Jumping into the Deep End of Science

I have this memory of when I was two or three years old. I have a floaty on me, but I have to jump into the water. I’m sure I was only two feet above the water and I was jumping towards an adult in the pool, but for me, it seemed to be 20 feet into swirling pool of sharks with laser beams on their heads.

laserbeam-sharkI was terrified. I was crying. But I jumped.

I don’t remember much about swimming until much later and by that time, I was already jumping into the deep end with a clear knowledge of knowing how to swim. Touching the bottom of the pool for fun and things of that nature. Swan dives and failed flips turned back and belly flops. I was comfortable in the pool. It took a while I’m sure, but I had to get over that initial fear by making that initial jump.

Recently, I jumped into a pool of a different sort. The pool of senior author research articles and major grant writing. This time, it is not a fear of drowning, but a fear of failure (although drowning under the shear amount of emails might be a real thing). But by becoming a PI, I knew this day would come. Not that I was just dipping my foot in the pool before, but these are bigger waters, bigger fish, and bigger stakes.

I just got back my first corresponding author research article paper review back and…um…it…um…well…at least the first reviewer and editor were kind, supportive, and helpful, but yeah, it didn’t go so well. I’ll refrain from talking about reviewer #2. Also asked someone to review my grant. Again, great, helpful, but soul crushing comments.

I am just fortunate that for this jump, I had a floaty. I had mentorship. I had someone I could ask for help. I had someones I could ask (and I’m sure they would point out the flaws in that last sentence). Do you have a floaty? If you don’t please try to find one. Try nrmnet.net, look for #BLACKandSTEM on twitter, go to your grad office, your boss, or just find a senior person and ask them (sometimes, it really is that simple). Engage the community you are in so you don’t have to recreate the mountain every time. Stand on shoulders, don’t succumb to the weight.

Even when it is the very nature of your position to jump, it is good to get the first one out of the way. It was exhilarating despite the outcome. It was terrifying, but maybe not as scarring as when I was younger (and clearly without the sharks with laser beams). Hopefully, because of the willingness to jump, and by finding floaties, I’ll be doing belly flops with a few low scored swan dives in no time.



What is the future of Science? This guy might know!

podcast logo-page-001 (1)

How does new science happen in real time? What new scientific breakthroughs are on the horizon? I had the privilege interviewing the perfect person to answer these questions for a special back-to-school episode of Science Sound Bites, Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). www.tinyurl.com/sciencesoundbites (it is episode 11). You can also find the episode on the St. Jude Educational Outreach Site cure4kids here.

For me, I always like to imagine the NIH as a very large tree.

Sprouting from the trunk of the NIH tree are branches, sprouting from the branches are stems, and sprouting from the stems are fruit. Lots of fruit. Several varieties of fruit, in fact.

Think of each branch on the NIH tree as a broad topic dealing with health, such as infectious disease, cancer, and mental health. Then, the stems that sprouted from each branch would represent sub group of each branch, such as influenza on the infectious disease branch, lymphoma on the cancer branch, and PTSD on the mental health branch.

Now, each stem of the NIH tree has its own fruit, which would be a prospective cure for those issues each stem represented, such as vaccines on the influenza stem, chemotherapeutic on the cancer stem, and counseling on the mental health stem.

So, not all stems have fruit yet, but they are being worked on constantly in hopes that they will one day grow fruit. It is also important to note this tree is planted in the soil of taxpayer support and cultivated by hundreds of thousands of researchers at universities, institutes, and hospitals.

For each disease we find, a new stem grows which will hopefully lead to new fruit. The purpose of this tree is to make each fruit (and the seeds within them) available to as many people as possible so that they may use that fruit to better themselves and society. The better the soil around this tree in quantity (money) and quality (public support/knowledge), the better and more plentiful the fruit.

I hope you enjoy the podcast. Please join me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sciencesoundbites and like the page to get the latest updates and links because there are more big things planned!!!



Catching a Football Game with ALL the Black and STEM PhDs

So just how many Black and STEM PhDs are there in the US? And how can we put this number into perspective. Well, I wanted to know so being a scientist, I went to the data. All links will open up to where I got the data in a different window and the stats I am referring to are for people 18 and older.

Here we go…

There has been a 12% increase in Black PhDs from 2011 to 2013 (13% overall)

As of 2013, 0.67% of black people (the national number is 1.47%) have a PhD. This amounts to about 195000 people, or 1 out of every 149 black people. Gender wise, the number is split down the middle with men and women with both listed at 97000 (I know it doesn’t quite add up, they rounded somewhere they shouldn’t have).

About half of the national population PhDs are in the STEM field. So if we make the assumption that this ratio holds true in the black population, that would mean there are about 118000 Black and Stem PhDs.

But the ratio does NOT hold up. The number is really closer to 72000.

To put in perspective, we could all go to see a football game in 37 different football stadiums and all have a seat in the stands.

Here are some more interesting tidbits.

Life sciences, all 44300 people could all catch a game at 9 professional baseball stadiums. This number is actually on par with the US population.

Physical science (34500), Engineering (31800), OR Biomedical (32400) PhDs could catch a Syracuse Orange basketball game. But these numbers are IF the national ratio held true. Sadly, it doesn’t. It looks more like this…

Physical science – 14200 (>50% lower that it should be with in regards to national parity), any of the top 80 basketball arenas.

Engineering – 13300 (>50% lower) even more of basketball arenas.

Biomedical science (which is a sub category in Life science) – 25200 any Major league baseball stadium

Now within the biomedical science population, the 2600 biochemists could “get to Carnegie Hall” with room to spare, but we just need to practice first (You’ll get that joke later, ask a musician or click here).

All the other chemists, a bit over 6000, would have to squeeze into Radio City Music Hall.

How did I find all this out? Well I took the number of current PhDs according to the 2013 census and extrapolated 2011 data on PhDa in given fields to arrive at the current amount. So the numbers are likely within 10% of the real number.

Why does it matter?

Diversity leads to innovation. Innovation leads to better solutions for problems that we cannot solve alone. That problem is cancer, that problem is a new bacterial infection, that problem is autoimmune disease, that problem is heart disease, that problem is solvable!!!

Diverse problem sets require diverse sets minds to solve them. So while we are getting stronger in numbers, there is work to be done to get to the same parity as the national numbers. Let’s rally the troops to inspire the next generation of scientists, and hopefully in a few years, there will be no single stadium that can hold us. #BLACKandSTEM