Archive for the ‘Academics’ Category

What I Want to do with Science

May 14, 2009

As the semester progresses (mid-terms coming up in 3 weeks, beh), I find myself thinking more and more about what I want to end up doing with a science degree. Truth be told, I got into biology because I love evolutionary theory, and I am excited to learn more about the history and relationship of the living species on earth. Biology can fun (not all of it, admittedly), but evolutionary theory is the trigger for me, now, as my first year in undergrad is coming closer to an end, that hasn’t changed.

 

Maybe it’s cause we haven’t delved deep into the “hardcore substance” that is only accessible after you cram the basics into your uninitiated head – I’ll be the happiest person alive if that is true – but despite the fact that biochemistry and cell biology and even organic chemistry have their cool aspects – I still want to be an evolutionary biologist more than anything else, and I wouldn’t want to stay in graduate school for anything else.

 

Obviously, this is premature, but in my naivete, I was hoping to find the same breath-taking excitement in other fields of biology at the onset. 

 

Biology is a beautiful, elegant field of science, the most amazing I’ve ever learnt – but the story it tells me about the tree of life is the real story I’m after… It’s what I stay awake at night to learn about.

No Time!

January 27, 2009

Beh. Exams are up, it’s been hell at work (well, I say “at work” when I work at home, but you know what I mean) – this means: no fancy posts, no Monday Organism, no joy.

In case people still read up here, I’d like to hear comments about e-mail subscription (even if you’re not into subscribing to this blog, I’ve heard reports (read “a report”) that it doesn’t work properly for this blog).

I’d also like to reiterate that every post has e-mail notification for its comments, meaning that if you post a comment, there’s a little checkbox below the comment box that you can tick so you can get notified by e-mail when someone replies to your comment. Otherwise, all comments are probably one-timers, which is a pity.

This is also an opportunity to hear what people think of this blog, whether they think it’s any good, if they want to link up to a post they’ve written, etc. Shorter me: I’m sans blogfodder, so gimme some.

Cheerio, and good luck for all students currently whimpering at the impending doom of the exam period.

Not For A Pot of Gold

January 21, 2009

Lately, I’ve been seriously considering the idea of switching to bioinformatics instead of an ordinary biology major. The reason is not so much a newly found interest in the intersection of computer science and biology as much as it is a palpable dread of the prospect of unemployment.
All of my friends are either “computer scientists” or on their way to be. Computer science is not the easiest profession. It requires guile, skill and creativity, all attributes which I do not particularly excel in.

It would be, however, interesting to conjoin biology and computer science, and I’m sure there are fascinating avenues to pursue in a multi-disciplinary approach. I’m probably going through with this.

That said, I also came to th realization that I’m not giving up on Latin courses, and I’m definitely not giving up on ISL. True, most of my friends might drift away by becoming socio-economically superior and professionally secure, while I slowly meander through the endless paths of academia…

But I can’t stray from my own path so that I could join everyone else in theirs. I might be distanced from the material and mental world in which all my contemporaries reside in – but if I won’t follow that which fascinates and excites me – my heart will be broken.

And believe anything you want, never believe that there is anything in this world that is more important to you than what you feel. Feeling is everything, and I will never be happy if I won’t go as far as I can with biology and languages.

Can I do research?

November 29, 2008

I know I’m only a biology undergrad, but I can’t help thinking that I might not have what it takes to be a researcher. Am I creative enough? Smart enough? Innovative enough? What does it take? Can I get a clue now before I spend 10 years on my life pursuing a career I won’t be any good at?

The Power of Sign Language

November 24, 2008

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This past few weeks have been tumultuous for me. I’m constantly reshaping my view on sign language and interpreting for the Deaf. When I started studying ISL, I was determined to acquire the skills and credentials of an ISL interpreter because of a combination of my love to Mother and my life-long infatuation with the Deaf, mainly as a result of reflecting the love I have for Mom and Dad on the entire Deaf community.

At the onset, Cocoon stated firmly that “wanting to help the Deaf” is a dangerous agenda for an interpreter. The Interpreters’ code states clearly that objectivity must be had in relation to both Hearing and Deaf. In every interpretation event, the Hearing are my clients too, and as a professional sign language interpreter, I must avoid any biases against the hearing just as much (and equivalently so) as I should avoid biases in favor of the Deaf.

So how do I do it?

At first, I thought that it is impossible for me to uphold the Code without turning against my own ideals as well, but I’ve come to reshape this thought in the past week:

The best thing I can do for the Deaf is to be as professional an interpreter as possible.

This is not to say that there aren’t any ethical issues to be had, but as a basic principle, it does absolve me of the self-torturous occupation with my agenda as an interpreter.

