#592: Am I sabotaging my academic career by dating a guy with no degree; or, how is Academia like Reality TV?

Though she was answering an unrelated questions, the Captain’s answer really sums up why I’m going to start my PhD in Australia, instead of trying to go overseas for the Prestige and Academic Reasons.

Captain Awkward

The Bachelor group shot “One of you lucky ladies is going to get tenure!”

Hi Captain (& friends),

I have been dating an awesome guy for a little over a year now. It’s not really my style to gush over a romantic partner, but this is possibly the happiest and most comfortable I’ve ever been with someone. However, we have one big difference: I’m a graduate student getting my PhD in a science field, and he never completed his bachelor’s and is currently working in the service industry. He’s taking online classes and collaborating on a startup, but doesn’t plan to finish his degree.

This doesn’t bother me, or adversely affect the relationship. He is extremely intelligent and genuinely interested in my research work, and I like hearing wild stories from the club he works at. He challenges my ideas and experiments in ways that are interesting and helpful, since they’re not coming from…

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Let’s Not Start Blaming Books for Dangerous Behaviors

A good reminder that correlation does not imply causation.
Mind you I do believe that some of the behaviours displayed by Mr. Grey do constitute abuse. All of the sex is consensual and non-abusive, but he is definitely emotionally abusive and excessively controlling.


Recently, Salon reported on a study in the Journal of Women’s Health that found young adult women (ages 18-24) who had read Fifty Shades of Grey to be “more likely than non-readers to exhibit signs of eating disorders and to have relationships with verbally abusive partners.” They are also “at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.” Multiple sex partners! Young adult women? Well, gee, I never!

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Making Choices: How Your Brain Decides

Interesting study on decision making, particularly in light of psychiatric disorders.

Health & Family

Every day, we face thousands of decisions both major and minor — from whether to eat that decadent chocolate cupcake to when to pursue a new romantic relationship or to change careers. How does the brain decide? A new study suggests that it relies on two separate networks to do so: one that determines the overall value — the risk versus reward — of individual choices and another that guides how you ultimately behave.

“Cognitive control and value-based decision-making tasks appear to depend on different brain regions within the prefrontal cortex,” says Jan Glascher, lead author of the study and a visiting associate at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, referring to the seat of higher-level reasoning in the brain.

Study co-author Ralph Adolphs, a professor of psychology at Caltech, explains the distinction by way of a grocery shopping example: “Your valuation network is always providing you with information…

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[Review] Penny Dreadful (2014)

The first season of Penny Dreadful, a British-American TV show, premiered earlier this year. The first season is eight episodes long and centres on the search for Sir Malcolm’s daughter, Mina. The series is firmly in the horror/supernatural genre, and it adheres to those tropes while also attempting to maintain suspense and present a fresh story to the audience.

The title comes from a genre of nineteenth-century English fiction called penny dreadfuls, and the show’s premise is loosely connected to the sensational contents of these serials. In fact there’s even a meta reference Varney the Vampire, one such popular penny dreadful.

The creators have included a number of public domain characters from classic horror stories: Mina Harker and Abraham Van Helsing from Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Dorian Gray of Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray*; Victor Franksenstein and his monster from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There are also references to other well-known figures such as Jack the Ripper.

*Spoiler Alert*

I am discussing the first season as a whole, so spoilers ahoy.

Dorian Gray is a pretty decent character, but he had no real purpose except maybe as a distraction. I sincerely hope that he has a better role in the next season. I’m also desperately curious to see his painting.

For most of the season, Brona Croft was another kind of ‘nothing’ character – mostly serving as a love interest for Ethan Chandler, as well as his motivation for becoming involved with Sir Malcolm Murray and Vanessa Ives. But when we see that Victor Frankenstein has taken her to be the new bride for his Caliban, her character’s purpose is revealed. I’m very interested to see how she takes her resurrection and her new husband-to-be. I wonder if she’ll have any memories of Ethan, or if they will encounter each other at all.

