Predicting your academic career

Publication metrics and success on the academic job market
David van Dijk, Ohad Manor, Lucas B. Carey
Current Biology 2014 Vol 24 No 11 R516

I caught this paper in a TOC email from Current Biology. “Predict who becomes a PI” they say. “Hmm,” I think, “This should be interesting.”

The abstract sets out the problem simply: “so far there has been no quantitative analysis of who becomes a principal investigator (PI). We here use a machine-learning approach to predict who becomes a PI, based on data from over 25,000 scientists in PubMed. We show that success in academia is predictable.”
Continue reading “Predicting your academic career”

The physics of human walking and considering the wider picture

Gorilla walking like a man. CC talkrational.org
A gorilla walking like a man. Photo by talkrational.org is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Impulsive ankle push-off powers leg swing in human walking
Susanne W. Lipfert, Michael Günther, Daniel Renjewski, and Andre Seyfarth
J Exp Biol 2014 217:1218-1228.

I love papers like this. The extreme level of detail people go to in the quest to discover is fascinating. The question that always comes to my mind is “What made them decide to research this in the first place?” Was it through trying to understand more about where humans come from or was it purely a mathematical and physical curiosity about how we walk? The beauty of science is that it is allowed to be curiosity driven – just like those papers and pieces of research which made it into the IgNobel Awards and have ended up being pivotal in their respective fields.

“Impulsive ankle push-off powers leg swing in human walking” is a rather complicated paper, full of mathematical terminology and notation, but if you can get through the equations you’ll discover a story that shows how human walking has been fine-tuned, linking this physical paper to fundamental questions of human origins. Continue reading “The physics of human walking and considering the wider picture”

Genomic parasites

Genomic parasites – we all have them but how are they kept under control?

You may think you are parasite free. “No malaria, bilharzia or tapeworms in me”, I hear you say… If you think this you’re actually mistaken. Humans, and many organisms besides, carry parasites within their own DNA. These parasites have left behind the ‘traditional’ parasitic life cycle, with their own body or their own cell living within us and have gone purist, trimming everything away and simply copying their genome into ours, existing alongside us for as long as humans survive. Known as transposons, these genomic parasites use our own cells to survive, using our own machinery to copy themselves, replicating and surviving just as organisms endeavour to do on the land, in the air or in the sea. They could copy themselves all over our genome making even more copies of themselves but something prevents this, stopping the transposon from overwhelming our genome and killing us. Research from the University of Cambridge, the University of Nottingham, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre in Seattle reveals why: Continue reading “Genomic parasites”