April 23, 2012

Science: Why I do it AND write it

A random sample of Americans was polled a few years ago. The purpose of this poll was to gauge our population's knowledge and beliefs on human life and evolution. Religious beliefs aside, this statement particularly stood out to me:

There's no such thing as a genetic defect. All genetic changes result from the decisions of a God or Intelligent Force.

A quarter of Americans believed that this is true. This absolutely floors me.

But it also has me wondering: do people understand what, exactly, a genetic defect is? Do they understand what DNA is beyond, say, mentionings in the O.J. Simpson case or paternity tests on Maury?

Another poll states that 80% of Americans believe the U.S. should create a "DNA bank" of its citizens. What exactly are they believing in, then?

There is a great divide between the scientific community and the average non-scientific layperson. And just before I enrolled in my Ph.D. program to begin my scientific career, it became clear to me how I'd like to use my knowledge: to educate others, in their terms, about what's going on in their bodies.

April 6, 2012

Clothes make the man—literally

In the sleep research lab where I'm currently completing my rotation, we are bringing back students for a follow-up study. Most of them don't seem to recall the uncomfortable beds or having electrodes pasted to their scalp from their baseline test, which was done back when they were in elementary school. (For our sake in recruiting participants, that's probably for the best.)

Nowadays they're older, wiser, more self-aware, and, as teenagers, a bit more judgmental. The researchers in charge of performing psychometric testing—new college grads and not much older or taller than the participants themselves—recently made an interesting observation: if they wear a white coat when interacting with the participants (and their parents), they receive more respect.

According to a study by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky of Norwestern University, it's possible that our psych testers not only look more professional, but subconsciously feel more professional. In other words, the clothes may literally make the man (or woman).

The study, published February in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychologyobserved an interesting phenomenon: wear a white coat you believe belongs to a doctor, and you'll be more focused. Wear a white coat you believe belongs to a painter, and you won't see that improvement.

April 1, 2012

Coffee: A caffeinated chronicle

The following is a story about a college girl named Jordan.

Jordan blindly, exhaustedly, yet somehow successfully stumbled her way through college. In her final two years, she averaged 4 or 5 hours of sleep every night due to schoolwork, labwork, club responsibilities, and the dreaded 4:55 A.M. alarm for crew practice.

She only drank one coffee, ever—a pumpkin spice latte—simply because the rest of her team regularly raided Starbucks after races. It tasted alright. Oh, and she had some orange energy drink before a Developmental Bio exam once. Her pee was subsequently green.

A graduate student once told her, "If you get into grad school, you'll become addicted to coffee." Jordan scoffed at the silly, weak student, and vowed, "Ha! Never."

Then one day Jordan had a Bob Evans mocha, and her life was forever changed.