Mentoring || Mentoring

The longer I do PhD, or sometimes more like crawl through, the more aware I am of the incredible people, who pick me up every time I slip and shove me forward on my crawl. This autumn I had a chance to be on the other side and mentor two high-school students. Read more about that experience, communicating science and watch a video from the two week project in a blog originally published at the Karolinska Institutet Researchers Blog.

Karolinska Institutet Career Blog

Image credit: Takashi Hososhima (flickr)

(In collaboration with Nika Seblova)

I was standing in front of a roomful of high school students, a screenshot of a certain popular bird-slinging game on my slide. I had five minutes to convey my research and entice them to the Dark Side make them interested in my work and work with me for two weeks. My main pitch was that the certain popular bird-slinging game makes use of the laws of physics to model their fury-fuelled fowl projectile. My group deals with modelling of molecules, which are several order of magnitudes lower in size but Newton’s law of motion applies all the same. Five minutes was up, and then the next mentor went up. Ugh, I missed saying something on that previous point. Maybe that fowl joke was foul?What if no students found the project interesting? We would only…

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Icy Neurons and Hearts

I wish making sounds was a valid response to the “How are you question”! GRRSAAAHH, MEEEWH, YAAAAY! The expected “I am good!” so rarely encompasses anything I feel. If pure vocalization of emotion was a socially acceptable reaction, I would produce a series of grunts, low and high tones, an odd composition of disharmonious tones at any given moment.

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Even when I try to comply with social conventions and answer with words, I am notoriously bad at it. It is in my long-winded answers I often  myself realize how I truly feel in particular moment or about a given topic. This often leaves me wondering how do we really know what we feel? Is it in the rational analysis of the cacophony of words that stream out of my mouth that I “discover” my true feelings. Is it the observation of my emotions when answering that makes me realize the underlying sensation. Do I create the feeling by the analysis or is it something independent?

Then there are those rare moments, when you just feel. This Tuesday, I experienced one of those moments of purity. Incidentally it was a Valentine’s Day, when the odds are that I as a single person may not be at a peak of happiness. Yet, there I was sliding on frozen lake in my high heels I wore that day. Venturing on ice was definitely not the most rational decision, which I uselessly tried to counterbalance with outstretched hands. Needless to say, I landed flat on my back. Yet,with the sun shining into my face was giggling. Looking around at the ice, my giggle turned into laughter. Imprinted in the ice, was a pattern of a neuron immediately reminding me of my pondering – is it the brain or heart that discovers/creates emotions.

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This was only a first of several serendipitous moments that afternoon. I was engulfed by my enjoyment of the moment, by my ice fascination, not only the patterns but how it allows me to see a familiar lake from a new perspective. As I stood there, recalling the many moments and memories I have created by this lake, I heard a loud “Hey I know you!” from a passing by ice-skater. What a coincidence! A guy I met a day before in a climbing gym was passing by.

While this did not turn out to be spontaneous Valentine romance, that afternoon definitely felt movie-like. However, not because of the chance encounter but because of the purity of the moment, the purity of my happiness, the lack of analyzing.

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Upon my return home, another serendipity hit me in the face. A quote, “How do you know you love somebody” was starring at me from my email subject lines. The question seemed very fitting, especially on Valentine day, and the article on Brainpickings resonated deeply with me and way more eloquently and philosophically discusses the emotions-heart-brain issue that was lingering in my head.

While I have no clear answers to the philosophical dilemma, my afternoon of happy high-heels ice sliding definitely agreed with the Proust’s quote that “Knowledge of the heart must come from the heart – from and in its pains and longings, its emotional responses“. On Tuesday, my heart was purely happy, as well as it can be entirely crushed on other occasions.I am glad, that I did not let the lack of the ice-skates and my rationality take away the YAAAAY from my heart that day.

Orange survival strategies

eskimo_rollSometimes you think you come up with a life-hack so brilliant that you wonder how come that the whole world is not doing the same? Like a “post-break up face to face in the swimming pool, preferably in a kayak while training Eskimo rolls“. Does that seem odd? Why? Well, if you start crying and do not want it to be visible* – you just flip your kayak! Smooth! It also comes with many desirable side-effects: underwater silence, refocusing your breathing (yoga people swear by it) and well, developing a new skill (always trendy these days). Okej, this might not be THE life-hack the entire world will adopt, but hopefully the idea at least made you laugh.

