Book Review: Lab Girl

by Erica Akhter


labgirlI stumbled upon Lab Girl as I was walking into my usual bookstore looking for coffee and free WIFI. I don’t spend much time these days reading for pleasure, but the title and cover intrigued me. “Lab girl,” I thought, “Hmm. I am that.”

As it turns out, I’m actually not, at least not in the same way the author is. And that has complicated immensely how I think about my relationship with science and my future career, but I’m extremely grateful I read it anyway.

As soon as I picked up the book (actually, as soon as I plugged in my headphones because I rented it from the library for FREE) I couldn’t put it down. Lab Girl made me laugh, made me cry, and despite having listened to it over a year ago, I still think about it—or stress about it—on at least a weekly basis.

Lab Girl is the nationally best selling memoir of the remarkably successful geobiologist Hope Jahren, now a professor at the University of Hawaii. Throughout the book, Jahren describes how she developed from a curious and outdoorsy girl playing in her father’s lab into a radically determined woman who successfully built her career despite struggles with funding, mental health and men in power who regarded femininity as weakness.

Jahren’s style is first and foremost one of storytelling. She writes about her experiences frankly and with such candor that it’s almost uncomfortable. The majority of her adult life was spent with the singular focus and determination that most developing scientists wish they could harness. It is clear, though, through her anecdotes that this remarkable concentration came with a high price. A feeling of loneliness permeates the book and this sense is strikingly juxtaposed with the love and passion Jahren illustrates when talking about her science and the relationships she built because of, and eventually in spite of, it

To me, the most striking aspect of Jahren’s perspective is the absolute reverence she has for both the things she studies and the way she studies them. Only the most gifted scientist and teacher could make a mass spectrometer sound at the same time magical, interesting, and completely comprehensible for even a majority-lay audience. When speaking about plants, or lab equipment, or—eventually—people she venerates, Jahren’s writing becomes hauntingly beautiful, bordering on poetic. Her descriptions of the most complex and seemingly mundane processes are both educational and awe-inspiring. These are the parts of the book that explain the drive it took for Jahren to make it through the many challenges, disappointments and exhilarating discoveries that true lovers of science live through and live for. These are the parts that may explain to those non-scientists in your life why you’re willing to work to answer big questions for little money. If you’re anything like me, these descriptions are also the parts that may make you question whether your own passion is sufficient enough to push you through the struggles that come with life inside academia.

Two things are guaranteed if you decide to read Lab Girl. One, that you will develop a new respect for plants and the workings and lessons of nature. Two, you will reexamine your own love affair with science, what it can take from you and what it will give you. It’s definitely worth your time.

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Alumni Spotlight: Laura Mariani

by Kristie Garza


CS_mariani_pic

Laura Mariani, Ph.D.

Year of Graduation: 2016

Advisor: Tamara Caspary

Dissertation Title:
The Role of Arl13b and Non-Canonical Sonic Hedgehog Signaling in Joubert Syndrome

Current Position and Position Description:
Associate at Isaacson, Miller, an executive search consulting firm. When universities, non-profit organizations, and other mission-driven institutions need to find new leaders, they hire us to guide them through the complex process of identifying the challenges and opportunities that their next leader will face and bringing in experts who are up to the task. I specialize in recruiting senior administrators, deans, and department chairs in higher education, academic medicine, scientific research, and health care. I also help my firm recruit PhDs to join our team!

Did you choose to stay in academia? Why or why not?
By the end of my PhD I was pretty sure I didn’t want to do a postdoc. I loved working in research, but I wanted to move into a career where the things I was really passionate about in grad school — like serving on the Graduate Student Council and the executive board of Emory Women in Neuroscience — were viewed as valuable achievements rather than as distractions from the “most important” stuff in the lab. And, I’ll admit that money was also a factor.

What is one thing you have learned since graduation?
I recruit people in lots of different specialties, so I’m always learning! My projects have involved searches in pathology, nursing, family medicine, and lots of other fields I knew nothing about when I started this job. I’ve learned a lot about the health care industry. Also, I travel a lot, so I’ve learned some tricks for maximizing frequent flyer miles and hotel points!

