Book Review: When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

When

This is the first book that I’ve read by Daniel Pink, but it likely won’t be the last. I read it because I’m interested in being efficient and effective using time-management techniques and the book certainly has much to offer in this area. It also contains lots of other interesting insights into human relationships with time.

The book is divided into three parts and each has its own focus. The first part focuses on daily rhythms of the human body and the need for recharging and replenishing. The second part takes aim at beginnings, midpoints, and endings and why each is important and can be influenced for positive outcomes. The final part discusses working with others and how people think about and are obsessed with time.

Something that I really liked about this book is that there is a “Time Hacker’s Handbook” at the end of each chapter that is full of hands on advice and tips that are extremely useful. You can think of it as the Cliff Notes version of each chapter. One thing that I did not like about this book, likely because I am a scientist, is that only scientific research that supports each thesis is presented. No results are presented that refute the author’s hypotheses. This comes across as rather one sided.

The writing style is easy to follow and I learned a lot of interesting things by reading this book. I know that a book is engaging when I’m constantly sharing little facts from it with my immediate family members (much to their chagrin!).

This book would be useful for people who have some time-management systems and habits already in place and are looking for improvements and ways of tweaking what you are doing to improve your productivity.

 

 

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Why I will continue to use the title Dr.

I was a bit annoyed yesterday when the decision by the Globe and Mail to update their style guide came across my Twitter feed. I get to be an associate professor of biology upon first reference in an article, but become Ms. McDonald on second reference. I guess this is how the Canadian Press have been doing things for years, but I find it irritating and I’m going to tell you why.

I’m a professional and an expert and earned a credential, namely a Ph.D., that reinforces these facts. Now you may ask why I need these facts reinforced. It is not because I have a gigantic ego, think I’m better than everyone else, or am a member of the non-existent Canadian “elite”. The fact that I’m a professional and an expert needs to be enforced regularly because they are questioned regularly several times each term due to the fact that I don’t look like a typical scientist. There are huge social and cultural contexts at play here and that Dr. title is therefore really important to people like myself; that is women and persons with disabilities.

I can only assume that because I look younger than I am and because I am female that people feel free to tell or ask me:

1) that I don’t look like a scientist (hello, stereotypes!)

2) I’m too pretty to be a scientist (umm, these two things are not mutually exclusive like you seem to think they are, and ewwwwww!)

3) Which professor do you work for? (I’ve run my own research lab for 8 years thank-you very much)

4) I thought you were so and so (insert some other female academic here), I’m so confused! (We are both petite and female presenting so we must be interchangeable then)

The above are interactions that I’ve had at academic science conferences.

My credentials and authority often also get challenged in the classroom. This is not a unique experience given that it happens to most of the other female professors that I’ve mentioned it to. We were commiserating about it over lunch a few years ago and our male colleagues were in disbelief because it never happens to them.

That doctorate is one item that I can use to level the playing field in academic science. I earned it, I need it, and you can pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

 

DoctorAl Digest #26

Word from a psychologist that the productivity advice to “Eat your frog” first thing in the morning doesn’t match well with how human brains actually function.

An amusing piece from the journal Inorganic Chemistry on “The Five Stages of Rejection” when it comes to submitting a journal manuscript for peer-reviewed publication.

Equity, inclusion, and diversity requires that work must be assigned fairly. A great article in Harvard Business Review.

The Special Challenges of Being Both a Scientist and a Mom

Modest Advice for New Graduate Students

 

 

Service to Professional Societies

I have recently finished a fair amount of service to two professional scientific societies and wanted to write a post about what I have found valuable and challenging about these experiences.

I did my first stint of professional society service as a post-doctoral fellow and represented both students and post-docs on the executive of that society. I was a valuable experience and similar in many ways to the various student governments and committees that I’d been a part of in graduate school. It was a fantastic opportunity to network and be involved in selecting the professional development opportunities offered to our early career members.

For the next several years and continuing up to most recently, I’ve served as a judge for various student presentation, poster, and best paper awards. This has allowed me to gain an understanding of what constitutes a great research story and how it can be communicated effectively. I’ve learned a huge amount doing these activities that I now use in my own work and that I pass along to my own lab students.

This was followed by several opportunities to serve as a session chair and the chairperson of several committees in these organizations. This has gained me a subset of very specific organizational skills and allowed me to work with some wonderful colleagues. This work was also very fulfilling as it allowed for the opportunity to overhaul several outdated policies and procedures that we hampering equity, inclusivity, and diversity efforts of the organizations.

