Phase of unbearable news

21 11 2018

I feel there are regular periods of time when it’s near impossible to listen to the news. Right now, we have Trump, Brexit, and the South American caravan (with Syria not being news any more, despite still awful); and then today, evidence that campaigners for women’s rights in Saudi have been tortured, and a new Save the Children report on death rates in the Yemen (Save the Children were actually trying to call us last night, and we didn’t pick up because watching TV, cringe). It’s hard not to succumb to learned helplessness. Ah well, at least none of my PhD students have been arrested for spying.

Larry the Downing Street Cat

21 11 2018

Cute video (just don’t listen to the commentary in the background: too depressing)



And on the topic of the UK’s self-destruction, my uncle emailed me this morning:


Email of the week

20 11 2018

From Lindsey, replying to an email in which I said “I advise pragmatism”:

Screenshot 2018-11-19 22.42.33

R is for Retirement

19 11 2018

There’s a lovely story in the Globe and Mail this week, about a new initiative to move research monkeys to a sanctuary instead of killing them when their lab life is over. Andrea suggests that ‘Retirement’ could be yet another R  (R. No. 5?).

I think I don’t think that killing animals is actually wrong, as long as it causes them and their companions or family members no suffering. (After all our difficult reading about killing  a few years ago, I seemed to end up where I started, kind of anchored there by my views on abortion).  But if we adopt research animals out to better homes, we can increase the overall quality of their lives which can only be a good thing.  The fact that this is often really quite difficult (more complicated than just killing them) might make people think harder about reducing research animal numbers too.  And with my scientist’s hat on, it’s interesting to see who will be resilient and recuperated by their new homes, who won’t be, and why (something we’ve dabbled in in my lab, with Jamie’s work on bears in China and mink in Michigan, and Sarah-Lee Tilly’s terrific research on aging mice). Meanwhile, enjoy the blissful picture below:

Screenshot 2018-11-19 12.54.40

The possible No. 1 Highlight of my Grad Coordinator days

19 11 2018

I’m standing down as departmental Grad. Coordinator in Dec., because that will have been 5 years on the post. On the whole I’ve really enjoyed it: working out how to make processes fairer, more transparent and more efficient turns out to be something I like (I’m a closet admin nerd apparently); helping students and faculty find money and navigate the system is really satisfying too; and most of all, getting to know so many grad students in the department has been wonderful.

And there was a possible highlight last month: Jonathan‘s former student Kruti got married, and we were invited to all three parts of the wedding: a “garba sangeet”, the wedding itself a couple of days later (a “barat” followed by the ceremony), and then the next day again, a reception. But which to go to? Was it rude to say yes to all three? Or rude NOT to say yes to all three? Which would be most fun for two white people who’d hardly know a soul? And last of all, what on earth to wear? Luckily, thanks to being Grad Coordinator I’d got to know three Indians in the department and could ask. This triggered tonnes of advice, an invitation for tea and Indian sweets, some enjoyable controversy as to whether North Indian weddings are pompous (no, Sanjay from Bangalore, you are wrong wrong wrong!), and not one but two offers of clothes (salwar kameez, saris just being too tricky for a novice: no-one needs to see me naked).

So, many many thanks to Nadeem‘s lovely wife Mehar for the outfit on the left (worn to the garba sangeet, a night of back-to-back dance performances), and to the irrepressable Ash for the outfit on the right (worn to the reception, which was even more fun, with more dancing, this time by everyone, and more rap and Drake than you’d expect too).

Mike Mendl’s visit

9 11 2018

Last week Mike came to stay for a few days, on the way back from Baltimore where he’d given the Charles River lecture at AALAS (and here he is, below, about to get his Red Car back to the airport). Mike

While in Guelph, he gave the talk again for Central Animal Facility staff, we worked on a piece we’re writing on how to validate indicators of animal affect, and we had a good time catching up.

We also made a major decision: to finally give up on the book, and turn the three things we’ve written for it into papers. It’s taken us 12 years to get this far; and if I look unflinchingly at my future sabbaticals, and realistically assess how much serious writing time I have between them (none), we wouldn’t be finished for another … 18 years! My refusal to admit this ’til now has honestly been a bit like someone determinedly trying to get a duvet to fit into a match box (it WILL fit, it WILL, it WILL). But now our work should at least see the light of day in 2019.



Eager mink

9 11 2018

Congratulations to Sam, who just finished the most ambitious boredom-testing trial my lab’s ever run, testing an incredible 135 mink (exposing each to three smelly stimuli: mountain lion urine on Day 1, vanilla on Day 2 and pheasant odour on Day 3, so 405 tests in all). Gauging how long they oriented towards or even contacted the stimulus will allow Sam to test the hypothesis that mink with single unchanging enrichments are more eager for stimulation (thus more ‘bored’) than mink with diverse, relatively novel enrichments. He was helped by the tireless Basma who, even when working 14 hour days, never flags, gets grumpy or makes mistakes (she’s “a cucumber” said Aimee, assuming we’d all just mentally add “as cool as”). Below, a Pastel male avidly sniffs the enticing smell of pheasant…

Eager mink