Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

I’m heading into the final stretch of the “go-back-to-school-for-my-second-degree” experiment and UBC reminds me again of why they piss me off so damn much.  I didn’t take out students loans this time around because when I was young and stupid and financially irresponsible, I racked up almost $40k in student loans.  I don’t want any more.  But I do want my interest-free period while I’m in classes.

So a week ago I went online, filled in my interest-free request for the summer session.  Done.  Right?

I got this message back today:

You have applied for and have been assessed for government student loan funding from Student Aid BC or have applied online for interest-free status for the Summer 2011 session. However, UBC is unable to confirm your enrolment because you are not meeting the minimum loan requirements. The specific error with your registration is that you have more than 10 business days between the end and start dates of your classes in total.

Please keep in mind; to be eligible for loans with during Summer Session you must satisfy all of the following criteria:

*       Enrol in at least 9 credits (audited, wait-listed and withdrawn courses do not count)

*       Enrol in a combination of courses that together form a study period that is at least 12 consecutive weeks long. Individual courses can be shorter than 12 weeks

*       Have no breaks longer than 10 working days between courses

I’m taking 3 classes, for 9 credits which total at least 12 weeks in length.  Otherwise known as a full time course load.  But with the way UBC structures summer terms, there happens to be a break of more than 10 classes between my term 1 classes and my term 2 classes.  AGHHHHHHHHH.

Mainly I’m pissed off because if the break had been at the beginning or at the end of the summer, there would be no problem and I would get some interest relief.  But just because the break is in the middle, I don’t get any interest relief, despite still taking the correct number of credits and class hours in total.

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While in Canada, many universities and institutions remain mum on their animal research activities, researchers in Europe are taking a proactive approach.  There are a few possible reasons for this difference in attitude.  The European research atmosphere is slightly different than that of Canada’s: Certain groups of primates have a legislated right to “inherent value” for example, while no such rights exist in Canada.  Whatever the reason, scientists in Germany and Switzerland have launched an educational initiative called the Basel Declaration which pledges to be more open about research and to engage in public dialogue about research.

As Nature News reports:

“The public tends to have false perceptions about animal research, such as thinking they can always be replaced by alternative methods like cell culture,” says Stefan Treue, director of the German Primate Center in Göttingen. Treue co-chaired the Basel meeting, called ‘Research at a Crossroads’, with molecular biologist Michael Hengartner, dean of science at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Outreach activities, such as inviting the public into universities to talk to scientists about animal research, “will be helpful to both sides”.

I think that this is a good point that Dr.Treue brings up – the importance of dialogue cannot be understated.  He also makes a good point, that alternatives like cell culture are not always viable or indeed, may not be the “alternative” that activists would hope for.  Growing cells requires a hodgepodge of media to keep the culture alive.  One important constituent of cell culture media is fetal bovine serum, or sometimes fetal calf serum, which as the name suggests, comes from cows.  [Note: FCS and FBS are by-products of the meat industry and would be otherwise wasted if not used by research].  But it is important to note that the absence of research on animals does not mean that animal products will not need to be used in research and is a prime example of how science does a poor job of communicating what it does.

[Note: it is possible to grow cells serum-free, but the cost remains prohibitive at the moment]

And, there is the simple fact that cells grown as tissue culture are just not quite the same as cells in a living body.  Just ask Mark Post, who’s trying to create lab-grown meat.  Using biopsies from donor animals and tissue culture techniques, he’s trying to grow enough meat to create a sausage that looks and tastes like the real thing.  Dr. Post’s long term goal is to create meat without needing to slaughter animals.  While he’s succeeded at growing a strip of pork muscle, the “meat” does not resemble anything from the grocery store.  The tissue is weak and prone to cell death due to lack of stimulation and without the support of a proper vascular system to deliver nutrients uniformly.

A similar case can be made for the use of computer modeling.  I think computer models are great – they drastically reduce the cost of research by allowing researchers to narrow the field of interest.  But at best, computer models only reduce the number of possibilities.  When it comes to testing drugs, for example, a computer model cannot predict all the effects on a substance on a whole body system.  We simply don’t have enough information about all the interactions that occur in the body.  Yet.

That is not to say we should not pursue new tissue culture or modeling techniques.  Quite the opposite – these techniques will improve with time and refinement.  In time, they may even be sophisticated enough that human clinical trials are less reliant on animal data for safety and efficacy testing.

But in the mean time, hopefully initiatives like the Basel  Declaration will foster more openness between the public and the animal research community.

