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A Farewell to Teaching?

Possibly.keep4

I’m taking time away from teaching – at least for the Fall Semester –  to pursue new opportunities closer to Kansas City. (to which we recently moved house).

Teaching has been something enjoyable that I always wanted to explore, and when we moved from Philadelphia to Paola, Kansas in 2009, a terrific opportunity presented itself. Over the past several years I’ve taught:

  • General Biology
    • My bread and butter course. The more I taught it, the more I liked it and felt good about the story arc I had with it
    • First half of semester: The Cell and its workings
    • Second half: Reproduction, Genetics, and Cancer
  • Microbiology
    • I always thought that I disliked this class, but I think I enjoyed it, I just never felt great about pacing and felt like I was doing the helminths a disservice.
    • I approached this class for a molecular angle through the survey of life, then from an immunologist’s perspective to finish off
    • One of my favorite elements of this class was following an epidemiology sketch that put my students in charge of running a good analysis and containment of outbreak. I would love to include more about John Snow and the origins of epidemiology if I could
  • Medical Terminology
    • This class was a bust. I used it every day just to crank up for Patho, but it’s hard to generate a narrative about what is essentially a semester long vocabulary list
    • I think I would have liked this if I ever got a good handle on how to make it interesting; I love language, and etymology, but how do you fill an hour and a half with it?
  • Population Genetics
    • This was the smallest, most undefined course I’ve taught. We covered a number of topics including:
      • making relationship maps from DNA sequences
      • exploring allelic frequencies
      • looking at survival strategies

      This was a lot of fun and probably the most low-pressure class I’ve ever taught. It was more like a graduate seminar.

  • Pathophysiology
    • This is the core class that my nursing students needed.
    • I was leery of teaching it because it is not where my background was strongest, but it is interesting and I found myself spending hours filling in background for myself.I would be willing to bet that after a few more semesters it would be my favorite class to teach.

The big question now is: ‘What next?’

If anyone knows anyone who would hire an Immunologist / Molecular Biologist / Educator  / With interest in developing coding skills, please point them in my direction.

americangods

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Posted by on August 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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First Day: In the Can

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I’m referring to the 2nd definition in this link

I was worried, but I think things went well for my first day of classes this semester. This Spring I am teaching my standard Microbiology course as well as a new Ecology course that I am using to teach all the things that I have never managed to squeeze into my normal General-  and Micro- biology classes.

So far I’m still trying to figure out a way that I can move my Micro class as quickly as possible into Immunology – which is my true love in biology. 

In Ecology, we jumped right into the idea of science as a tool for understanding the universe and working on some of the basic mathematics that help us feel comfortable in the conclusions at which we arrive.  

To describe this, we invented ‘VitaMax!’- a name so absurd that I thought I was inventing it, but it turns out that it’s a real thing – actually a couple of them. Who knew? Vitamax, the dietary supplement,  a multi-vitamin for Cystic Fibrosis patients, a green coffee extract for weight loss, and “A single capsule [that] guarantees firm and lasting erections 45 minutes after being taken.”

(by the way,  is it that a single capsule that gets you multiple erections?)

Well, our VitaMax! extends life … or at least that’s what we’re hoping. The data is in and we just need to evaluate whether it meets our strict requirements before getting it on the market.

Here’s the skinny:

VitaMax!® – Live life to the Max!

Without VitaMax, patients have a normal life span.

  1. Look this up and cite your source. If you are male, use the male life expectancy; if you’re female, use the female life expectancy. Assume the following data matches your ‘control’ group.
    1. Life Expectancy__________________

With VitaMax, patients lived:

     
 

life expectancy with Vita-Max:

 
 

85

 
 

92

 
 

90

 
 

74

 
 

102

 
 

90

 
 

83

 
 

77

 
 

76

 
 

83

 

 

  1. Determine the mean age patients lived to with VitaMax:_________________

 

  1. Determine the standard deviation of these patients:______________________

 

 

  1. Graph your data as either a bar graph or scatter plot.
  2. Look up a formula for computing Z-Score:

 

  1. What does Z-Score tell us?

 

 

  1. Assuming you can use the SD of your patients as representative for that in both the control and experimental group,  compute the Z-score for the average age without VitaMax __________________

 

  1. How likely is it that this average age without the drug falls within the area of the bell curve described by your experimental group’s data?