I’ve also had the opportunity to contribute to the organization of two scientific conferences which led to the development of a whole host of new professional skills. In hindsight, conferences are a huge amount of work and I would recommend that you wait until you are more than 2 years into your tenure-track job before you take on the task of organizing one!

Most recently, I served on a society’s executive council for three years and this last year I served as the chair for a major section of one of the scientific societies. It was very rewarding, but was more work than I was anticipating, and I’ve therefore made the conscious choice to step back from scientific society service for a few years in order to give myself a break and to allow for alternative perspectives to have a voice.

My take-home messages are:

1) Take the initiative. Sometimes you will be approached to participate, but your contribution will be very welcome if you volunteer through self-nomination.

2) Start small and get your feet wet with some reasonable commitments before diving into duties that are more challenging.

3) Do service that is personally and professionally meaningful for you. I especially liked assignments where I had a fair degree of autonomy and flexibility where I could make a meaningful and long lasting impact on the society.

4) If the timing isn’t right, you should decline opportunities without guilt and take breaks as needed.

5) If you recognize the potential to contribute in others, plant a seed by suggesting that their skills would be valuable and encourage them to get involved.

 

Reflections on Teaching a Three Hour Evening Class for the First Time

Since I’ve started teaching courses at the university level, the classes that I have taught have been 1 hour timeslots three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, or 1.5 hour slots on Tuesdays and Thursdays between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. This semester I taught a 3 hour class for the first time and it was on a Monday evening.

I think that when dealing with timeslots that you haven’t experienced before that it is important to go into the experience with an open mind. Prior to teaching this particular course I spoke with some colleagues who had done 3 hour classes before to get an idea of what they liked and didn’t like about the experience. I also went online and looked more broadly about what other professors said about preparing for and teaching a 3 hour class.

Here are my lists of pros and cons that I experienced:

Pros

1) I liked teaching once per week as opposed to 2 or 3 lecture slots per week. I think this considerably decreased my overall stress level because my days weren’t as fragmented this term. While I enjoy teaching, it was great to know that my classroom time was completed by 10 p.m. on Monday. I felt like the rest of the week was open and full of possibilities.

2) Monday evening was a good timeslot as my students were coming off a weekend and were definitely more lively than if the class had been scheduled in the early morning. Getting them to participate in class was fairly easy.

3) I never felt rushed going through my teaching material. I also felt that I could deliver the material more efficiently and in less time in a single 3 hour block compared to three 1 hour blocks.

4) I was able to offer my students some class time to work on a major group project.

Cons

1) Three hours is a long time to teach and to hold the attention of students. The first hour was always good. I then gave a 10 minute break and we launched into the second hour. After that I gave a 5 minute break and moved on to the last hour. I have to admit that the 3rd hour was pretty tough. I was starting to get tired and holding the full attention of the students was very challenging because they were reaching the limits of their ability to focus.

2) It was disheartening to lose a few students after each break. The vast majority did stay for the second hour, but larger numbers left during the second break. This was at its worst on my very last day of class.

3) I found it harder to run active learning exercises in a 3 hour class compared to a 1 hour class. This might have been because there was more time and less urgency to get through an activity and I think this threw off my sense of timing a bit.

4) If a student missed class on Monday evening, they missed a lot of material.

Overall, I liked teaching a 3 hour class Monday evenings and it’s given me a lot to think about in terms of my teaching, classroom management, and pedagogy.

 

Personal Productivity: Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

Personal Productivity: Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

At my house we are pretty good about eating dinners at home together every night. My partner and I decided early on that we were going to make it a priority and it allows us all to chat over a meal and find out what is going on in everyone else’s lives. My kids have activities several nights a week, but thus far we have still managed to do this by eating earlier on some evenings.

Over the years we have gotten better at planning, buying food, preparing, and serving dinners at home. A great deal of the credit goes to my partner, who does the actual cooking, while I am on clean up duty. It’s a split of chores that works well for us.

On Saturday mornings we update our finances and determine how much money is available in the grocery budget for that week. Our goal is to come up with 6-7 dinners for the upcoming week. Once those are decided, we go through the recipes and our cupboards and freezers, in order to determine what needs to be purchased to make the meals. I enter the required items into an app on my iPhone called Flipp. This is an awesome app as it allows us to have a grocery list and the app shows us where each item is on sale that week. You can circle the sale items in the store flyers right in the app and this makes price matching so easy! We buy the bulk of our groceries at a store that price matches and this easily saves us several dollars each week.