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As part of the Year of Science initiative, the province of British Columbia with support from Science World, presents the Science and Health Expo at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel this Thursday and Friday, November 25 and 26.  The expo is aimed towards the general public and aims to show people just how cool science can be.  😉

Looking at the speakers list, you’ll also notice an impressive array of local people whose names tend to end with “Director of …”.  On Thursday, take some time to see Dr. Connie Eaves, co-founder of the Terry Fox Laboratory talk about stem cells.  On Friday, I’d highly recommend catching Dr. Jennifer Grady’s 11:30am talk about having fun with careers in science and “The Road to Personalized Medicine” from Dr. Steven Jones and Dr. Bruce Carleton at 12:45pm.

Also at the Expo: exhibits and hands-on activities for budding scientists of all ages.

Again, check out the website or catch the news on Twitter.

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I’ve been in writing over-drive as I realized that indeed, the more I write, the more views I get.  😛  Now I know that there’s a lot of you reading (thanks WordPress stats!) but many of you seem to be the strong and silent type. I would encourage everyone to leave comments if they have a question, suggestions, or just want to call bs on something I write.

Interesting stories from the past few days in science:

  1. You can’t seem to leave the house the last few weeks without hearing about a new feat in stem cell technology.  Most recently, Nature published a paper which describes the transformation of skin cells into blood cells without the need of first passing through a stem cell state. Crazy stuff – see a summary from Nature News here.
  2. If you haven’t heard about the Rockstars of Science initiative yet, check it out!  This campaign paired leading scientists with big name musicians in an attempt to demonstrate the importance of science to the public.  Interesting new idea, check it out in GQ’s December “Men of the Year” issue and read about it on The Intersection.
  3. It’s one of those eternal life mysteries you always wondered about… well here it is, the physics of cat lapping milk from Wired!

I have a few ideas in the works for blogs: look for a piece on rodent anesthesia coming up and also a few fish stories.  I’ve managed to find a few newsletter articles that I’ve done as well and may repost them here.


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Dr. Jonathan Garlick shows us pitiful humans how science education was meant to be.

Originally seen here on Deb Amlen’s site – thanks!

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The BC Cancer Agency, with support from the Provincial Health Services Authority and Roche Canada, present the 2010 Community Cancer Forum this Saturday, November 27 at the Westin Bayshore Resort and Marina in Vancouver BC.  This free public forum caps off several days of events as part of the 2010 Cancer Conference for industry and health professionals in the field of cancer care, research and treatment.
Cancer patients, friends, family and supporters are invited to attend informational and interactive sessions and exhibits which run from 9:30am to 4pm.  Registration is not required!
Two midday sessions are running which offer three different presentations each, beginning at 10am. 
Session A is held in Salon 1 and covers:
·         What is cancer “Brain-Fog” anyway?
·         Moving forward after cancer treatment
·         Complementary Therapies
Session B is held in Salon 2 and covers:
·         Nutrition to feed the soul and nourish the spirit
·         A whole body approach – Engage the mind, body and spirit
·         A personal journal: Bif Naked
For more information about the presentations and the speakers, please visit: http://www.bccancer.bc.ca/HPI/ACC2010/communitycancerforum.htm

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The next VanBUG seminar is being held this Wednesday, November 10th at the BC Cancer Research Centre.  For the event poster and details, please visit their website: http://vanbug.org

This month’s seminar features Ryan Morin from Dr. Marco Marra’s lab as the intro speaker.  He will be discussing data mining for “novel cancer driver mutations”.

The featured speaker is Dr. Quaid Morris, from the University of Toronto.  He will be discussing strategies for predicting the targets of mRNA-binding proteins, focusing in particular on RNAcompete, a type of microarray assay, and the geneMANIA project, a tool for predicting the relationship between genes.

Unfortunately I will not be able to make it to this seminar, but I would highly recommend interested bioinformaticians to go and enjoy the talk and free pizza.  The last seminar, featuring Dr. Steve Hallam, was excellent!

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Today I had the privilege of attending a memorial to celebrate the life of Dr.Rex Kenner, curator of the Cowan Vertebrate Museum (now housed in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum), who passed away earlier this year on January 23.  It was held inside the peaceful sanctuary of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver.

I’ve always considered Rex one of my foremost mentors.  When I was doing my undergrad in biology at UBC, he was one of the few scientists I met who really seemed like a “real” biologist.  So many times you meet people who major in biology, but they are only concerned with biology on the small scale – genes, metabolic processes and the like.  Even myself, who majored in genetics.

