Let’s say that you just spent the last 8 years of your life earning a Ph.D. in biology, chemistry or physics, including 5 years devoted to graduate study (i.e., school) and 3 years devoted to postgraduate study (i.e., postdoctoral work). Let’s say that you are now looking for work outside of the academic realm, and perhaps even out of your field of study. Most corporations do not require a Ph.D. for entry-level positions. After a few interviews wherein you are asked why you are applying for a position outside of your educational level and realm of expertise, and after which you do not receive any job offers, you start wondering if perhaps you should leave your Ph.D. off of your resume. Does this sound crazy or just a case of career savvy?
“Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it.”
While still a lowly graduate student, I recall how my own mentor, who was a seasoned postdoc with several high impact publications, applied for many university faculty positions to no avail. He struggled for two years until an assistant professorship finally came through. I also recall how another postdoc, who was brilliant scientist in the laboratory, meekly accepted the daily abuses piled on by his mentor. When asked why he didn’t just quit and find another job, his response was “Where am I going to go?”
Something is seriously amiss in the postdoctoral world. In a recent Nature (2011) article, Cyranoski and his colleagues report how the number of newly-minted Ph.D.’s increased by 40% between 1998 and 2008 in countries that are part of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). According to the National Science Foundation (NSF 10-308, 2009), United States academic institutions awarded almost 32,827 science and engineering doctorates in 2008, as opposed to 24,608 in 2002. That is an increase of over 33% in just 6 years. Doctorates in the life sciences accounted for the majority of the degrees awarded (16%) and also had the highest rate of increase across these years (8.6%). Continue reading “The Ph.D. Glut: Do We Have Too Many Ph.D.s?”
In December 2006, New York City became the first city to ban the use of artificial trans fats at all city restaurants, a mandate that went into effect in July 2008. Since that time, NYC’s trans fat ban has been looked upon as a unique health model that other major cities, including Washngton, D.C. and Philadelphia, have also considered implementing. Recently, the states of California and Illinois have moved forward with legislation that will eventually ban the use of artificial trans fat in all restaurants, cafes, and movie theaters (1).
As knowledge about the true nature of fats has expanded, saturated fat has actually been found to be a healthy source of nutrition and essential to the proper maintenance of many body systems (2). In contrast, trans fat, which was initially thought to be a healthy source of unsaturated fat, has instead been linked to several diseases, including coronary heart disease (CHD), diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease. This was not the given attitude even 20 years ago, when margarine was touted as healthy and lard was villainized.
Walking through the grocery store, one can’t help but see the campaign against fat: low-fat yogurt, fat-free salad dressing and skim milk all play their roles. There are even fake-fat potato chips out there. From fat burners to fat blockers, it seems like fat, and especially saturated fat, is Public Enemy #1.
Most anti-fat crusaders state that it is not the monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat that is the problem; rather, the fault lies with our consumption of saturated fat. They consistently recommend eating foods that are high in the unsaturated fats, such as fish and olive oil, and avoiding saturated fat-laden foods like butter, pork, lard and coconut oil. While they may even agree that all fats are healthy, they also recommend that such “healthy” fats should constitute no more than 7–11% of our total calorie intake.
However, what is the real story behind saturated and other fat? Is fat really the weight-enhancing, heart disease-inducing, artery-clogging, cancer-causing, acne-generating villain we make it out to be? Will it ruin your health? Frankly, is fat really bad for you? Continue reading “Lard: It Does a Body Good!”
Unlike scientism, science in the true sense of the word is open to unbiased investigation of any existing phenomena.
The BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute, which is located at Promega Corporation in Madison, Wisconsin, recently hosted the 10th Annual International Bioethics Forum titled “Manifesting the Mind”. Several notable speakers gave presentations on a rather unexpected subject matter: the use of hallucinogens such as psilocybin (i.e., magic mushrooms) to better understand the nature of consciousness and to even treat neuropsychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and drug addiction. I was one of the lucky participants that attended this forum. Continue reading “10 Surprising Facts About Hallucinogens, Psychedelics and “Magic Mushrooms””
I used to work in a physics lab where I was in charge of regularly transferring liquid helium from a tank to a susceptometer (an instrument often used for superconductivity studies). One day, the helium transfer line that I was holding sprung a leak and I froze a good portion of my finger before I was able to stop that leak. Over the days that followed, I could not feel my finger at all and assumed that the nerve damage was permanent. However, as those days turned into weeks and my previously frozen finger healed, I started regaining sensation. After a month had passed, my finger looked and felt just like it had before the helium freeze.
Neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons) is widely accepted as fact for the peripheral nervous system; for example, the nerves in my finger grew back even though I had lost them to frostbite. However, there is the widespread belief that neurons in the central nervous system (CNS) are static and do not multiply after adulthood. The evidence for such belief is everywhere, from spinal cord injuries that result in permanent lifelong paralysis to neurodegenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis. However, like many widespread beliefs that are simply assumed to be true, nature always finds a way to foil our best laid plans. Continue reading “How Exercise Can Grow Your Brain”
In February of 2011, tragedy struck when Dave Duerson, a former Chicago Bears football player, committed suicide by shooting himself (1). However, Dave was not alone; his suicide joined the suicides and other violent endings to former and current football players such as Andre Waters (Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals), Owen Thomas (U. Pennsylvania), and Kenny McKinley (Pittsburgh Steelers).
One could shrug off the deaths of these players are simple coincidence, if not for an elusive, yet chilling, central theme found in the depths of their brains: small, yet insidious, neurofibrillary tangles containing the microtubule-associated protein tau. Such tau-containing tangles are the molecular hallmarks of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) or Alzheimer’s Disease-riddled brains. The brains of people who are not diagnosed with FTD or Alzheimer’s Disease do not contain these tau tangles.
Stories abound about the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who back in the 15th century searched in vain for the Fountain of Youth in what is now Florida (with some historians stating that he was actually looking for a solution to his own sexual impotence). In recent times, the magician David Copperfield has stated that he owns the Fountain of Youth, which is located on his Bahamas property. Copperfield claims that his Fountain of Youth actually brings animals that are close to death back to life. Stories about fountains, trees, and fruit with properties of everlasting youth have been in existence since the Babylonians composed the Epic of Gilgamesh. In modern times, scientists have purported that there is another source of youth and prolonged life: calorie restriction. Continue reading “Calorie Restriction: The Fountain of Youth”
Nothing starts a conversation faster than me making the statement “I brew my own beer.” People are instantly fascinated by the age-old process of turning barley and hops into the magical elixir that is called beer. And magical is exactly what beer was regarded for centuries: when yeast lay yet undiscovered, the process of fermentation was termed “Godisgood.” This process was initiated by a mysterious, unknown element that settled on vats of wort (malted and cooked barley grain) and transformed them into alcoholic and carbonated consumables called beer. Apparently, because bacteria were also undiscovered, the spoiling (souring) of beer was blamed on the action of “beer witches.” Continue reading “The Art and Science of Brewing Beer”