Universiteit Utrecht   Universiteit Utrecht
Graduate School of Life Sciences  
Graduate School of Life Sciences
Master for Life Magazine
This magazine is intended for students and teachers and all other persons interested in the Life Sciences Community Utrecht.
The articles are written by Master’s students following the course Communicating Life Sciences taught by Connie Engelberts and facilitated by de Graduates School of Life Sciences.

Previous issues of the magazine can be found here.

•   Graduate School news •   Human flaws
•   Statistics in science: ‘May the odds be ever in your favour’ •   You can’t Trump the truth
•   The dark side of our phone's bright screen •   ‘Harder, better, faster, stronger’: our modern day performance-society
The perfect poster presentation Agenda

Graduate School news
Research Project Market 2017
Are you arranging your research project and do you want to meet UU and UMCU research groups where you can perform your project? On January 17th the research project market will be organized from 5:00-7:30 pm at the Kroonluchter. Want an impression of the market? You can find it here.

Career Services

Curious about the new event 'How to obtain a career in the Netherlands' which was organized on November 30th'? Have a look on the GSLS students Facebookpage.

Do you need some advice about how to start your career? Check out www.uu.nl/careerservices for more information. 

Student representation 
Problems, complaints, questions about your Master's programme? Contact the Life Sciences Representatives.

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Statistics in science: ‘May the odds be ever in your favour’
‘The number of new cancer cases is expected to rise by about 70% over the next 2 decades.’ While everyone can see the relevance of this statement from the World Health Organization, the impact of these abstract statistical numbers is often not understood by society. Biostatistician Joep de Ligt is convinced that this has to change.

Photo courtesy of Joep de Ligt

Joep de Ligt, postdoc at the UMC Utrecht and Hubrecht Institute, has a background in genetics, bioinformatics, and statistics. He currently focuses on mechanisms in cancer by drawing meaningful conclusions from big genomic data. Ultimately, he is driven by his ambition to improve health care and further societal understanding of DNA in the foreseeable future.

Although statistics are crucial in both beginning and end of research, confusion and poor understanding by society often blur the importance of statistics in science. De Ligt believes that this naturally follows from the abstract and unidentifiable character of this field. In order to increase the understanding of ratios and risks, it is absolutely necessary that ‘society starts to realise that everything is based on chance’. De Ligt states that people see things too much in black and white; in their daily lives people tend to deal with yes or no scenarios rather than chances.

De Ligt thinks that society is ultimately forced to face this crucial aspect of statistics, thereby referring to the current developments in prenatal screening. This means that soon many more people will need to make decisions about taking a test that will tell them something about their baby’s health. ‘But all tests have an inherent chance to be incorrect’. Besides, one needs to take into account that a given percentage is not just a number, but rather is a combination of multiple variables. Joep de Ligt believes that people will get used to coping with this as we will learn that ‘literally everything is a grey scale’.

A written piece by Judith Smit & Eline Kraaijenvanger 

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Photo courtesy of http://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/59650/huge-screens-used-behind-stages

Photo courtesy of Electrical Engineering Stack Exchange

The dark side of our phone's bright screen

How would we fare without our smartphones? We use it throughout the entire day, from the moment we wake up until we go to bed.  PLOS ONE published a new study on November 9 which suggested that the frequent smartphone use leads to a degradation of your sleep quality.

By installing an app that recorded screen-time, researchers characterised smartphone use and sleep behaviours of 653 participants for one month. People who used their phone more often slept worse and less. And those who used their smartphones right before going to bed  had more trouble falling asleep.

The link between nightly screen time and poor sleep was found in several studies. Reason for this could be a suppressed melatonin production (biological factor inducing sleep) in the brain caused by the blue light emitted by our smartphone’s screen.

However, the authors state that the cause-and-effect relationship has not been proven yet. Alternatively, it could be that people who generally struggle to fall asleep use their phones more often after bedtime. Moreover, there are doubts about the accuracy of the measured screen time. “Screens may have turned on unnoticed in bags or pockets or other people might have used the phones”.

To clarify the effects of (nightly) smartphone use on sleep, more research is needed apparently. Until then you can simply install apps which shift blue tones to warmer ones on your phones and computers:

  • F.lux for Windows
  • Twilight for Android
  • Night Shift for iOS

A written piece by Rike Sonnet

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Photo courtesy of: Thijs Rooimans
The perfect poster presentation
Presenting a poster on a conference is a good opportunity for budding life scientists to show their research. But it can be hard to stand out. At the Science for Life conference on the 7th of November I talked to the poster prize winners to learn about poster presentations.
Photo courtesy of Thijs Rooimans

At the Science for Life conference there were several keynote speakers, but also talks and poster presentations of master and PhD students. During the poster session the central hall was crowded with people examining posters and passionate scientists talking about their work. At this conference the public could vote for their favourite poster presentation.  “My story was clear, short and direct”
Winner of the master student poster prize, MCLS-student Marijne Schijns, says she enjoyed making the poster about her major research project on protein binding. Being enthusiastic about your own research is important in her opinion. PhD poster prize winner Tania Morán Luengo (Bijvoet Center for Biomolecular Research) tells many people came to look at her poster about the function of the chaperone Hsp90. “People told me that my story was clear, short and direct”.

