I am scientist by training, inclination and temperament. However, this is a blog, not a lab. The title reflects my passion for hyperbole, so don't take me too seriously. I don't. I was a technician in a physiology lab, got my PhD in molecular genetics and neuroscience, was a postdoctoral fellow in biophysics and now am a Project Manager in a Clinical Science/Biomedical Informatics institute. I am a scientific jack-of-all-trades, and very happy because of it. I write about science that catches my eye, making the transition away from the lab bench, and the slightly odd and moist boundary where science culture meets the public. I am an Englishman by birth, an American by temperament and if I were you I wouldn't lend me money.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
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Day 2 opened with my customary jet-lag induced panic attack. At 06:45 PST I woke up in a screaming panic KNOWING it was 3PM and I'd missed my poster. Finding out it was my body clock waking me up at 08:45 CST was great, until I woke up at 07:15 PST KNOWING it was 3PM and I'd missed my poster... this went on until my alarm finally sounded and I fell deeply, deeply asleep until 10:00.
Anyway my hotel is the one next to the conference hotel (sorry ladies, no room number for you, but I have a king size bed, a 50" flat screen TV, and a great view...). Conveniently the one and only Dr. Becca was attending a funding meeting in my hotel so we met and wandered down to the conference together for check in and coffee. Saturday is the day things *really* kick off here and it was getting busy by 10:30 when we found the first Starbucks, picked up badges and the 9" deep pile of conference agendae...agendas... whatever they're called. By 11am there were over 30,000 people on site (no counting staff etc.). It's a big conference!
The conference opened with the actress Glenn Close giving the Dialogues Between Neuroscience and Society lecture. She was clearly a bit nervous right at the start, and who wouldn't be. It's funny to think that such a famous person, an actress even! could be nervous speaking to a group, but as an another actor once explained about nerves when addressing large groups, "When I act it's just me and camera. Here it's me and 5000 cameras!"
Ms. Close started with a funny anecdote about being famous and being recognised in the airport. Her talk was interspersed with clips from her many movies showing her as dozens of different characters. She ended with a gag-line about finally being mistaken for Meryl Streep. And then it got serious... "So, who am I? Well today Im not here as an actress, I'm here as a member of a family...one family in four struggles with mental illnes
There's a good, brief review of her speech at New Scientist. Her sister (bipolar disorder) and nephew (schizo-affective disorder) also both spoke at length. Caleb, her nephew, somewhat haltingly, which made his painful words so much more powerful. He gave an agonizing glimpse of madness, a glimpse inside his mind and his world, while his amazing self-portraits were displayed on huge screens on either side of the stage. Ms. Close's sister brought me and I know many others to tears with her story. Glenn Close was visible in the background of the big screen, and when her sister spoke of fighting off the urge to commit suicide one dark night by imagining her family discovering her bloody corpse in the morning, you could see her fight back a sob. I'm welling up as I type this.
Many of us struggle with something. The brain is a complicated organ, and although we have marvellous homeostatic mechanisms to keep things running on an even keel, it isn't that hard for things to start to spiral. If you don't suffer from a form of mental illness, I guaran-fucken-tee you know someone who does.
You're reading this aren't you?
To paraphrase Glenn Close, a survey has shown recently that despite 50 years of research showing that mental illness is just that, an Illness, there has been no decrease in the stigma or shame associated with it. Suicide is twice as prevalent as murder in the US. Ms. Close and her supporters have launched a charity Bring Change 2 Mind to help fight the stigma associated with mental illness.
In the afternoon I had to "do" my poster. I'll get a photo of the poster exhibit room sometime for you non-Neuro types to get a sense of the awesome scale of this conference. Anyway, my work is pretty "fringy" nowadays when it comes to most basic science. In fact, I'm more of clinical scientist than a basic scientist. So, as expected I was in the back arse-end of the poster room and had resigned myself to 4 or 5 hours of boredom and backache waiting for someone, anyone, to give a shit about my work. So I was very pleasantly surprised to have a steady stream of people come talk to me about our work and our databasing system.
I "do" big data. If you can handle your research on an excel spreadsheet then you don't need me do you?
Well, a year or two after I left the bench my old PI called me asking me what concentration of compound X we'd tested in a series of gross pharmacology experiments. Well, I obviously drew a blank. This was a side project that didn't pan out. I'd done a few western blots, maybe clamped a couple of neurons and left it at that.
"Well, the data and notes will be in my notebooks mate," I told him.
"But I need the data. Which notebook?"
"Well, I have five three inch binders of notes and data. Its in there. I think we did those experiments before SfN DC, so start in November 2007 and go backwards till you find it."
Obviously this is a shitty situation for him, but this is typical of almost all basic science labs. All our western blot data were saved as paper copies and image files stored by date. No linked metadata, so no way of searching, no way to conveniently link mouse genotype, age and sex with expression data. We now offer Enterprise solutions to these databasing needs (as the lingo goes). In fact lots of companies offer solutions and if you're curious for a good commercial version for basic science data management I strongly suggest you check out friend of LabSpaces BioKM (also, check them out because Jonathon Gross, the founder, is a bloody nice chap, he doesn't know it but we've telecon'd together about his product). BioKM is a great versatile and cost effective LIMS (laboratory information management system) and I'm not just offering this as a free plug for them. If i was still in the lab I would be using their software.
My database is great for larger versions of the problem my old PI faced and it turns out a LOT of people need help. So I had some great chats, gave out a lot of business cards and I hope to have 4 or 5 collaborators ready to help me test the open source release of our software early next year. Nice. After the poster session it was dinner, beers and checking out the venue for Monday's SfNBANTER tweet-up.
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Man - these moster conferences sound like a great experience, at least just for getting a grasp of the size of it all. Probably a bit harder getting your work noticed.
The bad news is, this blog is still all a dream. You're sleeping through your poster session.
BEEP BEEEP BEEEEP BEEEPpPpP....