Receiving Advice, Exercising, Tweeting, Chairing & Networking at Conferences

This post is by UT Austin graduate student Rayna Harris. Also posted on Medium.

Fig. 1. This image and the above quote were taken from Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon, my new favorite book.

This blog post is based upon my experience at the 2016 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Meeting. These are my thoughts about what works best with regards to giving/receiving advice, live tweeting, chairing symposia, networking with people who don’t know you, and prioritizing exercise.

Remember, all advice is autobiographical.

“…when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.” — Austin Kleon

I hear people giving and receiving lots of advice at conferences. Most of the time it’s really good and given in good faith, but it’s not always the best advice. What works for me might or might not work for you or vice versa. Hopefully you will find some useful bits of information herein.

Fig. 2. Is including a handle, hyperlink and photo overkill? Maybe, but this was my most popular #SICB2016 tweet.

Tweets with handles, links, or photos are better.

Live tweeting has its pros and cons. I enjoying following the hashtag of a meeting, but I don’t enjoying having my normal Twitter feed bombarded by live tweets. I’m not the only one who thinks it’s wise take the time to find accompanying hyperlinks and twitter handles for your tweets, but here’s my rationale. 

When I use the speaker’s twitter handle, it lets the speaker know I liked the talk, and maybe she/he will be the first to retweet it. When I link to a paper, my tweet shows up on Altmetric (like this). When I add an image, it catches people’s eye and is more likely to be used in Storify (like this). 

I takes time to do these things, but I think your followers will appreciate the effort. 

Fig. 3. The audience has been staring at this title for 5 minutes already, so I like to say a little more about the speaker instead.

When chairing a session, provide details about the speaker.

Pretty much everyone in the audience has already read the title. To avoid redundancy, I prefer to introduce the speaker by providing some or all of the following details:

  1. Name, current institution, and current lab
  2. Their supervising PIs from grad school and postdocs
  3. A one sentence description of the research

These details provide a better picture of the speaker’s background and interests than when simply saying their name and talk title.

Networking = talking to people with shared interests that may /may not already know you. 

I’m not sure what networking means for most people, but I think networking means talking to people about share interests. At conferences, I think it’s important to strike a balance between talking with people you already know and talking with people you might like to know. My desired outcome could range from having a good conversation or meeting new people to strengthening relationship with colleagues or gaining the recognition of future employers. If talking to people you know is the easier option, how should one go about networking with people you don’t know?

A few ways I network with people who don’t know me yet

  1. I introduce myself to whoever my PI is talking to. I’ve met dozens of scientists and a few program officers this way. Bonus: It’s easier for this new acquaintance to remember what lab I’m from the next time we meet.
  2. When presenting my poster, I specifically ask 1) what caught his/her eye 2) if they know any of my co-authors and/or 3) are familiar with the places where I do my research. When we find common ground, we’re much more likely to converse later in the conference or in my career.
  3. When I find myself next to a speaker while in line for coffee/beer/food, I casually say that I enjoyed the talk (if I did) and why. For me, this is a much more natural way to engage with a speaker than approaching them immediately after a talk when others are eagerly waiting to ask questions. 
  4. I walk straight up to people and introduce myself. I usually do this when I have a question or want to say that I think they are awesome! This requires some confidence and grace, but I have managed to strike up some good conversations and made new colleagues this way.
  5. I participate in workshops. Workshops give you the chance to talk and listen to a diverse group of people on topics of shared interest. I actually get to know people this way and frequently chat with them later. Bonus: The setting can perk you up if you were falling asleep during a previous talk. 
  6. I chair a session. This is a great way to get people to see your name and hear you speak. It requires the confidence to speak in front of a large audience, but there is little one-on-one conversation.
  7. I co-organize social events, and it’s awesome! I’ve done this twice (in 2014 with Sarah Davies and 2016 with Suzy Renn). We used Evite to invite our colleagues and passed out printed invites to new acquaintances. Because two people were organizing, we were able to bring together a people from different circles to promote cross-disciplinary networking. 

