Course evaluations and adjuncting limbo

Some of us survive this crappy job market by working as research assistants and adjuncting on the side. It pays the bills and allows us to expand our professional skills. Usually, though, it’s hard to find a lot of satisfaction in your work because it’s not really your work. It’s your boss’s research plan and you have to follow it, especially if grant renewals are dependent upon you. Often the teaching side isn’t much better since adjuncts aren’t given a whole lot of leeway until they prove themselves. But today, at least……

Whooohooo! I got my course evals for my Brain & Behavior class. An evening course one night a week for over 3 hours means it’s tough to hold attention spans, but I somehow managed to keep 90% attendance going. The best part is… my marks were great! I averaged over 5 out of 6 (6 being the best score) on every single item, except for slightly under 5 when asked whether my exams fairly tested knowledge of the material. I expected that would be the case even though I had 60% of the class score a B- or better as their final grade; my tests aren’t meant to be a cake walk but you can still succeed if you do well on assignments and such.

Bottom line: ya gotta keep yer chin up and celebrate the successes when they come. Now, at least, I should be guaranteed to teach this summer and next semester, and with it the opportunity to make a little extra money until something better comes along.

Friday Weird Science: The man with the purple nostrils

For a few weeks now, Sci’s been wanting to get away from the sex for a bit. Not that I mind having this reputation as being a sex blogger (or whatever), but there’s more out there to weird science than sex.

And so, the word of the day is: rhinotrichtillomania. Say that three times fast. rhinotrichtillomania, rhinotrichtillomania, rhinotrichit…crap. Fontenelle et al. “The man with the purple nostrils: a case of rhinotrichtillomania secondary to body dysmorphic disorder” Acta Psyciatric Scandanavia, 2002.
So what could this word refer to?

Hmmmm, I wonder.

Continue reading

Sci’s Guide to Lab Cuisine

Tonight, Sci is in the lab. It’s 11:40pm, and counting. I will probably cop out shortly before 1am because I’m a chicken that way. Been here since 8am, when I found out that the freezer that stores my carefully sampled fruit slices had become unplugged the previous evening. Water all over the floor, and all of my lovely apple and orange sections are thawed. So now, Sci is here, running her samples before they go bad. Welcome to grad school.
And of course, this means that Sci can’t go home and make herself nutritious eats. However, I do my best. I’m not a fan of ordering pizza to the lab. Grad students are VERY poor, and that money adds up quick. And I like to get some veggies and lean protein in my diet when I can.
So tonight, Sci is having Lab Cuisine ™ while she runs her now-thawed samples.

To make Lab Cuisine:
1 pkg Ramen (throw that icky flavor packet AWAY)
1/2 small pkg frozen Oriental veggies (about 1 cup)
Morning Star chicken breast thingy (1)
Sesame oil
Soy Sauce
Make Ramen as directed, discarding flavor packet. A hot plate in the lab is particularly good for this, but make sure you bring your own cooking container. Ramen in the microwave is crappy Ramen.
For veggies, stick them in microwave safe container, tightly covered, with 2 tsps water. Microwave on high 4 minutes. Result=steamed veggies.
Prep chicken according to packet instructions in microwave. On chicken, add 1 tsp of soy sauce before it goes in the microwave.

Mix ramen, veggies, and chicken together. Add soy sauce and sesame oil to taste.
Sounds icky, I know. But it’s cheap! And when you are stuck in the lab til way late and hungry, you take what you can get. And this is what we keep in the lab fridge. Don’t know why the sesame oil was there, or the soy sauce, for that matter. The ramen is something that all grad students (and post-docs) keep in their desks for emergencies. The frozen stuff Sci will admit running home to get.
But it was both cheap and nutritious (sort of, the Ramen is the kind with no trans fat and the flavor packet was discarded, saving you some high sodium issues).
Now all I need to do is find a way to store cake and cookies in the lab without my labmates noticing…

Dopamine Neurons: Reward, Aversion, or Both?

If you can’t tell by now, Sci is something of a dopamine junkie.
Ooooh yeah. See that? That’s great. You wanna hit?

