Thursday, November 08, 2007

All a blur

The FUN front tableI went to the FUN social at the 2007 Neuroscience meeting in San Diego this year. And it was quite a sight. I talked to a few people who said this was far and away the largest FUN gathering that we'd had -- about a third bigger than anyone expected.

There were many posters, and many, many awards that were given out. And one was particularly special: a chance for a student to have a week long, expense paid trip to Germany to visit neuroscience labs there! Whew! Students came from all sorts of institutions, ranging from small colleges to big research universities.

Look forward to attending again!

FUN attendees

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Integration

Biology is an integrative discipline; neurobiology even more so. Neurobiology reaches in and rubs up against computer science and robotics, psychology of all sorts, physics, not the least of which is electricity, animal behaviour, and so many others. The question, of course, is how can we show students the very real multi-disciplinary aspects of the field? This is particularly a problem in smaller departments, where there is only a single neurobiology class and a single person to teach it.


One of the things I've been pleased that I've managed to do in my undergraduate neurobiology class is that I've always managed to find a guest lecturer from another department to come in and talk a little bit about topics related to neurobiology. I've had an ethicist from philosophy come in and talk about ethical issues related to brain imaging. Another time, a psychologist come in and talk about some issues related to mental illness. I haven't gotten any of the engineers to talk about neural nets or anything yet, but I'm sure that will come. I have always found those to be rewarding interactions, and I think it provides a nice change of pace for students too.


Has anyone else found good techniques for bringing in multi-disciplinary elements into the teaching of undergraduate neurobiology?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Need feedback on spinal cord article

If anyone has used the information and supplementary materials from my article in JUNE: Grisham, W., Jones, H. B., & Park, S. H. (2003). Sex Differences and Organizational Effects of Androgen in Spinal Cord Motor Nuclei. Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, 2(1) A29-A36, http://www.funjournal.org/downloads/GrishamA28.pdf ,I would love some feedback on how well it worked and the demographics of your students. Suggestions for improvement also graciously accepted. I hope to get some funding to create additional resources like this, so feedback is crucial.


Either email me feedback grisham@lifesci.ucla.edu

or you can post what you think here--either way, MANY THANKS!

Bill Grisham

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Support for undergraduates

This may be an apt time and place to point out that applications for SOMAS are due next week. 1 December, in fact. (Why I publicize this and increase the competition against my own submission, I'll never know.)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Why don't pufferfish poison themselves?

Fugu is a notorious sushi dish. It's made from pufferfish, and if improperly prepared, can cause the death of one who eats it. It's a deadly delicacy because pufferfish contain a neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin. It works by blocking voltage-sensitive sodium ion channels, which are partly responsible for action potentials, the electrical signal that most neurons use to send signals from one end of the cell to the other. Now, a new paper in Current Biology by Venkatesh and colleagues have worked out how pufferfish -- which have neurons, obviously -- are able to house all this toxin and not die themselves. It turns out that some mutations that change the composition of the sodium ion channel very slightly are all it takes. Beside making the puffership unpalatable to most organisms (except large brained primates who are like extreme cuisine), this tolerance to the toxin means pufferfish get to eat plenty of other organisms that accumulate the same toxin in their bodies and not be affected.

Is relevance overrated?

A few weeks ago, I was at a one day workshop on biology education. One of the speakers was Jay Phelan, author of a book called Mean Genes. He argued in his talk that making subjects relevant to students was critically important, because it made material easy to learn. While I was listening to him, and the talks aftwerwards, I scribbled down, "Relevance is overrated." I talked to him at lunch about it, and we had a good discussion about it. I agreed with him to a point; a lot of things that I've done in teaching were also things he had done. For instance, we both use hair styling to discuss protein folding and chemical bonds holding proteins together.


My concern is that when people think of "relevance" is that people think of relevance in the most narrow, applied terms possible. In biology, this usually means medicine; maybe environment. To me, this seems like an incredible loss of great material.


For instance, in my general biology classes I talk about a little lizard named Cnemidophorus uniparens. Is it relevant to the lives of, say, introductory biology students, many of whom will only take one other biology course in their entire undergraduate career, that this lizard species has no males, and females perform a behaviour called pseudocopulation where one female acts like a courting and mating male? I don't think it's relevant -- but is really cool.


Neurobiology is an area that many people feel has immediate relevance to them, because it explains something about how they think and behave. But I think it's always important to introduce people to things that they might not think about as "relevant," for no other reason than they are cool, or interesting, or beautiful.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Why you might not want to take students from Kansas for a while

The Kansas Board of Education have apparently taken leave of their senses. See another article here. They have rewritten the state's K-12 science standards, and done it very, very badly, in a way that is incredibly damaging to their students.


First of all, the standards redefine science completely. Science is, according the Kansas Board of Education, not limited to seeking natural explanations. Thus, supernatural explanations are made fair game, which one presumes would include goblins and faeries and flying spaghetti monsters. Second of all, the new standards rip the guts out of the teaching of evolution. "The new standards include a statement that fossil records are inconsistent with evolutionary theory," according to this New Scientist article.


It's hard to know how to react faced with a statement like that. Charitably, there are many practising researchers who disagree. I am using a lot of willpower to avoid an uncharitable description.


Of course, it's important to note that this does not affect university education directly. Researchers in Kansas will continue to teach and use naturalistic explanations like evolutionary biology, because that's what working, practicing scientists do. But it sure as heck is going to affect how prepared entering undergraduates students are for university education. Students are going to be in for a rude shock when they find out that science doesn't deal in the supernatural, that evolution is supported by evidence, and that intelligent design is so discredited that it's been memorably described as "not even wrong." I can almost picture Kansas universities having to reject students from their own state for lack of preparation.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Few Photos from Older Meetings (Was: Watch this space...)

Alright - Here are two from 1987:


(who is that young guy??)



And three from 1991:







I have additional meeting-related photos somewhere, but they are still eluding me.

I also found a receipt indicating that my room at the Clarion was $49/night in 1987... those were the days!

More later...

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I found photos and other materials from the 1987 and 1991 New Orleans meetings (not a trivial task considering that I have moved 5 times, gotten divorced and remarried, and changed colleges since 1987). I will post some old stuff in the next day or so.

And remember: the formative meeting that led to FUN occurred as a social at the 1991 New Orleans SfN meeting.