A window into Research

In my previous post I discussed how Scientific meetings/conferences can be viewed as a Window into Research. Keeping up with the light summertime blog post theme, I wanted to present another interoperation for Window into Research, an “Arts & Science” project I have been working on in the last year.

Almost a year ago our lab moved to its new location in the newly renovated Richards Building. The building, designed by the famous architect Louis Kahn, is a designated National Historic Landmark and (as we found out) a constant tourist attraction. Because it’s a historical site we were not allowed to modify the walls – but no one said anything about the windows….. And so, shortly after we moved in, we turned the big windows into another whiteboard for the lab. The colorful result brought further attention (we recently had the dean visit with donors, admiring our new art form…;) and even Michael Schade, the architect responsible for the renovation, was pleasantly surprised by it (I told him that’s what happens if you let people into your plans…;)

At some point I decided to turn the lab’s corner window into my own mini “Arts & Science” project: A view into our lab’s research/daily life via stills of the window. The original idea was to constantly capture the window area across times of the day/week/month/year. While I failed to systematically do that (for now…), I did manage to collect quite a few images through the year which I turned into the clip below. I plan to keep updating this as the story of our lab’s research unfolds….

A few things worth noting:

  1. The theme song was deliberately chosen. First, it’s a nice song by Mark Knopfler. Second, its name is “Sailing to Philadelphia” matches well the lab’s location at UPenn. But the third reason is maybe the most intriguing one: It revolves around Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Many people know about their contribution: Mapping the Mason-Dixon line between Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. This line later became famous as the border between the South and the North, thus representing much more than just a line. But what people do not know is that Mason and Dixon were English Scientists (astronomers, cartographers) that came to America to help map the then uncharted territories of the colonies with their new tools/methods. A few centuries after Mason & Dixon we too are in Philadelphia, mapping uncharted territories but in Genomics and Genetics….
  2. The clip gives a biased view of our research as it depicts more frequently the people actually sitting besides the window (Jordi, Anu). Other people have the misfortune of using plain whiteboards…..
  3. Finally, based on the information contained in the clip:
    1. Can you tell what type of data/problems we commonly work on? (hint: molecules like DNA, but cooler, and a process that rhymes with “rhyming”  😉
    2. Can you guess what is our family pet??


And now, for the actual clip… Enjoy!


Making the most out of conferences

I’m finally back from literally going around the globe (Philly->Japan->Singapore-> back the other side to Orlando via San Francisco….). With all the depressing news recently coming in from what seems like everywhere in the world I thought I’ll get back to blogging with something more light, appropriate for the summer time…

My travels involved a string of meetings (RNA2016, SINGARNA, IRB-SIG16, ISMB2016) which I attended/organized/gave talks at with many of my lab members. Going to meetings is always fun but also a lot of work. As a senior lab member and even more so as a PI you have responsibilities for getting your lab members ready (talk/poster preparation/practice) and then getting them acquainted with subjects areas, other labs’ work, and specific people. Here is a funny depicting of this by research-in-progress:

Phd student supervises a master student

Meeting people with my professor at a conference (and in case you are wondering, no, I’m not famous as Obama…)

More seriously, meetings serve as a window into research: you see what’s out there, you establish seeds for future collaborations, and maybe most importantly – you also get to step out of your daily life to look again (as if through a window) on your research projects and priorities. I highly recommend preparing for a conference – think ahead what you want to learn about, who do you want to meet and maybe set these meetings in advance if needed. Another great advice I got a few years ago from my postdoc mentor, Ben Blencowe, is to make sure you attend every year or so a meeting which is outside your list of obvious ones – basically use it to push yourself to learn about new areas. And when you finally come back, make sure to have a summary meeting which will highlight works of interest as well as general trends. This will help not only the poor souls that missed the meeting, but also yourself…

Last and not least – be sure to have some fun. This will help keep you energized and motivated as meetings can sometimes run long and simply fry your brain…. Here is one way of doing it, which involves a lot of Japanese Karaoke + free drinks (seen here are Kristen Lynch and I, working hard to defend the PI honor…)



And yes, there are audio/video recordings as well – but you probably don’t want to hear those…. 😉