This week’s article was all about interpretation ethics. Besides from recapping the code as we’ve discussed it in class, it brings some real-world examples of collision between the Code and a person’s own ideals and moral principles.

I will use one such example to clarify the remaining dilemma I have with the ethical code:

An interpreter was sent to interpret for a deaf patient who was visiting a gynecologist about having her uterus removed. The interpreter notices that clearly, the doctor is not giving this patient all the care (he believes) she deserves, and it is easy to see that the deaf patient hasn’t a clue that she’s being mistreated.

What would I do?

Well, if it was Mom and Dad, I’d probably turn the table and use loud-volume complaints and admonition, as my agenda is clear: I’m here for Mom and Dad, and I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about the doctor’s interests so long as he takes care of them.

As soon as I do that, I’m no longer a sign language interpreter, end of story. I’m a “signer representing my deaf parents”. Cocoon firmly stated that anyone who’s ever signed to his family (or even his friends!) has never “interpreted”. Knowing how to sign does not perforce mean “being an interpreter”.

The article offers one interesting possibility of upholding the code without hurting the interpreter’s conscience: resigning the instant there’s a clash between ethical and personal principles.

The issue, however, remains for me unsettled. In my case, I would resign and then immediately become very, very subjective and particular about what happened. I would admonish the doctor for his malpractice, I would feverishly explain to and negotiate with the deaf patient, even to the point of arguing with her that going through this or that length of research and so on would be the best thing for her.

I would be making a stand, I would be appointing myself as an advocate and guardian without receiving this appointment from my deaf client.

My instinct would probably be to self-appoint myself as a guardian for the deaf without their consent, merely because it’s a life-long habit. I’ve yet to find a deaf person who didn’t happily accept that, by the way. I’m sure that a lot of deaf people would refuse to be belittled (although I don’t actually belittle, not consciously, anyhow), and I will immediately cease playing “Signman” at their expense if they ask me to, but still, this is what I would do by default, unless requested otherwise. I highly respect and revere the Deaf, and I only feel obliged to appoint myself as their “savior” because I’m horribly empathetic to them, not because I think they’re weak or incompetent.

So, in conclusion, I would still be breaking the code, or be improper by exploiting the information I received (the doctor being an ass) to promote my personal (and the deaf patient’s) agenda.

As of right now, I have no idea what I would do that aligns itself both with the Code and with my moral principles. And that, frankly, keeps me awake at night.

In class, Cocoon suggested that it is proper (and okay with the Code) to not so much as intervene in anyone’s favor in the interpretation-scene, but to simply supply the patient with some healthy advice that doesn’t assume any actual responsibility or, heavens forbid, requires contamination of spoken content with agenda-ridden signs.

She suggested, for example, to cordially ask the patient if she’s sure of what she’s going to do and humbly recommend her to consider her actions (such as signing the form that authorizes her surgery) well before anything potentially harmful happens.

This is a prudent and somewhat cunning alternative to breaking the code or letting a deaf person rot in the course of upholding it, but I still think it’s problematic. In a way, I AM breaking the code, or at least jabbing it hard enough to leave a crack. Personally? I’d do just what Cocoon suggested because I haven’t thought of a better idea. Perhaps I’d be a bit more adamant with my “cordial suggestions”, but I admit that I wouldn’t replace Mom and Dad with the deaf patient, I have to remain professional, for everyone’s sake.

Getting more intimate with sign language and the deaf is like a dream coming true for me, but I’m appalled as I wrestle with the horrible acknowledgment of the fact that sign language interpreters and the Deaf can never be friends and “work together” at the same time. The power to mediate between the hearing and the Deaf creates a chasm between Hearing and Deaf. The all-encompassing notion that one side is impaired and depended on the other makes the politics of this situation too cumbersome. I believe that although not impossible, being a professional sign language interpreter to a Deaf friend is highly unlikely.

I find this notion to be the most tragic conclusion from this course imaginable.

Some thoughts about plant evolution

November 20, 2008

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Well, I’ve been brewing a post about ISL ethics for a few days now, but besides my chronic procrastination due to school and work, I had another reason to postpone this post, which is that just today I got the first paper from Cocoon about ISL ethics and I think this one really calls for some homework!

Anyhow, as a brief hors d’oeuvre, I would like write a brief post on some nagging thoughts and doubts I had about plant evolution due to this week’s biology class.

First, some background: this semester is “botany-semester”, meaning that all labs and all classes that are specifically about biology (and not, say, math 101, physics 101 etc.) are mainly focused on plants, algae, etc.
Second, before I write a about the nitty-gritty of my argument, let me just say that every single one of my professors, lab chiefs and even the guy who instructs our lab team have either your garden variety yarmulke, or in the case of the PhD student who instructs our lab team, a yarmulke and those curly braids that the hassidic Jews have. I’m really not too privy to the that whole “Hassidic spectrum”, but since he doesn’t wear those penguin suits the Jerusalem Hassidim wear, I can’t say he’s as fundamentalist as those kooks in Jerusalem are.

