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111: Empowering the Impossible with Citizen Science


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Podcast: Hello PhD
Episode: 111: Empowering the Impossible with Citizen Science
Episode pub date: 2019-04-01

It looks like a cross between an anteater and a hedgehog, but don’t let that description fool you into believing it’s easy to spot an echidna in the wild. These denizens of the Down Under know how to hide.

“They’re really understudied in Australia because they’re hard to find in the wild,” says Tahlia Perry, a graduate student at the University of Adelaide who has staked her graduate career on studying these rather shy creatures.

Crowd Sourced Science

“If you do find one you might not see the same animal for a couple of years in the same area. Even if you do put a tracker on them, you sort of know they’re in a couple of meter radius around you but you still can’t find them because they’re really good at hiding and they just disappear into the soil.”

Tahlia’s project aims to understand more than just the distribution and habits of the echidna; she’s studying the foods they eat, their hormone balance, and their microbiome.

And for that, she needs to collect echidna scats (i.e. poo!) for analysis in the lab.

It’s difficult to generate enough data to finish a PhD with just one or two echidna sightings a year, so Tahlia and her team had to think bigger.

They developed an app called EchidnaCSI that users across Australia can download to their phones to participate in the project.

EchidnaCSI allows citizen scientists to snap photos of echidnas they see around the neighborhood or in the wild. Those photos are uploaded to the University’s servers with date and time information, as well as the phone’s geolocation, giving Tahlia vital data about where, and when, echidnas can be found across the continent.

To understand the food choices and microbiome of these creatures, the app-participants can contribute in a slightly less orthodox way…

“I’m getting the general public to basically collect echidna poo for me from across Australia,” Tahlia summarizes with a laugh.

But the value of average citizens dropping poo in the mail is anything but laughable. Tahlia’s team can use those samples “to tell us who that echidna is, if it’s healthy, stressed or reproductively active. And so we can learn more about these wild populations without having to track or capture any of these animals.”

And that’s the point – pun intended – of EchidnaCSI. It stands for “Echidna Conservation Science Initiative.”

When we met Tahlia, she was attending the Citizen Science Conference, where nearly a thousand scientists, teachers, students, and enthusiasts met to talk about the ways that valuable research is assisted by curious and engaged citizens.

Citizen Science is growing in popularity as researchers leverage the crowd to understand bird migration, water quality, insect habits, and weather patterns.

Tahlia sums up the problem, and the solution, perfectly:

“There is no way I’d be physically able to do it myself. Even with a team of scientists there’s no way we’d be able to collect this many sightings, this many scats, or go to these sorts of locations. The budget alone and the time alone – I would be doing this for the next 40 years of my life if I wanted to get thi…

The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, PhDz, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.

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074: Does Science Have an Income Inequality Problem? – Hello PhD


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Podcast: Hello PhD
Episode: 074: Does Science Have an Income Inequality Problem? – Hello PhD
Episode pub date: 2017-06-14


On May 2nd, NIH Director Francis Collins announced a plan to limit the total amount of grant funding awarded to an individual investigator or lab.
According to Collins, “the distribution of NIH grant funding is highly skewed, with 10 percent of NIH-funded investigators receiving over 40 percent of NIH funding.”
The funding proposal would limit an individual lab to the equivalent of 3 RO1-sized grants, and free up an additional 1600 funding opportunities that could go to early and mid-career scientists.
On June 8th, the plan was scrapped…
Addressing the 90%
This week on the show, we cover the contentious and somewhat confusing reversal of Collins’ plan to spur innovation by spreading around the money.
Did the plan change due to criticism from the labs with the deepest pockets? Or was there evidence to support the replacement plan that earmarks money for early-career scientists?
At the heart of this issue, we discuss whether basic research would benefit from a shift in investment strategy.
Do science and innovation advance faster when the ‘best’ labs get all the money, or is there value in making many smaller bets?
Tell us what YOU think in the comments below.
Everybeer
Some beers sing with complex aromas, malty bitterness, and just-right effervescence.  And then there’s brown ales.
This week, we sampled the Legend Brown Ale from Legend Brewing in Richmond, VA.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great beer.  Very tasty.  It just tastes like every other brown ale ever.  If you sneakily replaced the contents of this bottle with some other brown ale, I promise no one would notice.
I don’t know whether that makes us beer snobs or beer newbies.  Either way, we’re just counting down the days before we get back on our IPA kick…
 
 

The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, PhDz, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.

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083: Preprint First, Peer-Review Later – Hello PhD


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Podcast: Hello PhD
Episode: 083: Preprint First, Peer-Review Later – Hello PhD
Episode pub date: 2017-11-21


Publishing your research in a peer-reviewed academic journal is an exercise in patience. You write and edit, wait for feedback from your PI, wrangle the figures into some esoteric format, and then submit.  That’s when the real patience begins.
From submission to publication, the peer review process can take more than a year.  Meanwhile, you’re moving on to other work, and hoping a competing lab doesn’t scoop the science you showed at the last conference.
Enter the preprint.  Though it sounds unassuming, it’s a source of real controversy in the biomedical sciences.

Like Reprints, But Way Earlier
Essentially, a preprint is just a manuscript submitted to an online repository before it has gone through peer review.
The benefits are perhaps unexpected: preprints enable anyone to access your research, regardless of their budget for journal subscriptions.  Peers can comment on the work, and offer suggestions for follow-up experiments that may speed your research through the traditional review process. And preprinting can establish your lab’s primacy when another researcher tries to scoop your work.
But preprints offer hazards as well.  Will the quality of research decline if experiments are not reviewed first? What if no one shows up to comment or collaborate?
Launched in 2013, bioRxiv.org intends to answer these questions empirically.  Based on the longstanding ArXiv.org, a preprint server for physics and mathematics, bioRxiv “is a free online archive and distribution service for unpublished preprints in the life sciences.”
In this week’s episode we talk with Jessica Polka, PhD. She’s the Director of ASAPbio where she works to promote the productive use of preprints in the life sciences. She explores the common concerns she hears from biomedical scientists, and how she believes preprints could revolutionize discovery and collaboration.

The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, PhDz, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.

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