Writing a reference for Jamie

31 10 2015

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You can imagine the line items…

  • Does the candidate exhibit independence and autonomy?
  • Is the candidate an effective communicator?
  • Is the candidate a critical thinker?
  • Does the candidate show perseverance when faced with problems?
  • What about facial hair – has it been cultivated in some unusual forms?
  • Does the candidate show willingness to wear eccentric headgear in the name of research?

Yes yes yes yes yes yes!!!

(All for CIHR; fingers tightly crossed)

Found in my “drafts” folder

30 10 2015

“The domestic cat has changed greatly from its ancestor, the sabre tooth tiger”

“When cows groom each other, they experience opiate receptors”;

“Survival of the fittest is functional because the stronger an animal is, the more benefits it will have”;


“Horse’s live in heards”

All gems from undergraduate papers over the last year or two…

UK trip and NSERC DG

26 10 2015

Just packing for my flight home tomorrow, after 9 days in the UK. So many aspects of this trip were nice: catching up with Carole in her lovely Bristol flat, and meeting the cute (if badly named) “Face de Galette” for the first time; spending days with Mike and Liz, Mike and I finally feeling some flickers of optimism about the book we’ve been failing to write for years; going to the pub with Christine as she waited for her first grandchild to be born (also to learn that her radio show on sentience is, in fact, a comedy…); having a wonderful 5 hour lunch at Murano with family, a treat hosted by my dad to celebrate his 70th birthday; and then finally getting my NSERC DG in (woo hoo!).Screenshot 2015-10-26 15.27.12

But I was tired and homesick… the first half of the trip I had a gnawingly painful back (and a really heavy suitcase full of paper and books), the second half, a stinking cold; and 5 beds in 9 nights is just too many for this weary old person. Plus I miss Sylvie. Looking forward to spending Wednesday in MY bed … with a Margaret Atwood and at least one purring cat.

“I’ve had a clitoris for 60 years — and that has never happened to me.”

15 10 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 7.37.06 PMObituaries yesterday for a marvellous and inspiring journalist: one in the Telegraph, one from the Beeb.

“I pray for your success in research work”

15 10 2015

Definitely email of the week for me, in a lovely reply from a Japanese researcher: one of several Maria and I contacted in the hope of getting help finding the nucleus accumbens in “ferrets” (we thought admitting they were mink would be too weird). We have CO-stained slides from some of our mink that Mark Lewis’s lab created for us a while ago, and inspired by Danielle’s recent finding, we now want to see what ventral striatal CO activity was like in our craziest animals (since the data we got from Mark on this were all focussed more dorsally).

This was inspired too by a weekend of intense brain/lab work: Danielle gave the two of us a blow-by-blow guide to how to replicate her protocol (including how to hold a pipette, for us novices), and also, in the many loIMG_2230-1ng gaps between stages, helped us navigate round our slides (since while some structures are lovely and easy to find — caudate, hippocampus: easy peasy — the nucleus accumbens is tiny and obscure).

Here to the right are some of the prep’ed mouse slides all ready to be stained. The sophisticated slide mounts are two pipettes held down with tape, and the shredded paper towel is to be soaked in PFA to keep the atmosphere nice and humid as the antibody incubates (some of the many many details you’ll never seen in anyone’s protocol; that and how to hold a pipette…).

Love this story

9 10 2015

I wonder if they started out by reading Thinking from A-Z?

Click here to read more.

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I need a new desk

9 10 2015

Promising “cat faces” pilot

7 10 2015

Jenna Cheal, Lee Niel and I submitted a small grant application to Purina last week, in a flurry of work which involved running a small pilot study in a week.

Though a bit too stressful for my tastes, the results made it worth it. We chose images of cat faces from our own photos and YouTube video stills. 10 cats were in positive situations (i.e. ones they sought out), 10 in negative (i.e. ones they would avoid if they could; e.g. see Image 3: a poor animal retreating from a mannequin head).

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We removed obvious cues (e.g. the cats’ ears, the restraining hands of humans, mannequin heads, etc), and then asked 17 people if they could judge the state of each of the 20 cats.

They found this pretty difficult (the average no. correct was 12.6/20), but as a group they performed well above chance (t16 = 5.03, 1-tailed p < 0.001). Furthermore, 8 of the 17 scored 14/20 or better (1-tailed binomial tests: p < 0.057; with two amazing Cat Whisperers scoring 16/20 [p < 0.01]).

Seven images (3 positive, 4 negative) were also consistently interpreted correctly (by at least 13/17 scorers; p < 0.03), and Mouse won the Most Readable Face Award: all 17 could tell when she was purring versus when she’d just had unpleasant medicine (though of course my biases in taking the pictures could well have played a role; our next job — if we get the money — is to do this again properly, in a way that stops us ‘cherry picking’ our images).

Three days later …

7 10 2015

Three days after acceptance, our proofs are ready! How is that even possible? Definitely makes me want to publish in Zoo Biology again.
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Sylvie helps with the book

2 10 2015

Mike Mendl and I are trying to write a book (long story).

Here is much of this book, and Sylvie indicating with her bottom that Chapter 1 is rather a mess.