With a ton of experience working from home and alone I often think of myself as rather good at solving things on my own. But I’m now working on retraining my thought pattern. Sometimes tasks are easier to solve with more heads rather than fewer and sometimes my problem is not as big for someone else. Asking for help still doesn’t always come as a natural first or at least early step to me, but I’m putting it earlier and earlier in my process of thought.
Bonus: My first Eristalis visitor in our new apartment. On the national day of Sweden no less!
Sarah's newest paper is now available as a preprint. She shows that descending neurons respond better to targets when these are displayed against a moving background!
For myself, the answer turns out to be ridiculously simple; it was never a 15 minute task.
So why am I so wrong when I allocate time frames to the tasks I need to complete? Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky first proposed ‘the planning fallacy’ in 1979, wherein people underestimate the time it would take to complete a future task. This occurs even despite the knowledge that similar previous tasks have generally taken longer to complete. Even major infrastructure projects with huge budgets and meticulous planning can be subject to the planning fallacy. After 10 years of planning and with an original $1.7 billion budget, the Royal Adelaide Hospital opened in 2017, a staggering 17 months late and $640 million over budget.
How do you avoid the pitfalls of unconsciously applying an optimistic prediction bias to time allocation and project planning? The common advice, and how I failed to follow it, can be summed up in the 3 main points below;
1. Use the time it took to complete similar tasks and projects to guide future planning.
If it took months to write my last paper, its unrealistic to think the next paper will be written in a few weeks. It sounds simple enough, right? Clearly not, as I look at the last sentence arguments as to why this statement is incorrect are already forming in my head. It took too long last time, surely I will be more efficient, more organized, more able to write with speed and proficiency.
2. Be pessimistic.
Assume something will go wrong and the project will take longer to complete than planned. I think I can sum up where I went wrong here with two words, global pandemic. Even whilst I knew I would be working from home with young children I somehow thought I could still maintain strict timelines.
3. Get your timelines checked by someone else.
I got my timelines checked by others, however this point also requires that you do not dismiss the sage advice given by others.
Given the content of this post, its probably not surprising I am posting it at 6am on the Monday the week after I was scheduled to post. I assumed I would find time to write this blog post between other tasks in an already packed week, surely I could find 15 minutes….
It's that time of the year again... When the we get the written feedback, but not the scores, from the external assessors of our grants. We write a reply, addressing the feedback, and then wait for another 1000 years. It's a strange feeling, because you know so much more when you have the feedback, but still nothing. How will the College of Experts interpret the feedback? How will they interpret my rejoinder? And then you just wait, and wait, and wait.
This week marked the first time in almost 3 months that we're all physically back in the lab - well, that's because I was the last straggler, but I came back in from Tuesday and it's been really nice to see lab colleagues again, chatting in person, trying to solve a variety of problems together. Glad to be back.
Just a secondary link to an external site this week; I hope that others might enjoy these awesome photos of insects as much as I did. The link is to a news article showcasing images taken by a community science project at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles named BioSCAN. The project team get citizens involved in collecting data about insect diversity across urban LA, hosting malaise traps to trap insect specimens in their own backyards and other sites. The animals are preserved and then photographed through the microscope. The aim is to raise awareness of the abundance of insect life even in one of the largest human cities, where you might have expected the environment to be fairly inhospitable to other species.
I know I can go and look at our living, moving flies anytime I like, but somehow, in a week when I've been grappling with visualising how light from a flat stimulus on a screen projects onto the fly's compound eye, there's something about seeing a high-resolution image of a soldier fly eye that really focuses my imagination!
I have been working on some technical improvements for my experiments. For one side of my project, myself and Karin have been trying to acquire funds for a new objective lens for the departmental confocal microscope. We recently got the exciting news that our funding application has been successful, meaning that soon we will be able to image the entire 3D volume of the hoverfly brain at high resolution. I would like to thank the College of Medicine and Public Health Resource Committee for approving our application, and our fellow researchers who assisted in making this application.
On the other side of my project, I have been working on options for performing extracellular recordings from neurons in the hoverfly optic lobe. Up until now all my recordings have used intracellular techniques, which comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Having the option of quickly switching between intracellular and extracellular recording techniques depending on the goal of a given experiment should speed up my data collection process going forward, and should also open up some new experimental opportunities. The new adaptor system that I have designed should allow me to convert my rig from an intracellular set-up to an extracellular set-up in just a few seconds, without having to adjust the position or angles of my animal, screen, electrodes or microscope.
