Fernando writes:

Hi TWiVers & Lee,

Thank you for another great show!

On post-PhD career options: You might find my experiences in a different STEM field interesting for comparing & contrasting. I have worked in computer science research for all my career, at a nonprofit research lab, industrial research labs, startups, and for a 6 1/2 year stint as tenured faculty member at a top research university. I had seven graduate students and one postdoc while teaching, although two of those finished with a different advisor after I went back to industry. My former postdoc is now tenured faculty at a major research university, and one of my students is also on the tenure track at very competitive place. Three of other students went directly or via a short academic postdoc to industrial research positions where they are doing very well. One student has been a longer-term postdoc for personal reasons, but he’s now on the tenure-track market. Two students did bioinformatics PhD research with me and a biology colleague, and they had the most complex career decisions. Both ended up at startups, one bio-based, but the in a non-bio role that depends on statistical and computational research skills. In all cases, as in my own, fluency in statistical and computational methods from research work made a big difference.

On fitting Ebolavirus disease trends with statistical models: the term “overfitting” refers to choosing a statistical model with so many parameters that they can be tweaked to make the model match closely the observed data, at the expense of predictive power for new data. There’s much science and art in avoiding overfitting, which is critical in much of my research on statistical and computational modeling of data. But a simple starting point is splitting your data into separate “train” and “test” sets. For example, you could use the first 11 months of data for training, and the last month for testing. Fit the model’s parameters on the first 11 months of data, and evaluate its predictions on the last month. Even better, do a blind study where Alice selects several train-test splits from the whole data, Bob fits his models on the training sets he got from Alice, and Bob submits the fitted models to Alice for testing (Alice and Bob are a familiar adversarial couple in computer science problems).


Varun CN writes:

Greetings Professors,

It has been a great pleasure to listen to the TWiV episodes as always. Recently in a couple of episodes discussions have been chiming in on “Cost of science career”. I wish to throw in a opinion.

Just as any other career job satisfaction and financial stability forms the basis for choosing a profession. At least in Indian context the scenario is alarmingly hopeless. Forget about a Post Doc position, there isn’t incentive for doing a PhD most of the time. The job prospects and recognition is bleak and is the only reason why there is a hefty brain drain.

People who have chosen less challenging careers are earning a decent living while researchers are in streets (instead of carrying their research work) protesting for their already underpaid salaries to be paid (some of my colleagues haven’t received their research stipend for more than 20 months). Many people who have completed PhD have no employment opportunities. In a passing line if I can sum it up “PhD is too little and Post Doc is too much qualification for employment”. Believe me I have first hand experience. Such a situation forces me to think if research is a career, if at all.


Yes, I have chosen to do a PhD because I couldn’t think of doing anything else other than research. I quit my job to do a PhD, but my family regrets it. With current situation most of us are left with a negative impression of Post Doc.

In conclusion, I will second Alan’s opinion that major reforms are needed and will come only if big players are hit hard with lack of researchers who power the research. We badly need a science tipping point. Statistics back it up. Sorry Vincent at this point, I respectfully disagree with your opinion.

I look forward for a healthy discussion on this point. As always thanks for TWiX series.

In follow up of my opinion on cost of science research in India, I would also like to cite this nature articles.

Johnye writes:


Hope all is well.

The highlighted part of the document speaks directly to the advice that is recommended, and that I give to parents, about immunizing babies before 37 weeks gestational age.

The other paragraphs are sent, and hopefully received, as jolly banter and friendly catch-up from a loyal listener, where the temp is -4 C, -10 with the windchill.

Warmest regards,


Johnye Ballenger, M. D., FAAP
West Cambridge Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, P. C.
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Anthony writes:

Getting ready to wash the dishes just now, I loaded an episode of TWIV on the PC. I happened to remember my grandmother telling me how as a young girl in the 1920s, she’d rigged up some sort of frame to hold a book so that she could read while doing the dishes.

I’ve been concerned that new media is having a bad effect on the population’s ability to reason and to concentrate. Thank you very much for all your — and your team’s — work on showing that this need not be so.

Thank you again for TWIV.

Brandon writes:

Dear Dr. Racaniello,

Large, pacific blue TWiV t-shirt…$25.