Fig. 4. Left) Approaching people who know my PI. Middle) Finding common ground during a poster session. Right) Group discussion duing a student/postdoc workshop

 

Fig. 5. Left) Long-time colleagues reminisce. Middle) A bar filled with scientists with shared interests. Right) Intermingling of people from different labs.

Prioritize exercise.

It is really easy to let a conference disrupt one’s regular workout routine, but it’s important to not left the meeting consume your life or detract from your health.

Fig. 6. I’m doing #YogaCamp with Adriene Mishler this month. I borrowed a mat from the hotel fitness center for my yoga practice.

When I allocate 30 min or so to exercise, I have so much more energy than when I don’t. I was proud of working out for 4 of the 5 days in Portland, but I wish I had hit 5 for 5.

I find it’s easiest and best to knock it out early in the morning. Alternatively, I suggest turning happy hour into a workout hour… I know that reduced drink and food prices are enticing, but it’s really hard to exercise in the evening if the drinking started at 4 pm.

Comments

I’d like to hear your thoughts and perspectives, so feel free to make comments on the version of this blog posted on Medium. Thanks for reading!

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Avida-ED for classroom research

This post is by MSU postdoc Mike Wiser. Reposted from the DevoLab blog.

Laboratory components are often integral parts of both K-12 and college science courses. I certainly had a lot over the course of my science education; 5 courses with labs in high school, 8 in college. But for the overwhelming majority of them, I was essentially following a recipe and doing by rote things which had already been done and where the answers were already known. It was only in science-fair-style projects that I typically had any control over the questions I was asking, or how I would go about trying to answer them. But science education doesn’t have to be like that. Inquiry-based science practice is a growing part of the recommendations for science education (1,2).  Thankfully, computational tools are making these practices more accessible.

Jim Smith presents his students’ inquiry projects at BEACON

Jim Smith presents his students’ inquiry projects at BEACON

Avida-ED provides a great platform for students to do actual scientific research within the settings of a course on general, population, or organismal biology. Students have the ability to explore questions which they devise themselves, in part because they do not have the cost associated with consumable materials that most natural science experiments do. Further, because computational data can be generated so much more rapidly than physical experiments, students can perform exploratory work to generate hypotheses, and then gather sufficient data to test them. We have found inquiry projects work well when students work in small teams.

Classroom assessment studies from the Avida-ED group have shown a benefit to students conducting their own active research projects using this software. Students have to grapple not only with defining questions and designing experiments, but also with figuring out what data to collect, how to analyze this data, and how to present findings to others.

How does one go about using Avida-ED for classroom research projects? Great question; that’s what this post is about to lay out.

Within Avida-ED, there are several parameters that are easy for the user to change, including:

  • World Size (which influences population size)
  • Mutation Rate
  • Which tasks are rewarded
  • Which organism(s) is/are used as the ancestor

Likewise, there are multiple different responses that users can track. These range from some very simple ones, such as:

  • Fitness, Merit, or Gestation Time at a given time point
  • Whether any organisms in the environment perform a given function
  • How many organisms perform any given function

To more complex ones such as:

  • Maximum Fitness, Merit, or Minimum Gestation Time in the population
  • Number and complexity of tasks performed by the most fit organism
  • Relative abundance of descendants from different ancestors

To ones that require real-time monitoring of populations like:

  • Time at which a function was first observed
  • Whether new tasks appear in a background already performing many other functions
  • Whether gain of a new function involves loss of a previous task

Undergraduates present posters of Avida-ED research to faculty and graduate students

Undergraduates present posters of Avida-ED research to faculty and graduate students

Part of the scientific process involves first being able to show a correlation between an outcome and a set of conditions. Therefore, I highly encourage students to pick a single parameter to manipulate at a time, and a single measured response to use for a particular experiment. Once a correlation is established, researchers can then gather additional evidence to test not only correlation but also the causation that is implied – changing a parameter leads to a different outcome, so therefore the parameter likely contributes to the outcome. The fewer parameters we change, the more confident we can be that the difference in the results flows from a specific change we made. It is especially instructive for students to be able to run experiments of this sort to see for themselves how evolutionary processes can produce adaptations. Instructors may find value in a simple demonstration for a class where the instructor changes many parameters at once, gets a different result, and then asks the class which of the parameters they think contributed to the difference and how they would be able to tell.

