alkali metals (love me some Na and K)?

Grad school is…

November 15, 2011

learning to become comfortable with ambiguity,

The most practical advice on social media I’ve heard all year

November 14, 2011



From Time Magazine

Q: Do you Twitter?

A: No, because I drink in the evening and I don’t want anything that I write at midnight to end my career–“You can kiss my ass” all spelled wrong.




Photographing ants

November 14, 2011

As the AntLab plows through our collections, hoping to construct photographic catalogues, we have to experiment with lighting. Lots of experiments. Turns out, JelenaB has discovered the curse of ant photography, little yellowish ants, can at least partially be tamed by the use of grey points (the little triangles upon which the ant is glued, which is then run through with a pin, suspending the little gal for eternity with legs dangling downward) against a dark grey background. I particularly like this image of Pheidole tysoni suspended. She would look good wandering in the fruit bowl of Carravagio’s Supper at Emmaus.

Understanding your advisor

November 14, 2011




Alan Rickman is a writing coach in a new play, The Seminar.  He is also the senior actor, with four young actors playing his students. Says the The Seminar‘s author (via the New York Times):

“Somebody said to me once, ‘Talent is a double-edged sword,’ and you really see that with Alan. He holds himself to extremely high standards. Because of that he holds us to those standards as well. It’s a serious business being in a working relationship with him.”

Through flashes of insight into Leonard’s own history and his unorthodox teaching methods, Mr. Rickman invites a deeper understanding of the man and of the complicated process of guiding young writers. Merciless though his approach might be, he’s there to steer the students in the right direction.

Sound like someone you know?

More left-brained map geek humor

November 14, 2011

From the brilliant xkcd. Read the rest of this entry »

Want to write better science papers? Edit, read quality, and tell a story.

November 13, 2011

A nice little article in Forbes magazine on  improving your writing, part of a continuing series. Business mags are full of useful tips. After all, they work in the real world, they expect results**.

Takehomes? Read the rest of this entry »

Know your brain: right vs. left in the academic life

November 13, 2011




The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rationale mind is a faithful servant.



I had a colleague for a while, a neuroscientist, who, while normally very pleasant, would occasionally turn red, her eyes would grow wide, and a frown would race over her face. The cause of this transformation was usually some version of the phrase “the right brain” or the “the left brain”. Indeed a fair bit of pseudoscience rose from early studies of patients who suffered injuries to one hemisphere or the other: conclusions that revolved around the left brain as the seat of logic, and the right brain as the seat of creativity, science vs. art, yada yada yada. Yet differences exist in the morphology and behavior of both hemispheres, differences found among vertebrate brains.

In this wonderfully animated lecture, psychologist Ian McGilchrist, gives an updated overview of what we know about the functions of the hemispheres. In this evolving view, the left brain specializes in giving narrowly focused attention on what is already known to be important; while the right is broadly interested in watching out for the novel and making connections between disparate parts. The left brain abstracts away exceptions and sees the world as simplified verbal models or pictorial maps; the right brain is always looking for the new, and interpreting the new as metaphors of what is already known.  The left is about categories and generalizations; the right is about individuals and exceptions.

As we struggle to be creative, it is worth keeping in mind the wonderful balancing act embodied in our hemispheric brain. Scientific creativity is about collecting data and building simple mind models to explain the data; about using both our intuition and logic to see which of these models works best; in the words of Alfred North Whitehead. seeking simplicity and distrusting it.

While McGilchrist’s short lecture does not provide an easy roadmap for success in academia, it does add interest to the journey.