Mr Epidemiology

No, I'm not a skin doctor



Star Wars: Identities, or “Learn psychology, you will. Hrmmmm.”

The exhibit features concept art, costumes, props and many other pieces from the movies. Pictured here is Anakin Skywalker's Podracer from The Phantom Menace | Photo credit: Atif Kukaswadia
The exhibit features concept art, costumes, props and many other pieces from the movies. Pictured here is Anakin Skywalker’s Podracer from The Phantom Menace | Photo credit: Atif Kukaswadia

Anyone who has been following my posts knows that I have a huge weakness for sci-fi and science, and if someone was to marry the two of those together, I’d be there immediately. Especially if it involved Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars or Middle Earth.

Well, it happened.

The Canada Aviation and Space Museum is currently hosting Star Wars: Identities. Star Wars: Identities is a travelling exhibit that highlights human development using the mythos of the Star Wars universe. I had been keeping an eye on this exhibit as a few years ago I had been to the Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology exhibit in Montreal, which was excellent, and the same organization (X3 Productions) was responsible for this one. And when I found out they were using Star Wars to teach people about psychology, I knew I had to go.

You see, we all have questions about how and why people turn out the way they do. Even people raised under the same roof can have wildly disparate personalities, and can view the world through very different lenses. The exhibit highlights the difference between Anakin and Luke Skywalker, and how, despite coming from the same planet and having (similar) genetic makeup, their lives take two very different trajectories based on their experiences and the environments they are exposed to.

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Mr Epidemiology’s 100th Post!!

Post 100! Similar to this one, but with less spandex!

Today, I’m thrilled put up my 100th post. I’m unbelievably excited right now.

I started the blog back in June of 2011, with the intention of using it as a way to talk about epidemiology and my experience in graduate school. What I wasn’t anticipating is the reception I’ve got. The support from you all on Facebook, Twitter and by email has been awesome. Every time you email a friend one of my pieces, retweet it, post it on Facebook, Pin it, you make this possible.

Special thanks to all the people who have been sent drafts of articles and have provided feedback and advice on posts. You guys have been a phenomenal sounding board for me, and I owe you a special debt of thanks (thanks can be redeemed for hugs and/or fist bumps, and hold no cash value).

I hope I can continue to provide you with great articles and keep things interesting. I’ve got some big plans for the blog, and with your support hope to make them a reality.

Thank you.

Congratulations to Dylan Wykes, M.Sc (Epidemiology) for qualifying for London 2012!

Dylan Wykes qualified for the Olympics after crossing the finish line with a time of 2:10:47!! Way to go Dylan! Photo courtesy Alan Brooks

They say graduate school is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Dylan Wykes might have something to say about that.

Dylan is a graduate of the Queen’s University M.Sc. Epidemiology program, and a marathon runner. He just qualified for the London 2012 Canadian Olympic Team with a phenomenal time of 2:10:47.

We’re all incredibly excited for Dylan, and will be cheering him on when he goes to London this August to represent Canada at the 2012 Olympics! Way to go Dylan!!

You can follow Dylan’s adventures on Twitter, or at You can also help support Dylan’s training at Runner Choice Kingston.

Guest Post on Obesity Panacea: On giving back and scientific philanthropy

While we have a lot of obvious formal responsibilities as researchers, one aspect of our job that is not talked about is mentoring. While this can refer to formal mentoring of students, I also believe that this encompasses talking to High School and Middle School aged youth about science, and encouraging them to consider science if they want to pursue higher education.

With that in mind, I wrote a guest post for the guys over at Obesity Panacea (click the image above to read it). I hope that people enjoy it, and I hope that labs take this as an opportunity to volunteer their time and experience in judging science fairs (if not more).

Take a read of it and let me know what you think. In particular, the issue of female mentors. I can’t speak to it myself, and the feedback I received on drafts of the posts varied from “it’s not as big a problem as it was” to “it’s important and needs to be talked about.” So my instinct is that this varies depending on personal experience. What do you think?

-Mr Epidemiology

Special thanks to Jess, Kim, Anne, Rachel and Mariane for feedback on this post!

Twitter for Scientists Part 3: To boldly go where no lecturer has gone before

How are scholars using Twitter? Click to enlarge.

So far, I’ve talked about how Twitter can be used by scientists to help disseminate information, and acquire new information. I’m going to change gears in my final post and talk about how Twitter can be used in the classroom, and how it can be used by scientists moving forward.

If you missed them, click here for Part 1 and Part 2 in this series.

Continue reading “Twitter for Scientists Part 3: To boldly go where no lecturer has gone before”

Twitter for Scientists Part 2: Networking in 140 characters or less

This week, I'll be talking about Twitter (Pic via Tweepi)

On Monday I discussed some of the reasons why I think you should sign up for Twitter, and why it is a useful tool.

Encouraging scientists to use social media isn’t a new idea. In response to my last post, friend of the blog @muddybrown (you may remember him from the graduate school roundtable) pointed out a series by Scientific American writer Christie Wilcox (@nerdychristie). It’s a four part series, but definitely worth a read for another perspective on social media and science (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

Today, I’ll be continuing that discussion, but focusing on two other aspects of Twitter: How it can be used to get information that you wouldn’t otherwise, and how it can be used at conferences.

So let’s get started shall we?

Continue reading “Twitter for Scientists Part 2: Networking in 140 characters or less”

Twitter for Scientists Part 1: How a procrastination tool can be useful

This week, I'll be talking about Twitter

Twitter is a well known microblogging platform. People can post updates in the form of 140 character “tweets” that can be read by followers, who can “retweet,” i.e. repost that tweet to their own followers, or reply to the original post. I started using it about a year ago, and have found it to be equal parts whimsical and hilarious, along with useful and informative.

Several other authors have discussed reasons why scientists should be using Twitter, including this excellent post on Deep Sea News and this post through the American Geophysical Union. As I pointed out in my previous weekly roundup, Dr Jeremy Segrott gave his thoughts after he used Twitter for a three months. Scientists are realizing that social media is an important way to translate knowledge to the public when done well, and Twitter provides another avenue by which this can be accomplished.

What I will do is post 5 reasons why I think, as a scientist, you should be using Twitter, or, at the very least, be signed up for a Twitter account. Reasons 2 and 3 will be up on Wednesday, and reasons 4 and 5 will go up on Friday.

Continue reading “Twitter for Scientists Part 1: How a procrastination tool can be useful”

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!”

Contagion and Social Media

A movie poster for Contagion

Last week I ran a story about the movie Contagion, and my thoughts about it. I kept it pretty simple, and avoided a lot of the plot. But in this article, I’m going to go ahead and assume you’ve watched the movie, or that spoilers don’t bother you too much.

I really enjoyed the movie. I know some people found the movie a little dry, and some found it shallow, but I thought it struck a good balance between believable enough without being outlandish – a fact bolstered by how the producers had CDC staff on hand to act as creative consultants. After all, if movies like GI Joe can have military personnel to help them and make sure the military guys are appropriate, why wouldn’t you have an Epidemiologist on hand for a movie about a virus outbreak? I thought the faceless, unrelenting virus was a great “villain” and drove the action forward with a sense of urgency and dread.

When the movie ended, I was happy, but I was left with questions about the movie’s realism. What would the CDC do if there was such an outbreak? How do they plan to tackle it? Would they use traditional means like the news, or do they plan to use social media as well? They’ve updated their website about it and written a blog post too. But those are rather dry – I’d love to be able to sit down with real EIS Agents and ask them questions.

So you can imagine how excited I was to hear that the CDC would be holding a live Q and A on Twitter with four EIS agents.

Continue reading “Contagion and Social Media”

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