Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Science doesn't always come in a lab coat...

I am a developmental cognitive neuroscientist and I don't wear a lab coat. Except maybe if it's purple.
~Daphne Ling~

Read more about my work and the things I have learnt here.

Photo courtesy of Alistair Eagle Photography.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Science is about imagining the possibilities in our world...

This is the season where students applying to graduate school, medical school, and professional school are panicking over standardised tests and applications for admission and funding for the upcoming cycle.
I am so thankful that not all universities now require the GREs because I would completely bomb it. While I can understand the need for an standardised measure that is common to the whole application pool, the validity of that standardised measure is questionable. There's plenty of evidence out there they don't predict graduate school and/or scientific success.
The Boss herself told me early on to N.E.V.E.R. write the GREs because I would fail.
"GREs are not for creative people who think laterally. To do well in the GREs, you have to pick ONE answer. Not imagine the possibilities of every choice."
Ironically, that was perhaps the biggest compliment she ever gave me as a scientist.
Because science is about imagining the possibilities in our world. It is about imagining the possibilities others have not thought of, and to find ways to systematically test our assumptions and ideas. It allows us the opportunity to see, explore, and understand our world, bodies, minds, thoughts, societies, cultures, languages, civilisations, natural wonders and phenomena, and a limitless array of the multiverse. It is about seeing the wisdom in the past, appreciating the present, and imagining the future.
What is science not about? Science is not about test scores.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Emotionless academics...

There seems to be this perception that academics are tough, strong, resilient people who have no emotions.

I wonder how much of that stereotype makes it hard for us to show emotion in our labs.

Rejections seem to be part and parcel of academia. People even tell you if you can't take rejections, you should find another field.


For me, rejections from journals just makes me try harder. It helps me become a better scientist because it often comes with constructive criticism. Ideas and perspectives I never even thought of. There are exceptions: when the criticism is just an attack on the person doing the work (and there are some who use peer-reviews as a way to spew vitriol). 

But if the critiques are valid, I grieve for it for a bit, and then I get into my battle mode and take it head on. But does that mean I don't have emotions? 

Big, fat, no.

No emotions is when I completely stop caring. That's when it's emotionless.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

You must be very intelligent...

I recently spoke to some students in my (former) high school about what I do and saw the blank stares looking back at me.

Most of these students' lives revolve around school: wake up, go to school, stay for extracurricular activities, come home, go for extra tuition, do homework, sleep, and repeat.

That was me years ago.

When you are 17 and when so much emphasis is placed on academics and the need to get "straight As," it is hard to imagine life outside and after that. And then asking that same 17 year old to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives seems to me like throwing someone into the ocean without a flotation device or navigation system and asking them to decide which country they want to go to and to swim there. That person likely has no clue which sea or ocean they are even in! They might not even have ever set foot into the sea or ocean or any body of water before either.

I came to doing my PhD by serendipity and mistake. A department chair had told me on the first day of university that I would be doing my undergraduate thesis. I didn't know she was the department chair when I first chatted with her but I did eventually find out halfway through the conversation. And when she told me I was to write my undergraduate thesis, I was too afraid to say no. And so I found myself years later writing that thesis.

And I couldn't have been more thankful that that younger me was too afraid to say no.

One of the most common thing I hear when people find out I'm working towards a Neuroscience PhD is: "You must be very intelligent."

I find that notion completely absurd. In high school, nobody called me "intelligent." 

"Above average," yes.

"Clever," yes.

"Could try harder," yes.

"Scattered," yes.

"Intelligent"...not so much.

School, as far as I was concerned, was a nightmare.

My 180° moment came when a psychologist in Canada noticed something was "very off" and got me tested.

It turns out, if you want me to read and comprehend, I do it at the speed of a tortoise.

So I now have an assigned specialist in university who advises my program chair and professors on how to help me. My grades jumped once they gave me the accommodations I needed.

The 17-year-old me would never have thought that I would one day do a PhD. The 17-year-old me couldn't even wrap my head around the idea of doing more education voluntarily!

And here we have, every year, 17-year-old students being asked to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives.

I fully believe that people should take time off school to explore. Travel, volunteer, work with people different from you, and learn some life skills.

By the way, I learned in Canada that tortoises can do PhDs, too. They just need the right terrain and the right pair of shoes. You cannot expect the tortoise to fly to a destination like a bird, but you can expect the tortoise to get there if you let it walk with a good pair of shoes.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Very good things can come from tiny people

I remember a particular professor in my undergraduate years whom I had taken a class with and liked. So when I heard she was teaching statistics during the summer, I signed up.

First day of class:
Prof: Why so forlorn?
Me: I suck at math. So bad the entire Chinese community is ashamed of me.

*Prof walks away and comes back with a piece of paper and the garbage can*

Prof: Write down what you just said.

I wrote it down and she took the paper and shredded it before dumping it in the garbage can.

Prof: There. That's not your worry. It is MY job to make sure you come out not sucking.

After the finals, the prof came and said: "Remember, very good things can come from tiny people."

I got a 94.