Posts Tagged ‘Science’

First Steps

// October 5th, 2009 // 4 Comments » // Blog

Today was Day 1 of my shiny, new Masters course, marking my first step towards a career shift into Bioinformatics, inshā’Allāh. For those currently scratching their heads in confusion: read my earlier confession.

I want to be all clever, and write some amazing account of the myriad of emotions that I've experienced over the past two months, culminating in the pinnacle of nerves that was my afternoon commute into the familiar territory of what was once my undergraduate campus. But frankly, I cannae be bothered. I can barely put a sentence together right now; I don't think mornings agree with me. Most of my day was quite “meh”, tbh. I only had two lectures, one of which was a safety induction. Yawnsville!

There are about 20 of us, maybe less, on the course. 1:1 ratio of guys to gals, with the majority of gals being bionerds, and a smattering of various other disciplines amongst the guys. One of the women was actually more research experienced than me. Not only did she have a PhD in Endocrinology (she worked on growth hormone, whereas I worked on progesterone signalling), she also spent a year as a postdoc afterwards. Isn't that a poke in the eye for the people hating on me for taking this course? Okay, maybe not 'hating'… I've just heard a lot of “Haven't you studied enough, Mehzabeen, har har”. Yeah, hilarious. Hrm…

Though, the absolute highlight of my day was when I asked the computing lecturer if having a Mac would be problematic for the programming aspect of the course. I have spent the last fortnight worrying that I'd have to buy a regular laptop, or figure out how to install Windows/ Linux on my MacBook. The head professor – the one I refer to as the 'bad cop', from my initial interview – gives me a half smile and says: “You have great taste!”. Then a few moments later, speaking over the computing guy, “We all use Macs in the lab”. And then, the cherry on the double chocolate sundae: “You know what? You've already passed!“.

Talk about making an amazing first (or more accurately, second) impression! Alhamdulillah – thank you God! Much happiness. And thanks to Apple too! Let's pray that it only gets better from here on in, inshā’Allāh. :)

An Inspirational, Must-See TED Video

// September 23rd, 2009 // No Comments » // Blog

I've been watching a few of the latest-release TED videos the past few days, mainly because I know once I download them, it'll be a while until I actually get round to viewing them. I posted links to a couple on my Twitter stream yesterday, but I decided this video deserved its own blog post, to become a part of my permanent archives, inshā’Allāh.

It's only six minutes long, and you must watch it now!

At age 14, in poverty and famine, a Malawian boy built a windmill to power his family's home. Now at 22, William Kamkwamba, who speaks at TED, here, for the second time, shares in his own words the moving tale of invention that changed his life.

Don't you feel inspired? And also, flippin' grateful for every, little thing? I am so amazed my his initiative. Bravo, young man! Māshā’Allāh.

I love Science even more now.

Don't waste the good feeling: donate to Muslim Hands education fund, so more young people can have access to the basic materials they need to succeed, inshā’Allāh.

TED: Focus on Biology

// September 3rd, 2009 // 6 Comments » // Blog

I spent a couple of hours on the tube today, and decided to catch up on the mountain of TED videos I have sitting on my iPod. I went through about five in total, three of which had a Bio theme. I found these to be particularly interesting (said the Biologist) for different reasons, and thought I'd share.

Janine Benyus shares Nature's designs

This talk was about the fascinating field of Biomimicry. I swear, if I had the talent to invent, this would be my work. I love the presenter's humility. I don't know how anyone could not be humbled by the creative genius of natural design, as revealed in the video.

Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day; there are indeed Signs for men of understanding. Men who celebrate the praises of Allāh, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth, (With the thought): “Our Lord! not for naught Hast Thou created (all) this! Glory to Thee! Give us salvation from the penalty of the Fire.” [Qur'an: 3:190-1]

Kary Mullis' next-gen cure for killer infections

A very short video, but intriguing nonetheless. I wish he had gone into more detail about how exactly they plan to target the infectious organisms via the DNA linker (?). I guess I'll have to look it up at some point. I also think it's premature to say “mission accomplished” at this stage, as not everything transfers smoothly from lab work to clinical trials.

Elaine Morgan says we evolved from aquatic apes

Now, before you all go crazy on me: I am not posting this video because I agree with her theory. I just think it's a brilliant example of dogmatic thinking amongst scientists – even evolutionary biologists. Plus, she's funny!

A Sad Realization

// July 13th, 2009 // 8 Comments » // Blog

A few moments ago, I posted the following status message:

Mehzabeen wonders why the Star Trek Voyager crew (or even DS9 – though I'm not really a fan of that spin-off) never got their own 'motion picture'?

