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

Awesome Mouse Women

9 11 2018

Congratulations to the phenomenal ‘mouse women’,  who between them ensured that an incredible 66 mice were adopted out to new homes  (a tonne of work on top of all their other jobs, so all the more impressive). Special thanks to Emma and Aimee who dealt with the adopters, and to Lindsey for helping them write the “adopter’s’ mouse manual”.



Email of the week

6 11 2018

From Sam (who’s from Michigan), when I asked him if he was spending today glued to US midterm election news:

Screenshot 2018-11-06 09.29.39

UFAW meeting, June 2017

4 11 2018

This excellent meeting was over a year ago (see previous note re. hopeless backblog), and I gave a keynote. But all I’ll do now is put up my two favourite pictures. First, a bunch of us (Maria, Guelph student Aitor, UFAW director Robert, former student and brilliant academic Charlie, and much-loved friend, collaborator and role model Mike) solve the problem of consciousness in the bar. And below that is Maria again with her leaving present from my lab: a plexiglass photo of her old chalkboard (which didn’t arrive before she actually left, but luckily just about fitted in my biggest suitcase):



CSAW symposia

4 11 2018

A sign of how large my ‘backblog’ is, here I am reporting on not one but two past CSAW symposia, from May 2018 and May 2017!

This annual meeting is always a great event (2016’s being a particular highlight for me because Marian spoke). The 2017 one saw MSU undergrad student Sam Decker (below) presenting a talk for Maria (who was tied up at iSlide1n East Lansing getting ready to leave for the UK). He did a terrific job (and then started a MSc with me a few months later, having successfully won an OMAFRA HQP award! He’s now looking at how novelty, variety and number influence the efficacy of simple enrichments on mink farms).

Aside from that it was a quiet meeting for my lab, with only Andrea giving a talk. The ever-engaging Ed Pajor gave the plenary, on welfare issues in the rodeo: a really fascinating topic (though the talk was too data-free for me personally  –  not quite enough to get the intellectual teeth into).

2018’s conference was, by contrast, a big (and slightly traumatic) one for my lab, with five of us, including me, giving talks (partly in prep. for the ISAE, and in my case, because I had had a project funded by CSAW and so had to present it).  Aileen made a poster for the meeting too.  The poster, and Aimee’s and Misha’s talks, all went without a hitch.  So did Little Emma‘s (her talk was actually perfect), but she was very, very nervous beforehand: so much so that she threw up.  Andrea was then so utterly thrown by a question after her talk that, after she sat back down in the audience, she cried.  And my own talk was pretty miserable too: the Sussex experiment had been a failure, so presenting it was no fun; I misjudged the timing, and could see whole sectors of the audience losing track of my meaning; and by about half way I had an overwhelming urge to curl up into a little ball behind the podium and hope that everyone would quietly leave (“She’s gone into her nest; time for a break everyone”). But here’s the amazing, heartening (and, with hindsight, unsurprising) thing: although Emma, Andrea and I staggered out feeling like we’d been though a war, NO-ONE NOTICED that we were struggling! They just thought we gave good talks! Simply incredible. And I should well and truly know this by now: negative judgment bias – it’s a real and powerful thing, and it gets you when you’re down!

Below, philosopher Karen Houle wraps up the day, and below that, a lovely pic of Aileen tweeted by Michelle:


Screen Shot 2018-11-04 at 5.02.36 PM

Andrea explains pivot tables

4 11 2018

There are many important techniques I don’t actually quite (ahem) know how to do myself, but do know I should always make sure my senior students teach my junior ones (a form of horizontal transmission that cuts out the weakest link: me!). Using FDR to correct for multiple testing is one, and (slightly embarrassingly) using pivot tables is another.

So here is Andrea (some months ago now, long before her recent QE triumph) showing my group how to do this. Thanks to this neat technique, everyone can collect scanning data from great long strings of animals on Excel on their phones (100s of mink in rows in Sam’s case; complicated mixed strain mouse cages for other students [carefully dimming their phone screens with custom red filters]), and then sort the data into time budgets per subject. Magic!