Thursday, July 25, 2013

A little person

Last weekend, Dr. BrownEyes was away to a conference and BlueEyes and I were home by ourselves. When he was very little, those days would feel kinda lonely: being by yourself with a little baby to me feels like being by myself, but constantly being busy taking care of the little baby. You’re talking to the baby, but the baby doesn’t respond, or even acknowledges that you say something.

Now that BlueEyes just turned two, those days when it’s just us feel so much different. By now he’s a little person, and even though he hasn’t mastered the art of putting two words together to form a sentence, he can talk about many things (and even joke!) just using one word at the time. So now those days feel like I’m hanging out with someone: going to the park or the pool or just the grocery store, while chatting about the things around us. And that little person is not just someone; he’s one of my favorite people in the world. It’s crazy and weird how fast that has changed.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The (faulty) neuroscience behind attachment parenting

Yesterday, I read this article on about how sleep training (‘crying it out’) may not be as dangerous as some groups may lead you to believe it is. Frequent readers of this blog may know that I haven’t tried much sleep training with BlueEyes, despite his frequent night waking, because I felt more comfortable soothing or nursing him to sleep. And then it is nice to read in books like Sue Gerhardts “Why love matters: how affection shapes a baby’s brain” that this is the ‘right’ thing to do, because neuroscience tells us so

But wait a minute, I’m a neuroscientist myself (and one who is very interested in the developing brain too). So why do I read a book about the brain without questioning where those references come from, whether the author interprets them correctly and whether she leaves out any relevant research? Let’s say I was sleep deprived for a while and of course it is nice to hear that the strategy that you’re choosing is the right one, because neuroscience tells us so. But both the Slate article and this paper by Bruce Maxwell (that DrSpouse tweeted to me) show that if you take a good look at the real neuroscience behind these parenting advices, the science is really not that solid. The rationale behind responsive parenting or attachment parenting is that responding adequately to your baby’s needs keeps their cortisol levels low, which is important because high cortisol levels will have lasting, negative effects on the developing brain. However, as I said before, the science is not that solid: evidence either comes from children that are neglected heavily (such as orphans in third world countries), or from animal studies where young monkeys or rats are isolated from their mothers. These results are then extrapolated to children whose parents let them cry it out. Or, as the slate piece points out, the results come from a study that looks at cortisol levels during hospital-based sleep training, but this study really fails to include any relevant control group. However people abuse this study by drawing conclusions that are really not warranted by the data.

So do I still ‘believe’ in my parenting strategy? Yes, because it’s honestly just parenting for lazy people, and it’s a style that seems to work for us. However, I will never again think that I am doing it this way because of the neuroscience evidence, because that is really too thin to draw such firm conclusions. We need to do much better controlled studies, or longitudinal studies looking at the outcomes of different parenting strategies to say things like this. And I think it is sad and even unethical that writers of parenting books and articles take such a one-sided view and lead lay parents to believe that there is scientific evidence for any parenting strategy.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The upside of academia

I have an awesome summerstudent (the same as last year) who is trying to decide whether to go to grad school or med school. And every time we (the disgruntled postdocs in the lab) talk about science, about how little we get paid and how dire the funding situation is and how hard it is for us to transfer to an independent position, he leans more toward med school. Without realizing it, we’re creating a disgruntled summerstudent… So today we listed all the things that are pretty great about academia and about going to grad school now. I thought I’d share them here too:

- the relative flexibility of academia is great. My friend who is a pediatrician has an awful time when her daughter is sick and she has to go to work. She needs an enormous network around her to be able to combine the demands of her job and caring for her daughter. Whereas in academia, whether you have children that are sick or parents that need extra care, it is a lot easier to take a day or even some time off to do that. I understand that this is different when you’re teaching, but right now this is one of the aspects I really enjoy. 

- it’s good to start grad school during lean times. When I started grad school (in 2005), the times were great. There was a lot of funding and the lab that I was in grew exponentially for a couple of years. Now, when I’m at the point where I should transfer to an independent position, the times are tough. If you start grad school now, chances are that in 8-10 years, when you’re at this point in your career that I’m at now, the times are going to be better. And instead of being used to all that wealth in the lab (as I was), you’re used to lean times and things can only get better.

- you come out of grad school without additional debt: going to med school in many cases means getting in a ton of debt, whereas in grad school you get paid to go to school. And even though MDs probably end up making more, the looming liability lawsuit or even a very unfortunate accident that renders you unable to work can leave you in huge debt for the rest of your life. 

What do you think is great about being in academia or going to grad school?

Monday, July 8, 2013

A little slice of heaven

You know when you're writing something in Word and all of a sudden there's this weird formatting going on? And you have no clue how to fix it, because even copying-and-pasting text that is formatted correctly somewhere else jumps into weird format when you put it in that specific spot? Today I accidentally moused over the button that changed all of this. Word has a "Clear Formatting" button!! This may literally save years of my life from frustration and time to fix weird formatting. The picture on the right shows where it is in my version (Word 2007). Like @TellDrTell called it: "A little slice of heaven".

Friday, July 5, 2013

What is an acceptable page-for-money ratio?

Currently, I am working on a grant for European money to work in the homecountry. This grant asks for a ridiculous number of pages where you have to tell them all about the proposal (in a variety of different ways) (7 pages), your own competence (5 pages), something called implementation (4 pages) and impact (5 pages). All this work is required for 4 years of about half a senior post-doc salary. Half! So not even an entire salary, or extra money for consumables, travel or another person. Still, I’m doing it because any extra money is good and there is only a limited option in terms of which grants to apply for. However, I do think it’s a pretty ridiculous amount of money when you look at what you get, especially compared to another foundation grant I applied for that is a similar amount of money but only asked for a 2-page proposal and your biosketch.

So my question for this afternoon: what ratio of pages/money is acceptable and when would you decide not even to bother? (I understand that the percentage that is funded is also a factor in deciding whether to apply but that’s for another time).

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The home of the free toilets

Whenever we go back to the homecountry, I’m excited about all the things I can eat there that are hard to find here in the US. However, some things are not that great in the homecountry, for example the availability of bathrooms. And for someone who is pregnant and needs to pee at least once every half hour, this is quite an issue. What I love about the US is that everywhere you go, there’s a bathroom that you can use for free. This might sound weird if you live here, but for example in the homecountry there are no toilets in parks (not even porter potties), there are no bathrooms in supermarkets, and some trains don’t even have toilets in them. Also, whenever there are bathrooms, like in the train station, in a department store or in a gas station, you usually have to pay for them. It usually costs 50 eurocents (~$0.60) to use the bathroom. So for the remaining time we will live here, I will certainly appreciate that this country is the home of the free toilets.