Principles of virology, two-volume set, third edition…$160.

Making 2014 the best birthday and Christmas of his life…priceless.

There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s TWiV.

Birthday: principles of virology

Christmas: TWiV T-shirt

Obviously happy guy in the middle: Brandon

Sincerely, respectfully, joyously, and lovingly,

Bakersfield, Ca
CSU-Bakersfield, Biology major
Future virologist…?

Bill writes:

Due to the University – Research affiliation


Harold writes:

Twiv Gang

Currently 78.8 Degrees F and bright in cube land. I would like your opinion on two stories that recently appeared in the media.

The first is a story on NPR about a helpful virus? Here is the URL


The second is a freakonomics podcast exploring why doesn’t everyone get the flu vaccine.


Dave writes:

Sick voles shunning one another on account of stinky pee is interesting and all, but another avenue was overlooked.

Several times, reports have surfaced of dogs being able to identify some cancers in some people based on the odor present somewhere. Then they don’t get mentioned again for awhile. Of course, I don’t know if viral particles would have a role in the production or perception of such aromatics, so maybe it’s just digressing further, but the topic did come up. Care to play with it, and even conjecture on any place in it for virology?

The weather is becoming unseasonably warm already. The rain has been measured as “measurable”. Sunshine cooks car exhaust into smoggy ozone. The level of the water table continues to decline, and the reservoirs drop. Would you like to hear me complain about the weather?

All the best,

Lance writes:

Hello all,

No need to post this or read it on the show, just passing along some information to the med tech that was considering a PhD in episode 322.

If you want to forward this along to her you are more than welcome.

I have a MS and PhD in virology no postdoc or industry experience, taught adjunct for 1.5 years, then worked in a public health lab and now work as a med tech.

What I would tell her is that the hours (much better) and pay (slightly better) as a med tech are typically better than my postdoc peers (which is almost every phd i know).
I have a higher degree than everyone i currently work with, including my supervisors
If you really want your Phd, I would recommend making sure you have your Med Tech (ASCP) certifications, get a PhD and then run a public health or clinical lab. If you want to do research, try to pair with MDs or an academic lab.

Best regards,

P.S. I won’t ruin your day by telling you what the weather here (Honolulu) is like.

Johyne writes:


A word associated with some viral URI’s. Definition: the act of sneezing. Belongs in the lexicon of symptoms.


1. the act of sneezing.
It was a high-pitched sneeze, a most delicate sternutation, the merest zephyr tangled in a pretty, powdered, finger-tip of a nose.
— Eric Linklater, Magnus Merriman, 1934
Sternutation derives from the Latin verb sternuĕre meaning “to sneeze.” It entered English in the mid-1500s.

Johnye Ballenger, M. D., FAAP
West Cambridge Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Neal writes:

Hi Vince and co-hosts:

Here is my suggestions for a weekly listener “pick” – from my second-favorite podcast , Freakonomics (well, maybe tied for second with NPR Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!)

By the way, there must be some kind of critical mass of TWIV followers now, as I met a fellow TWIV fan (fanatic?) somewhat randomly at a social gathering recently (Lisa from Berkeley and TWIV 228 – it was a Christmas party hosted by a hockey-playing friend who works at Genentech, so perhaps not more than a few degrees of separation from scientific-minded people!).

Thanks as always to all of you for the fantastic work you do and dedication required to produce such an educational and entertaining podcast. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked about the Ebola outbreak recently to which I responded with information gathered by listening to you guys.

Oh, one more thing I keep meaning to send you – if you are using Safari and want to prevent videos from auto-playing when a web page loads, install this extension:
Clicktoflash http://hoyois.github.io/safariextensions/clicktoplugin/


Neil Parkin, Ph.D.
Data First Consulting, Inc
Belmont, CA

Fernando writes:


Neva writes:


Hi Professors Grand,

A possible Pick for a TWIV cast. This article seems a good overview for discussion. My good friend, a retired physics professor here at UT Texas, says he hangs out with biologists more now and figuring out the aspects of convergence and approaches of several fields is great fun.

Always find your podcasts fun too.
Best to you all
From Buda

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