Stuff you should know but no one tells you: Employee benefits of postdoctoral appointments

By Meriem Gaval

Central Sulcus picIf you’re planning on seeking a post-doc you’ll discuss your interests, skills, and ideas with future PIs and labmates during your interview. Sometime between your research talk and dinner you may discuss your potential salary and sources of funding but it is unlikely that you will hear about the additional benefits provided to postdocs at the institution. This supplementary compensation includes health and life insurance, paid time off, parental leave, and retirement plans, all very important things that will influence your lifestyle choices over the next several years.

There are many different ways to gain postdoctoral experience and, while the work expectations are very similar between these settings, your compensation and benefits are very different. These may not even be standardized across all postdocs within an organization! Some seemingly obvious choices can also radically alter the benefits you receive. What we’d like to do next is briefly discuss some of the benefits currently provided to postdocs in different circumstances, with the intention of arming you with knowledge to guide your questions during interviews and help you make informed decisions about your next career move.

If your new postdoc is in an industry setting, chances are your employee benefits will be very similar or the same as other company employees. These will include a retirement plan with employer contribution, clearly set guidelines for paid time off, health and life insurance, and the ability to contribute to the national social security program. The NIH intramural research program has defined paid time off rules and provides health insurance at no cost to the postdoc, but does not provide access to retirement benefits or social security contributions.

The compensation of postdocs working in academic institutions varies wildly, and this depends on the institution, departmental affiliation, and source of funding. Some common sources of funding include departmental funding, grants awarded to and managed by your PI, an institutional training grant such as a T32, or an individual training grant such as an NRSA. If your salary is being paid by your PI’s grant(s) or by the university itself, in many cases you are considered an employee and are eligible for benefits provided to full-time staff such as health and life insurances, parental leave, retirement plan, and paid time off. On the other hand, if your salary comes from an institutional training grant (T32), many institutions will consider you a stipendee, not an employee. Stipendees are not always allowed to take advantage of the insurance group rate provided to employees, nor retirement benefits. In this case the stipendee would be responsible to purchase private insurance. While the NIH allows trainees up to 60 calendar days of parental leave, additional paid time off is to be determined by agreement with the advisor. T32s provide a training-related institutional allowance per fellow (NIH guidelines for 2014 are $7,850/year). These are most often used for travel and supplies, but the NIH considers health insurance a training-related expense. As such, your department or institution may require you to use this money to pay for your health insurance directly, or to partially reimburse you for your insurance-related out-of-pocket expenses, decreasing the amount of money you can use for travel and supplies. It is worth noting that some institutions will consider this allowance as income, so that your tax documents would reflect an additional $7,850 to your salary, even though this was not a direct compensation to you. Also, while employees are allowed pre-tax contributions to pay for public transportation, retirement, and insurance policies, stipendees are often not. This means you would pay taxes on a greater amount of taxable income.

What about competitive funding mechanisms? We have all heard of the importance and prestige of obtaining individual training grants, such as an NRSA. Unfortunately, when you obtain an NRSA as a postdoc, your employment status may change from employee to stipendee (this is the case at Emory). If this happens, the same financial pitfalls just described may apply to you. That’s right- if you obtain your own funding you may receive a bonus in salary from your PI, but you may also lose your health insurance as well as pre-tax contributions and employee matching to your retirement plan. If you are able to get benefits through your partner’s employer and decide to go that route, be prepared to spend time and effort justifying your new NRSA as a ‘life changing event’ to your partner’s employer, so you can enroll in their benefits outside of open enrollment.

We would argue that this is an unfortunate way to disincentive truly great funding mechanisms for training. However, these small but significant differences in your compensation package are not well-known and seldom talked about, so most trainees don’t realize the financial implications of the awards until after they’ve been accepted and disbursed. This is not meant to discourage you from applying to any fellowship or from pursuing a position with T32 funding. You should use this information to discuss the implications with your PI. Speak with your PI about ways to offset the financial drawback of obtaining a training fellowship. You may be able to negotiate a salary supplement, funds to travel to specific courses, workshops, or conferences, equipment, or hiring an undergraduate or technician to work on your project and increase your productivity.