Overall, programs like Avida-ED offer a way for students to pose real questions (and deal with all of the challenges in figuring out what data to collect, how to interpret it, etc.) just as researchers regularly face in their work. This takes a class experience from being essentially an exercise in recipe-following – a “lab experience” in name only — to an activity where they engage in authentic science practice. In a later post, I’ll outline some of the basic types of data analysis likely to be relevant to a wide range of introductory research questions.

  1. NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Retrieved from http://www.nextgenscience.org/
  2. Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action. Retrieved from http://visionandchange.org/finalreport/

 

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BEACON Researchers at Work: #SummerofKBS

This week’s BEACON Researchers at Work blog post is by 2015 REU student Douglas Page.

in the labMy time at the Kellogg Biological Station working as a BEACON/NSF sponsored REU was an amazing opportunity to not only conduct research in the field of ecology and evolutionary biology, but it also gave me a chance to network with others who share my interests. Over the course of the program I worked in the Conner lab conducting plant research that has helped me to understand evolution and ecology. This summer has shaped me in ways I never thought possible. At first I didn’t know what to expect coming to Michigan from North Carolina, but after settling in I saw that Michigan has a lot to offer. I finally got to go to Chicago and Lake Michigan for the first time, camped on the beach, hiked through the Northern woods and so much more. I believe what has affected me the most here at my time at KBS are the friends I have made here.

symposiumAlthough we have only been here for a short time, all of us have become closer than I thought we could be. As our time here at KBS comes to an end I have come to realize how much of an honor it was to be a part of everything this place stands for. Looking back on this experience has made me feel pride in both myself and the work that I have done here. I hope to return one day to KBS; maybe as a researcher or graduate student. However, until that day comes I’ll accept taking the lessons I have learned here with me where ever I go. I understand the importance of programs such as this to the community and how vital it is for students like me to take advantage of them. By being here I feel like I am on a path which will take me closer to my goals in life. For example, I have begun to contact various Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites around the country to apply for different opportunities thanks to the support I got from the program at Kellogg Biological Station. I was not only made aware of the existence of these scientific centers, but people shared their experience on what I could do to better my chances of participating in them.

ManorHouseI have enjoyed my time here with so many new ideas and experiences I will remember for years to come. While I will miss my time and my friends here at KBS, I feel confident to move on in my endeavors in both my career in science and life in general. The adventures I have had really shaped me for the better, which I hope to instill in others as I lead by example. I am grateful for my opportunity to work and learn at the Kellogg Biological Station. Lastly, I would like to say to all the people who have made this summer one to remember, thank you and I hope to see you again.

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BEACON Researchers at Work: How to Grow an Animal

This week’s BEACON Researchers at Work blog post is by MSU graduate student Rewatee Gokhale.

Axolotl, also known as Mexican Salamander.  Image Credit: "Axolotl ganz" by LoKiLeCh - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Axolotl_ganz.jpg#/media/File:Axolotl_ganz.jpg

Axolotl, also known as Mexican Salamander.
Image Credit: “Axolotl ganz” by LoKiLeCh – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Axolotl_ganz.jpg#/media/File:Axolotl_ganz.jpg

Meet Sal* the Salamander. Sal, like all of his kind, has a unique gift. He can regenerate his limbs, if you cut one off! This unique ability of salamanders has fascinated generations of scientists from Aristotle to Charles Darwin. And yet, there are many, many questions about this process of regeneration that we still do not understand. Primarily, how does the regenerating limb know what size it has to grow to? How is the correct final organ size achieved in the face of developmental growth perturbations and changes in environmental conditions? These questions form the basis of my research here at Michigan State University.