 

  1. Thinking as a scientist, how would you present this data to your company? Try to make a one-sentence statement about its efficacy.

 

10. Thinking as a marketing person, how would you pitch VitaMax to the public (without lying)? Try to make this also a one-sentence statement .

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Covering up the past

Or at least not letting it out.

sorry-mention-ivy-college-ecard-someecards

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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One snake or two?

My wife and I had a conversation this afternoon that prompted this post.

This is a caduceus:

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This is the staff of Asclepius (as part of the American Medical Association symbol):

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The caduceus is the staff carried by Hermes, the messenger of the gods.  As such, it is also a symbol associated with messengers and printers (considering that printing is a form of communication, and therefore within the realm of the messenger. It is also used today as a symbol of commerce.

 The rod of Asclepius is the symbol of the god of the same name, who is associated with healing and medicine. Today, this symbol retains its association with medicine and is often found incorporated in the signs of medical facilities.

Unfortunately, these two similar symbols are sometimes confused.

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 For example, this student is clearly asking for donations so that he can afford the education to know the difference between a caduceus and a rod of Asclepius.

Maybe once he’s got that in order he can start studying medicine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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I Think… but I do not Know

Darwin, wrote in his ‘B’ notebook in 1837,

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And in one instant transformed the way that we all think about life on earth. This simple diagram unified science. It captured Linnaeus’ nomenclature and married it to the fossil progressions that geologist the world over were seeing in the rocks. It redefined how we understand species and laid the framework for a new view of life as being all related at some level, with some organisms sharing more characteristics with their closer relatives and less with those more distant. It allowed scientists more than a hundred years later to recognize that the biochemical foundations of bacteria and yeast and drosophila and humans were all the same. Because we are fundamentally one family. There was no need to identify a genetic code for each species. Instead, we share a common (universal) code of DNA triplets each calling for an Amino Acid in building proteins.

However, there has been a lot of thought about what it really does mean to be a species. Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species, addresses just this point. I raise this question on the first day of my general biology class and my microbiology class. In general biology we eventually rest on the idea that, at least in the larger plants and animals we are used to encountering – and will discuss in the course of our class, the ability to mate with, and produce fertile offspring from is necessary and sufficient to group two animals into the same species. Of course the mule comes up as a near exception necessitating the ‘produce fertile offspring’ clause, but this is a definition we can accept. In microbiology, we are forced, by the nature of the organisms we study, to discard that convenient description. Many micro-organisms replicate asexually and are capable of transferring genes horizontally.

thrashing fish
knowing they’re in a bucket
and not knowing

          -Issa 1819

In the November 1 issue of The Scientist, Axel G. Rossberg, Tim Rogers, and Alan J. McKane tackle the very existence of ‘species.’ Therein, they acknowledge the fact that we use the concept of ‘species’ for our own convenience and consider the possibility (or rater, probability) that the very idea of species delineation may be artificial. The article looks into the variety of life and how the definition must change depending upon the organisms in question and makes us face the assumptions we often take for granted. Click on ‘The Scientist’ below to see the full article.

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                Link to the article in The Scientist

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Poor Science Communication endangers public health

I have a pretty impressive stack of ‘Science’ and ‘Journal of Immunology’ journals stacked on my study desk. Well, they would be impressive if they were not in the ‘To Be Read’ pile.

I had an opportunity to make some headway into this pile today and started reading the 4 October 2013 issue of Science featuring a number of articles about science communication. So far, everything I’ve read has been good, but I just put down a fantastic article by Dan Kahan entitled “A Risky Communication Environment for Vaccines.”