Central Sulcus figureIt’s imperative to highlight that these issues are not the same at every institution or department. This is partly due to the lack of NIH requirements or guidelines for academic organizations to follow regarding compensation and benefits. Even the “NRSA salary minimum” is not required to be met if your compensation is coming from a non-NRSA funding mechanism. This pilot survey from the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) will give you a good idea of the diversity in institutional policy regarding compensation. The NIH is aware of the desire to standardize benefits for postdoctoral researchers and recognizes that training grants carry a financial burden on the awardee, as seen in pages 7-9 of the report seen here. As you interview for postdoc positions be proactive and ask current postdocs in the lab and the department about these policies. They are a valuable source of information and can put you in contact with key personnel to answer your many questions. Find out if the institutions belong to the NPA and whether they have an office of postdoctoral research, as these are a reflection of support and commitment to improving the postdoc experience. Better yet, become involved with the advocacy committee in either or both of these organizations and help change the current system.

Posted in Career & Skills Development | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Hi! My name is Claire, and this is how I got to Emory.

By Claire McGregor

claire_headFor the past two years, I’ve lived in a small town in Northern China.  The area is known for coal production, pollution, and particularly delicious vinegar. I lived and worked at Shanxi Agricultural University, the only agricultural university in China actually located in a rural area.  My town, Taigu, was so small that most people had never heard of it before and assumed that I lived in and was mispronouncing Thailand.

I taught English classes to mostly graduate students and some undergrads, and had a lot of time on my hands for badminton and majiang.* During the holidays– we had four months off a year– I took overnight trains out of my province and traveled across China as well as other countries in Asia.

My house in Taigu

My house in Taigu

Taigu was isolated. It was so small and unimportant that sometimes people tried to prevent me from getting off the train at my stop because they couldn’t imagine I would want to go there. My town had six foreigners, all Oberlin graduates teaching English, and we were all neighbors located in the center of campus. We were actually part of the school tour, and our houses were constantly being photographed for both their traditional architecture as well as the foreign teachers they contained.

A view of Taigu from the drum tower

A view of Taigu from the drum tower

I was sent to Taigu on a fellowship from the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, which was founded in 1908 as a direct result of the Boxer Rebellion. My job was to increase understanding between Asia and the US through teaching English, studying Chinese, and blogging about the experience, with the long-term goal of avoiding more Boxer Rebellions. At the time of writing, we have had a complete success in this goal.

Hulling millet in the lab

Hulling millet in the lab

You may be wondering to yourself what kind of lab work I did during this time, or how this relates to my interest in neuroscience. It doesn’t, and I didn’t do any lab work, except for one day spent hulling genetically modified millet and another visiting the entomologist lab to ogle the horrific diversity of monsters insects that had been captured by students (I feel it is important to mention here that students in China do not get to choose their majors, and if I had been saddled with “catching centipedes” as a major, I probably would not have made it through higher education). I also supplemented my $500 a month salary by correcting the grammar of scientific essays about mango peels and speciation of shrubberies.

Specimens from the entomology department

Specimens from the entomology department

Before moving to China, I majored in neuroscience at Oberlin College and did research involving estrogen, LH, Alzheimer’s Disease, and schizophrenia. My PI had me in the lab up until graduation day, and she probably would have asked me to come in that day had she been able to find me. Ten days after graduation I was in China, looking forward to seeing what life as a non-scientist was like. One month in and I was ready to be back in lab, and one year after that I was preparing to apply to graduate school.

Me with a class of graduate students

Me with a class of graduate students

After two years away from home, all I really wanted in a school was for it to be located next to my grandparents’ house. Emory did not fit that description. In fact, I think I went to the website at least five times before considering applying, immediately exiting out upon seeing the word ‘Atlanta.’ On the sixth time, irritated that my hopes and desires had once again led me to Emory, I idly clicked on the application link. There, at the top, was a little notice saying that the application was free if I submitted it before Halloween.

A community opera performance

A community opera performance

Did I mention that I was making $500 a month and traveling the world in my spare time? Did you know that taking the GRE abroad costs even more money than in the US? In my head I weighed the two factors, living in Atlanta versus no application fee. Eventually, deciding I had nothing to lose, especially because applying didn’t mean attending and as the first application it was totally just a practice application anyway, I went all in.