Rex was the kind of scientist who cared about the big picture – the ecology, the biodiversity and the nature of the species he studied.  Every time I came to the museum to volunteer or dropped by his office to say hello, he’d have an interest tidbit to share about a specimen he was working on or a project he was involved with.

Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered today that Rex’s undergrad and Ph.D work was in the realm of physical chemistry!  More surprises followed, as I learned about his work with the Taiwanese community, his contributions to the many nature groups throughout the Vancouver area, his monthly rounds of bug sampling and bird watching, and the origin of his collection of brightly hued sweaters.

Many speakers rose today to share their memories.  Each one emphasized Rex’s generosity, his contributions to the community, and his passion for the natural world.  I was gratified to see representatives from the Cowan Vertebrate Museum come up on stage to acknowledge and remember his work and his impact on students, staff and researchers.

For myself, Rex taught me an appreciation for biodiversity and a passion for science outreach.  I truly believe that an institute like the Beaty Biodiversity Museum contributes more to our understanding of life and our place on this earth than any of the myriad of minor “breakthroughs” we hear about in the news on a daily basis.  And within these institutions, it’s people like Rex who will inspire people to love science and nature.  I continue to strive to match his example, though I doubt I am half as selfless as he was!

In closing, a few words from the celebration today:

Rex was green before green was cool; didn’t drive a car, didn’t own a home, didn’t need a lot of stuff. He stepped lightly on the earth. We are all better for having known him.

And the parting words:

So long, and thanks for all the fish!

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Today CALAS-Pacific had a webinar on a system called MouseOx by STARR Life Sciences which measures oxygen content in mice using infrared light. I’m not in the best of moods today – I seem to have come down with some sort of flu – and this seminar did a great job with getting me riled up. Grrr…

The apparatus itself is a good idea. It’s a non-intrusive way of measuring oxygen content and can be used in a variety of settings from research science to veterinary offices. But you know what would have been better? PowerPoints that showed up on screen. Narration that is clear and understandable. And more than 15-20 people showing up.

After the webinar wrapped up, a gentleman who had been sitting off to the side stood up an announced that there was some reading material available by the door for anyone who would be interested, and then he left.

Meanwhile, I stopped to ask some of the CALAS members what they thought of the talk. The general response was that they were “happy to be allowed to come” but that they “didn’t understand it”. This is what I have been saying, no, shouting, into internet cyberspace for the past year! Members are eager to learn and to improve their skills and knowledge, but CALAS-Pacific is not providing the appropriate training opportunities! What good is telling them about pulse oximetry when they don’t understand what arterial blood pressure is, or how hemoglobin works?

Duly informed, I made my way to leave and was planning my blog when I was accosted by the former Program Co-Chair for CALAS-Pacific who shoved a stack of papers in my face and demanded, “Are these yours?” These were the papers that the quiet gentleman had left behind. Huh? Um… you and everyone else saw that some unknown man left after announcing he was leaving papers for CALAS members to read. Clearly they belong to him. Why accuse me? And what am I being accused of!? :/ There is little more I hate than passive aggressiveness.

I ignored a glare and left our illustrious CALAS execs and former execs to themselves, grumbling over pieces of paper.  I am still not entirely sure what that was about, aside from using it as an excuse to make snide remarks to me.

Now, I am returning to the safety of my couch to nurse my flu.

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I squealed like a 10 year old girl today when I found out the news 🙂 The Beaty Biodiversity Museum, located at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, is scheduled to officially open October 16. Finally! They’ve had series of tantalizing “previews” throughout the summer, but this is finally the real thing!

The website suggests that the “treasure trove” of specimens will be available for the public to view on the 16th and 17th. I desperately hope this is true – these gems have been locked away in a dusty wing of the Biology building for far too long! I was disappointed earlier in the summer when I attended the preview and only saw a handful of specimens on display so I’m really crossing my fingers on this!

Hours are 11am to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Mondays and Tuesdays are reserved for research.

Passes are $12 for an adult or $35 for a family. Free for current UBC staff and students!
If you’re a UBC alumni, bring a friend and admission is 2 for 1!

Remember, this is a research and teaching collection – Many of these specimens have been lovingly prepared by volunteers (such as yours truly, back in the day) and over-worked curators (Rex Kenner – I don’t forget you! Your baby is finally open) who make memories from road kill. Be respectful, be ready to learn, and be in awe of the AMAZING diversity of life you will find.

Check out the website! I’ll be there on opening day!

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