Field of Science

Power Posing for a Successful Defense

   I had my dissertation defense last Friday! In my department we present an hour long seminar about our research that is open to the public and then have a closed-door discussion with professors only to talk about the research and final write-up in more depth. Afterwords a decision is made about whether or not you will be awarded a PhD. I passed and now only have some revisions and paperwork to fill our before my PhD will be finalized. Super exciting times!

A postdoc-pal of mine sent me a link to this video a couple of weeks ago. This presentation discusses studies looking at how standing/sitting in "power poses" can influence empowerment and confidence. It is a really great presentation and something to think about for anyone who is going on an interview or who has to give a big presentation. I have to admit that when I was setting up the half hour before my presentation I was doing some power posing to get ready. My favorite, the Super Woman pose.

Amy Cuddy: Power Poses
Amy Cuddy revealed that we can actually change feelings we have about our own status through the physical positions we take with our bodies. Her research participants had higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol after only two minutes in a “power pose”. Cuddy asked if such findings can have wider implications for empowerment training.

Is the Title of your Scientific Publication Important?

I just had a manuscript accepted for publication with the caveat that I needed to change my title. The comment was that papers with 'witty' or 'cute' titles are cited less often than papers with more serious titles. The editor mentioned that this had been shown in a study and I was interested to read about their findings.

The two studies I came across relating to this topic were:

In the first study (the title says it all topic-wise), they looked at a bunch of articles published in PLoS. Then they categorized the titles into three types: Declarative titles that include the main conclusions, Descriptive titles that only include the subject of the article, and Interrogative titles that indicate the subject in the form of a question. They also looked at the number of substantive words and whether or not there was a colon.

There main findings were that there was a difference between the types of titles in terms of the numbers of downloads from most downloaded to least Interrogative, Descriptive, Declarative. Whereas both the Descriptive and Declarative were cited equally and those with Interrogative titles were cited less often. Articles with longer titles tended to be downloaded less often but the title length was not correlated with citations. And finally titles with a colon get fewer downloads and citations.

Based on that, I think that the title of the first paper out from my dissertation will probably never be cited.  
A question, a colon, and probably way too long. I wonder if I also loose points for the multi-hyphenated word? Maybe the cool science will overcome the flaws in the title.

They also talked about the fact that anyone can download an article, including students or members of the general public who are interested in a topic. However, citations are only from other scientific researchers. Hence titles that are more easily accessible or are more interesting may get more notice online but may not be cited by other members of your field.

As for the other paper, that gets to the title of the second chapter of my dissertation.
Beneath the Veil: The calyptra cuticle matures before the sporophyte cuticle in the moss Funaria hygrometrica.

So my logic behind this title is that the term calyptra comes from the Greek word kalyptra, which means veil or hood. It is a little cap of gametophyte tissue that covers the sporophyte apex throughout development and protects the underlying apex from dehydrating. And the study focuses what happens in terms of the cuticle development on the sporophyte beneath this cap. I thought that it was catchy.

I used a similar version of this title at the 2010 Botanical Society of America meeting. My talk was really well attended and I even had several people mention to me that my fun title had caught their eye in the program and influenced their attendance.

In the second paper, listed above, articles with an amusing title were found to have fewer citations. It was ok to have a pleasant title, but amusing titles may make people think that your science is not rigorous or thorough. 

I am still a firm believer that a fun talk title helps to pull people in to your presentation, but I will be changing this title for my Ch 2 manuscript as the editors suggested. Definitely some ideas to keep in mind when coming up with a title for your manuscript. Not that citations are everything, but having other researchers read your study and then connect it to their own is important for integrating your research into the larger scientific discourse.

Stressed out Sperm

What happens when you stress out moss sperm? That was one of the questions that researchers asked in this study.

Not only did they look at the impact of high temperature, but they also looked at sperm concentration, rainwater vs. deionized water, and the addition of sugar on sperm survival. 

In general they found that moss sperm are pretty long-lived, relatively speaking, with 20% survival after 100 hours for all dilution levels. This is pretty cool because the sperms may then be able to be transported by animal vectors or survive in a small drop of water until more water forms a film that they can use to swim to a female.

They found that sperm lived longer when sucrose was added. You might not think that moss sperm would have access to external supplies of sugar. It is not like they swim through maple syrup, but when dry bryophytes are rehydrated they release sugars into the surrounding water and these could be used by swimming sperm. Thus they could live longer and have more energy to swim to females that are further away.

The sperm were unaffected by temperature and survived at the same levels at both 22 and 60 C (~72 and 140 F). This is a pretty dramatic thermo-tolerance. Imagine the difference between room temperature and slightly hotter than the record temperature for Death Valley. I can't quite imagine being somewhere that hot, but it seems pretty extreme! The species they studied (Pohlia nutans) grows in geothermal areas and thus may be unique in terms of its tolerance for high heat.

Overall I think that it is a really cool study!