Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ah, "Science"

I was watching Dr. Oz a couple weeks ago and was completely appalled. Now, before I continue, I want to say that I appreciate what he's trying to do with his show. I completely agree that the public needs more health-based education, and he's able to explain things to the laymen pretty well. My problem comes when he promotes something as "science", and it clearly isn't.

On this particular show, he was discussing sleep deprivation and how it influences our motor skills (specifically driving abilities). He goes on to say something along the lines of "You know me - I don't just like to say things; I like to put science behind it." Then he describes the experiments.

He has one woman stay up for 24 hours. After that amount of time, he gives her three tests. The first one is reaction time. She had to watch a computer screen, and when a green box pops up she had to hit a certain key. This is all fine and dandy, except they never did it before she was sleep deprived.

The second test was on her memory. A person read her a list of ten grocery items. She then had to write the list out after a certain time period. No, we were not given that time period. Also, my memory sucks at the best of times - hence why I make lists - and there was no control experiment here either.

The third test involved a driving simulator. It was actually done in a car, but the car was rigged up so that she had to wear a virtual reality head set, but she got to use the regular controls of the car. Now, I know that when I first play a video game I have a hard time getting used to the controls. So, they showed her weaving all over the road, clearly not because she wasn't aware (because she was constantly saying things like "I don't want to go there", or "The car is going the wrong way!"), but because she didn't know the feel of the controls. Plus, they had all sorts of things going on in the simulator that wouldn't generally happen in real life, like having cars coming directly at you in both lanes, or having people pop up in your path out of thin air. In the end, she ended up "killing" six people.

I understand what Dr. Oz is trying to show here - look how much sleep deprivation can influence your motor skills! But, to tote it as "science" just so people will listen? Not cool, Dr. Oz. Now perhaps they did do control experiments before hand, and really did use the scientific method, but they didn't show it on TV.

This kind of stuff gives science a bad name - like we just do random stuff once, and call it a day. The public needs to understand that science is a way to systematically study things, and the results should be repeatable. It wouldn't be difficult for Dr. Oz to show the control experiment, or do the experiment more than once - and it would be a heck of a lot more credible.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pet Peeves via WiA

I posted on Monday that I would be spending this week at the Women in Astronomy and Space Sciences conference. Hannah over at WiA wrote a great day-by-day summary of the event and, over on my NN blog, I wrote my own summary of the more salient points.

I want to start by saying that I found the conference invaluable, and am happy I could take part; however, one point I did bring up on my other blog was regarding the judgments and biases women have of each other, and how this does not help our cause. There are two things that kept popping up in conversations that I would like to address.

#1: “Following” or “Trailing” spouse

We need to stop using this phrase! It’s offensive to both parties – for the “follower” it makes it seem like they are weak, powerless, and have no value in their career; for the “leader” it makes it seem like they are overbearing, only care about their career, and are just plain jerks.

People need to realize that the majority of couples these days make decisions together. Marriage is a partnership, after all. If a couple decides that living together in the same city is important to them, and to their marriage, then they should not be penalized or judged for that. It does not make either party less serious about their career.

Please, please, please stop using this phrase! The “two-body problem” is much nicer, and a better description of the issue.

#2: Astronomers don’t “want” non-academic jobs

Throughout the conference, many talked about the benefit of non-academic careers, and how those jobs (and the people who have them) should be valued. I am in complete agreement, and think astronomy and physics students need to have more information on these types of careers right from the beginning.

The thing that bothered me was the implication that people who took these careers only did so because they couldn’t get a tenure-track position for whatever reason (children, geographical location, health, having to work part-time, etc.). Why is it so hard to understand that some of us actually want these jobs? That we strive for them from very early on? It’s not a consolation prize for us. Please stop treating us like second-class citizens just because we don’t want an academic job.

This also doesn't mean that we think people who want or have academic jobs are idiots, or that those positions are no good. It just means something else is better for us.

We are all here to work together - be it on astronomy or women's issues – but if we keep judging the choices of others, we will get no where fast. How can we expect others to support our decisions, if we can't do it amongst ourselves? Let’s agree that my way might not be your way, and that’s okay, as long as we are all living life the way we want.

