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Mr Epidemiology

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October 2011

Blog Roundtable: Why did you go to Graduate school?

This blog roundtable is part of a series about graduate school – why do it, what is it like, and what to do afterwards. I encourage you to give your own opinions in the comments section, and if you disagree with a point made by the panel, voice your opinion! This is something a lot of my readers can relate to, so I’m hoping to hear from all of you. Note that these are the opinions of those involved, and do not reflect our institutions or departments in any way. For a full list of the questions, read the first post.

Sheer geekiness is actually a really good reason to pursue graduate school

“Why go did you go to graduate school?”

A question that your family and friends will ask you, and eventually you’ll be asking yourself. Why invest another 2+ years of your life in school – including postdocs this could be almost another decade before you get out into the “real world.” I google’d “Why go to graduate school” and the first few links had some common themes that emerged: what are your career goals, do you have the grades to succeed, are you motivated, among others. Some of the links were positive: Exhibit A, and Exhibit B. Some were more negative, ranging from the simple, the pragmatic, and the funny-because-it’s-true.

So lets hear from the panel!

Continue reading “Blog Roundtable: Why did you go to Graduate school?”

Interesting reads: October 23rd – 29th, 2011

I like to tweet random things (follow me @MrEpid), but for those who don’t use Twitter, here are some interesting posts I’ve come across this past week:

  • The video above is a rant by Rick Mercer in response to the death of Jamie Hubley. I’m not going to say any more – I think Rick Mercer covers it.
  • Jonathan Smith’s film “They Go To Die” got funded!! He wrote an open letter of thanks to all his supporters here. He’ll be touring universities across the US and Canada, so if you’re interested, you can see if he’s coming to a city near you!
  • The CDC writes a retrospective on the anthrax scare from 2001.
  • Mashable has a great piece up about how recruiters use social media to screen candidates. It’s a must read for those looking for employment.
  • A study in Boston found that students who drank pop were more likely to carry weapons.

Have a great weekend everybody! Check back Monday for part one of the blog roundtable!

-Atif

Blog Roundtable: Graduate School!

Halloween and Graduate School (courtesy http://www.phdcomics.com)

As a graduate student, you get a lot of people asking you about what graduate school is, and what it entails. Is it worth it? How difficult is it? And once you’re in, the questions don’t stop – if anything, they multiply! How do you pick a supervisor? How do you deal with rejection? What do you do next?

I crowdsourced the internet for questions – among Twitter followers, other blogs and forums and came up with a list of questions. I also invited several prominent bloggers to participate. They have all graciously agreed to donate their time and effort to this piece.

Note that these are the opinions of those involved, and do not reflect our institutions or departments in any way. I’m trying to get a range of viewpoints here, and many different perspectives. If you disagree or have something you’d like to add, please feel free to comment either here or when we answer a question you’re particularly passionate about!

After the jump: The Panel! And The Questions!

Continue reading “Blog Roundtable: Graduate School!”

Movie Review: The PhD Movie!

PHD Movie Trailer from PHD Comics on Vimeo.

PhD comics has been a staple of my grad student life. Ever since I got into graduate school, the PhD Comics series has been both a humourous look, and a startlingly accurate reflection, of my graduate student career. The feeling of being overwhelmed, the “what am I doing here,” the constant grind, PhD Comics captures it all well. Especially when it comes to grad students and free food. But I’ll get to the movie later.

The joy for me came not from the movie itself, but the joy of watching it with my peers. Let’s start at the beginning.

Movie still - Prof. Smith (Zachary Abbott) explains how research works to the Nameless Grad Student (Raj Katti).

The movie was held in a lecture theatre on campus – one that many of those watching had likely lectured in as part of the graduate training. I’d presented there myself for the Queen’s Health Science Research Trainees day (protip: always remember when your microphone is on, and don’t talk to yourself if it is). It was a fitting location for a movie about our graduate student lives.

The movie began to a packed house. The opening scene set the tone for the rest of the movie – Professor Smith was almost an exact duplicate of his comic self, down the green sweater vest. It was wonderful.

However, disaster struck about 10 minutes in, as the DVD started to skip, and eventually froze! How would the organizing committee resolve this issue!! They had an auditorium full of tired graduate students who were excited for the movie!

They did what anyone would do to occupy graduate students. The Google’d a solution and when that didn’t work, then they put on a video of cats doing funny things to distract us while they fixed it. It was genius.

Continue reading “Movie Review: The PhD Movie!”

Interesting reads: October 16th – 22nd, 2011

I like to tweet random things (follow me @MrEpid), but for those who don’t use Twitter, here are some interesting posts I’ve come across this past week (lots of interesting stuff happened this week, so be sure to check them out!):

Have a great weekend everybody! Check back Monday for my review of The PhD Movie!

-Atif

Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 3: Storytelling and Research

Over the past week, I have the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Smith, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Public Health, and a current lecturer there, to the Blog. Jonathan has been working on a documentary about his research entitled “They Go To Die.” The interview is split into three parts: Part 1 was a broad background to the area, Part 2 covered the filming experience, and finally Part 3 will talk about the role of storytelling in research. Jonathan has mounted a campaign on Kickstarter to help fund the editing and final steps in making this movie a reality, and if you would like to support him, please click here.

