Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why Biochemistry?

I'm back.

I want to go through why I chose to study biochemistry, and to pursue it into the future. But to do that we must go back, back, back, in to a simpler time. A time when things were simpler. The pace of life moved a bit slower. People dressed a little differently.


Figure 1: 2004 Fashion. From Apropos of Something

Back then, a 12th grade high schooler facing the daunting task of selecting the route of my post-secondary education, I had a good idea what school I would be going to for university, but little clue what for. My interest in science went back to grade 2, where I was put on the spot to say what my favorite subject and replied "science" (remembering a recent super-cool demonstration involving milk, soap, and food colouring). However, science alone is not as specific a subject as it may seem to a 7-year-old. When university loomed and choices presented themselves, I found that I must decide between biology, physics, or chemistry, or something that falls somewhere in between (think chemical physics, molecular biology, and quantum ecology).

Being...ahem....a rock nerd at the time,

Figure 2: Rocks are pretty. From tourist_on_earth

I thought that geology - no, geochemistry - might be an appropriate career choice. But so I didn't sound so crazy, I tacked on biochemistry as something similar I may also be interested in. At that time, in one of the most misled moments of my life, I thought the TCA cycle was interesting. Then:

Dad: "It's a lot easier to find a job in biochemistry"

And my decision was effectively made for me.

5 years later, I have an undergraduate degree in the subject, and pretty intricate familiarity with it. Did I make the right choice? Yes and no.

I made a right choice, though i'm sure others would have led me places just as interesting, and carried me on just as far. I couldn't have known at the time that years later I would remain interested in the subject, but I am. I had little idea what biochemistry, or any other sciences (including geochemistry) was actually like. I suspect many others finish high school in a similar situation. However, my choice was a good one. I don't doubt that I would find a niche in any of several other areas, but the one I have is just right for me.

Choices are inevitable, and sometimes lead where you can't know you're going. The trick is to adapt, to learn, and to be happy with wherever you end up.

Did I think that I would enjoy study in biochemistry? I had no idea.
Did I know anything about the subject? None at all.
Am I happy with where my education has taken me? Absolutely.
Might I have been happy in a different discipline? Probably.

Yet here I am. Ready to move on, open a new chapter of my life, and close some more doors as I go. As they shut, the path ahead becomes a little narrower, a little clearer. While those doors don't open again, the ones I walk through take me on. On to new places, new experiences, and new opportunities. I can't wait.

Figure 3: Being forced to make choices is a good thing. From Mikael Miettinen

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Skeptic's Guide and Perry DeAngelis; Remembering and moving forward

I discovered podcasting and other Web 2.0 stuff by and large in the summer of 2007, when I had considerable free time and a long enough trip to and from work/school to facilitate listening to a full hour of audio per day. A student from my university's Skeptic's club had posted a link to a "podcast" on a message board related to the university. The title: The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe. Not particularly versed or even really aware of skepticism, I figured perhaps the podcast was something like Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (I later discovered this was indeed no coincidence) and looked into it.

The roughly hour-and-twenty long podcast was not a story of Babelfish, Vogons, the destruction of Earth, or even towels, but instead a panel discussion of all things science, with a little criticism of Bigfoot and TV Psychics thrown in. While all the stuff about ghost hunters, aliens and astrology that the panel discusses is not of much interest to me, the science sucked me in. In the course of 8 months, I had managed to listen to all of the 120 or so (at that time) hour-plus episodes these guys put out, sucking it up like a sponge. Perhaps the best feature of the show is Science or Fiction, where the host presents three science news items, two of them real, one fictitious, and asks his panel of skeptics to guess which one is the fake*.

The show is run by the New England Skeptical Society, and started with Evan Bernstein, Perry DeAngelis, Bob Novella, Jay Novella, and the ringleader, Steve Novella. They were joined after a while by Rebecca Watson, dramatically altering the dude-to-chick ratio and making the show just that much more fun.

In August of 2007, one of the Skeptical Rogues, Perry DeAngelis, passed on. I was not sure if the podcast would continue the same and hold the same draw that sucked me in, but it did, albeit with an understandably subdued tone for quite a while.

With of 4 months when I did not have access to a computer to check out the podcast, followed by a terrible fall semester, I have fallen far behind in my podcast-listening duties. I am slowly catching up, and recently I found myself listening to the 1st Perry DeAngelis Memorial Live Podcast, SGU #169, October 11, 2008. I must say that this has by far been my favorite of the episodes I've heard, perhaps because of the differing format, but likely more just because of the laid-back atmosphere the live show produces, with two guest panelists to add to the mix as well.

If you are interested in science and/or hate creationists, you should take a look at this podcast, and I recommend the memorial as a great example to start with. Although it has a slightly different format, the topics are wide-ranging and discussions are particularly thoughtful. Check it out.

*After 100+ hearing Steve say this blip at the start of Science or Fiction, you can recite (type) it from memory

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My muse is gone....

Photo from SMN

Since I decided to ditch my pseudonym, it has been harder than ever to get something written. I'm probably being overly critical given that I now must be all the more accountable for my words. Agh. One of these days I'll get my groove back, I just need some motivation. Come on science, motivate me!