Congrats to my students!

Date: May 5th, 2016 | Canada, Education, Lab life, Neurobiology | 0 comments

Kudos to my two trainees Chiu-An Lo and Ibrahim Kays, who were awarded a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Brain Star award for 2016!

A well-deserved $1500 for them, they worked super hard on this project over the years. Their science game is strong.

With Vedrana Cvetkovska winning in 2013, I now have a 100% hit rate for my grad students winning this CIHR award!


Date: February 14th, 2014 | Biology, Education, Neurobiology, Science Outreach, video | 0 comments

Below is a video made by describing one of our papers:

Here is a clip of me describing some of the work that we do in the lab:

Brian Chen interview video link

Get the most out of your money for your university education

Date: November 27th, 2013 | Education | 1 msg

Class lectures.  I like giving them, but every year I know students don’t learn the material very well.  All professors know this, hundreds of years of history have shown this, and “[a] huge body of evidence2 suggests that [other] approaches are much more effective than lecture-and-drill-based techniques” (Waldrop, 2013, Nature).

I do not think I have a monopoly on hidden, specific knowledge that only by going to my class will you be able to learn it.  I do not think I am the best lecturer in the world and I absolutely believe there are other people out there that can lecture better than I can.  Knowledge is getting more and more accessible and cheaper and cheaper.  With all of the world’s information at our fingertips in the form of online articles, books, audio, video, and forums, students now have the option of learning anything they want, very easily.  So what are they paying money for, for their college education?  Let’s look 20 years into the future where all lectures on all topics are freely available, delivered by the best orators, in high definition video and audio, along with the rest of the online resources available to look up any information; what’s the point of going to class?  Of paying thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars for an education?  Here’s what I think students should be paying for:

1. The college experience (i.e., extending their education and broadening their horizons).

2. To lead a more examined life (i.e., learning how to think critically).

3. Access to their like-minded peers.

4. Access to professors.

5. Access to research.

6. The diploma.

The individual student knows best what type of learner they are.  Visual?  Auditory?  Books?  Doesn’t matter, we now can accommodate all types of learners, so that they aren’t “dropp[ing] 150 grand on a … education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!

Again, I believe they should be paying for access to their peers and the professors.  Certainly, upper level journal club style discussion classes are awesome, but for broad lectures for more than 20 students?  The progression of novel technology to enhance education seems to be: books -> audio -> video -> artificial intelligence.  Thus, from now on, I’m going to upload videos of all of my lectures with the lecture slides freely available beforehand for my students.  (Along with an FAQ for the pseudo-artificial intelligence part of it.)  Class time then, will only be used for small group discussions of the material the students will (hopefully) have already prepared for.  Book learner?  Read the recommended readings in the handouts.  Visual or audio learner?  Watch or listen to the videos.  Discussion style learner?  Come to class and discover the material with peers, or interact with me.  Now students can really ask themselves “What am I paying for?”, and they can take more charge of their own education.  In 20 years from now, all classes and lectures will be available, guaranteed.  So why would they ever take my class?  Why would they ever take any class?  Why would they ever pay any money for an education?

There should never be a monopoly on knowledge (shout out to GeneDig!!); what you should pay money for are things pure knowledge can’t provide.

Thanks GeneDig

Date: October 30th, 2013 | Biology, General science, Lab life, Neurobiology | 0 comments

I was curious about trinucleotide repeat disorders like Huntington’s disease and where the trinucleotide repeats occurred in the Huntingtin RNA, near beginning, middle, or end of the RNA?  I first tried looking up the huntingtin gene (HTT) in NCBI and then realized this was going to take a while—and wouldn’t be reasonable for the rest of the trinucleotide repeat disorders I was also curious about.  Then I realized that even the normal HTT gene should have a few trinucleotide repeats, so I looked up HTT using GeneDig and found the CAGCAGCAG repeats immediately.

I then repeated this for the other trinucleotide repeat disorders and even found whether the repeats were in the Untranslated Region of the RNA or not.  Sweet.  GeneDig.

A Proposal for New Investigators

It’s exciting being a new investigator.

Here is a proposal I have for other new investigators:

As a new principal investigator (PI) I encourage other new PIs to hire underprivileged youths from high school as lab assistants into their new lab.

Typically when you are a new investigator:

You are going to spend most of your time opening boxes and setting up and organizing your new lab.
You are going to spend every second in the lab, obsessing over your lab.
You are young and have less personal obligations at this point in your life.
You know you’re going to spend a lot of time mentoring your first hire anyways.
You do a lot of menial tasks, but you want them done right, your way.

So, give a kid a chance to earn it.

Hire a kid from an underprivileged background in science FTW:

Compared to a normal tech (not a super expensive one that many new PIs with a ton of startup want to get):

  1. 1. They are cheaper – Win for you
  2. 2. They are very eager – Win for you
  3. 3. They are willing to work hard and “earn it” – Win for you
  4. 4. You get a technician that you personally trained from the ground up – Win for you
  5. 5. They get a full-time job; fulfills any financial needs that may be holding the student back – Win for them
  6. 6. They get a highly trained Professor devoting his/her full attention to training and mentoring them – Ridiculous win for them
  7. 7. They get rewarding employment at a University setting simultaneously educating themselves and generating valuable real world skills – Win for them
  8. 8. They get first-hand experience in research, unequivocally the best teaching tool to learn science – Win for them
  9. 9. They will get a reference letter from you eventually, probably opening many more doors than would have previously been available before you met them – Win for them
  10. 10. You set a good example – Win for everybody
  11. 11. Science communication is a skill that you need to work on – Win for you, Win for science
  12. 12. Give back to your community, teach a local from the general public – Win for everybody
  13. 13. You are giving them a chance they normally wouldn’t have – Win for them

One thing to be clear about though, you have to be very confident that you can pick good people and you should have (reasonably) high standards, and not be afraid to interview a lot of people.

I’ve done it, and it’s definitely a win-win for everybody, and it’s a lot of fun and exciting starting a new lab with someone equally excited.

It’s very rewarding and if you do your job right, trust me, you will create an ambassador to science, especially if you can target those in rural, economically disadvantaged, and aboriginal communities.

Full disclosure: I was a high school dropout, no GED.  Pay it forward.