Monday, October 19, 2009


DH and I went shopping this weekend for new cell phones. Well, I was getting a new one, he was getting his first ever (I know!). We went to Best Buy so we could see all the phones for all the carriers, and we were hemming and hawing for probably an hour or so. Then the sales manager told us about this awesome deal on iPhones, so we just had to do it.

I absolutely love it already - it's just so fun to use. There are so many apps though, that I get completely overwhelmed. So, for the iPhone users out there, what are your favorite apps? Any good games that you really enjoy?

One thing I'm looking for in particular is a calorie chart. I've found some, but they are more calorie/activity trackers, and that's not really what I'm looking for. So, if anyone knows of a good one, let me know!

Tomorrow I'm heading off to the DC area for the Women in Astronomy and Space Sciences meeting (but I won't have time to do any touristy stuff - another time!). For more info, see my Nature Network post. I will post an update once I get back (or maybe even during)!

Friday, October 16, 2009


A while back I blogged about wanting to get a tattoo of a particular image (for some reason I can't find the post - did I delete it for some reason?). Since it's been a while since my last tattoo (about 6 years), I wanted to find something to commemorate finishing my PhD. A few months ago, as I was flipping through a book by Carl Sagan, I saw this image:

I immediately knew that comet was going to be my next tattoo. After my defense and our trip to South America, I made an appointment with a tattoo artist at True Love (so named, I believe, because the building used to be a drive-through chapel). She was happy that I knew exactly what I wanted, and after thinking of a few places where we could put it, she suggested the top of the foot, right under the toes. I immediately loved the idea, since the curvature of the comet matched the line of my toes.

I had to wait another month-and-a-half to actually get it (they are apparently really busy!). Here is the final product:

I absolutely love it!! I love the colors, the shape, the shading, and how it fits on my foot. I also love how it represents my PhD very well, without being overly "science-y".

Funny enough, even though I have three other tattoos, I was nervous about how much it would hurt. But, as with the others, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought. The only very pinch-y part was the head of the comet, which sits right on that bone below my big toe.

Am I done with tattoos now, with four? I'm not sure! I thought I was done at 1 and 3 (after 2 I knew I wanted another), so one can never tell :)

I'm not the only science blogger that got inked recently - who's next?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Out of the Woodwork

We knew that our decision to stay here in London would get some remarks. For the past 2-3 years we've been saying we want to get out of here, that we don't like it here, etc, etc., so it's completely understandable that people would be surprised.

Once we explain why we made the decision though, many of our friends have said that they're happy for us (as long as we're happy) and that they're glad we're staying in town. In fact, I actually expected a lot more negative comments than we have received.

Of course, there have been the negative-ninnies, and I should have bet money on who they were going to be, because I would have made a pretty penny. These are the people that are not only surprised about our decision, and voice their opinions as such, but they then continue to ask rude questions or try to "rub it in" that we have (gasp!) changed our minds (even though we repeatedly admit that we are eating our words). These comments wouldn't normally bother us, but it's when they're made after we explain our decision and admit that one can never say never that it becomes annoying. We know we called it wrong - let's all get over it and move on.

The great thing about this is seeing who is supportive and happy for us, regardless of what we said before or how we came to our decision. We consider these people our true friends, and we greatly appreciate them and love them dearly! We're also (shock!) looking forward to putting down our roots here, and we are already finding ways to improve our lives - like having dinner with friends more often, and starting a book club with a few other girls (yay!).

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving up here in Canada, and there is much to be thankful for this year: finishing my PhD, DH having a permanent job, having the means to travel to exotic locations, our health, the love from our family and friends, the comfort of our cats...

Thanksgiving weekend has always marked the real beginning of fall for me. The crisp, cool mornings, the changing leaves, comfy sweaters, hot tea, football, and all the new TV shows! It truly is my favorite time of year, even though it lasts for just a few weeks - if we're lucky. London is a beautiful place to be this time of year, with all the trees turning all sorts of of beautiful colors. This is in stark contrast to Calgary (where I grew up), where they go from green to yellow to brown in a matter of days (but the snow-covered mountains covered are sure pretty!).