What kind of skills did you learn in graduate school that were transferable to your new job?
I use my problem-solving skills all the time, it’s just a different set of problems. Instead of thinking about individual molecules, cells, or experiments, I think about large organizations made up of people with many different agendas, and how I can help them solve their problems. Being able to take in lots of information and spit out a coherent summary that highlights the key questions and prioritizes the next steps is a skill that I learned doing literature reviews, but it’s translatable to almost any career path.

Describe something that graduate school did not prepare you for.
By the end of grad school you should hopefully have learned that there’s no shame in being the person at lab meeting who goes “Uh, what? I have no idea what that means.” But as a consultant in a client meeting, you do not want to look ignorant! You’re there to sell your expertise and to portray the company you work for in a good light. Presentations and meetings feel more high-stakes in the business world. No one in grad school ever acted like I had the power to represent Emory University as a whole, but sometimes I am seen in that way as a representative of my employer.

What is a piece of advice you would offer graduate students?
Have a Plan B. Even if you want an academic career, force yourself to think about the next best alternative and make sure that you develop skills that are relevant to that alternative. Look at job postings and see what skills are actually in demand outside of academia. It’s totally possible to develop very marketable skills in the course of conducting your dissertation research: consider whether your dissertation project is relevant for clinical research or industry R&D, learn to code, learn translatable skills in statistics and data analytics, do science writing to build up a portfolio, do an internship. Life is unpredictable, and no one has ever said, “Gee, I wish I had FEWER options right now” on their graduation day.

Any final words of wisdom?
I met the most amazing people at Emory who will be my friends for life. They were there for me when stuff got real, and they made all the grad school struggles worthwhile. That said, you should also have friends who AREN’T grad students. Keep a healthy, balanced sense of perspective: failed experiments are frustrating and heartbreaking, but they aren’t the literal end of the world. Academic research is an amazing career path, but it’s not the only way to live a happy, fulfilling life. I took up running and singing in grad school because I needed to feel like I was making successful progress at SOMETHING, and the friends I made through those hobbies helped me remember that there’s more to life than mice and western blots.

Can students in our program contact you regarding career advice?
Yes! I can be reached at lmariani@gmail.com or on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lauraemariani/

 

Insider Food and Drink Tips for D.C. SfN 2017

By Amielle Moreno

If you’re one of the many hard-working young graduate students attending SfN in D.C. this year, congratulations! Luck has it, my old friend Liz is a D.C. chef and is giving you the inside scoop on some of the great food spots D.C. has to offer. And I know you’re a grad student, so we won’t strain the per-diem.

Right now, Shaw is the hottest neighborhood in D.C. for eats and night life and it’s located just north of the convention center. Get familiar with the street naming conventions – numbered streets will cross lettered streets – as you explore what the locals call “9th and 7th street.”

Smoked & Stacked’s homemade pastrami is just a couple blocks from the convention center, on 9th, and will fulfill all your sandwich dreams.

DC9 has no right to have such good food since it’s also a happening live music venue. At 9th and U street, DC9 has “banging fried chicken and solid bar food burgers named after bands,” says Liz. Local tip: check out the great roof top deck if you have good weather.

Or if drinks before, during, and after the conference is your thing, there’s a mid-west Chicago style dive bar called Ivy and Coney on 7th street with beer & shot specials, Italian beef sandwiches, and $5 hotdogs.

For the oyster and fancy cocktail lovers, check out the industrial styled Eat the Rich around five blocks from the conventions center.

As we move slightly more of a Lyft ride away from the convention center, there’s a spot that Liz called “ridiculous” at least three times. Archipelago on 11th and U street is a tiki bar that will fulfill all your dreams of crazy convention stories and giant flaming rum punches.

While a dinner at Ghibilina on 14th could run you around $30, their happy hour $8 pizzas and $6 paninis won’t bust your travel budget (but will require a ride).

For upscale post-conference drinks or dinner say hi to Liz’s new husband Jon, who is a chef at the popular happy hour spot Thally. Shameless plug? I doubt that Liz would ever recommend, let alone tolerate, a bad restaurant. But check out all the good reviews (and the roasted duck breast!) if you’re skeptical.

While some of you will be suckered into tourist attractions, like the greasy late night spot Ben’s Chilli Bowl, I hope you can check out some of the spots cultivated by my best friend just for you. If you want to taste her work, visit Chef Liz at Buffalo & Bergen for brunch and bagels inside the Union Market, two miles from the convention center.

Feel free to comment with your recommendations below! Safe travels!