Once the menu is planned for the week, we list the meals on a white board in our laundry room. This allows our kids to see what the dinners are for the week and this means that there are no surprises and a lot less whining about what’s for dinner. On the white board there is also a place for the kids to make requests for meals for the upcoming week, and a running grocery list where they can request that certain food items get purchased. If we run out of a type of food, everyone is pretty good about putting it on the list to be bought the next week.

The 6-7 meals get made the next week, but we don’t slate them into particular days. On days where someone has an activity or event in the evening we often make something easy in the slow cooker. On days where there is more time, my partner will make a more complicated meal. The dinner list also helps us to remember to defrost or marinate food the night before in preparation for the next day’s meal.

Most weeks my partner and I do the grocery shopping together. The kids usually don’t come and that is an advantage as fewer impulse items make it into the cart. We often shop on weekends, but are playing around with going during the week in order to avoid the crowds. We select our own items, but have toyed around with the idea of shopping for groceries online and picking them up at the store, but we haven’t tried that yet.

This pre-planning and purchasing cuts down on a lot of stress and has mostly gotten rid of the dreaded “What’s for dinner?” question in our house. It also saves us a huge amount of money as we are less tempted to eat delivery, take-out, fast-food, or at a restaurant during the week out of desperation.

Doctor Al Digest #25

bacterial-diet-spotlight

Poster by Dr. Tristan Long

Some great articles in the past few weeks…

The Feminism of Black Panther vs. Wonder Woman

We are All for Diversity, but… How Faculty hiring committees reproduce whiteness and practical suggestions for how they can change

Addressing issues related to child-care at conferences

Pushing back against the quick turnaround to serve as a reviewer for journal manuscripts

How some relationships are ending because of the #metoo moment and current politics, and it’s not due to the reason you think!

My colleague and I talk about our #Scicomm efforts.

 

Angry Women

Angry Women

angry woman

Today is International Women’s Day and it seems timely to publish something about a topic that I’ve been wrestling with all of my life, but that I’ve been thinking about deeply for a few weeks. Doing science as a woman is tricky business due to the societal and cultural constraints on what constitutes appropriate and professional behaviour in academic settings. These rules aren’t written down anywhere and often the only way that you find out that you’ve violated them is by being told (explicitly or implicitly) that you’ve behaved inappropriately.

I’d like to start by challenging these rules and to suggest that they are not correct. I believe that there are many ways to be a scientist and to do science and that showing strong emotions can be appropriate and professional. We are people first and scientists second. Emotions are not a minor inconvenience that should be supressed at every turn; they often serve as warnings that something is not right with our world.

I’d also like to unpack the gendered lenses that we all use to view the emotions of others. Single emotions do not belong to only one gender. Women are not the only people who experience sadness; men are not the only people who experience joy. The scientific enterprise is full of moments of various emotions, and I would argue that these emotions are not good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate, professional or unprofessional.

I think what matters is not so much the emotions themselves, but what we choose to do in response to them. I have also recently realized that I am not responsible for managing the emotions of other people and I refuse to bear that burden any longer.

Many times in my career I have been an angry woman. This is natural and fine. It is not an inherently bad thing that I need to be ashamed of. I am allowed to feel, experience, and embrace my anger. That anger has allowed me to do great things in the face of adversity. Anger has permitted me to speak my truths. Anger has enabled me to right some wrongs and to help other people when I have identified injustice and discrimination. If I’m angry, believe that I have good reasons for being so.

I do not need to be tone-policed, mansplained, put in my place, given “friendly” career advice, or concern trolled. I am not in fact uppity, bitter, man-hating, or need to be told I can catch more flies with honey. I’m good.

Career Benefits of Blogging as a Faculty Member

I’ve been on Twitter and blogging since the fall of 2013. When I first started, I didn’t really have any goals other than that I wanted to help early career scientists navigate academia and I wanted to become part of some communities that I didn’t have access to in my daily life. Both of these activities have led to some unexpected positive outcomes.

I would say that the top benefit has been increased visibility of my research and my ideas to a broad community. This has involved interactions with other scientists, various academics, and members of the public. For example, a blog post from April 2015 called “The Advantages of Live Tweeting a Research Talk” led to an invitation to moderate a live Twitter chat comprised on Knowledge Mobilization officers across Canada and the U.S.

