Friday, May 16, 2014

LMAYQ: Cellular Cells

Time to get back to Answering Some Questions. Where I attempt to answer the search-engine questions which have led you to The Cellular Scale. I mainly try to answer questions that I am sure are not answered anywhere on this blog. 

1. "What does a cellular cell look like?" 

Good question. First of all, what is a cellular cell? Is it different from a regular cell?
Cells look like all sorts of things. Some look like footballs, some look like sea coral. Some cells look like little rafts, drifting down a river.

Blood rafts (source)

Hitch a ride on a blood cell this summer (source)

2. "What song does Shrek sing in Shrek 1?"

 I have no idea. However, I remember the song "I like big butts" being in that movie. I am not certain that Shrek sings it. It might be the donkey.

As a side note, I am glad that this blog has become the go-to place for Shrek questions. After all, Shrek and Yoda do stimulate your neurons.

3. "Why does golgi not stain all cells?"

This is a real true very good question. The strength of the Golgi stain lies precisely in its sparse labeling. If it labeled all cells it would be useless because you wouldn't be able to see the elaborate morphology of a neuron's dendrites.

However, even though it has been around for almost 150 years, it is still unclear why it doesn't stain all cells. It is not clear how it 'decides' to stain one cell and not the one next to it. This is always a bit of a problem for people wanting to use the Golgi stain, because you always have that nagging feeling that maybe you are seeing only the sick neurons or only the neurons with random undiscovered quality X, and so forth. But it is a well respected technique, and journals regularly publish scientific articles which rely on the Golgi stain.

© TheCellularScale

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Hop, Skip, and a pre-synaptic Patch

This new technique is just too cool not to blog about. 

Novak et al. 2013 Figure 1A pre-synaptic patch clamp

The synapse is the connection between two neurons. The pre-synaptic part is from the neuron sending a signal and the post-synaptic part is from the neuron receiving the signal.

If you want to learn about the connection between the two neurons, you want to know what is happening on both sides of the synapse. It's relatively easy to record signals from the post-synaptic side using patch clamp or sharp electrode recording, but it is much much harder (basically impossible until now) to record from the pre-synaptic side.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

When being mean is actually being nice ... and when it is just being mean

It's a harsh world in here, in academia. We all already know that academic science is not a carebear teaparty, and apparently now things are worse than ever as far as potential jobs for Ph.D.s and funding goes. 

A brief interruption, for an ad:
Use Grammarly's plagiarism checker online because it's better to have a computer criticize you than a person.
 And now back to your regularly scheduled blogramming.

Scicurious has a great post up at Neurotic Physiology about what it is like to be out in the 'real world' and out of academia. She has some fascinating points about how academia has skewed her perspective on things, but one in particular jumped out at me: That now she has to re-learn how to take criticism.

Scicurious says:
"I remember a time when I took criticism well. I did a lot of theater and music, it was something you HAD to take well. I took it, I improved, worked harder, fixed things, and did better. Sometime during grad school, however, criticism began to paralyze me. Every critique felt like a critique of me, as a scientist. Since a scientist was what I WAS, all criticism began to feel like criticism of me, as a person. Sometimes it was indeed phrased that way. You are careless. You are not smart enough, why don't you get this?! You are not focused."
This got me thinking because, honestly, I feel exactly the opposite. I think I learned how to take criticism in grad school partly by learning how to give it.

It's for your own good! (source)

When I am editing a paper or grant for someone, I am trying to help them. The more critical I am the better their paper/grant will be. The paper is headed to peer-review which will determine whether it gets published or not , and the grant is headed to a study section which decides whether it gets funded. Both are grueling and rigorous examinations of quality and scientific merit. These review processes are so important because published papers and funded grants are 'science currency' and will determine your future. In some cases the funding status of a grant can determine whether a lab stays open or a PI gets tenure.

If there is a paragraph that doesn't make sense, or (gasp) a typo, it is obviously better for me to catch it than for someone important to see it and get confused or frustrated.

Understanding this concept, that constructive criticism is the nicest thing a scientist can do for another scientist taught me to take criticism much better than I had previously. I was one of those students who was always 'better enough' than the other students that teachers rarely bothered to push me to true excellence. So I was really not used to criticism, and the initial slings and arrows in graduate school did sting. However at one point it really sunk in that these criticisms were making me better... better at everything: writing, presenting, scientific thinking. 

So that is when being mean is actually being nice.

That said, I never had anyone tell me I wasn't 'smart enough' as Scicurious says. Just because constructive and thorough critique can sound mean, but actually be nice, doesn't mean that there is no such thing as 'meanness' in academia.

Sometimes being mean is really just being mean. A criticism that does not help me improve in any way is just mean. 'you are not smart enough to be a scientist' does not help anyone be a better scientist. It is a completely different kind of criticism than 'you really need to read more about X because you don't understand how X works.' Both are directed at 'you' personally, but one says you can't do it and the other says you can do it and even suggests how you can do it.

© TheCellularScale