Jan
04

Hi again

…from West Palm Beach. I’ve fallen off the blogging train recently, like the whole last semester, but I’ve resolved to get back on it. At least for the next few days. I am in West Palm Beach for the 2015 meeting of SICB, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.  One of the reasons I wanted to do an independent project in Emilie’s lab this summer was to present a poster at this meeting, mostly for the experience of presenting a poster as an undergrad. It was also a great excuse to visit WPB in January.

But in all seriousness, the conference began late yesterday afternoon and I’ve already realized how beneficial it was for me to come in here while in the middle of my honors thesis. More so than I previously suspected. I had never made a poster before, and doing that was frustrating but rewarding and the kind of thing that you gain a lot from just banging it out for the first time. I’m happy with how mine turned out and excited for the poster session tomorrow when I’ll get to talk about it.

The first draft of my SICB poster...

The first draft of my SICB poster…

...final draft.

…final draft.

 

A lot of feedback from Professor Heideman, Emilie, and Eli went into the final product. It took me around 4 weeks of off and on tinkering before I was happy with it, so that’s a good time benchmark for future poster crafting.

I’ve resolved to blog every night of SICB. A grad student in Emilie’s lab mentioned over the summer that tweeting is a good way to consolidate the information you hear in a talk or poster visit. I’m not up for Twitter, but hopefully writing a post each evening will be an effective way to reinforce the information I cram into my brain. I think that was a mistake I made at SBN two summers ago – I didn’t take enough time to reflect. So by the time I sat down to do so, it was hard to remember what I wanted to remember and I was quite overwhelmed with information anyhow.

A few goals I’ve decided on for this conference:

– Rehash notes in a timely manner and write down important thoughts ASAP

– Practice “tweeting” what I learn by scribbling it down and/or writing a blog post

– Learn as much about sex differences (mostly phrasing and well-established information) and gene expression (how the heck do you normalize expression data) as possible

– Take notes on poster design, because apparently I wasn’t doing it well enough before I had to make my own

 

So, in the name of reflection, below is a somewhat miscellaneous collection of thoughts from yesterday evening and today.

– The conference kicked off with a plenary session from Ken Sebens, a marine biologist from Friday Harbor Labs. He talked about integrative and comparative ecology – sort of an overview of the field. I loved both tail ends of his talk. He began by stating why basic biological and ecological research are so important: we must gain insight into “basic” mechanisms in order to understand how the world’s biodiversity copes with climate change and other rapid environmental change. This makes even the narrowest foray into understanding various levels of biology relevant (like stabbing at a pathway integrating sex and nutrition…), because that’s how we build our big picture understanding. Thanks for the reminder that my doublesex data isn’t totally small and dumb, Ken.

– The other thing he said that resonated with me was his closing statement. He borrowed the quote by Theodosius Dobzhansky, an early-ish evolutionary biologist who said “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” This is true, but Ken added that you can substitute many words in place of “evolution.” You can put physics there. Or chemistry. Or maybe physiology. He said, what about ecology? My take-away: SICB is awesome because it facilitates this very idea. That fields of biology and science are not and cannot be mutually exclusive.

– On the topic of the meeting itself: SICB is awesome. I’m staying in a hotel for five nights on basically nothing out of my own pocket because they have a huge endowment dedicated to encouraging student involvement and attendance. This is the biggest meeting that I’ve ever attended (around 2,000 people I think?) but it’s SO well organized. Everything is on time and concurrent sessions are easy to find and, as always, scientists are just the nicest group of people. They even have an app this year, through which it’s easier to see how many talks that you want to see are unfortunately happening at the same time.

– I attended a talk about bearded lizards at 8 am this morning. Studying sexual dimorphisms in marking and size can lead to clues about the evolution of sexual dimorphisms. Especially when you look at the females that resemble males but actually aren’t. Take-away: males and females differ fundamentally, but also have similarities. Neither of these facts are arbitrary in physiology.

– The evolution of sexual traits has ecological relevance because they evolve as a result of males and females adapting differently to their environments in order to accommodate different biological goals.

– Condition dependence refers to variation in an environmental condition (perhaps diet quality for my monarchs or photoperiod for my mice) giving rise to variation in a trait (degree of secondary sexual development or reproductive status).

– I spoke with a Harvard PhD student named Mara about her poster today because the title mentioned gene expression. We talked about normalization strategies – she used target gene/total RNA – which actually makes more sense to me than total ng of reference gene if I want to control for the volume of tissue collected. Ironically enough, she worked on doublesex in her masters thesis. I gave her my email address because she offered to send me a helpful paper on qPCR data analysis techniques… PEOPLE ARE SO NICE.

– A lot of posters seemed to use 18S rRNA as a control gene for relative expression? But those might have all been from the same lab. I forget.

– Being here is so great. It’s definitely revamped my excitement for research and has restored my motivation to climb the hurdle that is cloning the GnRH-R gene.