A Day In The Life of a Microbiologist

Image from Springer

Dr. Brian Kinkle is a great example of how versatile a profession in microbiology can be, and how innovative one must be to pursue many aspects of the career. Growing up in a military family, he is from the D.C area but moved around a lot as child, “I’ve traveled a lot of places. My dad was in the military. I used to live in England, Portugal, Spain…” One thing most people may not know about Dr. Kinkle is that he was kind of a slacker in high school and joined the Peace Corp for two years once he graduated, stationed in Africa. He was an agriculture teacher while stationed there and when asked if that was his inspiration for being a professor he exclaims, “Actually exactly the opposite, I hated teaching after that.” He always liked biology, so after the Peace Corp he attended the University of Maryland to pursue a Bachelor’s of Biology and followed that at the University of Minnesota where he received his PhD in microbiology.

Image from UC

What Does a PhD in Microbiology Mean?

            A PhD in microbiology can lead to many different environments of work, depending on preference. Microbiologists can work in the medical field and do research through labs focusing on diseases and the life cycles of bacteria, viruses, etc. Microbiologists can also work in commercial research with things like pharmaceuticals or the food industry, to test new drugs to fight pathogens and to develop new ways of processing food and keeping it safe on the shelf, respectively. Aside from those opportunities, there is always room for microbiologists in government run agencies like the FDA and CDC. An option for anyone seeking  PhD is to become a faculty member at a University, do research projects and teach classes to students pursuing a similar path. The field of microbiology is vast, and open to a change of pace when the individual so seeks that. It also has room for promotional purposes and a satisfying salary for most, around $70,000 starting out in the field.

Image from UC

Then Why Stuck With the Freshmen?

Before Dr. Kinkle got into teaching the freshman biology course he currently is involved with here at UC, he was involved with active research pertaining to environmental studies, particularly soil content. When asked about his work he responds, “Oh I loved it, I got a lot of grants, and I was involved with my research for 15 years.” During those 15 years, Dr. Kinkle was asked to teach micro classes as well. Ironically, as much as he is a fighter for active learning now, that did not used to be the case. He explains that when he first started teaching, he read off the PowerPoint slides and was not very interactive with his students.
“I only gave it up because I saw how poorly the freshman were being taught biology, and that was affecting upperclassmen when they got to my micro classes.” He explained that students in their third and fourth years did not know information that should have been covered during their first biology class. He went on to say that he was happy with his research but felt a stronger need in the freshman biology course, he felt as though he could make a greater difference there. Giving his lab and research grants over to colleagues he began to take over Biology 1001 and shape it into the course it is today. Taking that kind of initiative, to give away a lab with funded research, shows a lot about the passion he shares for innovation in the classroom.

What Is Daily Life Like?

Being a professor of microbiology, one may suspect many hours spent in the lab with rigorous schedules of material to get through. Dr. Kinkle counters that, “You know there is a lot of freedom, yeah I work 60-80 hour weeks and put in a lot of hard work, but you get to do it your own way.” Along with the freedom, does come a few hundred students and a couple hundred emails each week, but anyone interested in a schedule they design may admire this aspect of the career. The busy schedule comes most often from meetings, student interactions, and planning for lectures. Considering Dr. Kinkle’s spin on the career, he does not often have lab responsibilities as he did previously, but he now has more informational meetings and workshops to attend, or lead in some cases. He describes a lot of traveling to different schools, listening to speakers, and engaging in group activities among professors as a typical responsibility in his profession.

Along with a career always comes the ups and the downs. Dr. Kinkle speaks for himself when he says, “The perks for me, are the feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction I receive from my students, seeing them improve and change. That’s what it’s about,” Careers are about doing something worthwhile, something satisfying for 30+ years. Teaching at a university may fall into the lap of someone who likes to be creative and see a change for the better in people they directly deal with; someone with the patience to care and motivate others to do their best work. What challenges do professionals face when instructing in courses in which they are experts? Dr. Kinkle replies, “Well, aside from the dominant feeling of joy, my biggest concern on a daily basis is how I can get better at getting students to learn faster,” This shows yet again how innovative and proactive professors may aim to be, in order to make a real difference in their classrooms.

Image from Cornell

What Were the Motives For Him Personally?

            As previously stated, microbiologists with a PhD can become professors at universities but that does not guarantee that they receive any extra training on how to “teach” the material to students. Even Dr. Kinkle admits to not teaching in the best ways at the beginning of his career. After taking over freshman biology, he explained that he began attending workshops and reading literature on active learning. He said, “I was very determined to make a difference, I felt as though I could be useful there.”

He and his wife, a professor of physics at UC, both feel as though this is the place for them to change the lives of students coming through college. The initiative to take on a big challenge, like changing the failure rates in a freshman lecture, is a quality all professors can aspire to have. Leaving the interview, Dr. Kinkle stops me and gives me advice to anyone wishing to pursue a career in academia, not just microbiology. He states,

“Learn about teaching, we need more teachers that know how to teach. It makes your job that much easier and better for you, and for your students. Learn to be humanistic, and less like a scientist, if that is your specialty of choice. The secret to happiness in this job is empathy, do not feel bad for your failing students, understand them and think about how you can help them. That’s my advice.”

Microbiology is a surprisingly vast field and a PhD can go a long way. Whether it is working for the government on food sales, working in a medical research lab curing a disease, or teaching young professionals the importance of the subject, anyone interested in pursuing the career has room to grow and make a living for themselves. Dr. Kinkle has opened up his side of the story, but there are many others with the same degree, doing very different things. A special thank you to Dr. Kinkle for taking the time to enlighten me on everything biology has to offer him.

Image from Department of Pathology

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Take a Journey to Africa

Animals have always been one of my favorite things, so it is no wonder my Friday afternoons are spent volunteering at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens. Being a volunteer educator has been a hobby of mine since I moved to Cincinnati for my first year of college here at UC. Most often seen as the individual in the employee shirt with an ID badge, walking around to guests sparking conversation, or sharing information over an artifact at an education cart, being part of the education program has been a valuable experience. Some of the most valuable information discovered while being an educator includes learning the most about the exhibits the zoo has to offer guests and the purpose of those exhibits. One of the most rewarding portions of the hobby involve service to many international campaigns promoting the conservation of wildlife, like my personal favorite, Rebuilding the Pride Campaign. First and for most, what do educators do and why should people care about what they have to say?

What Exactly Is An Educator?

Most people have never heard of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Volunteer Education Program. Volunteer educators (VEs) staff Wild Discover Zones. Each season there are zones placed around the zoo at exhibits containing valuable interpretive information for guests. VEs also act as Hosts for school field trips and school events. Each zone is like a “classroom” on wheels and the VEs interact with guests, answer questions about the animals, and deliver important conservation messages pertaining to that zones animal or region. This year the education program is staffing many zones including Africa, Pollination Station, CREW, Swan Lake, Elephant Reserve, Gorilla World, and more. Every zone has an important message for guests, but one of my personal favorites is the message the Africa exhibit offers. 

Lion Image from Cincinnati Zoo

Bringing Africa to Cincinnati

Guests can enjoy the spirit of Africa in the newly renovated exhibit, opened in 2013. While visiting Africa visitors have an opportunity to help one of the Zoo’s biggest conservation missions based in Kenya. Educators at this exhibit converse with guests about Rebuilding the Pride campaign and the lions that happen to call Cincinnati, OH home (including many questions about our new lion cubs born this year, shown below). According to Thane Maynard, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Zoo, we want educators to get the visitors “to leave here feeling connected with Africa and feeling inspired to help save wildlife in wild places”. Most people do not ever get the opportunity to visit Africa, but that does not mean their actions cannot make a difference, even 8,000 miles away. That is one of the biggest pieces of the “message” the educators offer.

cubsUma, Kya and Willa (Photo: Wendy Rice)

What is the Message?

VEs explain to the guests that the problem in Kenya, the one that the Cincinnati Zoo and many other partners are trying to fix, is the diminishing wild lion population. The Maasai people have been hunting the wild lions that roam the South Rift Valley because the cats have been pawing around their cattle a little too often. The Maasai people are very nomad-like, living off the land and rely on the cattle they herd as their income. Maasai and wildlife in the area migrate seasonally due to the changing resources of food and fresh water, and the number of run-ins has been increasing. The loss of cattle to wild lions is upsetting to the Maasai people, and in order to protect their life savings, the retaliations have been lowering the lion’s population.

Rebuilding the Pride is a very powerful conservation act, unifying the Maasai people of Kenya and the lions that roam the land. This program aims to restore the lion population as well as reduce the amount of livestock killed. Research assistants are beginning to track the movement of both Maasai livestock and lions in order to avoid confrontation and unnecessary damage. Some wild lions have been fit with GPS collars, so that the herders know where the prides are moving that day in order to lead their livestock in the opposite direction. Herders are often seen now with tablets, tracking the information brought in by the collars. The program also has created a Conflict Response Team to assistant and ease confrontations by accompanying herders while they move through areas with lions, and rescuing livestock that are in danger of becoming a lion’s lunch.

mapKenya, Africa

Awesome Story, But Why Does It Matter To Me?

Educators often struggle to get guests to understand the purpose behind conservation and why the Zoo spends so much time and effort trying to get people to appreciate it. People have no problem standing there, listening to the stories VEs have to tell, but most of the time they walk away and the information they just spent time learning leaves their brain. In order to help tie that information into something more tangible to guests, VEs promote making a connection to Africa. It is especially rewarding to help younger children find a connection to a place so far away and make them realize what they do here can change what is happening elsewhere. One of the things educators do to promote this connection is to suggest investing in a Lions and Livelihoods bracelet made by the Maasai women. Revenue from these bracelets helps provide the Rebuilding the Pride campaign with resources but also provides tuition for local schools.

These bracelets not only donate money to the conservation program, it creates a unifying symbol to the Maasai people all the way across the world. Hearing about saving a group of lions is a great story, but actually being able to become a part of that story is a gift. Thane Maynard says it best, “The bracelets are a symbol of coexistence of humans and wildlife – and the Zoo wants to inspire its visitors with this message of coexistence” in hopes that they will take the message home and put it into place in their communities.   Educators serve as the medium between promoting the campaign and sending people home with a new sense of purpose and a part of something bigger than themselves.

braceletsfrom Cincinnati Zoo

Why Do Educators Do What They Do?

It is an amazing thing to see the traditional Maasai people so eager to live in coexistence; the compassion is a quality we could all learn to acquire. Conservation is something that requires action, but it is also a story that deserves to be told. Educators have a responsibility to the zoo, to the guests, but also to the animals to share these stories that they cannot share themselves. Promotion of the campaigns is not always about donating as much money as possible; it is also about spreading the word and creating awareness.

I spend my afternoons telling countless guests the same story repeatedly because of a hope that maybe just one time, it will stick and the story will be retold. As much as I hope guests learn from me, I learn from the guests as well. The perks of being a VE do not just include an inside knowledge of the zoos many exhibits, it includes becoming a part of things that exist outside our city and seeing the stories change the lives of guests as they take a journey through Africa.

 maasaiMaasai Wilderness Conservation Trust

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?

Image from Vaccination Information Network

The widespread debate on the link between autism and vaccinations has been intensely studied, yet parents all around the US are still precautious about vaccinating their children at the right stage of development. Many studies show no link between autism spectrum disorder and vaccinations, but parents and antivaccionationists alike are still defending their side of the story. Although science has proven them wrong, there must be something worthwhile on the antivaccionationists side or the debate would be put to rest already. What are the proposed problems with vaccinations? How do vaccinations work and why is there any talk about being linked to ASD?

Let’s Start With the Basics

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a term used to describe a group of brain development disorders and it is defined in varying degrees, hence the “spectrum” portion of the name. Disorders range from many different behaviors such as social interactions and verbal and nonverbal communication behaviors. ASD is sometimes associated with things such as intellectual disability and children are very hypersensitive to their surrounding environment. It is suggested by Autism Speaks that autism begins very early on in brain development.

ASD is a very common disorder, in fact, Autism Speaks explains that 1 in 68 American children are found on the autism spectrum, and the disorder is about 5 times more likely in boys. Shelly Allred, part of Pathfinders for Autism, suggests that the easiest way to understand autism is to use everyday examples. She explains that having ASD is like being in sensory overload 24/7 but not having any way of expressing this feeling in a way the people around you will understand. Shelly explains, “Imagine putting a desk inside the Harbor Tunnel during rush hour, about 40 feet away from the desk stands a teacher giving you oral algebraic word problems to complete…how long could you sit there with the lights and the noise distracting you?”

ASD is a highly researched disorder with promising results just in the past few years. According to Autism Speaks, no longer do scientists think that there is just one cause of autism just like there is not just one type of autism. Many factors influence the spectrum such as prenatal care, genetics, the child’s immune system, and early development. Considering that what happens to children early on in life determines a lot about how they will live their life, it’s no wonder that one scientist could change the way parents across the country feel about vaccinating their children so drastically.

Who May This Scientist Be?

In 1998, a study was published in The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield linking the MMR vaccine (protecting against mumps, measles, and rubella) to autism. Wakefield has been the hot topic over the past few years due to his misinterpreted study claiming that the MMR vaccine was actually causing an increase in the risk for autism in children. CNN’s Wire Staff posted an excellent article highlighting the key points to this new disastrous situation, scaring parents out of vaccinating their children for MMR completely. What parent would not be nervous if a well-respected scientific journal published information like that?

It was found later that Wakefield was intentionally changing his data because a law firm was offering him a nice paycheck to “develop” a link between this vaccine and autism, the law firm wanted to sue the vaccine manufacturers. In 2004, most of Wakefield’s co-authors withdrew their names from the study after learning that he altered data for the 12 subjects that supported his claim. According to CNN, Britain revoked Wakefield’s medical license in May of 2010 because he was unable to repeat his results, proving even further that he altered data in his study. According to BMJ (British Medical Journal), “Of the 12 children, Wakefield based his claim on, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR vaccine and three never had autism.”

Luckily, Wakefield was exposed and light could be shed on the falsified data. Now parents do not have to worry about hurting their children by getting them vaccinated on time and the vaccination rates can start to rise again, right? Wrong. Although the study finding a link between vaccinations and autism was falsified, parents and antivaccionationists are still debating strongly against doctors and researchers on the topic of annual vaccinations.

How Do Vaccinations Work?

Vaccinations, along with any medical advancement, are going to come along with confusion and misinterpretation outside the medical community. If you do not have a science background first hand, it is more difficult to understand the purpose of new treatments, tests, etc. Just like, it would be difficult for someone with no background in electrical engineering, to rewire a house when the circuits start to trip all the time.

Vaccines seem like a very scary thing, if the purpose is not well explained. The biggest misinterpretation of vaccines is most likely that they weaken the immune system and can give the patient the infection they are trying to prevent, because the infection is being injected into them. In reality, according to the Department of Health, the vaccine strengthens the immune system response against the target infection because the vaccine contains a weakened part of the germ. This is crucial, because when the patient’s body experiences the weakened version of the infection it can start producing anti-bodies (defenders that kill off infections in our cells), so if the patient encounters the full strength infection it is already “trained” to fight it.

Image from Skeptical Raptor’s Blog

Then Why Does the Debate Continue?

Antivaccionationists still claim something is not working right in the vaccinations their children are receiving. Parents magazine posted an article related to autism and it explained that places in the US are seeing dramatic drops in the rate of vaccinations. Those places have since seen outbreaks of diseases practically wiped out by the US, like measles and mumps.  Infectious-disease specialists say that these outbreaks are due to a lack of what they call “herd immunity.” Dr. Rodewald, director of Immunization Services Division of the CDC claims that in order for a community to be protected from a disease, “80 to 90 percent of its population needs to have been vaccinated,” and whenever that level drops babies who are not old enough for the vaccinations are at a high risk of getting sick.

Antivaccionationists have claimed that vaccines do not work, mainly arguing that thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) in vaccines are causing a direct increase in ASD cases. According to Science-Based Medicine, the primary argument is that “the rate of diagnosis of ASD has been steadily increasing since the early 1990s.” In the 1990s the vaccination schedule was changing, increasing doses, which increased levels of thimerosal. It makes logical sense to see a correlation between those two patterns, especially after Wakefield’s paper being released in The Lancet in 1998. The downfall to that argument however, is that in 2002 thimerosal was removed from vaccine schedules. Science-Based Medicine goes on to say that, antivaccionationists predicted “ASD rates would fall dramatically in years following the removal of thimerosal from most vaccines,” but the number of ASD diagnoses has actually increased.

Image from Pro-Vaccination

Is There Any Explanation?

Although parents have every right to be worried about environmental factors that can harm their children, test after test has tried to reproduce any results of autism having a link to vaccines and there have been no weighty findings. Major accredited organizations have concluded that there are no links between ASD and vaccinations, but there are still people that will not give it up. Why? When something bad happens to children, parents want to know why it is happening and what is causing it.

Science-Based Medicine makes a great point, suggesting that another explanation for ASD rates increasing in the past few years can most likely be pointed towards the change in definition of what ASD is and how broad the spectrum has become. That would explain why there has been an increase of cases diagnosing children with ASD, even after the mercury-based thimerosal was removed; the characteristics of the disorder have changed and doctors are being especially careful to recognize autism at an early age.

Dr. Sanders from University of Miami Miller School of Medicine says it best, “I think there’s a lot of emotion around the issue of autism now. It engenders a lot of fear in parents and clinicians alike”. He strongly supports vaccinations, explaining that any risk is greatly outweighed by the benefits. Considering, that autism has no definite cause at this point, it is hard for people to let go of any hope they may have of finding it. Sanders goes along to say, “All you need is one individual’s story and it will expand.” One child, in one case, is all it takes for parents across the country to form an opinion about a medical condition that is as mysterious to them as it is to the clinicians that study it.

Dr. Offit from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia explains that the correlation parents are seeing between autism and vaccinations is likely due to coincidence; the age vaccinations are required is the same stage of development that autism symptoms become noticeable. That brings a lot of clarity to the whole situation; parents are not out of line looking for a cause for autism and feeling passionately about any possibility that arises. The major concern now is for parents to realize that vaccinations protect not only their children, but other people’s children as well. The longer parents continue to push off annual vaccinations, the more outbreaks are going to occur and the more susceptible infants will be to getting the diseases the US has worked hard to prevent.

Alison Singer, the president of the Autism Science Foundation and a mother of a child with autism spoke out in an article in Parents magazine stating, “We have to move forward and be willing to accept what science tells us: Vaccines do not cause autism.” Some autism supporters are now starting to change their point of view and believe studies determining a link between vaccines and autism should be stopped, because it is taking time and money away from finding a real cause. The question stands, “To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?” Well, any disease is going to come with concern and mystery, the key in those situations is realizing what can be done to help find the cause and putting all of the energy and emotion into finding that cause. Scientists have proven vaccinations are safe and effective, now it’s the communities job to listen to those findings and act on them.

For more information, visit Global Research for a follow up video

 

Product Review: TRESemmé’s Smooth & Silky Collection

Smooth & Silky ShampooSmooth & Silky Conditioner

The One That Tames the Mane

Finding the perfect hair care product can be a challenge but in the wintertime, it can be particularly difficult to find a shampoo and conditioner collection that keeps flyaways to a minimum while restoring hair’s luscious locks from the dry weather. There are so many products to choose from, let alone many different brands: Herbal Essence, TRESemmé, Dove, Garnier. What is the better buy? One product to consider while browsing the aisles is TRESemmé’s Smooth & Silky collection. It is not your overpriced salon brand product but claims to provide the same effects. Hair needing a moisturizing wash, gentle enough for everyday use is exactly why this product was created. This product not only cleans hair with a special touch of Moroccan Argan oil, it also leaves hair up to “7x smoother”, and is especially effective if you follow the brands simple how-to video.

How does the collection work?

This collection is a specific concoction of materials that fight intense frizz and flyaways, while moisturizing hair to be shiny and full of life. It is infused with Moroccan Argan oil, which comes from the kernels of the argan tree found in Morocco. It is an oil typically used to dip in bread or to pour on pasta. However, it is becoming an extremely popular ingredient in high-end, personal-care products, which is why TRESEmmé has a great reputation for being “professional but affordable” haircare. You can even find bottles of Moroccan Argan Oil for hair and skin on amazon for as much as $25 a bottle, yet TRESemmé infuses their shampoo and conditioner with it for about $4 a bottle. The company suggests following the directions on the back of the bottle for best results, and pairing the products together. This particular collection focuses on soft, shiny hair but they have many other collections, each with their own specific focus.

How do other brands compare?                            

Many other drug store brands provide similar results and come at about the same price. I personally have been using TRESemmé for a few years now, and I have been the happiest with this brand compared to others. I found that Herbal Essence and Garnier do not detangle my hair as much as TRESemmé does, so my hair does not end up being as soft and smooth. A few reviews on Amazon for TRESemmé Smooth & Silky say that it immediately made hair feel less brittle after just one wash and it actually dried curly hair bouncy, not frizzy. Brittney on Amazon said, “I’m kind of a shampoo snob, so I tend to get the pricier stuff..I am overall pleased.. except for the conditioner”. Brittney claims the conditioner actually left her hair drier than if she just used the shampoo alone. She recommends using the shampoo and sticking with a different conditioner. Overall, the products have received 4.3 out of 5 stars and most customers are pleased.

Herbal Essence has a collection infused with Moroccan Argan oil as well, and it has decent reviews from customers except some describe oily hair after using it more than one day in a row. Customers still recommend the product but suggest only using it every few days and rotating other shampoos into their routine. TRESemmé users never mentioned a similar problem, although they both contain the same ingredient. Although, Dana on Amazon was very displeased with TRESemmé’s product because she states, “My scalp became SO dry after use”. Overall, depending on your scalp, and what type of effect you are looking for this product may be worth a shot.

Cost

When browsing the aisles of a drug store, TRESemmé may stand out as a brand a little bit pricier than the rest. Herbal Essence shampoo or conditioner goes for about $2.50 a bottle, Garnier for about $4.72, and TRESemmé for about $4.50 a bottle. Some other brands may go for as low as $2 a bottle, but you really are buying quality along with quantity. TRESemmé does not sell bottles under 32oz and Herbal Essence, for example, sells bottles with as little as 10oz in it. So checking out the quantity along with the price actually makes this product just as good of a bargain as other brands.

Final recommendation?

I recommend trying out TRESemmé in general, even if this Smooth & Silky collection specifically does not sound like something worth buying. Many people have different hair texture and scalp sensitivities, but there are so many different collections dedicated to specific characteristics. I have tried similar brands, and although they have smelled very nicely and gotten my hair more cleanly than it was before, I have been most pleased with this particular brand. I have very thin, baby fine hair and this product detangles my locks nicely. However, curly hair or thick hair may not react the same way. I found many reviews stating otherwise, but ultimately the choice is up to the consumer. TRESemme’s Smooth & Silky collection is a great bargain that will not let you down during the days of dull winter weather.

.Hair PROfiler