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Good and Bad Teaching…

For months I have been pondering about what it takes to teach (science) well, inspired by many far-from-ideal lectures I had to endure. At the beginning of this academic year, we had three great lectures within first week only (exceeding the number of great lectures of the whole last academic year), so I decided to put this blog entry on hold. Now it’s 6th week and there definitely haven’t been any great lectures since, so I am back to thinking… the writing is still in progress, but I thought I put up these two pictures in the meantime. In my opinion, they summarise the bottom line of ideal versus reality….

Number one is how I would imagine one would go about teaching. Start with the basics (the foundations, but it seemed too hard to draw a basement) and then build on them.

Number two is a summary of how I often feel in lectures. Imagine the paper shredded… It was too hard to draw that, too!! 😉

Seeing the World with the Eyes of…

I don’t know about you, but when I study a particular subject in depth, my view of the world changes… literally!!! It has happened to me before, but now that I am studying medicine, it is happening again.

During my first degree in chemistry, I spent four years looking at chemical formulas learning about the molecular make-up of the world. Since then, without intending to, my brain has tried to identify chemistry everywhere, most commonly on car license plates:

During my PhD in Biochemistry, I spent day and night analysing NMR data, i.e. looking at spectra with different constellations of dots, in order to identify amino acids and their close neighbours in a protein sequence (for more detail on how this works, see here). After doing this for a while, my brain automatically tried finding protein sequences everywhere. I could no longer look at the night-sky without seeing amino acid side-chains:

This year I have been studying anatomy. My colleagues and I have spent more than 50 hours in the dissection room, cutting into cadavers to explore the human body. I have seen a lot of organs, nerves, muscles and tendons. The other day I was in a place where they did some building works, and my brain identified the cables hanging out of the wall as the flexor compartment of the forearm:


With this little presentation, I acknowledge these perceptual changes, but hope they won’t extend too far. Some things are better appreciated as they are… 😉




The Last Day of Relaxation.

hello there,

it is 6.13pm on my last day of roof-holiday. the time went by so quickly!

above is a picture of how i felt on several occasions during my holiday, and tomorrow i will have to open the door. that’s fine though, because i had a great time. i am in a different place now, much more relaxed than before, full of ideas for the future and some satisfaction that i did most of the things i had planned.

i can only recommend it to anyone!!!


The Stages of Relaxation.

written by a work-a-holic and recovering caffeine-a-holic

we normally spend most of our time ticking items off our to-do-lists. our days consist of work, sleep, coffee, and maybe a meal with some friends in-between. when the week-end comes (that is, if we are lucky enough to have a work-free week-end come our way), we run errands we were unable to fulfill during the week, give our flat-bottomed bodies some exercise, or try to schedule some fun. we feel we deserve this even though we have nothing to talk about but work and are so exhausted that we’d rather stay in bed. if we manage to avoid these duties, then we might spend our free time in bed, eat muesli interspersed with take-away and go through yet another dvd marathon, in order to rest our bodies, empty our brains and let our muscles atrophy even further.

(by the way, i say we because i don’t want to feel all alone.. ;-))

this has been my lifestyle for longer than i’d like to admit. so after spending months trying to reduce my working hours which caused me more stress than actually doing the work, i decided to put a stop to the situation and take some time out to wind down: three months of self-prescribed relaxation.

so what happened since then?

since my last day at work at the end of june, i have experienced several phases on the path to relaxation. here they come:



the first stage of relaxation was unexpected and brief: FEAR. having been full of enthusiasm and anticipation on my last day of work, coming home without anything to do was moving out of my comfort zone into undefined territory. was this a good idea? would i be able to entertain myself for three months at home?



thankfully these thoughts only lasted moments. since i was exhausted, the next stage of relaxation kicked straight in: the bed collapse and TV MARATHON phase, already mentioned above: you are tired, you want to rest, but you are still so hyped up on stress hormones that you can’t fall asleep. hence you need something to do in bed: watch mind-numbing television (it also helps to purge any stressful thoughts, at least for the time the movie is playing). in my case, for the first few days, a DVD set of old black and white miss marple movies served the purpose. and die hard I-4. and a few rocky movies. excellent.



after experiencing phase two for a few days, i was ready to move on to phase III: return to COMMON patterns of BEHAVIOUR. having partly recharged my batteries, i was keen to do something, but my mind was still not free to start something new. hence i used my new energy to do what? yes?

work. just a little bit, “for fun”, you might say. embarrassing.

(i have to mention that phase III also had a positive side-effect (phase IIIb). i did something i had meant to do for years and never found the time: i started my webpage. this was a great thing to do at this stage, because it resembled work and was still creative in a way. not too bad for a start!!!)



thankfully work can be boring. however much we like to fool ourselves (using “we” helps me admit uncomfortable truths), working hard is not our natural state. when you finally come to this realisation, you are ready for the next stage: the FUN phase!!!!!

i spent this phase in venice. drinking coffee, reading the newspaper, eating ice-cream and far too much mozzarella, while looking at art in-between. splendid. i even read a book. oh yes indeed. (if you want to hear real people talking like this, take a look at the miss marple movies i mentioned above).



i returned home ready for more. and entered phase V: SELF-REALISATION. i consider this the peak of relaxation: i set up my drawing room, started with some sketches, played the piano…. i felt happy that true relaxation had finally kicked in.

that is.. until i got an e-mail from my boss. oh no! i had to climb down the ladder back onto level three, work for two days full of self-pity and go into work for a meeting. that was that.


but even if the path to relaxation is rocky, i don’t give up! i returned home, keen to get back to where i had left off. it wasn’t easy…

i was disappointed…. in the end i spent a few days in a state of amalgamation of the stages i had experienced before: hanging out with friends (IV), cooking my favourite meals (IIIb), watching tv (II), being afraid that i would not reach stage five again (I) and stressing about work (IIIa).

a slight boredom kicked in, which even led me to clean the house. but all that made me realise something important: boredom can be a catalyst to reach stage five again!


STAGE V (again)

this time around, stage five came to me in a different shape: SELF-REFLECTION. i started thinking about what i want in life, about the future, and i was able to do this much more freely than before. very nice!!!

so far at least, i can say that my holiday-relaxation-mission has been accomplished.

i’ve attached a little drawing to illustrate the stages of relaxation.

i hope you all need less practice to get where you would like to be!



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