Several aspects of this article make it one of the best I’ve read in some time.

1. Simple, clear writingImage

2. A clear mission of improving public health by insisting on the scientific community to do a better job of talking about its work with the public

3. A novel, data-supported argument exposing how misinformation among scientists leads to misinformation in the public

4. A level-headed explanation of how key decisions should be made in order to obtain the most desirable results (again, increased public health)

It’s widely recognized that Merck made a severe mistake in the marketing and legislative lobbying done to promote mandatory adoption of its HPV vaccine , Gardasil. However, Kahan goes further to illustrate how a very similar vaccine (against Hepatitis B) was previously introduced without a lobbying effort and resulted in widespread adoption of the vaccine without significant resistance from the public. Kahan writes:

Had the HPV vaccine taken this path, it would have followed the uneventful course that marked introduction of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccine into the U.S. public health system. Hepatitis B, like HPV, is sexually transmitted and causes cancer (6). The CDC endorsed universal childhood HBV vaccination—for boys and girls, a much less jarring proposal—in the 1990s. There was no political controversy. Rather, states steadily added the HBV vaccine to mandatory vaccination schedules through the customary mechanism—not high-profile legislative enactments, but guidelines routinely promulgated by public health administrators operating outside the political realm (7).”

Also check out the Podcast Interview with the author, Dan Kahan at ScienceMag.com.

He then goes on to warn against aggressive promotion of vaccines as this can often backfire psychologically and provide fuel for the fire of an anti-vaccine movement. This is exactly what James Colgrove predicted in his Perspective article in the 2006 New England Journal of Medicine when he warned that, “Moves to make the vaccine compulsory are sure to ignite a new round of polarizing debates.” Yet, he goes on to reiterate the importance of (near) universal vaccination in protecting out most vulnerable:

Laws making vaccination compulsory raise unique ethical and policy issues. High levels of herd immunity protect all members of the community, including those who cannot receive vaccines because of medical contraindications. This protection provides a justification for compulsion. The availability of religious or philosophical exemptions mitigates concern about governmental intrusion on individual decision making. Opinions vary, however, about the permissible scope of exemptions. Data show that schools with exemption rates as low as 2 to 4% are at increased risk for disease outbreaks and that children who have been exempted from vaccine requirements have a much greater risk of acquiring infectious diseases than their vaccinated peers.1 Minors have a right to be protected against vaccine-preventable illness, and society has an interest in safeguarding the welfare of children who may be harmed by the choices of their parents or guardians.”

Luckily, these great articles about scientific communication are freely available on the website links above.

It’s embarrassing that a (admittedly fantastic) comic like Calvin and Hobbes can communicate more in one page that many scientists can over the course of their entire careers. Bill Waterson asks, “Is it sometimes valuable to give up just a little freedom if all society can work better because of it? …”

Ethicshobb

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The question we gotta ask is: “Is our kids learning?”

ImageThis September was a landmark for the Los Angeles unified school district, which began to equip each of its 30,000 students with iPads. The push goes through all grades, K-12 and provides the iPad, an educational suite of apps and a gated internet portal.

Businessweek (citation) reported that it took only days for students to hack their machines and work around the limitations imposed on internet usage. The school district  immediately reacted to the breach and seized all the machines in order to address the problem.

Interestingly, I see no mention of how this is quite an amazing effort by the students to assess their situation, realize they are frustrated and hack their way through the security. First, this should be exactly what you expect. But more importantly, this demonstrates a lot of skill and ingenuity. I would be proud if my son had been the one to do it.

This is like recognizing the Kevin Mitnicks of the school early on, before they got into any deep trouble and having the opportunity to cultivate their skills rather than demonize them. After all, where did this guy wind up?  

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Phone home, Captain.

That’s right, working as a security advisor. (I’m sure everyone would have been happier without the time on the lamb and locked up for doing for fun the stuff he does today for profit.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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