Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Lab that Comes with a Lab(radoodle)...

So, my lab has a labradoodle that comes to work every day. This pup has been coming to work every day since she was 10 weeks old. It is definitely one of the best things about coming to work.

You walk in, and there is a pattering of paws flying out to say hello to you and to rub noses with you. It could be raining, snowing, or hailing outside, and old furry face would just be as happy to see you.

Being a graduate student and a researcher are both very stressful. There's always a grant or paper or person or experiment that needs your attention, and things always seem to be due right now. You can be completely on top of your workload, but that usually just means that another one will creep onto your pile of things-to-do.

More and more people in academia are finding themselves struggling with mental illness and/or stress. I wonder how different a culture academia would be if animals were a part of that culture? What if labs had the *option* to come with labs? (take this with a big pinch of salt--wet labs, for example, may not find this possible or feasible for safety issues)

Might productivity go up?

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Writing a Review Paper...

One of the research skills I have been learning in these last couple of years is the ability to synthesize other people's research into a review paper. In many ways, a review paper is like a very big term paper.

The Boss and I worked on a massive review paper for a couple of years. It was a monumental effort that required months and months of reading, synthesizing, corrections, and correspondence.

The effort paid off, though.

Here is the final product.

And here is a write up on it on ResearchFeatures.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

How much does a Calvin cost?

From here and here

I love Calvin and Hobbes. Love them so much it is disgustipating. (Ok, so I love Popeye, too)

The chart had me wide-eyed because I realized that if this was a real kid, we would be shaking our heads. Having children are expensive. Forget damage. Just diapering and feeding them cost money. Our lab spends a shameful amount of money buying Pepperidge Farm Fish because the children eat them by the handful; some kids even stuff them in their pockets, shoes, and bags. I see these fish in my nightmares. I see the crumbs and empty bags in my nightmares. And these are just goldfish. Just fish. Don't get me started on juice boxes.

You haven't seen the stuff that I have to explain to my PI (principal investigator, i.e., The Boss). Like when a kid decides our bookshelves are for doing gymnastics from, or that their kid brother is for bouncing things off and, of course, the thing ricochets off their brother and breaks something.

But I take Watterson's piece with a grain of salt. Children are expensive. They break things. They get dirty. But they're loads of fun. And they're worth it. Wouldn't trade my job!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Managing a Research Lab...

I was watching this roundtable the other day of mostly senior faculty giving advice on managing a research lab when it hit me that I knew exactly what they were talking about.

I am pretty sure if I had watched this video in my undergraduate years, most of the contents of this video would have gone right over my head.

The video was enlightening for many reasons. For one, it reminded me that many of the skills I learned coming out to work were soft skills. It also reminded me that managing people is a skill we don't often think of as a skill. There are still days when I have to remind myself to take a step back and let people "do their thing" even when I want so desperately to say something, and other days, when I wake up and have to make the decision to step in.

The video also reminded me that people are all different. Some require hand-holding all the way, like the child who needs the parent to walk him/her right to the entrance of the school every day, even when s/he knows his/her way. Others...prefer that you pretend you didn't know they were struggling but wants the option to come to you if things come crashing down. Yet, others, need just a simple invite for a drink to spill all anxieties on the table and have a good cry.

At the end of the day, managing people is about realising that no matter how long you have done it, there is always something new to learn. And that's why it is important to have your own network of people to go to. And, sometimes, that means having a giant jar of chocolate on your table to dip into.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Back to English 101...

5 years after going out into the working world, I went back to a 101 level university class this summer. Specifically, I went back to take an English class that teaches undergraduates the expectations of university-level (science) writing.

The few people who knew thought I was quite silly, of course, but I wanted to take this class to help reacquaint myself to solid academic writing and also some good tips on just how to write from an English professor.

This class is giving me the opportunity to think about what I write, why I write something, how to get to my point using a structure, and to think about issues like audience and message when writing an academic paper.

Definitely refreshing. And, hopefully, helpful for when I get to grad school.

Interestingly, today, I saw this post: Why Most Academics Will Always be Bad Writers

I guess I am not alone. We could all use some help.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Ronald McDonald House BC and Yukon...