But anyway,

What I wanted to say is that every single one of my professors, lab chiefs and lab instructors is, well, REALLY JEWISH, really religious and god-fearing, and completely, unabashedly, evolutionist. These guys speak of evolution as if the fact that it’s true is so ho-hum that it doesn’t even worth a second thought. Shiesh. It’s only the major kooks in Israel who have any qualms with it, I guess.

And now, to the batmobile!

The theory of plant evolution goes roughly like this: a great number of yonks ago, prokaryotes endosymbiontly evolved into eukaryotes (something I find totally reasonable), and the variety of prokaryotes that evolved photosynthesis (namely, Cyanobacteria or Cyanophytae, or blue algae), coupled with endosymbiosis, turned into the first eukaryotic algae. So far so good, but the problems I have with plant evolution start here.

A good analysis of algae evolution can be done by looking at the various evolutionary pathways observed in various algae phyla. It’s probably no coincidence that all green algae and all plants have the same preservative polysaccharide (namely starch, unlike our glycogen), all have the same (and rather unsually so for the 7 or so algae phyla) characteristic photopigment (chlorophyll a), all have similar sexual reproduction and all are surrounded by cell walls composing of cellulose (also an “anomaly” among algae phyla)

This is a good and credible explanation for the origin of land plants (plantae or metaphyta). However, things start to get really shaky when you look at the other algae phyla, who have indiscrepant levels of development, which make it rather futile to try to pinpoint who evolved when. For example, the multicellular alga “Chara” has a superficial “stalk” and a complex sexual reproduction system, but it does, however, use isogamy as a means for zygogenesis (the production of zygotes from gametes). Isogamy is rightly considered to be archaic, as it is less efficient, less specialized and is more characteristic of primitive organisms than of evolved ones.

So how come Chara has an unevolved sexual reproduction while Volvox, which is a microscopic colonial alga that has no sexual organs, uses oogeny for zygogenesis, which is strikingly reminiscent of human zygogenesis (the male gamete is small and motile, the female gamete is large and static). The professor merely said that certain things evolve at different paces, and this is a good explanation and a very reasonable one, but I find it hard to accept it while at the same time claiming that this or that phylum evolved before or after based on comparative anatomy.

In cases like this, I prefer to say “I don’t know, but…” rather than to firmly put my finger on a phylogeny (which I can comfortably do regarding green algae and plantae).

Silent Classroom

November 5, 2008

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This is the first post I will write about my college experience, and not only because it’s about the first courses I attended.

In 3 days, I’ve trekked (boy, I did) to 3 faculties: Classical Studies (looks like the place where Kent Hovind got (read bought) his Ph.D in), Languages (a branch of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities here at BIU, in a building that kind of reminds me of Prague) and Life Sciences (for my Biology B.Sc.

The first thing that popped into my head when I entered the classroom this Sunday was: “Hell, each and every one of these people is just like me, a hearing person with access and affiliation to the deaf world”.

I remember thinking that I find it much easier to feel special and my signing to be a sign (ha) of my exotic background while interacting with the hearing, but I felt helplessly inferior with this population. With these guys, I’m just another peer. In fact, it’s the first time in my life I was really in a place filled with my peers, since I belong to a very unusual minority, this is quite an extraordinary occasion. Sometimes, the classmates had to sign to each other. It was the first time in my entire life I have ever used sign to communicate with the hearing.

There’s much to tell about my experiences (it was 10 hours straight, sheesh), but frankly, I’m not interested in writing a journal entry and document the whole thing. I am, however, interested in recording just one amazing aspect of studying Sign in an academic institute.

Firstly, we have 2 teachers who are 100% deaf. Moreover, one of our hearing teachers is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) who’s married to a deaf person, and also someone I’ve known in person ever since I was a pup.

Thirdly, and this is the big whopper for me:

Two classes out of five were conducted in a foreign language. It is the first time in my life I ever sat in a class that was taught in a language other than Hebrew (or English and Hebrew, in cases where the subject was “English”).

In fact, the most amazing part about studying sign language interpreting is the fact that the classes themselves are in sign language. It’s an extremely exhilirating experience, and more so, an incredible phenomenon:

20 students sitting in a class, for hours on end, that is completely silent. Not a squeak, not a peep, but throughout the entire session, people were livid, burning with passion, teasing and gossipping, voicing (hur, hur) their opinions, and generally: behaving like your garden variety young and enthusiastic students, except everything was in brain-dead silence. It almost brought me to tears.

There’s nothing more amazing to me than a silent classroom.