Our two month winter break began in January, and I went home for the first time during my fellowship. During that time I was a bridesmaid in a wedding, met my new nephew, celebrated Spring Festival, hung out with my wonderful grandparents, and interviewed at Emory.

It was a beautiful day– perfectly sunny and in the high 40s– and everyone kept apologizing for the weather. The students were suspiciously laid-back and happy, and the faculty actually seemed to know some of their names. The word ‘collaboration’ was thrown around, and people actually meant it. The worst thing I could get people to complain about the program was Atlanta traffic. That’s it– that’s the only downside of being a neuroscientist at Emory. Even the outsides of the buildings were shiny (after living in a city that got regular dust-storms, I notice these things). As I was driven back to the airport, I remember looking at the houses we passed and wondering if I was going to live in one of them someday and how I was going to break the news to my grandparents.

I was accepted two days before returning to China. I didn’t have a phone that worked in the US, so I got the message by email. I decided to play it cool and wait an entire week before accepting my acceptance, during which I looked up the school colors and bought an Emory t-shirt.

SAU campus

SAU campus

Come spring in Taigu, when the dust storms were overtaking the campus and the students had run out of excuses for missing class and were telling me they couldn’t make it because they had “something to do,” I started searching craigslist for my perfect Atlanta apartment and my perfect Atlanta life. I looked up student groups and labs and waited breathlessly to be assigned a neurobuddy (Hi, James!).

I came back to the US on July 24th, and on August 15th I drove my entire life to Atlanta, and I have not looked back. It’s been really wonderful to meet you all.

*Incidentally, if anyone is interested in playing badminton or majiang, please give me a call.

 

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Faculty Interview: Dr. Joseph Manns

By David Bass

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADr. Joseph Manns is Assistant Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience and Animal Behavior Division, and a member of the training faculty in the Neuroscience Program.

Why did you switch from studying the human hippocampus in the Squire lab to studying the rodent hippocampus in the Eichenbaum lab?

Apparently, there are some legal issues with putting wires into people’s brains without proper licensure.

When new people join the lab, you make it clear that we are a memory lab that happens to use electrophysiology. Why choose this methodology?

True answer: Back when we were both still in grad school, I asked Beth Buffalo why she was switching to electrophysiology, and she had a really good answer.  Unfortunately, I now don’t remember what her answer was.

What advice do you have for graduate students in their first couple years?

Ask yourself what would make the modern academic life worth it and then do that.

David Bass

David Bass

If you could go back and do it all over again, what would you do differently and what decisions would you make again?

The other career paths that I considered were “professional basketball player” and “jazz pianist”.  Unfortunately, I’m not very good at basketball and don’t know how to play the piano.   So, if I went back in time, I probably would have picked “academic” again.

As a professor and a mentor, you’ve spent a lot of time teaching your students, but what, if anything, have you learned from them?

I’ve learned that they are paying attention a lot more often than you think they are.

Joe Manns, the early years

Joe Manns, the early years

Aspiring scientists seldom ask about starting a family. As a faculty member with a 2 year old son, what advice do you have on starting family?

Sleep deprivation makes you dumber.

You’ve mentored PhD students, MD/PhD students, and pre-med undergraduate students. Based on your interactions, what do you believe are important considerations for choosing between these 3 paths?

All three are probably bad decisions if something else would make you equally happy.

Let’s say I just bought a pork shoulder. How do I make it taste yummy?

225 degrees + hickory smoke + sugary/peppery rub + REALLY long time = taste of candied bacon.

If you could sit down and talk with anyone who is dead or alive, who would it be and what would you talk about?

Steve Jobs.  My question: why does the program “iTunesHelper.exe” always seem to be running on my computer when I don’t use iTunes or any other Apple products?  It’s really annoying.

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Nerd Wars: The Battle for Science Audiences in Atlanta

By Amielle Moreno

Science lovers’ calendars are filling up on weeknights, thanks to the weekly and monthly events hosted by Atlanta’s growing science/nerd scene. While both Atlanta Science Tavern and Nerd Nite can satisfy your science and booze cravings, they’re distinctly different in subject and clientele. Both organizations are hungry for speakers, so here’s the scoop before you decide to present or decide to attend.

Alright, who has a 401K?

