Working hours: A shared delusion

Scientists are supposed to be trained to examine and make conclusions based on evidence, however, this is widely ignored when it comes to themselves rather than their object of study. A 2016 poll on the Nature website showed that about 70% of academics work more than 50 hours per week. The lack of a work-life balance was chosen as the biggest challenge for early career scientists by 19% of respondents and almost two thirds have considered leaving research. This is similar to previous results in a 2011 Nature poll where 65% of post-docs said that they worked over 50 hours a week.

In contrast to this behaviour, current research does not support the idea that longer working hours are more productive. One study, based on factory workers during WWI, showed that productivity is proportional to hours worked only to a certain point. Above 48 hours worked per week, productivity per hour sharply decreases. Because of the decreased productivity per hour over longer work weeks it can be that working fewer hours will cause an increase in productivity. Continue reading

The case of Diego Gomez highlights the need for open access

It was in November 2014 when I first wrote about Diego Gomez. Tomorrow will see a court, in Colombia, decide his fate. (Article in French) He is facing a fine of up to $327 000 and four to eight years in prison for the sharing a scientific article with a colleague. This is something that many scientists do and which is sometimes necessary for our work. This case highlights the need to move to a world where all scientific articles are open access, i.e. free to read. Continue reading

VBC PhD Symposium 2016

2016_11_03-09_33_18-vbc_phd_symposium-005At the beginning of this month, I had the pleasure of attending the VBC PhD Symposium. The symposium is a two-day scientific conference organised by a committee of students from the VBC PhD Programme and, this year, led by Jillian Augustine. Just like last year, I acted as a volunteer to help with the set up and running of the event. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite as helpful as I had hoped to be as it happened not only at a very busy time for me but when I was sick — and lost my voice for almost two weeks!

The focus this year was “Mind the App: Applications that Bridge Biology and Technology” and had talks that covered a variety of topics from using spider webs to study virus survival to brain-computer interfaces to the history of biological warfare. I do not mean to cover the entire symposium in detail and will merely focus on a couple of aspects which were of particular interest to me. Continue reading

My paper on a new plant pathogen system

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Different accessions of Brachypodium infected with Ustilago bromivora. The fungus is the black material in the spikelet. (Source: My new paper!)

I finally have the first publication from my PhD out! It’s quite a nice paper too which took a lot longer than expected. And it’s also open access so everyone can read it! If you do, you’ll learn about a new system we have set up for understanding plant pathogen interactions with the fungus Ustilago bromivora and the grass Brachypodium distachyon.

My contribution to this is almost entirely in bioinformatics. The genome assembly had been performed before I joined the group, but I did the genome analysis and comparative genomics, starting off visiting some collaborators in Munich. This was quite nice; going in a direction which is becoming more and more important and taking things further than I had before. Continue reading

VBC PhD Retreat 2016 Report

This was something I wrote about two months ago. It was meant to be published on the VBC website but it’s been delayed so much I figured I might as well just put it out here. It seems a waste to just forget about it otherwise. I would’ve included some pictures but I’m not sure where my pictures are. When it gets posted on the VBC website there should be some pictures from other people.


Aim

A few weeks ago, the merry students of the VBC set off for the 2016 PhD Retreat – two days of science, fun and camaraderie – that was organised by the PhD representatives. This year was my second retreat and the location was the Schloss Hotel Krumbach , just a short distance outside of Vienna. Subsequently, Ines asked me if I would be willing to write a short report on the retreat and what follows are my thoughts. As I was not taking detailed notes, rather than just a run-down of what happened I have chosen to take some main events and expand upon them and how I feel they fit in a larger context. Continue reading

Long Night Of Research

About two weeks ago I was involved in a public outreach programme, the Lange Nacht der Forschung (Long Night of Research). This was a series of events around Austria that had scientific organisations sharing their research with the public. I was one of the volunteers at the Gregor Mendel Institute‘s display at the Heldenplatz in Vienna. According to the head of public relations from the Austrian Academy of Science, about 12 000 people passed through the display tent!

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Part of the GMI display with me in the background. (Source: APA)

Continue reading

My Viennese library

It’s not nearly as impressive as what I had back in Cape Town (Books were too big and heavy to take with me.) but it’s slowly growing.

My Viennese library

My Viennese library

I got I Wish I’d Made You Angry Earlier for free! During the introductory talk by the campus librarian, he gave us a short challenge to complete and the person that found the answer first would get a book. (In the end I believe he actually gave away two books because the replies were so close together.) It was just a simple task to look up the number that specified where the book could be found in the library. The library, and a nearby research lab, is named after Max Perutz, who was born in Austria, making the book a suitable prize.

I only got Faith Vs Fact a few days ago but I’m quite excited. It was actually almost 3 weeks later than Amazon originally promised but I’ll try to forgive them for that. It’s Jerry Coyne’s latest book after Why Evolution Is True. It, obviously, deals with the methodological incompatibility of science and religion. Someone can be both religious and a scientist but that doesn’t mean the ideas are compatible. There are also, for example, judges that take bribes; but that doesn’t mean that that’s compatible with being a judge. Since I’ve been reading his blog (He insists it’s not a blog.) for years and other pieces on the topic, I doubt there will be much new. Still, it should be interesting and it’s nice to have everything succinctly put together.