I gave away my position as leading author in a Nature paper

It’s not secret that publishing is the force that drives most if not all academic research. But in the world of publishing academic work, the opinions of those who are at the backbones of these research articles are rarely discussed. So, why did I give away my position as first author in a manuscript? I will try to address this here, whilst briefly explaining the the behind the scenes to academic research.

El Pueblo

El poema

Este poema fue escrito para reconocer la vida en los pueblos, inspirado por los cuentos de mi familia y lo que yo mismo vi creciendo en Guatemala. Aunque reflecte las costumbres de las indígenas de Guatemala, “la cultura del pueblo” existe en todo el mundo y es hasta es olvidado por las ciudades y los gobiernos. Aún de tener 20 años de no ver mi pueblo, me recuerdo, no de pastos o de las calles pero de la gente. De las niñas y sus madres, de caras y los pasos, con las lindas telas que ellas mismo hacen. O sus gentil manos bien usadas y delicadas, de pieles de las arenas, pero en consistencia de las mismas tierras, áridas como avena, donde cosechan ellas la cena.

Y el motivo de vivir, aprender, de enseñar y reconocer, y también de morir, es lo que hace el pueblo crecer y seguir—adelante con los deseos, o las penas y lastimas. Y no hay que olvidar la juventud, pero no de cuerpo o de años, pero de apreciación a la educación, de la nueva viva y de la que termina. Y son nuestras niñas tan ejemplos como sus madres y abuelas, que no hacen el pueblo desaparecer, y cuando al fin descansan las viejas, cada niña se convierte en mujer.

Las Viejas del Pueblo

Las viejas del pueblo,
Marchando a firme paso
con brazos bien fregados y corazones destrozados
levantan lastimas de ayer.
Y sus cuerpos viejos y usados
Buscan vida con cuidado,
No hacen el espirito caer.

Las viejas del pueblo,
Con sus piernas enterradas
y espaldas encorvadas
Arrancan pasto con placer.
Y marchan tierras sin zapatos
con sus ropas en pedazos,
Se enfocan en los astros para ver.

Las viejas del pueblo,
Marchando en cementerios,
cuidando compañeros y saludan al morir.
Ayudan al Sepulturero, con bigote y un gran sombrero
No deja a los muertos salir.

Y en la noche linda y negra
Preparan pociones por hacer,
Revuelven el molde, sopa clara pero sangre fría,
Que se será lista para el amanecer.

Las viejas del pueblo,
Tejen lindas telas con sus manos de arena,
Atrapadas todas ellas
Escuchan hacia fuera.
Y con pellejo bien anejo
cuidan sueños desde lejos—
y los hacen dormir.

Y las niñas de los pueblos,
Crecen luego
con los brazos aguados pero corazones bien formados,
Tienen el respaldo del pensar.
Y sin ropa en sus cuerpos,
Pero cubiertos de ejemplos
de la viva de los muertos,
Dejan a sus madres descansar.

Poor Stew with One Shoe

Stew with one shoe drew a shrew with a shoe in a stew.

But Stew knew that there were two shrews each with two shoes in the new stew.

“What am I to do,” asked Stew, “indeed, what am I to do with you”.

Stew drew Drew to the stew he drew.

Drew looked at the stew Stew drew and said, “why there are two shrews with two shoes?”.

“That’s my drawing,” screamed Sue.

“Boohoo,” boo’d Stew, “where’s your proof? Those now are my two shrews with two shoes that I drew in a stew with one shoe”.

“I’ll sue you Stew,” yelled Sue from the blue, “I’ll shoo you too Drew if you knew.”

So Sue sued Stew who showed up to court with one shoe.

Poor Stew with one shoe sits in a jail for the two shrews in a stew with two shoes that he drew, for you Drew.

**Don’t steal another’s intellectual property.

Research amidst a pandemic.

Like most non-essential work places, academic research in the UK was paused during the first stages of lockdown back in March 2020. In the months following, building management, health and safety officers and senior lab members would meet and try to bring the research spaces to COVID-secure standards. From one-way systems to temperature checks at the entrances and occupancy limits per room, it seemed to be major setbacks for research.

Why PhD?

I went into the PhD thinking it was going to an easy experience. Thinking back on it, I wouldn’t necessary say it was hard either. I think the hardest part of it was accepting that there is a learning curve and an aspect of personal development. I started a PhD directly after finishing my undergraduate degree, and having completed a successful final year project, I felt I was ready to continue academic research. I wouldn’t say that I was scared about starting a new degree. To me, it felt like the next logical step in my education. I briefly considered doing a Master’s degree, but the mere issue that it would have involved going to lectures and taking exams, deterred me from it.

The Wasp’s Dismay.

Do you ever the feeling that you’re being watched?  Judged?  Isn’t that what we scientists do most of the time?  We selfishly study areas that intrigue us, searching for new problems and explanations so that we feel that we reach understanding.   We take a living thing, like a plant or a cute rodent, and destroy it; break cells open so that we can study what’s inside.   We play with reason and rationale to justify our methods, and for what?  To write a paper that may or may not be published?   To build libraries of information which are never reviewed? 

The prize-tag of science.

As students, we are constantly being tested.  We can be assessed by the way we approach a task, complete a task or report the information we have gained from a study.  Our hard work is rewarded by high marks, but sometimes it’s also about the reward of completing the assignment.   Institutions, universities and companies need a measurement that indicates how competent a candidate research student, academic researcher or potential employee is for a given position.   As a scientist, we are also being assessed, but in a different way.  While we are given more freedom in our research and how we get to answer a research question, we are expected to be able to present our data to an audience and make the effort to ensure that the research will move on forward, be funded and go beyond what was originally planned.   At the core of it, it’s ticking boxes of small accomplishments during the duration of a long term project and providing sufficient evidence of progress being made.  We aren’t necessarily being graded, but instead pushed forward by supervisors, the university or our own uninhibited desire to do more research.   

Pursuing a career in science.

Communicating science amongst researchers and university students is something that we are aiming to improve.  But there is another age group that we must not forget.  Anyone who has taken biology during early school years can remember how different it was from any other class, that is if you allow me to not call physical education or lunch, a class.  Sometimes even referred to as the fun class, or is it just me?   Well anyway, the reason why I recall it being more fun than another subject was because of the opportunities to do hands-on experimental work.  Not every school has a Large Hadron-Collider to aid in the teaching of physics and young children and volatile chemicals don’t mix well—literally.  But never mind these extreme cases; biology had the fairest range of experiments that were safe, fun and interesting.  

The future of science communication.

Every story needs a beginning, but I am not sure where my story begins. I guess we can trace it back to my early days when I was diagnosed with a case of attention deficit disorder, after showing interest in several toys during a psychological assessment. A toy was given to me every five minutes and apparently it would have been normal to finish playing with one toy before moving on to the next.  I have always argued that if the doctor handed me a toy to look at, I would look at it, regardless if I already had one to play with.  I felt that they rushed their diagnosis and defined me into a category.