The Excitable Scientist

Mostly cheerful, sometimes snarky commentary on life science research and its broader impacts

Trailing Clouds February 5, 2015

Filed under: life outside the lab,medschool,social justice — excitablescientist @ 12:24 am

Today’s edition of our medical humanities class was one of the most special (and emotional) lectures I have attended in med school thus far. It was on prison health, which has increasingly been on my mind, for reasons I’ll leave for another post (but, briefly, including Marissa Alexander, Raif BadawiBaher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste, among countless other people imprisoned without just cause, a reality to which I feel screaming is the only appropriate response)

Our small group had a chance to talk to a previously incarcerated woman about her experiences with the health care system, and at the end of the day I had the special opportunity to meet her beautiful baby. Being a witness to this ubiquitous yet extraordinary mother-child bond and the incredible renewal of life it represents brought to mind a memorable line from a memorable sermon (Jan. 11th) by Rev. Dan Chambers:

A baby is received into the world still trailing clouds of glory, with eternity shining in her eyes. 


Photo from Flickr user Dennis Amith, used under CC BY-NC 2.0 license.


2015 Resolutions December 30, 2014

Filed under: life outside the lab — excitablescientist @ 1:48 pm


do no harm (but take no shit)

Image source:

1. Floss


The 2014 Resolutions list, for comparison.


In which going to the gym feels countercultural July 9, 2014

Filed under: grad school,life outside the lab — excitablescientist @ 10:50 pm

Much to the dismay of one of my more judgemental outdoor purist friends, I have joined a gym.  I have also started running at a measurable frequency.  Both of these activities utilize time I could be spending doing all kinds of paid and unpaid, meaningful and utterly devoid of meaning, stimulating and soul-destroying work.  Meanwhile, my own health is on a definite downward trajectory, as I turn to high-calorie, dopamine-inducing foods for the energy I need to make it through the day, while my clothes burst at the seams (sometimes literally), my heart probably struggling to pump blood to my increasingly fried brain.


Going out for a run feels like a big f-you to anyone (read: everyone) who expects trainees in the biomedical sciences to sacrifice their own health in the name of an enterprise that shows them, by and large, no love.  Every step forward, slow and clumsy as it may be, is in its essence giving the middle finger to the culture of overwork in my field, the culture of letting career aspirations override physical and mental well-being, and it’s deliciously gratifying.


Resolutions revised January 29, 2014

Filed under: grad school,life outside the lab,Uncategorized — excitablescientist @ 10:21 pm

For the past year or so, maybe more, I have been admonishing myself nearly every day for waking up too late (my perceived ideal wake up time being 6-7am), even though I manage to get to work at a reasonable time (~9am) most days, barring exceptional circumstances, or if I have to come in early for a big experiment.  My brain has internalized the dogma of “productive people wake up early so in order to be productive I must do the same”, whereas my body has been utterly non-compliant.


I used to be an early morning person throughout my teenage and early adult years, but apparently am really not anymore.  Whatever amount of sleep I get, I find that waking up an hour early reduces my productivity by an amount >> 1h if I have to do any creative or intellectual work that day.  I feel irritable and sleep-deprived even if I got enough sleep (8h or more).  There is just no benefit to doing this on an elective basis.


So, instead of starting every day with a sense of failure, I am officially striking Resolution #6 (get to work by 8am every day) from my list, given that it only succeeded in making me feel miserable, while negatively impacting my productivity on the rare days when it was adhered to.  Making decent progress on the other resolutions, though, except #9 (piano) and #5 (pool/gym).  Really struggling with the latter- it’s difficult to work out when you have no energy, but think I would have lots more energy if I got more (high-intensity) exercise.  If anyone has suggestions on breaking this cycle, I’d love to hear them!


Heavy Load (for a Petite Girl) January 14, 2014

Filed under: biking,life outside the lab — excitablescientist @ 11:24 pm

I purchased a new set of panniers last spring, about twice the size of my previous ones, and my life changed for the better. This purchase, however, was preceded by a pretty strange interaction with one of the bike store sales staff, who mansplained to me that panniers don’t come in sizes greater than the ones I eventually bought because “BC is really hilly and we wouldn’t want a petite girl like [me] to overburden herself”.


I am pleased to report that this ‘petite’ (5’8 and 160lbs, lol) girl is managing just fine, even after figuring out that on dry days her pannier capacity expands to something closer to 60lbs (combined) if they are loosely held together by a clasp at the top instead of rolled down to the advertised 42L. Consequently, I have started carrying only one pannier to work most days, in a vain effort to cut down on steric hindrance (I always feel I need triple the space of a normal person when I’m carrying bike gear). This has added amusement to the somewhat mundane task of grocery shopping, as I am continually surprised by the amount of cargo that can fit into a single pannier. In today’s edition, we have:



Fig. 1. Representative image of pannier contents following a post-work grocery trip. Pannier pictured in top left.


– 1 laptop + charger
– 1 notepad
– 1 daily planner
– 1 set of tire levers
– 1 bike pump
– 1 spare inner tube
– 1 bottle of bike lube
– 1 multi-tool
– 1 loose allen key
– 2 screws of unclear origin
– 2 spare bike lights
– 4 bungee cords
– 1 corkscrew
– 1 package of ibuprofen
– 1 bag of tortilla chips
– 1 jar of pickles
– 2 cucumbers
– 1 kg grapes
– 250g cornmeal
– 1 loaf of bread
– 3 dips: guacamole, sundried tomato pesto, pineapple mango salsa
– 1 glass food container
– 1 block of cheese


All in all, a solid investment, I’d say, and one that will in all likelihood keep my balancing skills sharp for years to come.


2014 Resolutions January 2, 2014

Filed under: grad school,life outside the lab — excitablescientist @ 3:29 pm

As the word on the street is that setting specific goals and having your friends hold you accountable for meeting them is key to keeping New Year’s Resolutions, I have decided to post mine, 2014 edition.

So here they are, in what I think is increasing order of difficulty/decreasing likelihood of success. What are yours?


10. Actually set up Christmas decorations this year

9. Practice playing piano for 1h, 3x per week

8. Dedicate at least one weekend half-day to PhD thesis only (no admin work or emails); preferably use some of this time to plan experiments for the coming week

7. Cut down on eating out; make at least 50% of meals at home

6. Get to work by 8am each day

5. Go to the pool/gym 2x per week

4. Read a book for 30 min, 3x per week

3. Limit non-work Internet time to 1h per day or less

2. Floss at least 3x per week

1. Spend less time being angry about issues I have no control over (related to #3) oh who am I even kidding