Sunday, April 29, 2012


I picked up a book the other day about the "Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin.

I am in the middle of reading it, and I like the overall message of how we can change just little things in life, our outlook - to be happier.

I look at the people walking down the streets or on the subway sometimes and I wonder - are they happy? They don't seem to be. Are they merely transporting their bodies and brains to an uninspiring cubicle all day? Or, are they inspired by their work? Perhaps it is just me, but the sea of black winter coats does not do anything for inspiration. What happened to the colours? Why are some walls just blank? Empty canvas walls fill in the city. We should promote an art program with the city to colour them in! There should be musicians on every other street corner.

Perhaps I am affected by the trip we took to Paris, France and Iceland last summer. Wow - those Europeans - really know how to LIVE - the art, the music, the food. Inspiring. They did seem happier. Colour was everywhere.

Perhaps we will also grow like that, as our young North American cities age. Perhaps our subway stations and building walls will also serve as canvases for future Impressionistic art. Perhaps we will have more musicians in every restaurant, cafe and brunch place.

Creativity, art, colour, music, how we react to situations - I think all play intricate roles in our own happiness. Scientists don't really talk about happiness. I am not sure why. Perhaps because it cannot be measured with any unit. Perhaps it's not relevant to some scientists. Perhaps because if you've published in Science, Nature and Cell, then you are allowed to be happy.

In any case, I think that we as scientists, can only address the issues in the world, if we ask ourselves - what makes me truly happy? What sort of work will make me content with my research? It's not an easy question to answer; but once you achieve it, you are all set!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Life's Changes

It's been a while since I have posted, not due to lack of material, but I am undergoing some major transitions in my life as well. All exciting!

All I have to say right now is that inspiration and passion are two very important drives in a career and all of life.

I am at stage in my life where I am comfortable with my choices, forging ahead with my ideas, with no fear. It's a liberating feeling.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Intermissions in Life

Break between Undergrad and Graduate School.
Break between PhD and Postdoc.
Break between Postdoc and Job.
Breaks between Jobs.
Breaks between Jobs and Parenthood.

For some reason, most straight A students feel this need to jump into the next step. I have heard stories where students give themselves a week between thesis defense and postdoc, start the postdoc even before the defense, straight from one job to the next. Scientist-types feel a need to keep moving to the next search of that "final" destination.

Which is?

There is never a final destination, especially in this era. Even if you do achieve the tenure-track academic position, some may think this is the "final" career destination. However, many professors are continually supplementing their careers with side businesses, participating in start-ups, task forces, new initiatives, politics. The "career development" never ends.

So why do we feel this burning desire to just keep on moving?

Take a vacation!
Travel the world!
Take a break.
Become a musician at a local cafe.
Dabble in the arts. Photography.
Learn a new language.
Try something you have never done before. Scuba? Sailing? Grab a hammer and help Habitat for Humanity. Volunteer.

Nobody will grant you these extra times during a take them during your intermissions in life. Pat yourself on the back and take a break! It's all about the process, not the end result. And the end result? You may never know you are already there.

The job title does not define you.
Try to think of a word that describes yourself. Not an occupation, just a word. That, is real life. That is your legacy you will leave behind. It's not just the science, the publications, the long hours in the lab. Those are given.

What is the extra something you bring to life? Remember, just one word. That description should explain you wherever you are, during all the times you are at a "job" and when you are on an intermission.

Some examples:

Try it. And the next time you have a rare intermission in life, take an extra week or two or three or four (depending on other circumstances) and enjoy just being here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Passion II

Students of Science!

Where did the passion go?
Where is the creativity and innovation?
Wake up!

During your training is the best time to explore what gets you fired up. You are the next generation of leaders - explore the world!

I have met some individuals that took it upon themselves to find volunteer positions in the business or non-profit sector while working on their MSc or PhD degrees. These are the leaders. They know what they want or need to do to obtain their goals, They do not only meet the rigors of the graduate student curriculum, but they form their own internships and reach out to people on their own. They find a passion on how to change the world, and they talk to the right people. This passion alone is very attractive and somehow along the way, this very passion will land them the project and/or job.

Leaders that change the world did not look for the boxed job just to pay the bills, they followed their heart...the money will most likely follow. And if you are in the boxed job, try to change things from within! Perseverance, believing in yourself and establishing a support network are the key ingredients.

You are intelligent - invent, innovate and change something for the better! Take a risk - you only live once.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Living Your Dream

If you could work on whatever project in the world, without worrying about any other outside issues, what would it be? Given unlimited financial resources, a Mary Poppins nanny for your children, 5-star resort quality care for your aging parents, an immaculate housekeeper, a personal chef, what would you work on to better the world or even the science project you are currently working on?

One weekend day, think about this question, and follow-through.

Here are some examples:
1. I want to study the link between diet, personalized medicine for cancer, and outcome.
2. I would like to design a more efficient, comprehensive diagnostic method in screening for pediatric hereditary diseases.
3. I want to write about the effects of environmental toxins, food biochemistry, and effects on child development.
4. I want to combine my science with policy and find a career in governmental intelligence.
5. I want to change the infrastructure in the health organizations of some third world countries so they are self-sustainable.

Some of your free thinking days will be related to science, sometimes not. However, if you keep thinking about the same issue you would like to challenge yourself with, you have a passion for it.

Not many PhD students are told this, but "You have a PhD! You are intelligent and with motivation, you can be a leader of your own cause!"

Students tend to think they have to apply to the "boxed" jobs, but the best careers are those that you have driven yourself. If you have the passion and motivation for something, start with small steps. Perhaps a few hours week with basic research, getting to know the players in the field and discovering what has already been done. Next step is to contact those who are already in the field, chat with many people. Write it all down in a notebook with date, person and contents of the chat. Offer your services to an organization that will support your passion and your accrued knowledge. It might take a while, but within a year or two with the right support, you will enter the field. Within 3-5 years, you will have established yourself and be expanding your career. Remember to keep reading, publishing and communicating your ideas. Only communicated ideas are innovated.

Only if you take those initial baby steps and keep persevering will the dream become a reality.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Non-Invasive Prenatal Tests

Last October, I attended the American Society of Human Genetics conference and spoke to a representative at a booth for Verinata about noninvasive prenatal diagnostics using state-of-the-art genome sequencing technologies.

A few weeks later, Sequenom announced it offered the same test.

There as been some "legal banter" between the two companies.

Verinata just recently released its manuscript in Obstetrics and Gynecology verifying its accuracy.

What does this mean for the future mothers?
I have not read the publication in thorough detail, but if non-invasive sequencing methods can detect chromosomal abnormalities, will they become the screening method of choice in the near future? With invasive sampling techniques, patients are always anxious over miscarriage rates, however low they may be. Some mothers, choose not to do any screening. However, given a non-invasive, no-risk blood test, would mothers choose this to carry on the pregnancy with a prepared mind?

To those of you who are interested, it is not part of Canada's healthcare yet. It is not available in Canada, and at the current moment, only US physicians can order the test. I am not sure about the cost, but apparently, you can send in a blood sample in the 10th week. Turn-around time is 8-10 days. I am sure it will enter Canada soon.

I have been following this story for quite some time, ever since the conference, as I think it affects many mothers-to-be all over the world. I had a "scare" with my first pregnancy, and the anxiety was very, very stressful. Something like this would have been wonderful.

So to all those planning on having babies in the future, keep informed of this topic - it may really affect your life.

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