Category Archives: opinions

random thoughts about ‘postdocs’

There was a discussion about postdocs and if and how they would benefit from Obamas plans to increase the salary threshold below which overtime must be payed to a number considerably higher than the NIH average postdoc salary… or… fellowship. I won’t get into details why, but there were different types of postdoctoral positions thrown around for different reasons. I think I made things a bit chaotic because some assumptions about what would be a postdoc position really annoyed me.

So here are some of my opinions about what a postdoc is and should be:
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Why I think neurons are computers and why it matters.

The question about whether neurons perform computations came around several times on twitter, lately and there were at least two spin-off blog posts that came from these discussions:
Is the idea that neurons perform ‘computations’ in any way meaningful? from Adam Calhoun (@neuroecology) and then
The Diversity of Computation
by @mnxmnkmnd

So far so good. It appears that basically there is little discussion about whether neurons compute things. However, a new conversation between me and @mnxmnkmnd came up as I realized that for him it appears to be close to irrelevant whether you call a neuron a computer or not and you don’t learn more from emulating the computational function of a neuron than from simulating the thing the same way you would from simulating fluid dynamics or a pendulum.

So, here is my new attempt to explain, why I think it is important and meaningful to think of neurons as computing agents rather than simply physical phenomena.

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European Neuroscience – and its Discontents – at the 2014 FENS Forum | Neuroscience Community


I travelled ones around the globe visiting Germany, Italy and Japan.

In Italy I visited FENSforum, the biannual meeting of the Federations of European Neuroscience Societies.

I was then asked to write a report on it for the new community site of PLOS:

European Neuroscience – and its Discontents – at the 2014 FENS Forum | Neuroscience Community.

My first Preprint Server Submission

This weekend I happily completed a manuscript describing my recent postdoctoral work. We took the opportunity to try a further step into what hopefully will be the future of publishing. So, next to submitting the manuscript to a well-known, peer-reviewed neuroscience journal, I made a version for bioRxiv. This is a preprint server that is supposed to be a biology version of the aRxiv which is a well-known resource for papers and other material on physics, math and related topics. The bioRxiv is run by the institution I work at, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The idea is to put out your work before it is being peer-reviewed by a journal and instead allow anybody to comment on it. The submission process is simple and it doesn’t cost a dime. It just takes a (short) while for someone to double check that the content you uploaded is actual science. My paper was released not even 24h after I submitted it.

Of course you need to be careful when deciding to put your work out there. If, for example, you are in a highly competitive field and only the peer-reviewed publications in certain journals are accepted by your peers as ‘proper publication’, you might not necessarily want to release your work this way. But I don’t consider my work to be that critical. 😉
Further, if you want to submit the same version of your manuscript to a journal, you might want to first check whether the journal allows it. On their website, bioRxiv links to some resources on this topic. Again, the specific journal I submitted the manuscript to is fine with it.

So, please read and comment on it if you so very much please. I am curious what effect this – for biologists new – way of handling scientific output will have on each of us!

The topic of my work is the impact of noradrenalin on odor learning in mice. And if you are interested in more work from the lab I am at, my adviser also submitted another manuscript earlier this week which compares the activity in neurons that process odor information in anesthetized and awake animals. This work was already accepted for publication in a quite prestigious journal.

I am quite excited!

a future science publishing vision


I lost sleep lately over the ideas I had on future science publishing. I wrote before that I think an independent publishing platform financed by an international group of public funding organizations would be an answer to several problems in academia of financial nature but also problems with internal academic evaluation systems.

So here is my sleepless-night-concept of how I would construct an archive system that covers many, maybe all, wishes I currently have – it may sound a bit like F1000 here and there, but it is different, I promise. And it doesn’t take any new technology at all, we just need to take what’s out there and mash it together like Jobs did with the iPhone (yes, guys, Apple just mashed technology together that had been invented financed by public funding ;)). My idea has two main components: a publication side and a community side.
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early career academics and the fuss about glam

Trying to publish glamorously in a high impact factor journal is not a bad thing if you do it purely by having a great, high quality study to publish that changes the world – or at least influences your field. But reading such ‘glam pubs’ I sometimes feel they were pushed into that journal by just boldly overselling the work’s importance. Scientists are usually very carefull with their statements. So what makes them completely oversell what they did? I think it is the high competition among early career scientists and career path insecurity.
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Wouldn’t public journals solve everything?

I was in the middle of a twitter conversation about publishing when it again hit me that everything could be so much better if publications would just be published by publicly funded journals.
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Cite the shit out of this site. Or better don’t.

I caused a little outrage among the passionate social designers of the future science community, lately. They usually envision a brighter future for science communication, discussing evaluation metrics, funding practices and strongly facilitate open access publishing, open data, science writing, and whatnot. I greatly appreciate this – I convinced my skeptical PhD adviser to publish open access in 2008 and I made suggestions about which online medium would serve best as a publishing platform that has great post-publication review features built in (via Twitter). Still I got called a ‘complete fool’ with an ‘unfortunate, outdated attitude’ by one of them (HHMI Investigator Michael Eisen, via Twitter). Why? Because I don’t see why an article has to mention everybody the author was ever inspired by and I do not think that every source should be ‘cite-able’ – like Twitter (in parts storified by @Hysell).

I made a ‘trollish’ (@sarcastic_f, via Twitter) comment as I entered the general discussion by indirectly responding to ‘We need better culture of citing blog posts, not just papers.’ (Michael Eisen, via Twitter), saying ‘I disagree. I would never quote a blog because most of them are terrible and almost all others are still not worth it.’ (DE, via Twitter). Of course this made a bad first impression. Ironically, what I then received became a collection of tweets directed at me that serves as a great example for why sources like twitter should not be considered cite-able – and I include my own. Because they are not meant to be official statements and people – even scientists – don’t act like professionals when using social media. And such free space is good for us!
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