I have also been playing with some ideas for devices to facilitate the positioning and immobilising our hoverflies during our electrophysiological and behavioural experiments. Hopefully these devices will materialise, and allow me to perform some interesting new experiments.
Finally, a preprint of a paper from my PhD has gone live in the recent weeks, investigating the neuroanatomical organisation of the dragonfly optic lobe. You can find it here (https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.10.087437v1.abstract).
Sarah's new paper is out, in which she shows that optic flow sensitive descending neurons, which connect the optic lobes in the head with motor command centers in the body, display persistent firing following stimulation. This is strikingly different to their pre-synaptic counterparts. However, if this after-effect is taken into account the optic flow sensitive descending neurons show signs of adaptation.
We have just started a new project with our new lab member, Luke, to study the effect of stress on hoverflies. While going through the literature relating to courtship and aggressive behaviours in insects, they remind me of the time I started studying animal behaviour in crickets. The first task I did was creating an ethogram, which is a dictionary of all behaviours that a particular species performs by observing any species of animal for an hour. To choose one from a wide range of species, I went to a Zoo near the University and watched Porcupine because there were a mum and a baby (but not my favourite). At the start, I felt spending one hour with them was forever; however, it turned into an enjoyable time. Generating the ethogram allowed me to develop the necessary skills of observation, description, and quantification. (Please see a link about the ethogram https://www.researchgate.net/publication/299586471_The_Ethogram_and_Animal_Behavior_Research)
After that experience, I started observing the behaviours of paired males in the lab. Each horizontal bar (1–20) in a figure below displays a 60-min record for 20 dominant males in the paired (male-male) condition. Grey indicates attack periods; black indicates courtship periods. Approximately 10 min after pairing, most dominant males produced courtship songs in the presence of subordinate males, but without females. It appeared to be triggered by some contact chemicals on the body surface of the males. This study suggests that sexual motivation in dominant males increased because of previous agonistic interactions. In contrast, subordinate males remained silent, meaning less chance for the mating sadly.
Lately, we perform sophisticated experiments with high-technology methods and computers in our field of study. But, our eyes, a piece of paper and a pen are always fundamental. More importantly, excellent research ideas tend to come up while watching animal behaviours closely. And spending time for merely watching them is luxurious and suitable for student days.
by Jason van Leuven
Let’s make no bones about it, academic science writing is hard. This has probably been the most challenging part of my honours project thus far. To read the volume of journal articles to enable you to get a glimpse of what is already known is one thing, but to structure, order and know what to keep is a skill in itself. The first month involved a lot of reading, some of it I understood; but to be honest a lot of the literature was over my head, and it was almost like learning a new language. My former career had been very physical, on my feet all day and very little time to take a rest, so at the end of the day you felt exhausted. What I was not prepared for was to be exhausted from reading and trying to understand concepts - although my legs and feet were not sore, my brain was cooked, like a well-done overcooked steak. Getting my 43-year-old brain to store and process all this information is rather over whelming – regretting a miss spent youth in West Cork, Ireland – maybe I let one too many brain cells go to the Guinness ;-)
My next mission is to learn how to set out a better writing plan, one that makes writing a little more fluid and user friendly. I definitely want to leave honours as a better writer.
Here is a little quote:
"Anyone who says writing is easy, probably hasn't written well enough to know it is hard."
Photograph sourced from Shutterstock
They both perform well in simulated environments.
As Richard wrote in his post 'New Behavioural Rig' from 3/22/2020, we now have the ability to record behavioural data from tethered flights while hoverflies view stimuli on 3 surrounding screens. The below pictures show the high tech simulators used in the current Supercars Eseries, which is basically a closed loop behavioural rig with multiple users.
While there were only 5 of us watching the first hoverfly tethered flight on the behavioural rig, the first race of the Supercars Eseries attracted an estimated 158,000 viewers. The equipment involves in the Eseries can cost over $100,000, its probably no surprise that the lab's behavioural rig cost a lot less. The Eseries will take its drivers virtually to over 4 continents and 9 countries. So far our hoverflies have been shown only a few visual stimuli, they definitely haven't virtually flown in France, America or even at the legendary Mount Panorama.
The new high tech simulators at Shell V-Power Racing - Images courtesy of supercars.com
The hoverfly vision group can be found at 2 locations: At Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and at Uppsala University in Sweden. To find out more about us and our research, browse through the pages.