“Tell me, now, what more do you need?”
17 March, 2006
I spent the bulk of Thursday at Walter Reed, giving presentations to middle schoolers about the brain (it’s Brain Awareness Week, you see). I have to say: it was the best “work” day I’ve had in some time.
First of all, I love teaching. It’s my backup career (I know too many teachers to want to do it unless I have to), but I like kids, I like explaining things to anyone so they’ll understand, and I like science. Oh, and performing. 😉 (Boy do I miss performing…) There were 10, 12 groups of around a half dozen each. The thing I find endlessly fascinating about teaching is how differently people react and respond to the same situation (as in, when I show them the same slides I’m showing everyone else). And this was a presentation on visual perception, so it was all the old tricks like:
which were, of course, new to the kids.
I was also reminded of the joys of the smart engaged kid. One group was particularly sharp. The kind of kids who, as you are beginning, ask a question 3 steps ahead of where you were going to go, and you have to switch gears to match them without jumping up and yelling “YES! EXACTLY!!” and doing the dance of “aha moment” joy.
What else? Well, I had my camera of course. And I was at the Museum of Health and Medicine. Iron lungs! Civil War surgical implements! Trichobezoars! Deformed fetuses! Clicky clicky. Here is one of the less stomach turning shots, be sure to check out my flickr set for more!
I didn’t have a chance to go around the grounds, which would also have been fun….but perhaps dangerous, with a big ol’ lens, to walk around idly shooting a military facility. Our NIH IDs got us on campus very easily though….
What else was good? Jumping ahead some, I came back to NIH and had my weekly stats class. Instead of a chore, this class has turned out to be a real pleasure. I learned stats backwards, by doing, while writing my papers two years ago. Now I am learning the basis of what I was doing then, and since I already worked a lot out empirically in the process, it’s aha moment a gogo as the prof draws connection after connection. The proverbial lightbulb goes off like 3x an hour in that class.
In addition to being very good, the prof is hilarious. He’s Chinese, been here over 25 years, and fluent in broken English. Yeah I didn’t think it was possible either but it’s the best way to describe the way he talks. He doesn’t hunt for words and speaks normally, even fast (fluent) but funky stuff comes out (broken) which nevertheless makes perfect sense (English). Examples:
“[a particular test] has the appealing of the simplicity.”
“[if you do this part wrong,] all of sudden, you will find out, the data will not be such a neat.”
“let me kind of the test you” and “this is sort of the joking, but…”
“use linear contrast to…better understanding the meaningful of a lot of the things.” (when he gets stuck in a sentence like he did here, it often gets very Chinglish on the climb out.)
“Once we talk this, maybe we can call it today.” (my favorite)
“[re intelligence/education and regression to the mean providing hope to the disadvantaged] So, if children come from the low level of the background, they should not feel depressed.” (also, the letter a being “the low level of the caricater,” meaning ASCII/alphabetically it’d come first.)
he also makes jokes:
“usually the funding will not be forever.” (my other favorite)
“Don’t mess with this! Like Texas.”
“[re regression to the mean again] If your father is Bill Gate and your mother is like a Lady Bill Gate the children will be Bill Gate squared? no. it’s not like this.”
(and a lot more jokes that are too long to write down)
But the real thing that made today the awesome was a conversation I had at lunch that made my career goals jump into focus. Long story short, I was talking to a public liason person from NIMH about health care delivery and what researchers could do to help their results get disseminated to mental health practicioners (which is a topic I’ve been working on for a panel I’m co-organizing with another fellow at NIMH). The idea is, there’s a lot we are learning about the function of the brain that can be of very direct use to not only psychiatrists but even therapists and social workers doing talk therapy. How to get this info to them, and get them to implement it, and sooner than “we’ll just train the next generation, this crop of practicioners knows what they’re doing”? In discussing various programs that try and do this this woman said musingly, “What we really need is for research to TRANSLATE results to the public and practicioners…”
“Translate?” That’s the word I’ve used to describe my primary skill and interest for years now. To have my chief strength come out of the mouth of someone in the field as she described how to address the problem I am interested in….it was like a curtain going up. And the rest of the conversation, and the other work I’ve been doing with this health care panel, is like getting handed a script.
And that script says “Don’t stay up this late all the damn time, you have work to do.”