Back in 2005, I was tasked to pick an article written by a science journalist and write a summary of it for my AP Biology class. During those days, I would frequent the library to read science magazines like Scientific American and Popular Science. Little did I know, the article I found would profoundly shape my career to this day. I chose the cover article for the February 2005 edition of Discover titled: “Testing Darwin” by Carl Zimmer. The article described the work done at Michigan State University to study evolution in a completely different system than DNA-based life. Carl Zimmer, who continues to be my favorite science journalist, described experiments studying the rise of complex features, evolution that generated diverse ecologies, altruism, the benefits of sexual recombination, among other ideas, but all using the digital evolution platform, […]
I recently finished taking an online course through Stanford’s Lagunita online learning site. The course was “Medicine: SciWrite Writing in the Sciences” and was an online version of a class that is offered in person at Stanford from what I can tell. This was the first online class I had ever taken and I decided to try it originally because I’m done with taking classes for my PhD and honestly craved a bit of structure as I started my first semester of pure research. I also hear on a regular basis how important strong writing skills are to scientists no matter where you end up, so this class seemed a good thing to try. While the class is apparently through the medical school and the examples made that clear, I found that the information pertained to […]
Last week, I defended my dissertation. While I knew how to prepare the written dissertation, and the public talk, the third component – the closed-door session in which my committee examined me – was mysterious. I’d asked about 8 people over the years what their closed-door sessions were like, and all of them told me that they couldn’t remember. So, while my experience might not be typical, it is at least an experience, and thus potentially a useful data point. Your mileage may vary.
This weekend, Josh, Cliff, and I ran a Software Carpentry workshop targeted at people interested in learning to use Avida for their research. After taking the instructor training course in May, we realized that the core skills covered in Software Carpentry (shell scripting, git, and a programming language) align very well with the skills needed to use Avida. The only thing left to do was drop a lesson on Avida in as the fourth session! Since there has been an ever-growing group of biologists interested in learning to use Avida, this seemed like a good idea. So, this weekend, we gave it a try.
I often argue that a big advantage of working with computational artificial life systems is that you can perform evolution experiments that would be difficult (or impossible!) with natural organisms. However, any time you want to use a digital system to understand how or why a particular trait or behavior evolves, your first challenge is to get that trait evolve at all! Warning: this can be a lot harder than it sounds. Of course, in this quest you will also learn a lot more about your study system, gain more insight into the dynamics you are investigating, and probably come up with at least half-a-dozen follow-up studies. Below are the steps that I suggest for new projects.