What do you see as the role of filmmaking and storytelling in Epidemiology and research in general?

It seems like there is a history of pitting personal stories against data and research. You are either a believer in one or the other. I have no idea why, they work so harmoniously together. I think a few activist films have skewed this perception of how they can work together.

But honestly, this surly perception we have in accepting stories as valid isn’t uncalled for. They have much more room for bias. I said once that if I were to tell you the story of Godzilla backwards, it would be about a moonwalking dinosaur that rebuilds Japan. That may be a silly way of explaining it, but stories are often dismissed as academically rigorous because it depends on how and who is telling the story. Data on the other hand is undeniable (that is, if it is actually done correctly, a whole other debate…).

So we become comforted in data and rely on it to sway our positions. We have become oblivious to what this data means. Are policy arguments are now over a gain and loss of numbers. But mortality doesn’t simply mean that someone dies – it means that a person is removed from an ever-changing, organic infrastructure of family and community. A beam is removed from the foundation, and it weakens everything. It devastates people, families, and communities. But more importantly, it changes how those infrastructures operate. That cant be summed up in data. We have to find a way to show that, justly – because just like our data, we can’t present their stories in a biased way.

Continue reading “Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 3: Storytelling and Research”

Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 2: The Filming Process

Over the next week, I have the pleasure of welcoming Jonathan Smith, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Public Health, and a current lecturer there, to the Blog. Jonathan has been working on a documentary about his research entitled “They Go To Die” a story describing the plight of miners in South Africa. I’ll have the opportunity to talk to Jonathan about his experiences making this movie both as a film maker and an epidemiologist . The interview is split into three parts: Part 1 was a broad background to the area, Part 2 covers the filming experience, and finally Part 3 will talk about the role of storytelling in research. Jonathan has mounted a campaign on Kickstarter to help fund the editing and final steps in making this movie a reality, and if you would like to support him, please click here.

So how did you start the filming process? Did you have contacts? Did you encounter any resistance making this movie? How did the miners react when you told them?

Well, funny you should ask. My first question was, “how can I find these men?” I mean, think about the logistics of actually finding these men, who ‘disappear’ once they leave the mine, then try to get them to agree to let some white guy live with them… and film it? I literally had to start from scratch. I had no connections. It was a tough time.

At first I tried just walking through the settlements asking around for people. Terrifying. Obviously, I’m an idiot. It wasn’t the correct approach and once was literally chased out of the settlement by men with butcher knives. Amazing how fast you can run when you need to!

Later, when I went to the exact same settlement to stay with Mr. Sagati, I approached it through ‘community leaders’ – informally appointed leader of the settlement. Once my intentions were actually explained and by someone they trusted, they were more than happy about letting me into the community. That experience also gave Mr. Sagati’s family in particular (who lived in the settlement) a pretty good laugh and some ammunition to make fun of me after I told them…

Continue reading “Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 2: The Filming Process”

Interesting reads: October 9th – 15th, 2011

Dr Robert Buckman, a staunch advocate of using humor in medicine, passed away this week (image from CityTV)

I like to tweet random things (follow me @MrEpid), but for those who don’t use Twitter, here are some interesting posts I’ve come across this past week:

Have a great weekend everybody! Come back on Monday for Part 2 of my interview with Jonathan Smith of http://www.theygotodie.com/

-Atif

Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 1: Background

Over the next week, I have the pleasure of welcoming Jonathan Smith, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Public Health, and a current lecturer in Global Health, to the Blog. Jonathan has been working on a documentary about his research entitled “They Go To Die“, and over the next week, I’ll have the opportunity to talk to Jonathan about his experiences making this movie.

The interview is split into three parts: Part 1 will be a broad background to the area, Part 2 covers the filming experience, and finally Part 3 will talk about the role of storytelling in research. If you have any questions for Jonathan, please do not hesitate to let me know. I’m really excited to be doing this – I believe that academia needs to branch out into other avenues to help convey our message, and this is just one route we can take.

Jonathan has mounted a campaign on Kickstarter to help fund the editing and final steps in making this movie a reality, and if you would like to support him, please click here to donate.

Hi Jonathan! Thanks for joining us (well, me) at Mr Epidemiology. Why don’t we start by introducing you to the audience …

My name is Jonathan Smith and I research TB and HIV in the context of migrant populations, specifically goldmine workers in South Africa, at Yale University’s School of Public Health (YSPH). I am currently a lecturer in the departments of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases and Global Health at Yale, and an affiliate of Yale’s Global Health Leadership Institute.

As a graduate student at YSPH, the more I researched mining and TB, the more I realized that another traditional research project would do little to actually solve anything. We can get to the specifics as to why in a moment, but in short I posed the question, “What is the point of public health research if there is no public health benefit?” That’s when I decided to take on the role as filmmaker and create the documentary, They Go to Die. And that’s also when my whole perception of global health changed…

Continue reading “Interview with Jonathan Smith, Director of “They Go To Die” Part 1: Background”

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