Jason McSheene

An Outlet for Thoughts, Ideas, and Discussion

Science

Cool and interesting scientific findings, studies, or concepts

Day 22: Labor Day

It is Labor Day here in the U.S. For the first time in over a decade, I do not have school or work (formally) to tend to. It is in this lack of formal commitment, on this Labor Day, which inspires me to press on during the job hunt and continue my own personal/professional growth.

As I work to apply to local companies in the biotech/pharma industry and search for a position which truly fits my ideals and career goals, I know it is important to push for growth. I signed up for a couple brief Coursera courses offered by Johns Hopkins University: an introduction to genomic data and a Python programming for genomic data course. I am excited to get through them. Which newly gained skills can I apply to my projects and future career? I’ll let you know.

Conference Networking


I am not naturally a very outgoing person. However, that does not negate one important thing I learned: it is important to put on a good game face, be social, and talk with as many people as possible (i.e. NETWORK!).Ep009_card

This week I will step out of my comfort zone by attending the American Society of Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO) conference in Washington D.C. I will not know anybody there and the field of artificial internal organs is brand new to me, as I have no direct experience in it . So why even go? 

  1. Comfort is the enemy of progress. This is a perfect opportunity to push those boundaries and grow. As mentioned before, going to the ASAIO meeting will force me out of my comfort zone. It is easy to go to a meeting with a bunch of your co-workers and close yourself off to new experiences. Instead of doing this, I encourage everyone to keep themselves open to communication.Go to the talks that might not directly relate to your work but sound interesting to you. Ask a “stupid” question. Talk to that person who seems intimidating.
  2. The meeting is the perfect opportunity to learn! What is the current state of various technologies? Where is research and production being performed? Who is on the cutting edge? How can I position myself for entry into the field?
  3. Networking. If you listened to Episode 9 of the PhD in Progress podcast, you understand the importance of networking. Because I’m in the process of career exploration, meeting new people and learning about their career paths is vital. It will help me understand what some companies expect and how I can better augment my skills and experience.

With all of this, it’s also important to set goals and expectations. It would be a huge mistake to wander around for a few days just expecting to get the most out of the experience. So here is what I hope to accomplish at this meeting:

  1. Identify current research. Obviously, I will going to each talk session and poster session in order to learn more about the field. It is entirely possible that my future work will be related to something I hear at the conference.I will learn about 20 technologies in-depth and develop follow-up questions for each.
  2. Introduce myself to everyone. Alright, not every single person, but I should not be sitting quietly by myself for more than a few minutes. This, without a doubt, will be the most beneficial yet draining goal. I want to hear about what people think, what they do, and what their own goals are. By initiating conversation, I’ll create opportunities for learning, teaching, and helping. Plus I might have a few new friends to enjoy a drink with at the end of the night.Besides, interacting with hardly anyone for 3-5 days is never fun. I did that at a meeting in Montreal once. Never again!I will start a conversation within the first 2 minutes of down time.
  3. Investigate the companies/institutions doing the work. At the end of the week, I want to know the major players involved in bioengineering of biological tissues. I should be familiar with the companies, understand their products and/or services, and have the contact information people who work in R&D there. While I am doing this for my own career search, it should be a goal of anyone trying to improve their position within a field of choice.I will be very active at poster sessions and networking events by asking about the research itself, the employees, and the companies.

The key for me is that people universally want to feel valued, helpful, and interesting. Additionally, people do not want to be bored, unimportant, or invisible. By initiating conversation, you give someone the chance to fulfill all of those needs and quench those concerns.

 

Science Fiction: An Inspiration

 

I’m the first to mention that I’m a huge nerd. Those silly 80s and 90s cartoons fueled my interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) even more than shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy or Mr. Wizard. What really got me excited was the prospect at participating in the development of the fantastical futuristic machines I saw in Transformers, Star Wars, and EXO-Squad. Just to aiding in the development of some helpful technology would mean success to the 9-year-old Jason.

Now, as I forge my own unique career path in bioengineering/tissue engineering, I am constantly analyzing my decisions. Thinking about the past too much gets one caught up in the webs. It’s way too easy for paralysis to trap my progress. As a graduate student on the edge cusp of earning his PhD, a piece of paper saying that I’ve spent 22+ years in school and made a little contribution to the body of human’s knowledge, I’m asked almost every day “What’s next?” When I mention that I’d like to help develop artificial limbs and/or organs, I inevitably end up launching into the brief story of my inspiration behind it.

And of course this reason is completely nerdy. One of the movies that really shMiles_Dyson_with_Original_Armaped the way I thought was… Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I was probably too young to watch it when I did and thankfully it did not ruin my life by creating an ultra-violent psychopath. What really gripped me was this scene: Dyson, a scientist/engineer (AND Black! I did not know at the age of 6 that this was considered rare) lead the creation of the tech that eventually lead to the human-hunting terminator machines. The “good” Terminator from the future, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger,  goes to Dyson’s house, sits down with the scientist and his wife, then… SLICES AND RIPS THE ARTIFICIAL FLESH FROM HIS ROBOTIC ENDOSKELETON! Oh man. I was fascinated. I got the chills. I still do when I see that. 1) It was freaking cool,  2) The scientist was able to see what his creation became, and 3) Seeing the robotic arm reminded me of a major current event that I was also too young to understand.

t2dThe Gulf War was wrapping up when I was in kindergarten. I really didn’t know what war meant. I knew our US soldiers were punishing bad guys with our “awesome” planes and weapons. Among all the types of footage I saw on TV, I remember only the night vision bombing videos and interviews with young men who returned home without arms and legs. That’s about it. “How cool it would be to make robot legs for these guys”. That’s all it took. During my particularly active childhood, I always thought about how our bodies moved while sparring with my brother. I always looked at the articulations in my fingers, hand, and wrist. Later in my high school Anatomy and Physiology class I learned the specialized joints between the radius and ulna allowed for the rotation (or “pronation” and “supination”, if you want to impress your friends). How machine-like our bodies are… it’s amazing.

This applies to our organs too, I began to understand. The highly specialized cells of the liver, brain, and skin, for example, all have specific functions. As I learned more biology throughout high school and college, I wanted to find out what caused cells to be different and how I, as a scientist in a lab, could push cells to become one type versus another. By delving into developmental biology, the study of how an organism is able to develop its distinct tissues and organs, I hoped to gain this knowledge. To a large degree, I have been successful. Now the scary part: what can I do to apply how nature deals with building specialized tissues to the development of products that can help people?

While I’m on my job hunt, I will do my best to remember what inspired me along the way.

If you ever do talk to me in person, you might notice pride when I talk about nerdery or geekdom. I’m always happy when others are able to celebrate what they enjoy and inform others about “topic x” as well. Some of my friends do the most amazing things because they are nerds. One nerd hacks together some of the coolest little computer programs and little machines because it’s fun for him. Another has spent so much time and energy inspiring the next generation to appreciate science. Another creates some of the most pleasing music I’ve ever had the chance to listen to. These people are inspiring. The people who dedicate the time to an art or practice they love. I always wonder what I would be dedicating my time to if I did not see Terminator at such an early age.

For the sake of everyone: be a nerd.

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!

“Kaboom!”
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
KABOOM! KABOOM!

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
KABOOM! KABOOM!

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
KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM!

 

 

 

 

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