Jason McSheene

An Outlet for Thoughts, Ideas, and Discussion

Month – March 2014

Crafting the Perfect Presentation: A Failure

Getting pied in the face for charity. (It's a lot like getting pied in the face for not-charity)

Getting pied in the face for charity. (It’s a lot like getting pied in the face for not-charity)

Not long ago, a former colleague who is currently teaching at another university in NJ invited me to give a guest lecture. At first, I was incredibly honored then instantly scared. Who am I, a lowly graduate student, to give a talk to a university genetics class? I struggled to frame the type of talk I would give, never having given an hour-long lecture before. Iteration after iteration of my outlines then slides yielded the perfectly sculpted talk. It put into context human genetics, human disease, and transitioned beautifully into my specific field of study, which is left-right patterning in the zebrafish model. All my hard work on this presentation gave me the confidence to be that super smart scientist in the front of the room, defeating all the 40-layer deep Imposter Syndrome I typically suffer. Skillfully I summarize my talk and thank my colleagues. “Questions, anyone?”

“NO!” screamed the silence of the room, composed of 2 or 3 biology professors, fewer than a dozen students, and a math professor who had an hour to kill. The content went way over their heads. The students hadn’t quite learned about transcription (how RNA is made from a DNA template) yet when my whole talk displayed data in the form of photos marking where RNA was in my multitude of normal and mutant embryos. The professors asked a couple of helpful questions but I had failed. I thought my content was perfect but what the audience could have really used was a presentation discussing the basics I take for granted.
Science nerds like me need to remember that the knowledge of which we are exploring the frontier is not always the science we need to communicate. I know, I know, it’s so cool and interesting and there is hardly anything else in the world worth studying. However, after all the education we’ve gained, we have so much worth sharing. Try to be there for the audience, not yourself.
It really wasn’t a huge disaster or anything, but it did help shape my expectations for myself and my audience. As they say, don’t worry about making mistakes but don’t make the same one twice.

Do you have any particularly memorable fails or awkward moments that you thought were going to be your time to shine?

Value of Quiet

For a long time, I lost the “value of quiet”. With access to billions of hours of audio in our pockets, it’s so easy to cOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAonstantly to consume. For me, I always listened to the familiar: songs I’ve loved since high school. They never change, are nostalgia inducing, and help me get through monotonous tasks that sometimes come with lab work. Unfortunately, it became obvious that filling my time with songs I had memorized years ago lead to no time for thinking, so I moved on to listening to podcasts and audiobooks.

I’m the worst offender of all as hardly a day passes when I have not had earbuds in for at least an hour or two. This is mostly acceptable in the biology research labs I’ve worked in over the last decade or so, but I’d suspect it is not as common place outside of academia. I’m a media junkie and I know it, listening to the same music I’ve listened to a thousand times or one of my favorite podcasts while performing an experiment.

The good: I was constantly learning new things and different ideas.

The bad:  I had no great way of memorizing all of it.

The ugly: While listening to audiobooks and podcasts all day, I hardly had time to form my own ideas and opinions.  

If you’ve run into this issue too, try giving yourself a break. I turn off the podcasts and music outside of the car for a week and found it helped my concentration and memory. Of course, I’d like to go scientific in my assessment so maybe this will become an experiment for a few willing volunteers. After doing my usual morning pre-planning, the rest of the day was often amazingly productive. I am surprised that freeing myself from the distractions which I thought were improving my efficiency and multitasking made such a distinct difference by the end of the week. Additionally, I synthesized my own thoughts and criticisms without the constant flood of others’ words. 

While I haven’t given up listening to podcasts and music completely during the day, when there are particularly important or complicated tasks at hand, I have no problem putting away my iPhone. Have you encountered any problems like this or have any suggestions? 

Life is like a game: Specifically, StarCraft2

I shouldn't be floating so many minerals :(

Gathering my units for an attack!

I’m surprised how much I’ve learned about life from playing StarCraft 2. If you’re not familiar, StarCraft 2 (SC2) is a real-time strategy war game set in a space age between three main factions. Typically games place two players on opposite sides of a symmetric map with only a base and some workers. The players’ job is to defeat his or her opponent by obtaining resources and building a stronger enemy.  The army units you build are weak or very effective against units your opponent might make, hence creating a fairly elaborate rock-paper-scissors(-lizard-Spock, if I may) game.

SC2 is often compared to chess but without turns as each player needs to collect resources, spend them on units effectively, build buildings, search the map for more resources, set up defenses, take control of regions of the map, etc. Players are both moving their pieces simultaneously over a vast terrain.  While watching and learning from professional players (yes, professional), I’ve noticed that not only have I applied many principles to my games but also to my life.