 

Smoked & Stacked 1239 9th St NW Washington, DC 20001

Ivy and Coney 1537 7th St NW Washington, DC 20001 at N Q St

Eat the Rich1839 7th St NW Washington, DC 20001 b/t S St & T St

Archipelago 1201 U St NW Washington, DC 20009 b/t N 13th St & N 12th St

Thally 1316 9th St NW Washington, DC 20001 b/t O St & N St

Ghibellina 1610 14th St NW Washington, DC 20009 b/t N Q St & N Corcoran St

Ben’s Chili Bowl 1213 U St NW Washington, DC 20009 b/t N 13th St & N 12th St

Buffalo & Bergen 1309 5th St NEUnion Market Washington, DC 20002

 

Anzar and Amielle Save Your Inbox

by Amielle Moreno


You might have noticed a change in your Emory inbox of late. The ubiquitous e-mail forwards from the GDBBBS office are less frequent. One of the responsibilities of the GDBBS office is to communicate opportunities with the student body. We all know how this worked. Administrators would receive an e-mail that requested an announcement be shared with the list serve. With no edits, these e-mails were forwarded directly to your inbox, including messages directed to administrators (example below). Forwards would be made two to six times a week. NO MORE!

GDBBS emails
Forward directly to your trash

Thanks to your fellow graduate students Anzar Abbas and yours truly, the rein of forwards is over. It happened August 31st during a GDBBS administrator’s meeting concerning communication and outreach. Anzar and I were asked to attend. Towards the end of this meeting, Director Nael McCarty addressed how the office currently engages with the GDBBS students. With limited time before I needed to start a new experiment and too much coffee, I had gotten bold with my feedback: “Well, we get those e-mails from **RETRACTED BY EDITOR ELIZABETH BARFIELD** all the time…”

“What?” **RETRACTED BY EDITOR ELIZABETH BARFIELD** rose her head from her note taking.

“You know, you forward us GDBBS list serve request e-mails when you receive them. It’s really hard to keep up with.” **RETRACTED BY EDITOR ELIZABETH BARFIELD** was stunned, almost confused. For a moment I thought I had confused **RETRACTED BY EDITOR ELIZABETH BARFIELD** with someone else.

“Do you do that?” asked McCarty but **RETRACTED BY EDITOR ELIZABETH BARFIELD** was still without words. “This is what we’re here to address.”

Anzar and I went on to describe how difficult it was to keep up. Students want to find opportunities but, since half of the e-mail forwards don’t apply to our goals, the bulk are ignored. Additionally, some are short notice and the event has happened before we can read them. I did not share how a number of graduate student sources say they filter GDBBS e-mails directly to their trash, to keep their inbox orderly. Or maybe I did say that, I was pretty caffeine high and glad to finally be addressing something that directly affected students.

Instead of sending out any request upon receiving it, we recommended they be bundled, much like the GSC announcements, into a single weekly e-mail. The administration listened. On September 28th, **RETRACTED BY EDITOR ELIZABETH BARFIELD** sent out the first ‘Weekly GDBBS Student E-Mail Update’ and the inboxes of over 400 graduate students got lighter.

GDBBS emails
You’re welcome

Review of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

by Rachel Cliburn


[[WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS]]

CS_Cliburn_bookreview_Oct2017_coverThe winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature normally comes as a surprise. Japanese-British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro was a dark horse contender for the esteemed award. Though he’s had commercial success (two of his books were made into movies), such popularity is normally a factor that precludes favor from the Swedish Academy. But as part of the award announcement, the secretary of the academy describes his work as a mix of “Jane Austen and Franz Kafka….but you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix.”

I had never read any of Ishiguro’s works, or seen any movie adaptations of his novels. After he was awarded the Nobel at the beginning of this month, I read Never Let Me Go. It had sat on my ‘to-read’ shelf for years, as I never felt motivated to read about British boarding school life.