The second benefit is the honing of writing and communication skills. These skills are transferable to many other facets of my job and are valuable. I took a stab at writing an article for The Conversation Canada called “The Force of biology is strong in Star Wars” and my aim was to talk about mitochondria and cloning with a general audience. To date the article has received over 17,000 views; nothing else that I have written in my career has received so many reads.

The third benefit is that the blog allows me to share my opinions and to offer advice to early career biologists. The blog allows me to quantify some of my outreach activities and include them as part of my university service. My blog post on “Research Budgeting for Scientists” from March 2015 was re-published on the University Affairs website the next year. I’ve been interviewed for two articles for the journal Nature; one on networking in 2017 and one a few weeks ago called “Why science blogging still matters”. More recently I was invited to join the Science Borealis blog network that features Canadian bloggers who focus on various scientific fields.

I’ll point readers to this fantastic article written by several of my blogging heroes that explores this topic in more detail and talks about other impacts that science blogging can have for an individual and the broader community.

 

Mitochondria are hot!

There have been some very interesting developments in the field of mitochondrial biology in the past two months. This is very exciting for me as someone who works on bioenergetics in a variety of organisms.

The first paper made quite a splash in the community when it came out because the findings suggest that mitochondria operate at much higher temperatures than were previously believed. The paper by Chrétien et al. 2018 appears in PLOS and is entitled “Mitochondria are physiologically maintained at close to 50°C”. I will admit to being pretty open to this idea and it’s because of two reasons. The first is that I perform research on plants and have specifically worked on the enzyme alternative oxidase (AOX). Several plants are capable of shunting electrons through this enzyme and are able to heat inflorescences up to 42°C when ambient temperatures are much lower. Secondly, I’ve always been bothered by the fact that mitochondrial respiration assays using oxygen electrodes are often performed at 37°C regardless of what organism the mitochondria have been isolated from. It doesn’t made sense to me and I question the physiological relevance of assaying mitochondria using a temperature of 37°C when for example the study organism is a fish that has been acclimated to an external temperature of 5-12°C. Mitochondrial respiration is definitely more sluggish when you run these measurements at 5-12°C, but the mitochondria are still active. So for me, someone attempting to tackle the question of what temperature mitochondria actually run at is an important and highly relevant one.

The paper is an elegant one and what struck me in particular is that the authors have attempted to proactively counter the most obvious challenges that they would face from other researchers in the field. It hinges on the supposition that no energy transduction process in nature is 100% efficient and that some of the free energy of the electron transport system (ETS) must therefore be released as heat. They are obviously limited by the technologies currently available, but they have done an excellent job in using both positive and negative controls to validate their experiments and data. They have used the temperature-sensitive probe MitoThermoYellow to attempt to determine the temperature of mitochondria in a mammalian cell line background. As I read the paper, every few minutes I thought of another potential factor that could be responsible for their results, and in the very next sentence they addressed each of my particular concerns; it was a pretty surreal experience. The mitochondrial temperature is directly influenced by the level of operation of the ETS and what components are present (they do some very neat work with the alternative oxidase and uncoupling protein). They do some preliminary enzymology work on crude extracts to demonstrate that several ETS complexes exhibit temperature optima ~50°C, but that this is only true if the mitochondrial membranes are intact. A fascinating next step would be to examine the role of supercomplexes in these effects.

The authors themselves admit that one of the key questions that needs to be considered is whether mitochondria and cells can maintain temperature gradients, or whether any heat would immediately be lost to the rest of the organisms and/or the environment? Here we need to consider what is known about the physical shape, size, number, and localization of mitochondria in cells and what is known about the insulating capabilities of phospholipids, membrane components, and the contents and composition of various cellular compartments. Much of this information is lacking. These issues and other possible critiques of the paper are addressed by Nick Lane in his article “Hot mitochondria?”. Lots of new questions and concepts brought up by the Chrétien et al. paper which makes it a very valuable contribution to the field.

The second article is one by Cory Dunn entitled “Some Liked It Hot: A Hypothesis Regarding Establishment of the Proto-Mitochondrial Endosymbiont During Eukaryogenesis”. This paper was a lot of fun to read and presents a simple, but profound hypothesis: the initial usefulness of the proto-mitochondrion and the evolutionary driving force for its retention was due to its ability to generate heat and that it wasn’t until much later in evolutionary history that its ability to biosynthesize ATP could be harnessed. It’s a pretty neat idea and the figures in the article help the reader considerably. The premise of this article will be further supported if the conclusion of the Chrétien et al. holds up over time.