I am not sure why I posted it, because, truly, I don't expect anyone on my FB or Twitter, or even my Googable blog, to answer it… unless they want to point out how much of a geek I am for thinking about such things, which is so freakin' cliché, that I'd be forced to throw a virtual chappal at them for not having the imagination to come up with something wittier. I mean, c'mon!

Anyway, it got me thinking about the last time I actually had a friend whom I could share this gloriously abnormal side of me with, as there is no-one in my life right now. For some reason, girls generally aren't into SciFi, never mind Muslim girls.

To be honest, I think the last time was in secondary school; not even undergrad. Sure, I hung around with student folk who had similar interests, but I wouldn't class them as “friends”. Just people in my extended social circle. (No, I wasn't part of the university SciFi soc).

I don't even have hope for a future husband-type to have a similarly nerdy streak in him; people are just so BLAH. Or, if they're not boring, they're already married – most likely to women who don't appreciate that quirky side. Gah!

Honestly, am I just a one-off here?

Is there anybody else out there?

Hello -oh -oh -oh…? [echo dissipates into the darkness]

Sigh.

Confession Time

// July 9th, 2009 // 13 Comments » // Blog

Yesterday, I was informed that I had received the funding I'd need to accept the position that I mentioned in my last post. But, I am still a little scared to tell you what that position is exactly.

Ack… Okay.

I am going back to uni.

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I’m Bringing Bio Back

// July 6th, 2009 // 4 Comments » // Blog

I have spent the past few days with my head in various biological research journals, in preparation for a last-minute interview that took place earlier today. I was asked to select a recently published paper to review in the form of a five minute Powerpoint presentation. Five minutes is impossibly short for a blabber-mouth like me, but I think I managed it somehow!

Though I had several 'blonde' moments (for example, when asked to explain what 'p<0.05' meant, I began to mime a bell curve, clearly illustrating my poor grasp on statistics. Agh! That one's going to haunt me forever…), at the end of the torture session, amazingly, I was still offered a position by the interviewers. Alhamdulillah! However, I won't know until next week whether I'll be accepting it or not, as it depends on the funding they have available.

I don't really want to give away what the interview was for, right now – mainly because it may cause many of you to roll your eyes, and think I'm even more crazy. Especially in light of various statements I have made on this blog in the recent past. Dang, I knew this blogging business would come back to bite me one day!

Anyway, it's been a while since I sat down to read a proper research paper, and I have to say, I quite enjoyed the experience. It was a pleasant surprise for me, as in the past I'd find the same activity quite tedious – maybe because I was already tired and stressed from conducting my own research; having to read about someone else's became too much like hard work.

If you're interested, this is the paper I ended up selecting:

Cox, B., et al (2009) Comparitive systems biology of human and mouse as a tool to guide the modeling of human placental pathology, Molecular Systems Biology, 5:279.

In simpler terms: the study aimed to assess the usefulness of the mouse as a model for human disease at the molecular level, by comparing gene expression profiles in the placental tissue of both organisms. They focused on the placenta as healthy samples of this tissue are relatively easy to obtain, and the two species share physiological features. There is also a clinical need to better understand the mechanisms behind the development of placental abnormalities that can lead to conditions such as maternal preeclampsia and/or fetal intrauterine growth restriction, that affect around 5% of all human pregnancies.

A summary of the findings can be found on the group's website. In short, the group identified several thousand orthologous genes that were co-expressed in mouse and human placenta. Using an online mouse mutant database, they further narrowed down this group to a pool of approx. 130 genes that have been shown to display a placental phenotype when mutated in mice; it is hoped that these genes may serve as potential biomarkers for placental insufficiency in humans.

It's an interesting paper to read, especially if you're into Reproductive Biology and/or Bioinformatics. I was intrigued by the number of online resources they used to verify and improve upon their own data. It gave me the impression that one could carry out significant biological research using nothing more than a laptop and a broadband connection! That's my dream career, right there… inshā’Allāh.

Dude! Bacteria Are, Like, Democratic?

// April 15th, 2009 // 8 Comments » // Blog

Watching this video reminds me of why I love Biology so much. I'd kinda forgotten during the malaise of my PhD. But I really do love scientific discovery.

If you made it to the end of the video: that's a traditional thing among Biologists when they give presentations; they usually big up the rest of their lab via a group photo. See how many people were working on just ONE biochemical pathway? Admittedly, it's a fascinating one, with potentially huge implications; so I doubt Dr Bassler has any problem finding the funding to hire so many eager PhD students and young postdocs.