IMG_2610I study developmental growth regulation in the common fruitfly, Drosophila melanogaster, an organism that may seem far removed from salamanders, humans and other large animals that we are more familiar with. However, the signaling pathways regulating growth are conserved all the way up from fruitflies to higher animals—in fact, most of these signaling pathways were first discovered in Drosophila. Consequently, any discovery of novel developmental mechanisms in Drosophila is of interest not just to fly biologists, but to the broader scientific community of developmental biologists. Moreover, the wealth of genetic tools available to manipulate growth and development in Drosophila is unparalleled, making it an excellent model system to answer challenging questions of developmental growth control.

Diagrammatic representation of developing imaginal discs in Drosophila larva and the organs they develop into in the adult fly. (Klug and Cummings, 1997)

Diagrammatic representation of developing imaginal discs in Drosophila larva and the organs they develop into in the adult fly. (Klug and Cummings, 1997)

Drosophila is a holometabolous insect, meaning it undergoes complete metamorphosis during its life cycle—passing through 4 different life stages: embryo, larva, pupa and adult. Unlike other animals, the adult does not grow in size, and therefore, the final body and organ size depends on growth of organ precursors (called imaginal discs in Drosophila) during the larval period. To put it simply, the larval phase of growth can be likened to growth and development through childhood and adolescence before entering adulthood.

Two important factors regulate the final organ size achieved at the end of development: the duration of growth and the growth rate. Naively, one would expect that longer the developmental time, the greater the final size. In the context of larval development, perturbing the growth of one of the imaginal discs actually results in an increase in the total developmental time—presumably to allow the growth perturbed organs to “catch up” (Parker and Shingleton, 2011; Stieper et al., 2008). However, despite this increase in developmental time, the other unperturbed imaginal discs do not overgrow—in fact they reduce their growth rate to match that of the growth rate of the perturbed imaginal disc. Thus, growth rates appear to be coordinated among different organs so that, at metamorphosis, the final organ size is correctly proportioned in relation to the body and the rest of the organs.

Diagrammatic representation of the wing imaginal disc with the shaded areas showing the two compartments of the disc.

Diagrammatic representation of the wing imaginal disc with the shaded areas showing the two compartments of the disc.

But what about growth coordination within an organ? If you could perturb the growth of one part of an organ, would the growth rate of the other unperturbed part also be reduced? This was the question that I was interested in answering when I started my PhD. In order to answer this question, we focused our attention on the wing imaginal disc, which ultimately forms the wing and most of the thorax of the adult fly. I generated larvae in which the two halves of the wing disc (called compartments) seemingly had different rates of growth; one compartment that grew slowly due to a defect in the protein production machinery, and another compartment which grew at normal or near-normal rates. We then looked at their relative rates of growth throughout development by measuring the sizes of each compartment in larvae sampled at various points in larval development. We found that similar to coordination between organs, the unperturbed compartment reduces its growth rate to match that of the growth perturbed compartment.

What’s most exciting however, is that both intra- and inter-organ growth coordination during development seem to be regulated not by organ-specific mechanisms but by a common systemic mechanism, involving the hormone ecdysone. Ecdysone is an insect hormone that regulates metamorphosis through different stages of the insect life cycle. Research from our lab suggests that ecdysone functions not just as a molting hormone, but also functions as a regulator of imaginal disc growth rates during development. This suggests that in Drosophila, developing organs rely not just on organ-specific mechanisms to ‘perceive’ and reach their final size, but in fact respond to systemic cues as well.

