It is interview season (for graduate school) again! I always enjoy interviewing grad school applicants since they are a window into the world beyond my own institution and they give me a glimpse at the next generation of amazing scientists. Grad school interviews are a strange hybrid between recruiting and also assessing the student. After having done several hundreds of such interviews (estimated), I would like to share some thoughts and tips, in the hope that applicants who do not have readily access to this implicit knowledge (a privilege!) have a fair chance:
Few weeks ago, I have posted on Twitter that I am interested in examining to what extent consumer-grade EEG headsets could be used in scientific studies. There are few papers out there that test devices but I decided that I need to try them myself to see how good the signal quality is and whether these devices could be suitable for long-term monitoring in clinical trials of our Carolina Center for Neurostimulation.
I will share with you all my insights and thoughts on this journey. Please chime in and share your perspective and tips. This first post summarizes some troubleshooting I had to do to get the MUSE 2 headset to communicate with a Raspberry PI 4, a quite powerful single-board computer (SBC). I felt like back in the days of graduate school (almost twenty years ago!) when compiling code was part of my daily work. As it turns out, there are some fantastic resources out there and please understand that I did not develop anything new here, rather I found the right tools and figured out some quirks to things to work as they should. In the hope that such step-by-step instructions are helpful, here is what I did.
Learnign cellular neurophysiolgy has the reputation of being the hardest part of the year-long first-year graduate neuroscience course at my university. This is understandable. After all, the generation of action potentials through the interaction of sodium and potassium channels is governed by complex differential equations (Hodgkin-Huxley). Almost ten years ago, when I started out as faculty, I was asked to teach some lectures on the topic. I decided to introduce two new approaches that I have refined over the last decade:
(1) My first idea was that the key concept is the abstraction of biophysics into electric circuit diagrams that are completely foreign to almost all biology students. I had thus decided to formally introduce the students to the basic elements of electric circuits (current source, voltage source, resistors, capacitor) and the "syntax" (Kirchhoff rules) before shifting gears to discussing the passive cell membrane, followed by the action potential itself. I have now produced a series of videos inspired by the lectures I have been teaching. I hope they are of help!
These materials were the foundation for the chapters on cellular neuroscience (and some of the toolboxes) in my book Network Neuroscience that goes into some more detail (including voltage and current clamp etc). The book covers "network neuroscience" through a wide-angled lens that captures neurophysiology from the level of neurons and synapses all the way to complex large-scale network stuff. Check it out!
In this week's professional development workshop with the Frohlich Lab, we spoke about the importance of a professional online presence as graduate student / postdoc / faculty. I pitched the idea that marketing matters (also in science!) and that a robust online presence is a potential career catalyst. Here are my ten essential tips how to build an online presence. Here, we focus on the creation of a website, we will discuss social media in a later post.
As a the principal investigator (PI) of the Frohlich Lab, I receive numerous applications from undergraduate students who apply to work in our lab. Unfortunately, there are never as many slots as students interested and we have to make a selection. Today, the number of applicants far outnumbers the slots we have, likely because many labs have decided not to accept undergraduates because of COVID. The applications that land in my inbox differ quite a bit from email to email. I am suspecting that many students have never been taught how to approach a lab. This is of course an issue since it creates privilege and may contribute to biases against students who did not have access to mentoring earlier in their academic journey. Let me share with you the 6 things everyone should know in the hope that many students get to see this and can learn from it. Ideally, this post will be one small but hopefully important step towards leveling the playing field. And, of course, being aware of this issues will help us PIs take this into account when we assess applications. I feel very strongly about this responsibility. Here we go:
Investing used to be a complicated process only accessible to rich and privileged people. Apps such as Robinhood promise easy access to the stock market (and more), which I thought to be a great idea. Briefly, these apps let you buy and sell stocks (and other financial products including cryptocurrencies) without commission (fees). Recently, I have decided to try it. I was not prepared for what expected me. I have only lost money (too be expected, given that most amateur investors do poorly when they start picking stocks instead of being smart and buying index funds). The premise to all this is that I am not a professional investor and know about as much/little about the stock market like any random person (definitely not equipped to give you financial advice). Today, I would like to share with you my experience and the lessons I have learned.