Y’all. So glad I read it. Never Let Me Go is the story of a 30-something-year-old woman, Kathy, looking back on her time at an art-oriented private boarding school in the British countryside. [[SPOILERS AHEAD]] As the reader is immersed in Kathy’s first-person recounting of her young social life and coming-of-age struggles, you also come to realize that something’s not quite right. For one, Kathy has no memories before the boarding school. No one comes to visit them, and they never meet people from the ‘outside world.’ The teachers tell the students that they are different, and that they should never dream of having any other job than the one set out for them. They are told that they will have to make “donations” after they leave the school. And why do the students have to make so much art—art that the school administrators regularly confiscate? The reader gradually comes to realize that the students are human clones, created with the sole purpose of donating organs for the benefit of ‘normal’ humans. We learn that while most clones are raised in factory farms, the art-heavy boarding school is an experimental environment to see if clones have souls (as revealed by their artistic works). Kathy looks back on all of this, reminiscing on her idyllic youth right before she is required to give up her body.

What a ride. I’ve never read a book that is so slow-paced but so gripping. This book straddles memoir, romance, sci-fi, and horror genres, with a very generous heaping of classic British understatements and meaningful small moments. The narrator, Kathy, is never bitter, accusing, or sad about her fate. She doesn’t ask questions about her society. That is left entirely up to the reader. The book is essentially an ethics prompt—it never actually addresses the questions that it provokes.

It’s obvious to the reader that Kathy has a soul. Her childhood friends are sometimes cruel, but it never crosses the reader’s mind that they are empty, or anything less than human. However, Kathy and her friends are completely accepting of their fate as organ donors. My 21st century sensibilities tell me that the fictional clone organ donor program is awful–totally morally repugnant. Another character describes the positive side to human cloning: “by the time people became concerned about… about students, by the time they came to consider just how you were reared, whether you should have been brought into existence at all, well by then it was too late. There was no way to reverse the process. How can you ask a world that has come to regard cancer as curable, how can you ask such a world to put away that cure, to go back to the dark days? There was no going back. However uncomfortable people were about [clone] existence, their overwhelming concern was that their own children, their spouses, their parents, their friends did not die from cancer, motor neuron disease, heart disease.”

If we lived in a future society in which diseases were curable, at the expense of a perfectly willing sub-caste of clones, would we do it?  Would we feel compassionate towards the clones? Would it be worth educating them, pretending that they have any function in society outside of their ultimate death? Would it be more compassionate to keep them mentally handicapped, so that they never were aware of the extent of their own sacrifice? Again, my gut recoils at the thought of willingly creating such a system, but I’m not sure how steadfast I could be if I had a child with cancer.

The genius of Never Let Me Go is that the focus is on the relationships and the small moments in Kathy’s life. It doesn’t focus on these looming ethical questions. The reader is gently brought into this world, and the horror and complexities of its reality settle in very slowly. I recommend this book, particularly for people interested in modern medical research ethics.

2017 Retreat Newsletter

by Elizabeth Barfield

If you couldn’t make it to the Neuroscience Program’s annual retreat weekend this year to pick up a copy of the Central Sulcus’ printed newsletter (retreat edition), you can check out some of the articles here!

For the “Status of Statistics” article, syllabi from the courses described can be downloaded here.

 

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2017 Eclipse Coverage

by Amielle Moreno

The eclipse was a celebrated experience across America, especially for the scientific community. Researchers across Emory University campus poured out of laboratories and joined in make-shift viewing parties. Rollins Research Building had its own celebratory group, partaking in eclipse glasses fashion shows and using the green space for crescent tree shadows gazing.

Rollins group
Professors and students alike compare glasses, and makeshift pinholes in the green space outside of Rollins Research Center.
Neuro students
Blind yet stylish Neuroscience students follow auditory cues to face the right way for photos. Left to Right: Olivia Moody, Varun Saravanan, David Nicholson, Lyndie Wood.
Caddie plate shadows
A well-caddie is the toast of the town as scientists gather around to view the crescent shadows it casts.

Caddie plate shadows

Crescent rays
Article author soaking up the crescent rays.
Eclipse shooting
Turns out the selfie-mode-viewing we were told online was possible … wasn’t. In search of that quintessential eclipse shot, many turned to using our eclipse glasses as cell phone camera filters. Lyndie Wood.
Eclipse tanning
Professors, post-docs and graduate students lay out looking for that special eclipse tan.
Stylish
Stylish in science, these ladies make the eclipse easy on the eyes: Left to Right: Stephanie Pollitt, Kim Lang.
Rollins group
Scenes like this occurred across America and the Emory Campus.
Goals
With the eclipse in our past, graduate students now focus themselves on new and exciting goals as detailed in the sign outside of Rollin’s 2nd floor neuroscience lounge.