While most of the research that I have described here is focused on Drosophila, I would like to emphasize, that the basic developmental mechanisms discovered in this model organism are by no means unique to it. In fact, there is considerable evidence to suggest that localized growth defects also cause growth retardation and developmental delays in humans. For example, in children suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease there is a systemic growth hormone insensitivity. Consequently, these children also suffer from stunted growth and severe growth retardation (Sanderson 2014). Therefore, the utilization of systemic signaling mechanisms in the maintenance of “correct” organ size appears to be an evolutionary conserved mechanism present not just in your common -run-of-the-mill fruitfly but in all animals.

References:

Parker, N. F. and A. W. Shingleton (2011). “The coordination of growth among Drosophila organs in response to localized growth-perturbation.” Dev Biol 357(2): 318-325.

Stieper, B. C., M. Kupershtok, M. V. Driscoll and A. W. Shingleton (2008). “Imaginal discs regulate developmental timing in Drosophila melanogaster.” Dev Biol 321(1): 18-26.

Sanderson, I. R. (2014). “Growth problems in children with IBD.” Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 11(10): 601-610.

 

For more information about Rewatee’s work, you can contact her at gokhaler at msu dot edu.

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BEACON Researchers at Work: The Evolution of Cooperation by the Hankshaw Effect: A Big Thumbs Up for Cooperation!

This week’s BEACON Researchers at Work blog post is by University of Washington graduate students Katie Dickinson and Sarah Hammarlund and postdoc Brian Connelly.

Brian Connelly, Katie Dickinson, and Sarah Hammarlund are all thumbs!

Brian Connelly, Katie Dickinson, and Sarah Hammarlund are all thumbs!

Hold your hand out in front of you and examine it closely. Five digits, four fingers and a thumb… What a useful appendage, the thumb! You can give a friend an encouraging thumbs-up or maybe a death sentence in a gladiator coliseum with a thumbs-down. You can twiddle your thumbs during a boring seminar, thumb wrestle with your brother, tend your garden with your green thumb, or stick out like a sore thumb. We use our thumbs to text and type and write, to hold a spoon, to touch. But arguably the most important use for a thumb is to hitchhike.

Humans can hitchhike to get to Burning Man, robots can hitchhike around the world (http://m.hitchbot.me/), and even genes can hitchhike during evolution. In the case of genes, a trait can become more common if it is genetically linked with another trait that is favored by natural selection. Otto and Hartfield[i] have shown that even costly, maladaptive traits can survive by “genetic hitchhiking.” One such costly trait is cooperation.

Evolutionary biologists including Darwin have been puzzled by the evolution of cooperation. We would expect natural selection to favor selfish individuals that maximize their own fitness. In contrast, cooperative behaviors benefit others at a cost to the cooperator. Furthermore, cooperators continually face the risk of being exploited by “defectors,” individuals that don’t cooperate but reap the benefits of cooperation. So how did cooperation come to be so prevalent in our world?

One way for cooperation to succeed is through genetic hitchhiking. If cooperation, a costly trait, becomes linked to an adaptive trait (one that increases survival in a harsh environment, for example), cooperation can hitchhike with that trait. For this to work, the selective advantage of the adaptive trait must outweigh the cost of cooperation. This process has been demonstrated to support both yeast[ii] and bacterial cooperators[iii],[iv].

The challenge with genetic hitchhiking is that cooperators and defectors are equally likely to gain these adaptations through mutation. Once one type gets lucky and catches a mutational ride, it leaves the other in the dust. So how can cooperators consistently get a thumbs-up? We have recently been exploring ways in which cooperators can actively increase their chances of gaining adaptations.

One way cooperators can more reliably catch a ride is by sticking together. When cooperators preferentially interact with other cooperators, their growth is boosted by the benefits of cooperation. With more growth comes more mutations, and each mutation offers an opportunity to gain an adaptation. By working together, cooperators increase their chances of hitchhiking—they are now much more likely catch a ride than defectors. So in a sense, cooperators have larger thumbs—they are more visible to passing cars and therefore have a higher likelihood of catching a ride with an adaptive trait.