Figure 1: Alright, who has a 401K?

Atlanta Science Tavern has scientists from around the Atlanta area, including Emory Professors, give professional talks about their research. Like a light version of our Frontiers seminar series, these events allow you to get a glimpse of the research going on around the city, while you share a table with someone who looks like your Uncle Hector.  If you’ve never been, this is as good a time as any to explain why you’re sitting next to a 65 year-old guy, who you have to split your check with. The Science Tavern generally occurs at the great Atlanta meeting house, Manuel’s Tavern, whose large wood tables have eight person capacities, giving you a chance to meet some new “friends” before the lecture begin.

This has to be the worst part of the Atlanta Science Tavern; the other audience members. Built into the start time of each event is an hour of what will be the most mundane conversation of your life. With a mean age of 65, your fellow patrons might be aggressively lonely people who have out of date social skills. To address or cause this issue, Atlanta Science Tavern hosts a monthly 40s and older singles group, which adds to the ‘recently divorced’ vibe of its events.

I love the spirit and the diversity of lecturers and events the Atlanta Science Tavern puts together, but it’s hard not to notice the sizable age gap between me and all the other attendees. The annual Trivia night was all science and impressively hard core, but not a single song played between questions was younger than the most recent turn of the century. Although I’ve tried to block it out of my memory, I heard one woman try to start a conversation for the table by stating “I have no idea what being a student is like now with the Internet.” (*insert Saved by the Bell time out*) She wasn’t asking anyone a question. She didn’t want to talk to us about this transitional technology and how its changed world views or education. She was talking at us about how hard she had to work, 40 years ago, in college. I can’t imagine a more effective combination of whining and ego, to push strangers away and, by the time the Georgia Tech professor began his presentation on the evolution of mRNA, I had reached the half-way point in chewing through my arm.

Now I can already hear some detractors now; “Amielle, I had a wonderful conversation with people at Science Tavern!” And to them, I say, stop #$%&ing on my point and let me talk at you some more.

Figure 2: Hey baby, I like those genes ...

Figure 2: Hey baby, I like those genes …

Enter Science Tavern’s cool younger brother, Nerd Nite. This hipster sweat fueled organization has chapters across the country and has just started up in Atlanta. Appealing to a much younger demographic, Nerd Nite invites speakers to talk about subjects they’re close to and inevitably ends up having at least one science-related speaker. But the speakers end up being the biggest detracting factor of these events. They rarely seem to cater to or understand the nerd audience and our love for facts or processes. It quickly becomes obvious and frustrating when you realize that speakers have cut and pasted a presentation from a sales pitch or another event for the Nerd Nite audience. They range the gamut from self-involved narcissist hungry for limelight (a presenter who used make-up to turn an audience member into a zombie and then had the gall to insult Mystery Science Theater Three thousand) to sales people hawking their own personal scenes or businesses (a woman from a DIY co-op eager to get new members). And the science is very watered down. At a recent Nerd Nite, a fellow Emory student and I were left uninfected by a superficial microbiome presentation. Although, there are surprises, such as when what I thought was going to be the most boring speaker of the night broke down how he was able to drive from NYC to LA in 28 hours. He shared his nerdiness by focusing on the extensive details and planning involved in his cannonball run, winning hearts and nerd minds.

Also hosted by Manuel’s Tavern, these events allow you to interact with a much younger crowd. Conversations at the table tend to flow easier without a generation gap … or two. Presenters could easily sit at your table, such as my favorite speaker, who works with three endangered species of lemurs, and presented on these ancient primates’ migration to Madagascar and their various environmental niches. It’s easy to make new friends, exchange ideas and numbers, while you discuss previous presenters during the musical breaks. This isn’t to say that all the conversations are gems.

Me (to table mate): So, what are you nerdy about?
Sack of @#$*: I’m not a nerd…
Me: … Oh… (silence) … Well, what do you do for work?
S o S: I’m in IT.
Me: Isn’t that kinda nerdy?
S o S: I don’t wanna talk about it…

In summary, go to the Atlanta Science Tavern, be the youngest person in the audience, bring friends and enjoy hearing professional scientists discuss a subject that fascinates you.

