Wednesday, 5 August 2015


I am currently writing a manuscript. It's the second first author manuscript to come from my postdoctoral work (a little under two years in), and hopefully it will be sent out for review in the next couple of weeks. Currently, my PI and I are sending it back and forth, querying the writing, clarifying the main points, realising (for me at least) some pretty large gaps in my knowledge of the litterature. But, at no point since I wrote the first draft have either my PI or I thought anything other than "this is a good manuscript, we just need to make it even better".
This is in many ways the paper I came here to write. It's the paper that shows that I understand how to do biological kinematics, that is how to study the movement of biological structures as organisms use them. As I've mentioned elsewhere, my background (which now seems quite far off) is in ecomorphology as applied to the fossil record. I correlated variation in mammalian bone morphology with known variation in broad categorical behavioral and ecological variables. But these broad classifications don't tell you about function, and so about the behavioral phenotype on which selection is acting. So I took this postdoc in part to learn how to ask those questions.
And here I am, writing a paper that does just that, yet also so much more than I had anticipated. The study we did was an experimental manipulation to see how a nerve lesion affected the movement of the tongue and oro-pharynx in our animal model. The work replicates a relatively frequent iatrogenic injury in premature human infants, and so it is clinically relevant. But the direction we have taken with this paper is so much more than that. We're using the changes we observe to make inference about the neurological control of these oro pharyngeal structures. My head has, for the past few weeks, been full of discussion of central pattern generators, afferent and efferent pathways.
With this paper, I feel like I have grown immensely as a scientist. I have become the integrative biologist I've always wanted to be. I'm not doing it in this paper yet, but I feel ready to connect my paleontological work and knowledge of mammalian evolution with my understanding of experimental organismal physiology.
I have an idea of the direction I want to head in as a paleontologist, as a evolutionary biologist, as a mammalian physiologist. And it's so much more than I thought it would be when I started this project hoping to learn about kinematics.
I'm heading out onto the job market this year. And my research statement will be nothing like the one I wrote three years ago when I was finishing my PhD. I think it will be so much more interesting. And I hope others will too.

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