We call this phenomenon the “Hankshaw effect” after the fictional character Sissy Hankshaw from Tom Robbins’ novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Hankshaw was born with extremely oversized thumbs. She’s teased for her thumbs as a child and has trouble even just buttoning up her sweaters, but she eventually discovers that her thumbs make her an excellent hitchhiker. For Hankshaw, a trait that is an impairment becomes her salvation on the open road. We constructed a model to see how the Hankshaw effect might allow cooperators to hitchhike their way to success[v].

Cooperation and the Hankshaw effect. Although equally present in the beginning, cooperators are quickly driven to extinction when they are not more likely to gain adaptations than defectors (above). However, when cooperators improve their chances for gaining adaptations, they can hitchhike along with these non-social traits to dominance by the Hankshaw effect (below). The ride abruptly ends once cooperators become fully adapted, and adapted defectors eventually take over.

Cooperation and the Hankshaw effect. Although equally present in the beginning, cooperators are quickly driven to extinction when they are not more likely to gain adaptations than defectors (above). However, when cooperators improve their chances for gaining adaptations, they can hitchhike along with these non-social traits to dominance by the Hankshaw effect (below). The ride abruptly ends once cooperators become fully adapted, and adapted defectors eventually take over.

We found that the Hankshaw effect can allow cooperators to consistently hitchhike and escape the threat of defectors, but only as long as there are beneficial traits to be gained. Once cooperators become fully adapted to their environment and the ride ends, mutations create equally-adapted defectors that take over. This makes the Hankshaw effect only temporary.

However, if the environment changes and new opportunities for adaptation are created, the ride may not be over for cooperators. And if environmental change continually occurs, then cooperators can be maintained by the Hankshaw effect as long as there are opportunities for adaptation.

We have taken this idea one step further and allowed organisms themselves to change the environment instead of passively waiting for change to occur. We found that this “niche construction”[vi],[vii] can allow cooperators to create opportunities for adaptation that keep the ride going indefinitely[viii].

When the environment changes (at each vertical line), creating a continual supply of potential adaptations, cooperators can continue to hitchhike and are maintained indefinitely.

When the environment changes (at each vertical line), creating a continual supply of potential adaptations, cooperators can continue to hitchhike and are maintained indefinitely.

Although at first, from an evolutionary perspective, cooperation seems like a losing strategy, there are ways that cooperators can succeed. Maybe Sesame Street had it right: “Cooperation—Makes it Happen.”

[i] Hartfield, M. and Otto, S. P. 2011. Recomination and hitchhiking of deleterious alleles. Evolution, 65: 2421–2434. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01311.x

[ii] Waite, A. J. and W. Shou. 2012. Adaptation to a new environment allows cooperators to purge cheaters stochastically. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109:19079-19086.

[iii] Morgan A.D., B. J. Z. Quigley, S. P. Brown, and A. Buckling. 2012. Selection on non-social traits limits the invasion of social cheats. Ecol. Lett. 15:841-846

[iv] Asfahl, K. L., J. Walsh, K. Gilbert, and M. Schuster. 2015. Non-social adaptation defers a tragedy of the commons in Pseudomonas aeruginosa quorum sensing. ISME J. doi:10.1038/ismej.2014.259.

[v] Hammarlund SP, Connelly BD, Dickinson KJ, Kerr B. 2015. The evolution of cooperation by the Hankshaw effect. bioRxiv. doi:10.1101/016667.

[vi] Odling-Smee, F. J., K. N. Laland, and M. W. Feldman. 2003. Niche construction: the neglected process in evolution (No. 37). Princeton University Press.

[vii] Laland, K. N., F. J. Odling-Smee, and M. W. Feldman. 1999. Evolutionary consequences of niche construction and their implications for ecology. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 96:10242- 10247.

[viii] Connelly, B. D., Dickinson, K. J., Hammarlund, S. P., & Kerr, B. 2015. Negative Niche Construction Favors the Evolution of Cooperation. Evol. Ecol. doi:10.1007/s10682-015-9803-6.

 

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