And/Or:

Go to Nerd Nite, soak up the 2:1 girl to guy ratio, enjoy one out of the night’s three speakers, and get some numbers.

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Philosopher’s Corner: The role of qualia in neuroscience

By Yaseen Jamal

YaseenPhilosopher David Chalmers has famously argued that neuroscience, in its current state, cannot comprehensively explain human consciousness. He admits that it can account for mechanical functions of the brain, such as cognitive integration of information, sensory processing, speech production, motor control, discrimination of stimuli, etc., and he labels this task the “easy problem” of consciousness. The consistency of these functions with current physics, chemistry, and biology seems clear and scientific research about such functions is already underway.

Chalmers also believes, however, that there is a “hard problem” of consciousness, which relates to the phenomenal, or subjective, properties of experience. According to him, the “hard problem” represents an impassible obstacle for neuroscience. He argues that the metaphysical features of the mind are entirely inconsistent with a physical worldview.

These phenomenal properties are termed qualia, and exclusively refer to the sensations, perceptions, affects, or “raw feels” that flavor our world and constitute the richness of human experience. For example, the redness of red, the raw feeling of pain, the particular taste of aged cheese, or the emotional state of anger are all subjective properties that demand explanation. How can it be that physical bodies experience anything at all?

Typically, qualia are defined by four characteristics. Qualia are private, meaning they cannot be known unless they are experienced through the first-person perspective. Qualia are intrinsic, which indicates that they are self-sufficient and independent of other items in experience. Qualia are also ineffable, signifying that the experience of qualia cannot be sufficiently conveyed through words alone. Finally, qualia are immediately accessible through consciousness, which means that knowledge of qualia is direct and certain, as opposed to knowledge of the physical world, which is indirect and logically deduced. Qualia, defined in this way, represent the most significant hurdle to materialistic explanations of consciousness because physical objects do not share these properties.

This definition, unfortunately, leads us down a murky path towards dualism, a philosophical position which asserts that there are two kinds of real substances: the physical substance out of which the universe is composed, and the non-physical substance out of which the mind is composed. Dualists, such as René Descartes, the 16th century French philosopher who coined the phrase, “I think, therefore I am,” would argue that the brain represents the nexus of these two substances.

The dualist position appears outdated and filled with deeper questions, the most prominent being the interaction problem: How might the two substances interact with each other? Surely the interaction cannot be physical nor can it be non-physical, so we must posit a third kind of substance to facilitate the interaction, which only leads to further regress.

Apart from this problem, the dualist position is unfalsifiable, escapes scientific analysis, and clearly does not offer the most parsimonious account of consciousness. Essentially, dualism identifies the most difficult questions about the brain and resorts to a childish replacement of intelligent explanation with an ambiguous metaphysical placeholder, hermetically sealing the explanatory gap with magic.

To scientists, this should seem like an unacceptable position that does not need to be taken seriously. Neuroscience must provide a reasonable account of qualia that is consistent with a scientific worldview. Philosopher Daniel Dennett took on this challenge in 1991, when he utilized an impressive volume of research in neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary biology, and especially computer science to develop a scientific theory of consciousness in his book, Consciousness Explained.

In essence, Dennett argued against the idea of a “Cartesian Theater,” the dualist model of consciousness in which sequences of neuronal firing somehow cross a finish line and result in a grand theatrical production of conscious experience that is observed by the metaphysical self. In its place, Dennett proposes the multiple drafts model of consciousness. His theory radically differs from the traditional understanding of the mind, and his discussion is detailed, scientific, and apparently comprehensive. Best of all, he does not purport to prove that materialism is true, but rather, he claims that the multiple drafts model is what a materialistic explanation would look like if consciousness is indeed a physical phenomenon.

Though I cannot adequately explain the model here, I want to point out an important outcome of his theory. Dennett ultimately concludes that qualia, as defined by David Chalmers, do not exist. He asserts that the phenomenal features of the perceived world are not actually qualia, but only seem like qualia, and that there is no “hard problem” of consciousness. Where Chalmers would argue that his experience consists of properties that are ineffable, private, intrinsic, and exclusively immediate, Dennett would respond by saying that it only seems like Chalmers’ experience has those properties. It is important to note that Dennett does not deny that humans have phenomenal experiences. Rather, he suggests that human brains are ill-equipped for the task of introspectively examining their phenomenal experiences, and he repeatedly emphasizes the idea that humans can be wrong about what they think they experience.

