Utilizing Pink and Blue to denote gender in graphs

As a thorough data nerd (please see my new brunch site, in which I insist all my fellow brunch goers fill out a survey so I can skip home and tabulate the data), I spend a lot of time thinking about colors in charts. What are color blind friendly? What are the best colors to demonstrate the idea I’m interested in? Are they consistent throughout the presentation/report/paper/poster?

Which is why I found this medium post about gender and colors so interesting.

“So with the impact of the #MeToo movement and the widespread reporting of the gender pay gap, perhaps now is the time to uncouple pink and blue from their gender associations. The question is: are chartmakers ready to step up to the challenge?”

*Also, before I get emails: I know this isn’t a biology post. It’s a data nerd post. I can wear many hats, deal with it.



Here’s what we really know about transgender genetics—so far

In an awesome piece over at the Genetic Literacy project, Ricki Lewis what is known (and what is largely overblown) about transgender genetics.

TL;DR: It’s a bit too soon to screen for transgender genes, beyond the usual genome wide association studies, and we really should be asking ourselves if, ethically, this is a road we want to go down.

Also, journalist can run with an abstract and things get out of hand quickly. But I’m fairly certain we all already knew that.



Being the non-academic boss lady



I have become the person my academic friends send their students to when they make noises about leaving the academia. I even have a piece out for Versatile PhD that delves into why I left; how I modified my resume and cover letters; and advice I’d give to those heading into non-academic positions. While my experience is captivating and illuminating, it is a singular event and no one should (have to) approach leaving academia by the seat of their pants the way I did. In fact, one of my biggest professional pet peeves now that I am entrenched outside of academia, is how non-academic job prospects are considered an afterthought. Or worse, when people think, “If my academic thing doesn’t work out, I’ll just get a job in industry,” but don’t consider what other skills they might want or need to develop to thrive in a career outside of academia. It is the anthesis of science, leaving something so important to chance rather than trying to control or at least be aware of all the variables!

I for one would have taken communicating my research more seriously and committed to doing it with intention and impact by enrolling in a marketing course and attending workshops on social media engagement, writing blog posts, and understanding google analytics. My first job out of academia was the Director of Conservation Education and Research at the Huyck Preserve and Biological Research station a 2,000 acre preserve in upstate New York. During my tenure I was not only responsible for connecting research activities to conservation and education programs, but I was also tasked with expanding the school field trip program to more school districts and growing the recreation program. I certainly figured out how to create and implement a marketing and communication plan for both programs, ultimately reaching five school districts and over 600 students with a research-based invasive species monitoring program and doubling guided hike attendance, but those skills were acquired while I was also figuring out how to write a curriculum suitable for K-12 students and pursing collaborations with local university students and professors to provide expert led guided hikes.

Did I mention at the same time I was also developing a high school research course from scratch and managing a research grant program? Because that’s where I could have used a finance or accounting course, helpful for when you are managing your own grants, an entire granting program, and for when you’re trying to determine the appropriate tuition to cover program expenses. Also handy for when you go head to head with the Board of Directors over the annual budget after getting promoted to Executive Director 2.5 years later. Speaking of boards, I would highly recommend a course on meeting facilitation. Robert’s Rule’s only scratches the surface and really doesn’t apply to entering a strategic planning process with a regional network of colleges/universities, non-profit preserves, and government agencies intent on informing regional sustainable management practices. I can also say that someone with facilitation skills makes working groups infinitely more productive placing you at the top of the list for research collaborations.

Oh, and before I forget, start talking to someone now about achieving work-life balance. I would like to directly challenge the wholesale statement that leaving academia leads to a life of leisure. It depends on the job, culture of the organization, and your personality. For example, non-profits, because they operate on charitable gifts, may not be staffed at capacity leading to a few people wearing many, many hats (case in point: Director of Conservation Education and Research, that kids, is three jobs in one!). I erroneously thought when I left academia that a majority of non-academic positions were 9-5 and then proceeded to work 50-60 hour weeks (80-90 Memorial through Labor Day) for five years because I loved what I was doing and there was no one else to do it. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world (well maybe a little) but it also wasn’t sustainable. I would have seriously benefited from a training on managing work-life balance so that I could have set boundaries for myself and my employers.

I know I am one data point and it’s easy for me to offer a list of courses and trainings now that I am done with school (although I frequently contemplate going back to school for my MBA) but my opinions are also colored by my newest position as the director of a postdoctoral fellowship program, NatureNet Science Fellows, and internal science professional development for scientists at The Nature Conservancy. I talk to a lot of people about what science professional development should look like within and outside of the Conservancy. If you must prioritize, science communication, specifically the ability to speak or write about your own research and identify appropriate outlets for outreach, ranks high on the list along with skills in project management, including budgeting and managing a team. After that, it really would behoove you to consider, “If I left academia, what job would I take and what skills would I need to succeed?”



Blind Cavefish, and what they can teach us about getting less sleep

The Mexican cavefish have no eyes, little pigment, and require about two hours of sleep per night to survive.

Imagine what you could do with those extra hours! So we should ask cavefish, how do they do it?

Read more about that very research here.



Algae as people food?

When maintaining the delightful snails, Potamopyrgus antipodarum, in captivity (say in the lab, prior to infecting them with all sorts of trematodes), we feed them a micro algae called spirulina.

You might have heard of it. It has become popular in super food drinks and smoothies. If you see a green smoothy, it likely has this little micro algae. Additionally, many people have touted to me the great health benefits, and the anti-oxidants.

But I resisted. Because spirulina is not people food. It’s snail food.

But now, algae might infiltrate our food supply on a more permanent basis. Read about it here!


CRISPR as a way to eradicate invasive species? Tell me more…

The way to kill invasive species, and thereby protect endangered species are brutal—traps, long-range rifles, and poisons—deployable only on a small scale and wildly indiscriminate. To excise the rat, say, from an ecosystem requires a sledgehammer that falls on many species.

All this is why some conservation biologists such as Karl Campbell has begun pushing for research into a much more precise and effective tool—one you might not associate with nature-loving conservationists. Self-­perpetuating synthetic genetic machines called gene drives could someday alter not just one gene or one rat or even a population of rats but an entire species—of rats, mosquitoes, ticks, or any creature. And this biological technology promises to eliminate these destructive animals without shedding a drop of blood.

But the methods also contain the threat of unleashing another problem: They could change species, populations, and ecosystems in unintended and unstoppable ways.

Want to know more? Read about it here.


CRISPR-Cas9 for an RNA world

CRISPR has the revolutionary potential to alter gene expression by cutting DNA.

Now NmeCas9 is a protein that cuts not just DNA, but RNA.

This has scary potential for viruses (made from RNA), but having read very little (and I don’t think very much is known yet), but I am interested to see how this progresses.

Read about it here, and keep checking on NiB. I see myself writing more about this in the future.