For the past 4 years, I have been volunteering at the BC Women's Hospital's Newborn ICU (BCWH NICU). Officially, my job at the NICU is to cuddle babies when their parents/caregivers are unavailable. Often, this also means that I get to meet family members and their friends, many of whom come from all over BC. Some of these families even come from outside Canada.

Several families I have worked with during these 4 years have stayed at the Ronald McDonald House (RMH), located a stone's throw away from the NICU.

The awesome slide at Ronald McDonald House...

Tonight, I got a chance to tour the award winning house and to cook dinner for the 70+ families who make Ronald McDonald House their home while their child seeks treatment at BC Children's Hospital.

The thing that struck home the most about the service that RMH provides is the community support while a child is sick. The community support not only comes from the staff at RMH, but also from the people of Vancouver who help in many ways. For example, 4 nights a week, people in the community (individuals or groups) come out and cook dinner for the families at RMH.

This struck home because that is the main reason why I volunteer at the NICU--to give parents a chance to step outside the NICU and take of themselves and the rest of their family and trust that someone from the community is there to help support their child who is living in the NICU.

For more info on RMH and how you can help, visit

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Model

Recently, a mother called Beth started talking about how mothers struggle the most when there isn't a village to support her bring baby up. I agree wholeheartedly. Beth, however, didn't mention that in the absence of the village and in the face of the mother's struggle, the one that ultimately suffers, is the child.

This is one of the reasons why I volunteer in the Newborn ICU. As volunteers, our role is to provide support to the baby (for example, by holding them) when their parents are unavailable or absent. Parents rest assure that they can go home and take a break, see to their other children, or just go for a walk.

Personally, I believe it is a little bit like creating a miniscule village within the NICU.

We can also look at this through a slightly different lens. Bronfenbrenner provides a nice model for us to look at this.

Modified Bronfenbrenner's model for illustration
There is so much we can do as members of society to create that village in whatever society and ecosystem we live and work in. If we think of children as the very heart of the model and do all we can to give them the best head start, I think that said child can grow up to be that adult who can then provide support the society they live in and the next generation of children.

I also think we can view Bronfenbrenner's model as rather bidirectional. Its influences are as inwards towards the child as it is outwards to the people in the immediate circles.

This is, of course, rather simplistic in nature. Questions we haven't seemed to figure out include how do we teach compassion, respect, responsibility, grit, self-control, and all the other values (or how to not grow up to be self-centred!) to that child...

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

You are not my servant...

I was at an Asian grocery store recently, and had a conversation with the lady at the till. I don't often get to have conversations at this particular grocery store because it is usually a hive of activity and the lines are often very long. But, this time, I was the only person waiting to pay.

The lady at the till was probably in her mid-forties.

Me: Hello. I have my own bags.
Lady (Chinese with thick Chinese accent): Hello. Can I pack for you? (holds out hand for my bags)
Me: Doesn't matter to me. You can pack. I can pack...
Lady: You are not from China. You are Canadian!
Me: *laughing* Why would you say that?
Lady: Chinese people from mainland China get angry at us if we don't pack for them. Packing is a servant's job. It is my job to pack for you. Canadian...they very use to pack on their own. I have to ask for bag.
Me, a little taken aback: Cashier-ing is considered a servant?
Lady: Yes. And if I pack for people from China, I must also pack for Canadian. Only good customer service. Treat everybody the same. Canadian or Chinese.
Me: You are not my servant.
Lady: Thank you. You have a good day.
Me: Thank you. You, too.

I am honestly not sure how I feel about that conversation. A lady older than me earning an honest living being told every day she is someone's servant just because she is a cashier.

I can't tell if I'm angry, or annoyed, or horrified, or just realizing I'm being naïve about this. Could this be a cultural response? After all, just because I am Chinese, and this lady is Chinese, it is quite clear we grew up in a very different geographical location with different cultural norms and what is acceptable.

Whatever it is, it has given me quite a bit to think about.

A teacher of mine once said, "always treat someone the way you would want your mother to be treated."

I would be horrified if people treated my mother that way.