The perfect poster presentation
When I asked people at the conference what a good poster presentation looks like, everyone mentioned that a poster should be well-structured and should not contain too much text. Besides, they all stressed that a poster is nothing without an enthusiastic and clear presentation to guide the audience through the poster. Clarity and enthusiasm seem to be the keywords in doing the perfect poster presentation.

Poster presentations are important because of the unique interaction with the audience. Tania agrees, since she hears many questions and suggestions that she would never have heard during an oral presentation. “The bigger the audience is, the shyer people become”. 

A written piece by Judith Smit

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Human flaws
My fascination for the brain started with dr. Phil, I – slightly embarrassed – have to admit. I remember watching an episode about this girl Jani, who had the absolute strong believe that she partially lived on the island of Calalini with her friends ’24-hours’, ‘80’, and ‘100 degrees’. Doctors diagnosed her at age six with early-onset schizophrenia.
Photo courtesy of Greg Dunn

This episode resulted in an extremely exhaustive, 50-page biology report on the functioning of the brain, seven years ago. Although I was very proud of my achievement at that time, I did not realise that it was of course completely impossible to even try to fit the functioning of the most complex organ of our body into a 50-page piece – Arial, size 12. And I think that precisely that is what attracted me to the field of neuroscience: the wonderful knowledge that the majority of information lies ahead of us to be discovered.

Still, seven long years later and currently sixteen months into the master Neuroscience & Cognition, the brain and its unique functionality never ceases to intrigue me; the way it makes sense out of individual pieces of nonsense is almost flawless. Almost. After all, also our highly developed brain is only human.

A written piece by Eline Kraaijenvanger

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You can’t Trump the truth
Unless you are an ostrich with its head buried deep in the sand, you most likely know who the new U.S president elect is. The news has given the environmental community a sharp, but necessary awakening. Our new reality is that the new government at the helm of the world’s second largest emitter of CO2  does not acknowledge the existence of climate change.
Photo courtesy of Mark Makela of the New York Times

The new president elect has tweeted quotes such as,  “This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING b*** has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice”. This coming from a man who recently built a seawall in Co Clare, Ireland.  A wall that protects his golf course not from “immigrants”, but coastal erosion and eventual flooding due to climate change.

This hypocrisy should give us hope, that the republican party who largely deny climate change cannot overcome the physical laws of nature. This is our greatest strength, comprehending these truths will be our way forward. At times such as these, it is most important to be vocal and demonstrate the immense power we have to activate change.

 Organisations such as Greenpeace, AVAAZ, or even the Green office here on campus are just waiting for your assistance. Talk to your professors, to your supervisors, start committees, write letters, petitions, and organise. The ostriches are in too deep and they are not going to save us. We the youth are here from the future, for our future, and we will save ourselves.

A written piece by Alejandro Criado

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‘Harder, better, faster, stronger’: our modern day performance-society
Last October I voluntarily went to an evening-filling lecture about free-time in Amsterdam. In those three hours, I have learned about the history of time and the constant pressure that we, as modern day society, impose on ourselves. Most importantly, we tried to answer the glaring question of how we learn to lounge again. Kind of ironic, right?
Exactly this realisation is what characterises us as modern day performance-society. Since the 19th century, practically every human activity is constantly accelerating: our speaking rate has increased over 50%, we sleep about 1,5 hours less than our ancestors 100 years ago, and human inventions are predominantly focussed on speed (as I learned). Society is hastier than ever, our pace driven by prosperity, technology, and opportunities. Our generation has been raised with the insight that everything we want is in our reach. But whereas we once beheld this independence as liberating, we now find ourselves caught in a web of chances and choices.

Expectations from society, employers, family and friends are melting together with our personal ambitions and dreams; unnoticeably fed by government agreements and social media. This constant pressure is even silently seeping into our free-time; every free hour we tend to fill with ‘useful activities’ – running that 10k, mindfully meditating as you have read in the Happinez, or starting an online language course.  

This blurry boundary between work and free-time has a significant impact on our health, with a burn-out no longer being an exception and anxiety levels transcending those of 1950 psychiatric patients. But in all our hurry, our focus on constantly outdoing ourselves, and our everlasting eagerness to learn something new, during this evening I came to realise that we might have lost one critical skill: doing absolutely nothing. And shamelessly enjoying it to the fullest.

A written piece by Eline Kraaijenvanger

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•   December 13: LS Seminar Ethics for a sustainable economy by prof Bart Nootenboom
•   January 17: Research Project Market
January 19: LS Seminar Toxicolgy and Environmental Health
February 16: LS Seminar Biofabricating smart materials and scaffolds for regenerative medicine by Prof  Alvaro Mata
March 16: LS Seminar Neuroscience and Cognition
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