Sir Malcolm Murray and Vanessa Ives were shown as having a complicated relationship, which makes sense given their history. They are appropriately distrustful of and angry at each other, but they also have a mutually beneficial one where each needs the other  in their attempt to save Mina. Though I would argue that their reasons for wanting to save her stem from guilt than anything else. What did not make sense, however, was Malcolm killing Mina in the last episode and claiming that ‘he already has a daughter.’ Uh, what? In episode five Malcolm makes his disdain and hate evident: he told Vanessa that he would kill her in other circumstances for what she did to his daughter. Sure, after he realises he needs to trust her (at least a bit) and is possessed he seems to have more respect and liking for her, but I certainly don’t think that it’s at the point where he would consider her a replacement daughter. Indeed, while she is possessed he pushes her, despite her ‘illness’ to find Mina. Clearly Mina is the priority for him. I accept that Malcolm killing Mina was the only real solution for her situation, but it felt unsatisfactory and in fact strange that he would claim Vanessa as his daughter.

One of the most interesting characters, at least to me, was Vanessa Ives. She is presented as having psychic abilities and as an enticing vessel for possession. In the supernatural context of the show we are clearly meant to believe in her psychic ability, in her connection to the half world, but I was interested in how her character could also be interpreted as being psychiatrically ill, which is most certainly what those who were not acquainted with this half world would have thought. In fact I will have a separate post (read short essay) on her character.

Penny Dreadful has been renewed for a second ten episode season and I’m interested in how the story continues. Overall I was definitely entertained,  and would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the genre and wants to turn their mind off for 8 hours.

*Fantastic book. One of my favourites.

The 2014 Hugo Award Winners


This is one of the best slates ever. Info taken from here. Full ballot results are here.

The 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, Loncon 3, has announced the 2014 Hugo Award winners. 3587 valid ballots were received and counted in the final ballot.


Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)


“Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)


“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com/Tor.com, 09-2013)


“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)


“We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)


“Time” by Randall Munroe (xkcd)


Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films;Warner Bros.)


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A Note on Suicide and the Black Dog

May Robin Williams now rest in peace. May his family have strength, be treated with kindness and empathy, and be given privacy at this time.

Like many others I wish to add my own thoughts on this recent sad event, and the discussion it has sparked on suicide and depression. Sadly, we hear of suicide all too often – people kill themselves every day, and chances are throughout your life a number of them will be people you know.

Whenever I hear of someone committing suicide (famous or otherwise), I am reminded that the Black Dog is never far away. He sits in your shadow, always alert  for a moment when your defences are down, when he can rip your throat out. I am reminded of this, and I am scared. Scared that one day I might do the same.

No matter how much support and love you have depression, and other disorders, are very personal experiences. You literally have to fight against what’s in your mind, and other people can only help you to an extent.

Robin’s experience is also a reminder that external things or events can’t ‘fix’ you – so often we think, ‘As soon as I’ve done or received X, I’ll feel Y and everything will be better.’ But that’s not the case, life is a continuum and there will always be something else – some other challenge or thing you want. What’s more is that the Black Dog doesn’t care about your success, your relationships, or your achievements.

In some ways I understand Robin’s decision. Indeed, when I think of another 50+ years of living this same battle as I have for the last 12-14 years, I picture an almost eternal battle of attrition. One that I might not win. Many people, including Robin, have fought the battle and succeeded for many years, but eventually they lost in the end.

For the vast majority of the time I’m glad to be alive, but of course I’ve considered suicide. Who has depression and hasn’t? Mostly two things stop me from seriously contemplating this as a course of action: I have a very intense existential fear of death and I couldn’t imagine hurting my loved ones like that. But I could imagine at some point the thought of family and friends might not be enough, that you can’t keep living for the sake of others.

My thoughts are with those all souls who have died by their own hand and the people they left behind.

#613: How do I reach out to my friends who have depression?

From the wonderful Captain, excellent advice on being a friend to someone who’s ill.

Captain Awkward

Today is a weird, sad day in social medialand and also with various life stuff and brain chemistry stuff and street harassment. To be honest, I have been crying or on the verge of crying off and on for the last 20 hours with occasional breaks for sleep and a much needed breakfast and movie (a movie …that made me cry) with a friend this morning. I almost started crying in the Apple Store a little while ago when I thought I’d have to pay $80 for a new power cable, and then I really cried when it was under warranty and it was free and this big bear of a man was so nice to me and didn’t call attention to the crying and just gently handled my transaction. Crying is good, btw. It’s better than numbness, avoidance. But this question is well-timed.

Dear Captain Awkward,


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