1)      Start with a plan
Sure, improvising can be fun and spontaneity sometimes leads to surprises, however those are exceptions and not the standard. In SC2 I know I want to beat my enemy using a mixture of marines and tanks so all the resources I spend go into making that specific army stronger and better. As a 20-something, it’s not as clear cut as a 30-minute SC2 game. What do I want to do when I’m 30? How do I get that dream home and 2.5 kids by age 40?

There is a lot of goal assessment in these questions and rarely very straightforward answers. The goals will change but the game is always the same, so plan what you can for now and if conditions change, do your best. If there is a hiccup, remain focused on the outcome you desired.

2)      Be efficient with resources
Simple: don’t waste what you have and especially don’t waste what you don’t have.
In SC2 if I spend too much money on a new base, I’ll be way behind and very vulnerable to attack for a few minutes.

In life, if I get too behind on resources early on, then it is more and more difficult to catch up. Of course here resources are of many types: monetary, emotional, physical, mental, academic, etc. The key is to use what you can, give what you can, and save what you can. If done wisely, these investments will pay off.

3)      Know what the enemy is doing
First off, I hope you do not have enemies like those you might have in SC2. They are always trying to destroy your workers, obtain your resources, sneak inside your base, and overall make your life miserable. Therefore you want to be ready! You want to know what types of strategies your opponent is likely to use, roughly how many resources she might have, and when you think she might attack. If you can nail these points of knowledge, you’ve won half the game.

In your life, besides people who try to make you miserable,  think of the challenges you face and prepare what you can actually prepare for. I personally have trouble getting out of bed in the morning unless I preset my coffee machine. If I wake up smelling coffee and know that it will get cold and gross after a couple of hours, I’m more likely to get up and start my day. Is it hard for you to avoid eating snacks all day? Don’t buy snacks to keep at home. Do you have that one item of work you know you want to procrastinate on? Do that task first thing then be proud that you conquered it.


4)      If you’re not attacking, you’re losing and leave your comfort zone
I’m the worst at this. I love collecting data and intelligence then calculating a perfect time to strike… except there never is a *perfect* time. At best I find a decent window that allows my attack to be a success. At worst, I went to attack when my opponent fully expected and was prepared. However, if I just sit there in my base too afraid to move out onto the rest of the map, I learn too late that my opponent settled 4 more bases than I have and now obtains 10 times the resources I do. Now her army is 10 times stronger and it’s a short game.

This might actually summarize my life: I love having as much information as possible before making decisions. However, there is never enough information to confirm a statement as 100% true. This is how science operates. You form a hypothesis, then through careful testing of certain conditions, you determine how likely it is that the hypothesis is false.

It’s important to take a step outside of what you are used to. Leave that bubble that you’ve build around yourself and take a risk, lest you stagnate in your growth and opportunities. I will do the same!


5)      Don’t stop until it’s officially over
There is an (in)famous SC2 professional player named Greg “Idra” Fields… and he’s a notorious quitter. In one game in particular, his opponent accidentally destroyed his own base so he was way behind. Idra felt like HE was losing, so he quit before his opponent resigned. Everyone in the crowd was shocked because Idra won but quit before he knew it.

Sometimes things don’t work and that’s fine. You’ll lose some but do not be in a rush to lose them. If you feel like you’re losing, look for some advice. Maybe if Idra had his teammates alongside him, they could of encouraged him to continue. Also (within reason) do not be too stubborn. I’ve found that doing what seems hardest at first thought is usually the best option.


6)     And finally… “Good luck, Have fun”

A good round of SC2 begins with “good luck, have fun” or glhf for short. I always meant it sincerely. After my opponent would beat me, I’d say “gg” for good game. Standard etiquette but most of the time I really did mean it. Kind of.

After those last words, I was reminded of the phrase “Life is like a game”. As such, it set off the song “Kaboom!” by I Fight Dragons (a favorite chiptune rock pop band of mine). Enjoy the lyrics and the video below!

Life is like a game
We gotta choose a side
You try to play
Before you lose your mind
And fade away
But you could soon be gone

Who’s it gonna be?
You gotta tell yourself
Its never me
And you can justify
Most anything
So whose side are you on?

Well, one day they’ll drop the bomb
Who knows who they’ll drop it on
Maybe someone that you love
So before they get to you
Do what you gotta do

Don’t try to say
That we could win it all
Some other way
Our pride will never fall
And never change
You better toe the line

Cause in the end
The only thing on which
You can depend
To attack is safer
than defend
But not for army line

Well, one day they’ll drop the bomb
Who knows who they’ll drop it on
Maybe someone that you love
So before they get to you
Do what you gotta do

Pick which side you’re on, drop the bomb [6x]

Well, one day they’ll drop the bomb
Who knows who they’ll drop it on
Maybe someone that you love
Don’t wait for the evidence
No one’s really innocent
Send the judgement from above
And before they get to you
Do what you gotta do





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