Feeling the stress of an academic career? Think happy thoughts!

A recent study published in the journal Stress & Health surveyed the mental health and coping strategies of 200 postdocs at UT Austin and found that individuals who thought positively were better able to cope with the stress of an academic position.

“Thinking positively can do more than bring a transient smile to your face. Postdocs who experience high levels of positive emotions are less likely to suffer from stress-associated anxiety or depression than other postdocs are, according to a recent study of 200 University of Texas (UT), Austin, postdoctoral fellows, 79% of whom work in the sciences. One apparent link between positive thoughts and reduced anxiety and depression is resilience: More positive emotion was correlated with high resilience, which in turn was linked to fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

A happy scientist.

A happy scientist.

Read more about the study here.

SURVEY: How bad was that Science cover and do you care?

The July 11 cover of Sciencegot a lot of press coverage last week. You can read about the variety of responses here, here, here, here or here (to name a few). But if you haven’t heard, Science chose to feature transgender sex workers from Jakarta on the cover of their “Staying a step ahead of HIV/AIDS” special issue, allegedly to highlight this “at risk” group. Unfortunately, the choice felt mostly like objectification and/or exploitation to some because the image was sexual (high heels, short skirts and the women were head/face-less). After a Twitter storm – including some pretty unprofessional responses from a Science editor – Science issued a short apology (cover image can be seen here too).

I’ve been wondering what the masses really think about this.

HERE IS MY 2 QUESTION SURVEY

(survey now closed – results are here!)

… for people to please answer as honestly as possible. Basically, how well chosen do you think the cover art was and how much do you care?

Thanks you guys! I’ll post the responses in a week or so. Did I mention please answer? There are even “I don’t know” and “I don’t care”  options, so everyone can participate!

On the scale of Bruce Banner to Incredible Hulk – how angry are you?

PS – All the “Staying a step ahead of HIV/AIDS” articles are open access! Check ‘em out!

Scientists at work among the Joshua trees

When he’s not dismantling racist pseudoscience, Chris Smith studies the evolutionary ecology of species interactions. Willamette University sent along a videographer on Chris’s last field trip to study Joshua trees and the moths that pollinate them in central Nevada, and the result is now posted on Vimeo. It’s mainly geared toward showcasing how Willamette undergraduate students participate in the fieldwork, but I’d say it makes the desert look mighty good, too.

The future of teaching?

Is this cuddly mug the future face of teaching?

I’ve recently become a big fan of IPython Notebook – I use it to keep track of command-line analyses and the thoughts/rationale/questions I have as I’m running them. But Greg Caporaso has another good use – an interactive textbook for teaching bioinformatics. In this blog post, he describes in detail how the textbook came about and how to get a copy for yourself.

Because the IPython Notebooks are interactive, students can (and actually do!) work with the notebooks in class and at home to experiment with the code, which drives active learning of the concepts. For example, one student this semester told us about his experiments with Smith-Waterman gap open penalties of 1000, and about what happens when you make the gap penalties negative (so they effectively become gap rewards; hint: you get a lot of gaps, but if want to see for yourself, install the notebook and try it out).

 

HOORAY for Basic Science Research! And duck genitalia

Basic science =  scientific questions that are founded in understanding theory, or the natural world around us

Applied science = scientific research that is directly applicable to humans. i.e. Cancer research

The last few years of financial crisis have seen a rise in criticism over basic scientific research. NPR does a great job of summarizing the criticisms and explaining why seeking to understand duck genitalia is a solid biological question.

istock-3955747-muscovy-duck-grass_custom-ff48dcc2ce767e2ee93f8c7e7e46fc9622208bff-s4-c85

A guide to the science and pseudoscience of A Troublesome Inheritance, part III: Has natural selection produced significant differences between races?

This is the third in a series of guest posts in which Chris Smith will examine the evolutionary claims made in Nicholas Wade’s book A Troublesome Inheritance. You can read part I here, and part II here. Chris is an Associate Professor of Evolutionary Ecology at Willamette University. He uses population genetic approaches to understand coevolution of plants and insects, and he teaches the interdisciplinary course “Race, Racism, and Human Genetics” with Emily Drew.

A Troublesome Inheritance was published in 2014 by Penguin Books. Cover image via Google Books.

This spring former New York Times science writer, Nicholas Wade, released his latest book on human evolution, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History. In it, Wade argues that genetic studies completed in the eleven years since the Human Genome Project was completed reveal real and important differences between human races. Unsurprisingly, the book’s release has been met with a sharply divided critical reception.Whereas the book has been widely embraced by those on the political right, and by the white identity movement, it has been panned by anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, and population geneticists. For the last two weeks at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense, I’ve been looking in depth at the literature that Wade uses to support his ideas. Last week I considered Wade’s argument that natural selection acting on the MAO-A gene – a neurotransmitter implicated in aggression and impulsivity – has led to behavioral differences between races. This week I will consider Wade’s larger claim that natural selection has produced numerous differences between races.

Throughout the book Wade continually repeats the mantra that natural selection on humans has been “recent, copious, and regional.” It would be hard to find an evolutionary biologist that would disagree with these rather vague pronouncements. Indeed, there are a multitude of studies showing that natural selection has acted on humans, and there is persuasive evidence that selection has caused evolutionary changes in human populations as we have adapted to diverse environments over the course of the last several thousand years (see, for example, Yi et al., 2010).

However, scratching the surface reveals that when he says that natural selection has been “recent, copious, and regional,” what Wade actually means is that natural selection has been “radical, complete, and racial.” By Wade’s account, natural selection has dramatically reshaped the human genome, producing major differences between races. This much more dramatic interpretation is entirely unsupported by the literature, however. In truth, Wade vastly overstates the portion of the human genome that shows evidence for natural selection, and where there has been recent natural selection acting on humans, its effect has primarily been to create genetic differences between members of the same race, and similarities between people of different races.

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Q: What do your friends and your fourth cousins have in common?

you smell

A: Their genetic relatedness to you.

A new study out in PNAS this week suggests that you may have even more in common with your friends than you think.  In particular, you are more likely to share your sense of smell.

“People often talk about how their friends feel like family. Well, there’s some new research out that suggests there’s more to that than just a feeling. People appear to be more like their friends genetically than they are to strangers, the research found.  Some of the genes that friends were most likely to have in common involve smell. “We tend to smell things the same way that our friends do,” Fowler says. The study involved nearly 2,000 adults.”

Read (or listen) to the story at NPR (or check out the original article here for more data and less speculation).