Even at the time
when my father lay dying
I still kept farting
Yamazaki Sokan, translated by Donald Keene
Yinz want to turn left,
I want to go straight ahead.
It’s a culture clash.
The haiku is an old form of Japanese poetry that typically juxtaposes two images within three lines of 5, 7, then 5 syllables. Writing haikus in English is a bit silly, because you can’t really follow the haiku rules. But whatever, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology says that I’m officially a biochemistry poet, so I can do whatever I like.
And apparently, what I like is to tweet haikus about a conference stuffed with 12,000+ anatomists, biochemists, nutritionists, pathologists, physiologists and pharmacologists. It started as a joke in a reply to a twitter compliment about the haiku in my Supplementary Data poetry post.
(David Despain was the official meeting blogger of the American Society for Nutrition, which like ASBMB, is one of the professional societies that attends the annual Experimental Biology mega-meeting)
Of course, I had no intention of tweeting in haiku. But then, a week ago, just before we left for Experimental Biology, I changed my mind. While we were lining up to board a plane to San Diego, @GeneWrangler and I composed a haiku about the young poster-tube bearing hoardes that were starting to accrete around us:
marching poster tubes abound.
Scientists Gone Wild!
And with that, I was committed.
The next morning, jetlagged and awake at 5am, I wrote:
The Hard Rock Hotel,
dark video screens looming,
After a therapeutic breakfast burrito, I was in a better mood and functional enough to listen to the very engaging speaker Dianne Hannemann, a health science policy analyst at the NIH, former science advisor at the State Department, and former biophysics PhD student. As part of the ASBMB Graduate and Postdoctoral Professional Development Program she spoke to us about the excitement and responsibility of a career in science policy. She also told us an anecdote from her graduate school days about realizing she didn’t want to stay a bench scientist. I haiku-ized it thus:
Boss was up all night,
thinking about our data.
I was fast asleep.
The afternoon brought an enjoyable American Physiology Society session on social media for scientists, led by Dr Isis, Jason Goldman, Pascale Lane and Danielle Lee (you can take a look at the presentations slides and tweets here). It was fun, funny and useful, so I tried to summarize the panel’s general feelings on why scientists should bother spending their valuable time engaging with social media:
Reclaim our identity.
On Sunday, I went to a ridiculously mindblowing Nutrition session on the gut microbiome. You will hear more from me on this topic. But an offhand comment by David A Mills during his talk on the influence of breast milk on the infant gut microbiota, especially Bifidobacteria, inspired this nugget:
Milky baby smell,
which clings and fades with weaning.
‘Bye, B. Infantis.
That afternoon, I missed the spars of the pro-fructose and anti-fructose camps by trying to go to 4 different concurrent sessions. That was a fail, since I didn’t really have time to enjoy any of them as a result. I did at least learn something new in a talk by Scott M Smith, of the NASA Johnson Space Center. It turns out that the single biggest clinical issue in 50-something years of spaceflight is vision impairment – possibly due to changes in fluid pressure in the brain impinging on the eye and optic nerve. In the sample under discussion, 7 out of 38 astronauts suffered spaceflight-induced vision problems.
NASA’s big challenge?
Brain fluid pressure havoc,
On Monday was an ASBMB panel discussion on Effectively Communicating Your Science, chaired by ASBMB president-elect, former NIGMS director, and all-round effective communicator Jeremy Berg. We heard from Paul Berg, a Nobel laureate that made pioneering contributions to the development of recombinant DNA techniques, from NPR’s Joe Palca, as well as Megan J. Palmer, science communicator and deputy-director of Practices at SynBERC and Cara SantaMaria, the Huff Post’s science correspondent. You can read more about the discussion from ASBMB’s official meeting blogger Heather Doran, but the room felt a little frosty after one remark from Paul Berg (it didn’t help that the air-conditioning was set to arctic-blast). He said that he wouldn’t advise scientists to blog about their science, because that’s just self-promotion, and self-promotion isn’t something scientists do. Berg seems like a decent guy, and let’s assume the Nobel prize means he’s smart as hell. But it was a pretty ignorant remark. In defense of scientist-bloggers, I wrote a ready-to-serve self-promotion haiku:
I am my own PIO.
I promote science.
A PIO is a public information officer, who is typically the university employee that acts as an intermediary between a scientist with a newsworthy discovery and the story-hungry press. Scientist-bloggers that communicate directly with the public bypass this person. I guess my point is that even though self-promotion is a part of blogging, an equal part is directly inviting a public conversation about science and contributing a scientist’s point-of-view to that conversation. AKA promoting science.
That evening, I performed with two other budding scientist-poets at the highlight of the meeting: the ASBMB Poetry Contest Reading. The poems contributed by meeting absentees were expertly read by volunteers from the ASBMB staff, and no poems were harmed in the proceedings. A big thanks to the organizers of the contest, especially Angela Hopp, who I believe was the instigator of the project. You rock!
The next day, feeling a little in need of an autophagy-inducing fast, I was inspired by Tamotsu Yoshimori’s evidence that the autophagy (or “self-eating”) machinery can target damaged lysosomes for digestion in other lysosomes. Which is kind of like lysosomal cannibalism:
Life just gets weirder.
That one’s pretty spectacularly nerdy. And that’s coming from someone who’s been tweeting haikus at a biology conference all week.
After that, my haikus got increasingly technical or unfit for public consumption, so I put myself under embargo. I did, however, write one more on the plane that I’ll share:
A tired thank you,
a nerd’s biggest compliment:
you made my brain hurt.