Field of Science

Doing something different for Christmas - Couchsurfing!

Vasya and I are both into traveling... well actually, that's not true. We hate the process of traveling- there's so much waiting and sitting around involved with public transport. But we do love getting to destinations, exploring new places and meeting interesting people. So we're spending Christmas in Italy this year, traveling a bit, meeting up and staying with some people we've never met before. Don't get me wrong, we love going home too and seeing friends and family, but we've been to the UK twice this year already, and Christmas is celebrated in January in Russia, rather than December when we're off work. We'll try to get over to Moscow to see Vasya's parents in 2011 though.

We're both Couchsurfers, which means we host travelers on our couch for free, and surf on other people's couches. It's a fantastic way to meet new, interesting people who are also rather adventurous, like us. Here's my couch surfing profile. A lot of non-couchsufers are freaked out to say the least about staying with and hosting strangers, but as long as you're careful to couch request / host people with lots of recommendations and full profiles, there's really nothing to worry about. It's been nothing but fantastic for us. We've hosted people from all over the world, who have all been super people with wonderful stories. So far we've only surfed once. We stayed with a couple of really great guys in Brooklyn, who we went out to dinner with, gave us advice about what to see and do in NY and who it was just really fun to hang out and chat with.

We will couch surf for the second time next week in Bologna, and we're really looking forward to meeting our host, Inti. He is one amazing adventurer, doing such crazy things as crossing the width of Russia without speaking a word of Russian!

When in Italy, we're also spending some time in Venice and Verona, but staying in hostels there. The festive season isn't the easiest time to find hosts. But that doesn't stop couchsurfers from getting together and having fun. On Christmas Eve in Venice, we're meeting up with lots of other folks from around the world, and going out for pizza!

Well, I guess we should get packing as we leave in the morning! Woohoo!

Using evolution to intelligently design experiments

Evolutionary analyses can be a powerful way of translating patterns of sequence variation among multiple proteins into functional hypotheses that can be tested biochemically. Sadly, however, in some biochemical analyses, the evolutionary story is overlooked in favour of simply combining interacting proteins from pairs of microbes and more or less simply seeing what happens (so called heterologous systems). In these cases, few questions are asked, and little is learned about either the evolutionary history or the biological function. Here's a post from Vasya about the right and wrong ways to mix evolution with biochemistry.

The benefits of blogging

Recently Jonathan Eisen from the Tree of Life blog posted a very interesting list of 10 benefits he's found from blogging. OK, so the benefits I may get from blogging may be very different to his, seeing that he's a professor at UC Davis, with a huge network, but still there are a few things I hope to get out of it.

Getting musings out of my head and into text form. 
Sometimes, you have an idea or a question which you can ponder about for a while, but you don't have the means to actually do anything about it. I find that writing it down helps to formulate the idea, and simply get it off my chest! My memory is terrible, so the blog is a useful diary of ideas that I could potentially forget. This also helps justify writing a blog that no-one reads!

Practicing science communication.
At the moment, I just don't know who (if anyone) my audience will be, so I'm not sure at what level I should be explaining the science that I blog about. But just thinking about these things, and how I could potentially do something that could be described as "outreach" to the non-academic community is an interesting thought experiment.

The prospect of someone stumbling across my blog and being interested in my research.
Just a nice thought! 

I imagine I'll have a better idea of what the benefits are as time goes on, and there could be some unexpected positives (and maybe negatives?!). I guess I'll update this list in a few months after I've blogged a bit longer, and about different things. Live blogging conferences may be particularly fun and useful, so I'm looking forward to giving that a try.