Still, the debate is ongoing, there is no definitive proof for either dualism or materialism, and we may never know whether qualia really exist or not. At this point in our discussion, it might be tempting to rule out the relevance of qualia in neuroscience. After all, if qualia do exist, they would be metaphysical and wholly inaccessible to scientific study, and if they don’t exist, then they can be thrown out of the discussion entirely.

I think this is a hasty conclusion. Granted, qualia, or the properties of experience which seem like qualia, need not be studied directly by neuroscience. This task is best left to phenomenology, the branch of philosophy that aims to describe the conscious experience and its underlying structure of perception. In relation to the goals of neuroscience, however, first-person descriptions of qualia can serve as valuable sources of information that might improve our understanding of the mind/brain, and, in turn, enhance our ability to treat and diagnose brain-related illnesses. Despite their ineffability, qualia can still be described or alluded to using analogies, metaphors, thought experiments, or examples, even though the full nature of the experience will not be conveyed.

Consider the issue of anesthesia awareness. Out of every 1,000 patients sedated with anesthesia, approximately one to two individuals will “wake up” during their operation, feeling the pains of flesh being cut, hearing the voices of the operating team, or facing the discomfort of a breathing tube in their throat without being able to move, speak, or otherwise indicate to the doctors that they are indeed conscious. This can be a severely traumatic experience with the potential to trigger Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for many patients.

The mechanisms of anesthesia are not yet fully understood, and it still unclear how anesthetics interrupt the continuity of the conscious experience. We cannot yet measure the degree of awareness in anesthetized patients nor do we precisely know which neuronal systems, in relation to conscious perception, are affected by the drugs. Perhaps first-person descriptions of experience from patients who have suffered from anesthesia awareness can offer an additional source of information that might supplement our knowledge about the mechanical effects of anesthesia on the brain.

Interestingly, first-person accounts of qualia might also inspire novel routes of research in neuroscience. For example, researchers at the Albert-Ludwigs-University of Frieburg in Germany examined the link between visual contrast perception and depression. They were partially motivated by subjective reports of altered color perception from depressed patients, as well as by the lingual relation between depression and color (ex. feeling blue). By using pattern electroretinogram (PERG), the researchers found a strong correlation between retinal contrast gain and severity of depression. This suggests that behavioral or mood disorders indeed have some effect on the conscious perception of color.

In this way, perhaps detailed, first-person descriptions of experience from high-functioning autistic patients or schizophrenics can offer an additional source of information that might improve our clinical understanding of these ailments or inspire novel paths of scientific inquiry. Alternatively, these descriptions would be essential should neuroscience aim to fully understand the effects of pharmacological treatments for psychiatric disorders. At the moment, it appears that reductionist attitudes might have some limitations that are worth considering, and that there may be some pragmatic benefits for neuroscience from the use of subjective accounts of qualia.

Still, it is possible that the neuroscience of the future could fully understand the mind solely through a mechanical understanding of the brain without any need for the first-person perspective. But until that time comes, I think that qualia will retain their potential to serve as a useful concept in neuroscience research, regardless of whether they exist or not.

Sources:

Tye, Michael, “Qualia”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2013/entries/qualia/.

Dennett, Daniel, Consciousness Explained, Boston, Little Brown & Co., (1991), print.

Lang, Joshua, “Awakening”, The Atlantic (January 2013), URL= http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/01/awakening/309188/.

Bubl, E., et al. (2010). Seeing Gray When Feeling Blue? Depression Can Be Measured in the Eye of the Diseased. Biol. Psychiatry 68: 205-208. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.02.009.

Posted in Philosopher's Corner, Scientific Interest | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Emory Grad Students Cycling for AIDS Vaccine Research

By Rachel Ann Cliburn

emory photo card (1)As the crow flies, it’s about 200 miles from London to Paris. Of course, no one in London or Paris would dare use miles instead of kilometers, but that’s beside the point. 200 miles is also the distance of the May 17th-18th AIDS Vaccine 200 Ride (simply “the AV200,” for those in the know). Each rider is asked to raise at least $500 for HIV/AIDS vaccine research at the Emory Vaccine Center.