(1) Using the app is (too!) straightforward. It is built to make it as easy as possible for you. You can connect a checking account and are immediately ready to invest. The user interface feels like a game and it is indeed very, very easy to start investing. In that regard, the user interface easily beats whatever I have seen from more established banks. And here is where the problem starts. The app may as well be a slot machine. Once I was in the red (very quickly), it was far too easy to "instant-transfer" more money to keep on buying to make up for the losses. The mental energy required for not falling for this was quite substantial. Lesson 1: Once something feels like a game, we can easily forget what is at stake (your hard earned money!) and get caught up in the moment.
(2) Using this app, I quickly saw myself making many kinds of "think mistakes" that I thought I would be immune to. Having done quite a bit of math in my life, I was ready to throw all this overboard and replace cool reasoning with quick and irrational thoughts. For example, as a particular share started going up, it was easy to convince myself to buy into this as well. I usually see myself as an independent thinker but I guess the worry about missing out on an opportunity quickly drove me to become a follower instead of a leader, which is not a good idea when playing the stock market. Lesson 2: Everyday we experience the pressure to act like everyone around us. Learning how to recognize and manage this pressure sets us free and makes us a better leader.
(3) Emotions win, each time. Having spent most of my life in school, I would have predicted that I know how to use reason instead of emotions. Think twice. Very quickly, I realized that my investment decision were driven by raw emotions such as fear of missing out (FOMO), excitement about (potentially) absurd gains on any given day, and in general my desire for excitement and distraction from the more mundane things in my life.
Overall, I have lost a little bit of money (I set myself a cap that I have not yet passed...) and learned a lot about my own vulnerabilities and how apps are designed to exploit them. Now, not all is bad. I always enjoy learning about myself. Also, I still believe that giving people who do not have investment accounts the chance to invest is a good thing. Note that I am (by far) not equipped to give you financial advice. However, I think there is a broad consensus of experts that you should buy index funds and keep them long-term.
If all this does not deter you, here is the link to sign up for a free account and try. Note that this is an affiliate link that will give you (and me, at no cost to you) a free stock (small chance to get a fancy one like Amazon, again the gambling marketing strategy!) when you sign up. You have been warned! Please share your thoughts and your own experience.
This weeks episode of my podcast "The Future with Flavio" looks at different stressors and how to deal with them. You can find the latest episode on your favorite podcast app (if not, please let me know, as I am quite new to this). Here is also a direct link (Episode 9).
I wanted to share with you the 60-second summary in case you are too busy to listen to the entire episode (though I highly recommend it). I am making the distinction between three types of stressors:
Welcome back. This is Part II of me sharing with you what works for me to be productive, even during stressful times. You can find Part 1 here. Today, I invite you to focus on few basic yet very important facets of self-care. No productivity system can get you to the next level unless you learn how to take care of yourself. During times of stress, this used to be the first place where I would make cuts. Drop the daily exercise, take a break from practicing the cello, or even step away from meals with the family to work more. All these strategies may give you a little of time today but will negatively impact your productivity and happiness in a more chronic and damaging way. Taking care of your body (and yes, your body is the substrate for your mind) should always come first. Try the following things:
I enjoy answering the questions how I get stuff done. First, please let me share that I have learned a lot about how to manage processes, document my work, and get stuff done in general. I used to be a very chaotic person and I was struggling for a long time to get things in place for being productive (and happy). A lot of credit for where I am today goes to my wonderful wife Anita, who homeschools our four kids (check out her resources on how to become a learning family), works as a project manager for the Frohlich Lab, and contributes to the field of international law with her widely-read online encyclopedia of comparative and foreign law CompareLex. I have watched her be productive at an insane level and learned, in fact learned a lot. With some tweaks to my specific circumstances, I have converged on the following three basic principles:
These are the three pillars of my productivity system (together with getting enough sleep!). I will expand some more over the next few posts to give you full behind-the-scenes access of how I get stuff done.
I hope this finds you well and please do share in the comments below if these strategies work for you and whatever productivity systems you have developed for yourself. Let's share. Let's learn, grow, transform together!
Welcome back! I know it has been a while since I have posted here. 2020 has been brutal, hasn't it? So much destruction, so much suffering, so much violence, so much disruption. I think I may be speaking for many of us when I say that "hanging in there" is about as well as can and should expect us to do during this terrifying year. Personally, I had stepped back from blogging here because there was so much going on. This week, I have decided to come back as the academic school year starts at the university I am professor at. I am greatly privileged to be a mentor for both my research group and my startup company, and I have decided to use this blog (again) to more broadly share my thoughts and advice (you have asked for it!).
Today, I start with sharing my own goals for the semester ahead, in the hope that they inspire you to think about the big picture and your vision for your future: