Campus at night

The campus at night is not as dead as I expected. Most of the office buildings are empty indeed, but the university center becomes alive again. Lots of clubs, student unions etc. meet there. Lots of people go to the sports fields as well which light up the sky with their floodlights (as in the picture, behind the trees on the left).


Happy early birthday!

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a birthday party. It was a Saturday, but I knew the person's birthday was on the Monday two days later, so the person was celebrating two days early! I was highly confused. Was the birthday-date information I had wrong?! Or did they plan the party for Sunday night and put Saturday by coincidence on the invitation? There's an old superstition in Germany, that it's really bad luck to wish somebody a happy birthday before their actual birthday. And on the party we did that of course and sang happy birthday. I didn't talk to anyone about the possible bad luck we have in Germany, but I was confused.

Then I got another invite for an early birthday party. So it just seems to be common around here. Fortunately, I talked to a friend the other day who's going to Germany soon, that he wondered why Germans can't celebrate their birthday early and that it's bad luck.This was very illuminating! Apparently, it's really German to not do congratulate someone early.


How To Become a Professor

I went to a talk that was basically titled "how to be successful in acadmia", i.e. how to become a professor which was held by two professors who are famous for their funny and interesting lectures. So, I went and the seminar room, which I only knew in a half-empty state, was full! People stood in the back of the room because it was so crowded (I have never seen this before at any talk I went to here).

However, the main message was "do cool science and be smart". Papers are important, but nobody's going to count the number of papers you have and say "well, this other candidate had one more paper than you, sorry". Have a clear application and not too much "stuff" (= don't list every single high school award etc.). Explain ideas and projects detailed and in a sharp way and don't present too many of them, but rather think about the details and challenges of a few ones carefully (e.g. in your research proposal). Apparently, it's hard for most people to only mention the most important aspects in their application and not write about every single bit they worked on.

The same applies to talks applicants give. Usually, those presentations are about 1h and some people end after 1h or even later, but 45 min talking are absolutely sufficient and it's vital to leave time for questions.

We were told it's helpful to talk to people who made it through the application process and compare their CV to yours and see if you're competitive. Often, CVs are online and you can trace back which kind of applications, fellowships, ... they had at the stage when they applied.


It's raining ash

I started thinking of Vesuv 2.0 when I looked at the mountains close by. The cloud from my last post started drifting towards campus and covered the sky above us. It resulted in one of the reddest sunsets I've ever seen:


I had the not-that-sensible idea to go out running and I noticed that I had to blink more than usual and there were tiny white flocks around. Not too many, but noticeable. Thinking about my lungs, I returned home pretty quickly.


The fire behind the mountains in front of my door

Looking out of the window in my room, I was delighted to see a cloud at the horizon! Yay, we might get rain or at least some shadows. But I also had a weird gut feeling that this cloud was not completely innocent.

Later during the day, I stepped out and realized that I could watch the cloud growing and swelling. The source seemed to be located at a specific spot and the rest of the sky ways absolutely cloudless as usual. It turned out, it's a "small" local fire behind the mountains here. Nobody really talks about it, it's just there. Last time, the fire was apparently closer or the wind pointed in a different direction so that we got an e-mail saying we should stay inside the houses and not exercise outside. We didn't get any message yet, hu.


Dunkin Donuts

Most people I met who come from the East Coast love (or at least like) Dunkin Donuts. Yet, we're in Southern California, where people go to the gym 24/7 and only eat Greek Salad with yogurt dressing ("Did you think about the calories of the dressing?! Maybe leave it out."). Thus, the new Dunkin Donuts store here in Santa Barbara is a tourist attraction. It was quite a discussion among friends and colleagues, that we did get this store!

As I understood that I should not miss this millennium store, I planned an excursion with friends to investigate the donut and coffee quality. Surprisingly, the store is not downtown, but in a new area, where the organic grocery stores are. Overall, it's pretty fancy. It's just hilarious to write on a donut box you bought "no trans fat" - hu, it's alright to eat it now, even for Californians ;-)

Time-reversed drug-symptoms

Our experiments weren't working. I changed this and that, and the signal got sometimes better, sometimes less good and it's been an emotional roller coaster. Two weeks ago, I was pretty down and started thinking about writing my Master's thesis about things that didn't work.

But, thanks to the holy spaghetti monster or whoever, our our networks started netting and we began to take actual quantitative data and I already saw super interesting differences where I expected them :-) YAY! Now, we're "high" though the down-time came first - and what people told me, it's the opposite for a drug. You're first happy and then down. Let's just hope, we don't hit another minimum.


Tiki party

I got an invitation to a tiki party via e-mail and was very confused if this is not person x hacking person's y account. But it turns out that tiki culture is a 1950s generation party/cocktail/music style which started with drinks made of rum and fruit juices (sometimes wodka works as well). People on the party were wearing Hawaiian shirt and the corresponding necklaces (but they weren't drunk ;-) everybody basically just zipped on the drinks and that's about it). 

The drinks can be served from a water melon or coconuts, which looks kind of cool. On the party I went to, there was lots of food, too, which was placed under a palm-tree-leave-covered frame. All in all, it was more like a normal party with super nice people and we talked about all the world and his brother. No weird dances, no weird rituals, just a different, fancy garden-party setting.

Summer cheerleading

Every time I passed the soccer fields during the last few weeks I saw lots of cheer leaders training. Probably it's some kind of summer camp. But they start earlier than I bike along which is at about 8 am and the finish later than I go home which was sometimes around 7:30 pm-ish. They still had music and performances running! Wow! 


Summer interns

The structure of the academic year in the US compared to the German structure is pretty different: Here we have about 10 weeks of instructions beginning in mid September, a break of one week, again lectures, again break (spring break!), the spring term and then - there's three months of "nothing". The salary of professors here only includes nine months because the summer is left out (but grants include it!). In Germany, we have two rather large breaks between the semesters and not a quarter-system. To make it a bit more interesting, some universities around here have terms as well :-)

Graduate students mainly do research during the summer, thought most people take a week or two off to go home. But it's also summer school and conference season. Some undergraduates work and some join a lab for those 2-3 months. We had quite a few in our lab as well and it's a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of research. Today lots of interns from groups all over the campus presented posters about their work. It was amazing to see how productive most projects were although the time was so limited! Most interns I spoke to were also very enthusiastic about their experiments etc. so it was fun to talk to them.


Just a short hike

Going on a brief hike cause me at least two days of sore muscles or pulled bands or sinews or something. We took the Romero Canyon Trail which is a nice, shady trail between the mountains and there's a small creek (sometimes even with water ;-)). We hiked just before sunset, so we really enjoyed the light and the view on the ocean. However, the end of the trail is not some fancy peak, it's just a road and the fun is over. Thus, enjoy the ride ;-)


The life of microtubules

If you'd like to read something like a "funny" paper about microtubules, look at "Dynamic instability 30 years later: complexities in microtubule growth and catastrophe" by G. J. Brouhard, which was published in Molecular Biology of the Cell in 2015. There's a diagram of microtubules wearing diapers, then head phones, then a tie, finally carrying crutches before the "catastrophe" comes. When I saw the scheme, I thought I had not slept enough or somebody put something for experimental purposes into my tea.

But it's still there and it's supposed to visualize the growth of microtubules from "babies" to "adults" until they become "old" and stop growing before the catastrophe, the shrinking event, begins. So imagine something is growing, i.e. there is always stuff added and suddenly it stops doing so and falls apart. But, why? If you're lucky, the microtubule might not completely shrink away as there could be a "rescue" event where the microtubule starts growing again! How and why this is exactly happening is even more complicated.

The tip of microtubules contains GTP, which builds a stable complex with the protein that microtubules are made of (tubulin). Later on, GTP is turned into GDP, which makes the microtubule less stable. Thus, the GTP tip seems to hold the microtubule end together (because everything behind the tip contains GDP which is less stable and would make the microtubule fall apart!). The GTP tip becomes smaller, but when more tubulin is added, the tip grows again. The switch from growing to stagnating to shrinking microtubules seems to happen when the GTP tip vanishes and the "instable" GDP-tubulin is the new tip and make the microtubule falls apart. 

So, if the tip is longer, then the microtubule would vanish less easily? Well, no. The probability that the microtubule falls apart depends on it's age / length, so there must be something like a microtubule memory, or maybe it's the accumulation of defects (when tubulin does not stick together in the perfect order it's supposed to)?
It's kind of a simple system if you just look briefly at it, but there's lots of research to be done about it.



Santa Barbara is celebrating the Spanish festival Fiesta. But remember, there has to be a festival in Santa Barbara every weekend, so Santa Barbara adopted that one, too ;-)

By coincidence, I was in town today and saw parts of the very colorful tables. The most important accessory you have to have are eggs filled with confetti. Three's a huge amount of people just selling those on the streets - and confetti snow covers the sidewalk. Of course, there's lots of more or less Spanish food, traditional clothing and dancing. You can get entertained from 4 pm until at least 10 pm...


It's all glutenfree!

I have just discovered a gluten-free cafe in downtown Santa Barbara! They do all kinds of sandwiches and have lots of pastries as well; and there is not a single item containing gluten. I haven't seen a similar cafe or restaurant in Germany yet, but I'm sure there'll be more soon. Of course, people who are not allergic to gluten love the raspberry chocolate cake etc. as well :-)