Anyway, when one first learns about dopamine, you learn about a “reward” molecule, the one that makes you feel good. Sounds like dope for a reason. But over time, scientist have found that it’s not just about reward with dopamine. Dopamine has a lot more to do with things we like to call salience and value. The salience of a cue is in part related to its strength, and it part related to what its connected with. Basically, a cue is high salience if it gives you a good reason to pay attention. It isn’t attention itself, it’s being connected to something worth paying attention to. This is connected to the item’s value. After all, if it’s something I don’t value, the article isn’t going to be very salient to me, it won’t be worth paying attention to.
So as of recently, it’s been assumed that dopamine neurons fire in response to value-related signals. Sci’s dopamine neurons fire in response to pizza, and a crack addict’s neurons fire in response to cocaine. And of course, if they encode value-related stimuli, dopamine neurons should be inhibited by aversive stimuli, because those have negative value. So while my dopamine neurons fire in response to pizza, they should be really inhibited in response to brussels sprouts.

Right? Well…wrong. And this is something that has puzzled scientists for a while. Some studies show inhibition of dopamine neurons in response to negative stimuli, and some show both negative and POSITIVE dopamine response to negative stimuli. So what’s up with that? Are the neurons firing for negative stimuli just some random wackos that get off on brussels sprouts?
Well, it’s possible that they aren’t wackos. It’s possible that the dopamine neurons really do just encode value-relation. Not whether that value is positive or negative. Scientists recently have tried to test this, and what they found clarifies a lot of things we didn’t know about the firing of dopamine neurons.
So what do you need to make a groundbreaking paper (in this case a paper in Nature)? Some juice, some air, and a couple of monkeys. Matsumoto and Hikosaka. “Two types of dopamine neuron distinctly convey positive and negative motivational signals” Nature, 2009.

Continue reading

Win Sci a Quark!

Isn’t “quark” a great word!?!
I think it may have more appeal than “spork” and that’s saying something.
Hehe. Quark.

Anyway, it turns out that 3 Quarks Daily is handing out QUARKS! They are handing out awards for science, arts and literature, philosophy, and political blogging on the two solstices and two equinoxes. As the summer solstice approacheth, they are taking nominations for the best science post. Laelaps has already been nominated for his post on Ida, and a bunch of other Sciblings have also been nominated (such as Tet Zoo, Science After Sunclipse, and Neurophilosophy). And there are also lots of nominations from other great science blogs like the Loom, the Intersection, and the Neurocritic.

But Sci isn’t nominated yet. 😦 *sniff*. It’s ok. I’m fine. Don’t worry about ME! All you have to do is leave a comment in the comment field with a link to the post. The post must have been written between May 24 2008, and May 24, 2009.
And of course, nominate people OTHER than Sci. There’s a lot of hot science blogging going out in the internets. We have until June 1. Get nominating!

Encephalon Issue…whatever

Is up! And we’re in it. Two posts on Opponent-Process theory! I highly recommend this edition, there’s an entire section on addiction, including an article on the addictive potential of marijuana, and another on the myth of dopamine and pleasure (ain’t pleasure, it’s…salience…sort of…of value-related stimuli).

Also, check out Juniorprof today, great post up on chronic pain, from someone who knows pain.
And finally, I’m sure you’ve all heard about Ida to death, I know I have. But Laelaps has a GREAT Op-Ed on it that’s just come out in the Times!!! And he’s been misquoted by the Discovery Institute! That’s a sign you’ve made the big-time. 🙂

LOL Fossil.jpg

Opponent-Process Theory: Welcome to the dark side

You people. You people and your REQUESTS. Requests to do things like blog more about opponent-process theory. Well. Sci hears you. She obeys. At least this time. And for all your drug addiction experts out there asking me to read Koob, I can assure you that I have read a LOT of Koob in my time. For those of you not necessarily familiar with the drug abuse lit, George Koob is considered one of the greatest minds in current drug abuse research, and has done a lot to conform the motivationally-focused opponent-process theory to the model of drug addiction that exists today. Guy even has a wikipedia entry! That’s how you know you’ve hit the big time. And so, Sci continues her discussion of opponent-process theory in this second installment, with many thanks to Koob and his co-author, Le Moal.
Remember this?
OP Theory1.png
You’ll need it.

Continue reading