Living machines

So, we stared at each other for a moment, each of us thinking that the other was really stupid. But let me start from the beginning …

I have been thinking some more about interdisciplinarity. I have written before about how different disciplines have different ways of thinking, and sometimes this gets in the way of mutual understanding. I have a story about how this panned out early on in my career, when I was working on my MSc project in a developmental genetics lab.

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The Invisible Woman

It’s International Women’s Day, and like on so many other days, I have been thinking about superpowers (one of my favourite topics). In particular, about invisibility. Because it can be an awesome superpower, and it can also be devastating, and all this has a lot to do with women in science. But let me explain.  Continue reading

Gamifying the PhD

Over the past weeks, I have taken an awesome MOOC called “How to survive your PhD” on EdX (thank you Simone for pointing me to this!) Of course, I did survive my own PhD a while ago, but as I am crossing over to the dark supervisor side of things, I want to learn as much as I can about the general PhD experience and about what we can do to support our students.

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Play the lottery day

A few weeks ago, I submitted a grant proposal, the first since starting my new job at the University of Edinburgh. This is how research works: You have a great idea for a project, but in order to do that project, you need co-workers and lab space and equipment. So you apply for a grant where you explain what you need the money for.

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Dear Sir …

“Excellent”, said an e-mail I received recently from a collaborator, “talk to you soon, Stephanie!” This happens to me a lot, in professional contexts. I have been called Stephanie by colleagues and teachers, bosses and students. I have been introduced to a full lecture theatre as Stephanie, I have been invited for job interviews as Stephanie.

I don’t like it.

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How my coffee shop solved my research problem

A while ago I told you I was stuck with my research beccause I could not afford to build a library on the moon. Yes, it’s a long story, but it comes down to the fact that the proteins that transmit and store information in our body do this by undergoing changes to their function, shape, chemistry, location etc.

Here, for instance, is my favourite protein, CaMKII, and some of the things that can happen to it:


Actually, this picture does not show all of CaMKII, only about one twelfth of it (well, one twelfth of what matters). But even for this little part of a protein, there are a lot of options: Is a phosphate group attached to it or not? Is it active or inactive? Bound to another protein called calmodulin or not? That’s already 8 possible states that little protein subunit can be in. With each new possible modification, the number of possible states doubles, and soon you have a mindboggingly big number of possibilities (what we call “combinatorial explosion”). This makes those proteins difficult to model using a computer.

Unfortunately, modelling proteins using a computer is what I do for a living. Hence the dilemma. What did I decide to do? Go for a coffee, of course. But this turned out harder than I thought.

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