I first heard about the AV200 from 3rd year NSC student and Biker Extraordinaire Jordan Kohn, who not only completed the ride last year, but finished first on the first day. He is also the captain of this year’s GDBBS AV200 team, the Restless Legs. Jordan praised how the AV200 is “superbly managed and organized.” Leading up to the event, there’s an abundance of free training opportunities. During the ride, there are regular snack-laden pit stops, constantly patrolling vehicles, and an on-site bike repair shop. As someone who had long used biking for transportation, had tried her hand (body?) at triathlons, and was itching to properly break in her new yellow road bike (Sunshine Pegasus, currently making its second home at the Yerkes corral), the idea of training for and completing such a rigorous ride sounded extremely attractive.

My idea of attractive was redefined when I met the legs of 4th year NSC student and AV200 rider Tom Hennessey. His ankles have made girls swoon. I’ve seen it. I wrote a song about it. His motivation in taking part of the AV200 last year and again this year is “a) to raise to money for AIDS research, obv, because it’s important stuff and also research generally I like supporting and b) to test myself and my magnificent legs.” Exactly Tom. Exactly.

Claire Thurman, Rachel Ann Cliburn, Tom Hennessey, and Jordan Kohn

Claire Thurman, Rachel Ann Cliburn, Tom Hennessey, and Jordan Kohn

Though training with the Restless Legs will be fun, and I know the ride itself will be a blast, there is so much more to the AV200 than a long, 2-day bike ride. 100% of funds raised through the AV200 will go towards the Emory Vaccine Center’s effort to develop a vaccine for HIV/AIDS. Part of what interests me in research is the ability to work towards knowledge that can alleviate current suffering. This ride is a way to do so immediately, to physically work towards that goal. 200 miles is a measurable distance: one could eat a proper English breakfast and 200 miles later have escargot for dinner. But in this case, 200 miles is the tangible representation of something intangible—it is the distance to a promising future for those exposed to a devastating disease.

If the AV200 sounds like something you’d like to support, there are a couple of ways you can get involved. If you would like to be a part of our team, we would love to have you! Jordan says, “People of all skill levels participated. It’s not a race, just a casual, friendly ride.” You don’t have to be in perfect condition right now, or even own a top-of-the-line bike (Tom rode last year without clips…because with legs like that, who needs efficiency?). We currently have 6 members on team Restless Legs, and are looking for 4 more. It’s absolutely not too late to start training and fundraising, and Emory will reimburse your registration fee. If biking isn’t for you but you’d still like to help out, check out our team fundraising page. We would be grateful for any donation, no matter the size. Lastly, if you see one of us in the halls, we’d love your encouragement. Ask us about training, or complement our sore gams. We’re excited to be representing Emory in the AV200–go team Restless Legs!

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DSAC Symposium: Review

By Tyra Lamar

On Friday, January 10th, students traveled from near (Woodruff Memorial) and far (Yerkes) to present both visual and oral proof of their productivity. I am happy to say that the Neuroscience program was well represented at this event, with three students giving talks and ten presenting posters.

James Burkett’s discussion of partner consolation in prairie voles was a triumph of vole monogamy, I appreciated the translational undertones of Ariana Mullin’s discoveries in fly homeostasis at the NMJ, and Leila Myrick’s functional study of two new Fragile X mutations has inspired me in my own disease work. Great talks, Guys!

As for the posters, well let’s just say that I almost forgot to grab my free lunch. As I scanned the floor for familiar faces, I was overwhelmed by gorgeous figures and significant results. Here’s to successful thesis projects!

photo(4)

Kelly Lohr

Andrew Swanson and Sam Rose

Andrew Swanson and Sam Rose

Karl Schmidt

Karl Schmidt

Don Noble

Don Noble

Jordan Kohn

Jordan Kohn

As proof of our program’s general awesomeness, Neuroscience students even took home awards! Congrats to Karl Schmidt, who won third place for his poster on the effect of noradrenergic activation in the locus ceruleus on operant behavior (yay optogenetics!). Congratulations also to Todd Deveau, whose immunofluorescence image won best in show. Special thanks to everyone who participated and came to support!

 

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