Fig.1: Fall colors - near Niagara Falls, 2006.

We had our Thanksgiving dinner last night with a friend of ours (DH's best man). It was so nice to gather around a table full of wonderful food and catch up, talk about old times, and laugh our asses off.

This is the time of year where "back home" is still greatly missed. Thanksgiving was always a weekend of family get-togethers, and I miss being a part of those. I become a little sad when I think about all of them sitting around the table, wine and food galore, telling stories and jokes, and just enjoying each others company. As much as I love having our own celebrations, I imagine a time where we can all celebrate together again.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I keep seeing this advertisement on TV for Airmiles: you can collect extra points if you buy environmentally friendly products.

Is it just me, or is that a bit contradictory? I mean, buying "green" products is great, and incentives should be given for doing so, but getting points to fly in a big-ass airplane? Did they not think this through?

October Scientiae: The Road Not Taken

Mad Chemist Chick is the host of October's Scientiae, where the theme is the road not taken:
Was there a point in your career or research where you were faced with two possible paths? Which one did you chose and why? Do you ever regret that decision? Or perhaps it was the best decision you ever made but you did not realized it until much later. Or have you ever taken a path only to discover it dead-ends or is circular? What did you do next? Have you, like the traveler in the poem, saved a path for another day, in regards to an alternative or second career maybe, and hope to get back to explore it someday?
Because of my wide range of interests, the road not taken could be the theme of my career-life. It seems at each major step along the way, I have had to choose which fork in the road to take.

When I was in high school, I was deciding between a major in music (I played the clarinet) and astrophysics. I auditioned for the music school, but before I received the response I decided to take the scientific route. At the time I had convinced myself it was because I would have more options for jobs if I did astrophysics - clearly that wasn't the real reason. Yes, I had an interest in it, but it was mostly because I felt it sounded more impressive (not the best reason to choose a major). I wanted to prove to people I was smart in different ways, and I remember saying things like, "No, I'm not going into music, I'm going into astrophysics instead", and loving the way it sounded.

During my first year in undergrad, I floundered a lot. I didn't do particularly well in my science classes, and even dropped my second semester chemistry course because I had convinced myself I was going to major in sociology instead. But, throughout undergrad, I kept coming back to astrophysics - mostly because I didn't want people to think I was a failure (again, not a good reason).

At the end of my degree (which ended up being in physics) I decided I was done with physics. I took the first job I could find, and ended up being an inside sales person at an electrical motor company (to be fair, they did ask for someone with an engineering or physics degree). Yup - I hated it. At that point, I was at another crossroads: did I want to pursue my love of interior design, go to grad school for a masters in astronomy, or go to business school? I applied to different universities for all three, and got in to all three programs. I had told myself from the beginning that, if I got into grad school, I'd go for it. So, that's what I did.

By the end of my masters, I wanted to stay in astronomy but wasn't sure if I wanted to stay in the same field. Again, I applied to work with a number of PhD supervisors, and I ended up switching from X-ray astronomy to Solar System astronomy.

Now, after another four years, I am at another crossroads. I know that I do not want to continue with research at this point, that I want to continue in teaching, outreach, and/or science education research. The question is, how do I find such jobs in this city and in these economic times?

When I look back on my decisions, I realize that they probably weren't the best for me. I should have pursued my loves (music, interior design, etc.) and not what sounded impressive. However, I don't regret my decisions, because they have all lead me to where I am and who I am. I believe I have learned from all of this, and will focus on finding a career path that is close to my heart. Who knows what is coming at the next fork in the road, but I plan on taking it in stride with no regrets.


Friday, October 2, 2009

2nd Paper

My second paper was finally accepted today! The process for this one was a little different: we had two rounds of corrections with the reviewer (just one) and then one round with the editor (very minor). Both the reviewer and editor had very useful comments (this time!) and the paper ended up being better and more focused.

In any case, that was my last thing to check-off my PhD research list! Woohoo!