However, during my even years of living abroad, I did come up (and abandoned) a whole lot of life-hacks. Living and travelling alone means that I am often out of my comfort zone. Riding a constant roller-coaster of doubt, fear, stress and loneliness, and excitement of overcoming all of those. I do not think my life is special in any way, we all experience those. And likely, most of my life-hacks won’t work for anyone else. But I want to share one that might. A hack for believing into the better of human nature,  something we can all use these days. It is listening to  the Crazy Good Turns podcast,  which is something I did today after taking a break in (yes orange!) cafe and devouring Swedish delicatesse of the season called Semla.

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The podcast features people, and they are people like me and you, usually living their ordinary lives, but who at some point started doing something for others. The interviews feel unpretentious and genuine. I have yet to listen to an episode that made me feel bad or judgmental of the efforts of others. Which is not a luxury I award myself, with a little voice whispering to me, nagging, questioning my own ideas, service to others and efforts for better world and meaning.

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But today’s episode – “All our kids” touched me even more than usual. It tells a story of a couple, opening their home to friends of their children, and other strangers, providing love, support and guidance to them. Hearing the dinner chatter on the podcast, reminded me of the many homes that have been opened to me on every continent I stepped on – from rural South Africa to developed North America. An echo of the countless conversations over cup of tea or while mushroom picking in a Swedish forest resonated through my soul. An echo of gratitude. This is the world I want to live in – with open homes and souls. And maybe I am like a David fighting a Goliath, but my freezer usually has some baked goods and my home is open for those in search of a home, be it for a half an hour.

So what is my life-hack? Repay all and a bit more of what I got and keep on finding ways to keep my orange fire burning when it get’s windy. Today, my wood was the Crazy Good Turns podcast. If I find other fuel I will share it.

*not that there is anything wrong with public crying, in some places and times I think it is actually a form of social service.

Did extending compulsory education in the 1950s improve cognitive and emotional outcomes?

My supervisors blog on the first study within my PhD. This is what my work life is about

IJEblog

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Extending compulsory education from 8 to 9 years had a postive effect on intelligence in our large study of boys exposed to a school reform in Sweden in the 1950s. Extending education benefited sons of farmers and workers most, reducing socioeconomic differences in intelligence. In contrast, the reform seems to have led to reduced emotional control, suggesting that for this outcome alternative activities (e.g. working or attending the old lower secondary school) was better.

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Fearing+Daring=Adventuring

Teaspoon of chance. Tablespoon of fear. A 1/2 of a cup of encouragement. Pinch of failure. Sieve thoroughly and let the mixture rest. Set the oven and bake your adventure! This is how this blog came about. From an uncompleted adventure, which nevertheless was a spark of fire, inspiring me to test new things.

This time, my teaspoon of chance was a visit to a friends home. Catching up on life, she mentioned a Fjällraven Polar -a 300km dog sledge expedition in the arctic wilderness. The expedition is organized by a Swedish company, Fjällraven, and participants win their spots by either popular vote or jury selection. Immediately, entered a constant state of dreaming about the snow.

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But my adventure dessert was not ready for the oven until I got my first 1/4 cup of a encouragement. Sharing my dream of huskies and snow wilderness with a friend and collegue, Jen Dykxhoorn, she reinforced it and offered help with making my application.

And this is when my tablespoon of fear hit me. Why would people support this? There are so many things going on in the world – Syria, global warming, health problems. How will people not think this is selfish and silly! I was afraid of judgement, of putting myself there., of uploading a video, which felt like public nakedness.

But second 1/4 cup of encouragement was in my kitchen cabinet of friends and colleagues. Within two weeks, I filmed, cut and uploaded my first ever video and felt proud! For the next month, more encouragement in form of 1083 votes worked as the baking soda and made my adventure spirit rise within me. My dreaming continued and I took off and travelled beyond the Polar Circle for the first time in my life, to visit Kiruna and run in a deep snow with a borrowed dog.

img_7033But baking is art and science of mixing the right ingredients. My pinch of failure was missing. It came on December 20th. Instead of victorious happiness over receiving a spot, a sadness creeped in when I did not win.

With new supply of ingredients and after a bit of rest of the dough, my cake was ready to be baked! It was a different cake than what I expected – my first winter camping trip in the Swedish wilderness. Instead of being pulled by dogs through the Arctic wilderness, I will propel myself through the snow on cross country skies.

There is still a pinch of fear in me, wondering how will this test my limits and strength. If I will fail in some way. But I also know that failing, and fear are just ingredients like any other and that I have enough encouragement around me to let me dream and dare to keep on baking the next chocolate-cake adventure!

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