During my PhD, the neighbouring lab group that shared our floor was largely focussed on researching one gene. I regularly observed the individual team members pairing off to converse about their latest findings, generating new ideas along the way. In contrast, every member of our group was working on a separate pathway, with little crossover between us. Well, I did have another PhD student researching the same gene set as me: but she wasn't one for sharing, unfortunately.

I never really had anyone to bounce ideas off of during my project. I had plenty of people to turn to for technical assistance, but not inspiration. I have learnt that if am not sufficiently inspired, then I become very inefficient in my duties. You don't go into something as dynamic as scientific research for it to then become one big chore. I may as well return to working as a till girl at the local supermarket: the pay is comparable, and I'd have a far more healthy social life.

Watching the video reminded me of why I love Biology… but also, why I love working with people who love Biology as much as I do. I don't know if I'll ever return to working in a laboratory – but it's nice to know that some loves are more constant than others.

Wanted: A Little Slack

// March 3rd, 2009 // 9 Comments » // Blog

This rantish piece was originally intended as an email response. I then realized that I was 'blogging' at the recipient. Blog rants belong on blog posts. Hence my decision to paste it below for public viewing:

Well, if I was happy to stay in research, I wouldn't have a problem finding a job either, Allahu 'alam.

It's because I cannot tolerate that claustrophobic, isolating environment any longer, that I decided to look elsewhere for employment.

Unfortunately, I am quite clueless as to what I should concentrate on in the long term. I have to factor in the remote possibility of future wifely and motherly duties, which realistically, precludes the pursuit of any career that demands a great deal of my time and energy. This is not helped by the dearth of part-time jobs in my sector (the ones I find are either managerial roles for which I am underqualified, or technician jobs for which I am overqualified).

Add to that the fact that this is the first time I am job seeking as an “obvious” Muslimah (i.e., avec hijab), which does actually put some employers off.

Then there is the debate about whether Muslim women should be in the Western workplace at all. Yes, I do think about such things, and definitely don't miss the regular angst of 'handshaking' incidents, and having to constantly reign in my blabber-mouth personality in front of the opposite gender, all of whom so far have been non-Muslim, and thus don't usually understand the internal conflict that their “friendly” behaviour (and even antagonistic behaviour, at times) can pose for me.

I know I'm not the only one going through this. But my point is that I'd like people to cut me some slack.

Alhamdulillah, I am not in debt. I live at home with parents who can afford to house me. Indeed, if it wasn't for the pressure that they're placing on me, I wouldn't even bother looking for a conventional job. I am happy to tell friends and strangers that I am officially unemployed, but spend my time on other important pursuits – leaving the exact details vague, so as not to show off.

In fact, the only two things that I miss from my eleven years of working are:

  • A regular, stable source of income. I am useless at budgeting. Therefore, when I try to save money, it usually ends up that I don't spend any money, whatsoever. Miserliness sucks, and so I do need something coming in to avoid that extreme. Plus, I hate scrounging off my dad.
  • A regular, stable source of human company. My personal tradition has been to make friends through school, university, or work, usually because that is where I have spent most of my life. Recent exceptions have been some sisters that I met through local classes, such as self-defense and Islamic studies. But they work/study full-time, which means Mon-Friday, I am friendless, bar the odd evening meet-up.

Yes, it's a little embarrassing that a woman with three degrees, and the title “Dr” before her name should be unemployed, and more than that, is now facing a problem that most people sorted out in their late-teens/early 20s: the question of “What should I do with my life?”.

However, the embarrassment factor is relative. People make me feel ashamed, by inferring that I have something to be ashamed off.

Did I purposely pick the wrong career path, so I'd end up in this position? Err, no…

Could I have thought about it more before deciding to pursue a PhD? Err, maybe? Allāh knows best. Hindsight is 20/20, after all.

I am not looking for anyone's sympathy. More like: I want to be left alone. Unless you have a real job to offer me; then hey, I am all ears! Other than that, general concern is welcome, but making me feel small, and a bit useless, is not. Maybe I am being overly sensitive, but there you go.

Science & Islam on BBC4

// December 31st, 2008 // 10 Comments » // Blog

blue_circle_blueprintThe first episode of a new three-part documentary on Science and Islam comes out next Monday, 5th January 2009, on BBC4, at 9pm (if you miss it, catch it on BBC iPlayer):

Physicist Jim Al-Khalili travels through Syria, Iran, Tunisia and Spain to tell the story of the great leap in scientific knowledge that took place in the Islamic world between the 8th and 14th centuries.

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The End of an Era

// September 16th, 2008 // 12 Comments » // Blog

As of yesterday, I am officially no longer a member of Imperial College London's current study body.
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