Some thoughts on the Liposomes, Exosomes, and Virosomes Biophysical Society thematic meeting while dealing with different forms of rejection and pressure   Leave a comment

About two weeks ago I attended a very interesting Biophysical Society thematic meeting entitled Liposomes, Exosomes, and Virosomes: From Modeling Complex Membrane Processes to Medical Diagnostics and Drug Delivery held in the beautiful Monte Verita’ in Ascona, Switzerland.

It has been a vey intense and enriching professional experience, and being a guest blogger of the meeting for the Biophysical Society blog has also been challenging and demanding at the same time. Apart from the highly interesting talks from extremely talented and successful speakers, I also had the opportunity to socialize with new and old friends during breakfast, lunch, dinner and poster presentations times. Fortunately, we also had some time off to enjoy the wonderful lake views, to hike, and to visit Ascona, Locarno and other nearby amenities.asconabpstm2016

All the positive energy I collected during the week long meeting lasted long enough to give a decent talk, which was on the same research topic of the poster presented ten days before, at the 52nd Annual Chemistry Research Colloquium at John Innes Centre in Norwich. Unfortunately, it did not last too long because last Friday we got a rejection for a manuscript, completely based on the research of the talk, submitted to the Biophysical Journal at the beginning of this month.

Anyway, we received very good (still negative) comments by all the reviewers of the paper and we will, hopefully, find a way to improve the manuscript to make it publishable in another journal sooner or later…



Posted September 27, 2016 by andrecatte in career

managing discipline … across fieldworks   Leave a comment

As all the good things even the course on developing teaching skills had to come to an end.  It ended with an optional module entitled managing fieldwork across disciplines.  We were only two attending this optional module.  So the lecturer had the opportunity to let us talk and discuss a lot, although given my lack of experience in terms of fieldwork I didn’t have too much to say.

Anyway, it was interesting to learn how to handle different situations with my more experienced colleague.  The lecturer covered all the aspects of the risk assessment and all of the details that need to be considered before undertaking a field trip with students.  The role of the teaching assistant in the fieldwork was also clarified very well.  Although the responsibility is mainly on the academic leading the fieldwork and lecturing the students, the role of the teaching assistant(s) is also very important.  In few words some vivid students can do things that can make a field trip kind of entertaining.  So the academic needs the help of the teaching assistants to make sure that the students do not injure themselves more or less severely and to help the students in their learning experience by showing them equipments and by interacting with them in different ways.

It has been a very enlightening and enriching experience to attend the course on developing teaching skills at UEA.  Now I have to focus on the writing up of the 3,000 words essay we should submit next month.




Posted November 25, 2014 by andrecatte in career

teaching international students .. can be stressful sometimes   Leave a comment

This morning I attended another interesting optional module of the course on developing teaching skills at UEA.  The lecture was about teaching international students.  I knew the lecturer, Chris Bishop, from a previous lecture on academic writing I attended more than seven months ago.  Chris Bishop works as a Learning Enhancement Tutor at UEA, he is really an excellent lecturer and he has also worked in other countries.  More information about his past jobs and his current activities at UEA can be found in the following link:

So he is extremely experienced in teaching international students.  I really enjoyed the way he introduced the topic with questions, a short video and a brief open discussion.  I appreciated a lot his jokes and anecdotes as well.  We initially discussed the definition of international students in the UK.  If I understood it correctly students coming from the EU are not considered international, while a student coming from any other country outside the UK and the EU has the status of international.

Then, we focused on how to deal with the different kind of problems international might face in an education system different from the one of their country origin, from the marking scheme to the language difficulties.  When we were working in groups, it was kind of enlightening to deal with different possible scenarios a lecturer might encounter when teaching international students.  In every group each of us had to pick a card with a probable case of a student generating and/or ending up in some sort of trouble.  Some cases involved lack of effort in assessments, more or less appropriate and expensive presents for lecturers, students complaining loudly about a low mark etc.  “My student”, who had written an unnecessary two pages long introduction before hitting the topic at page 3, reminds me of someone I know quite well 🙂

We also familiarised with some numbers regarding the international community at UEA (about 3,000 people, the majority of them coming from China) and the size of the personal vocabulary of a non native English speaker (from 3,500 to 5,000) and by a native English speaker (from 20,000 to 40,000).

Finally we could choose the topic to let the lecturer close his lively and extremely entertaining lecture; we democratically chose to get a better understanding of the use of the language with international students.  It was very formative because we received many suggestions on how to deal with different more or less complicated situations.  Then, an enlightening slide showed us how stress and anxiety are inversely correlated to the language skills.  The joke about the expression of feelings while finding a parking spot was really funny.

I honestly thought that it would have been easier teaching international students, and it turned out I had also other misconceptions.. so it looks like that teaching international students can be stressful sometimes.

Posted November 18, 2014 by andrecatte in career

the importance of working .. in groups   Leave a comment

The topic of today’s optional module was designing and leading seminars to promote learning.  Apart from missing the beginning of it because I misread the reminder, it was very enlightening to attend the lecture, to work in groups with other colleagues and to share with them my few dramatic experiences in the field of “delivering” seminars.  Initially we interacted in two large groups.  In each group one was playing the part of the tutor and another was working as the observer.  The tutor of the group I belonged to played a nice name game to get to know each member of the group.

Then, the importance of the seating arrangement of the students and the tutor was also discussed thanks to the help of a couple of videos. From the videos we were able to appreciate the importance of creating groups of students to stimulate not only the learning experience but also to help the development of social skills and other skills as well.

Other equally important aspects of the design of a seminar were also introduced by the lecturers: the adequate use of questions (not supposed to intimidate the students), the understanding of different levels of engagement (the silent engagement of students can be tolerated because they are listening and learning that way) and the importance of mixing groups of different nationalities.  Then, we were also provided with do’s and don’ts, such as avoiding some types of questions, and with some practical advices, such as preparing the seminar beforehand and knowing the number of students.

Anyway, it was very interesting for me to see how effective it can be a seminar in which groups of students, starting from smaller (just 2 students) to larger sizes, interact with each other and the tutor. The tutor is acting like a catalyst and he is supposed to speed up the learning process.  If I get to design a seminar in the future what I have learned today will be very helpful.

Posted November 11, 2014 by andrecatte in career

50 minutes   Leave a comment

Today’s optional module of the course on developing teaching skills was entitled giving an effective lecture.  Victor Morgan, who is a senior lecturer in history at the University of East Anglia (UEA), gave a really entertaining and at the same time a very formative presentation.  He has been giving lectures since 1967, so his presentation skills were right where they were supposed to be, and he made some jokes that were really funny too.  Due to the interactive format of the presentation there was not so much interaction with other colleagues in single groups as in the previous modules; we worked as a whole group.

A brief introduction of ourselves in small groups, during which I learned a couple of new words, was followed by an open discussion led by the lecturer through the menu he prepared for us.  I took many notes and I should probably use them to write this post, but I will try to list the main points and some of the take home messages I can remember.  I have never heard before the term flipped lecture and I found it very appealing.  Moreover, Simon Lancaster, who is a senior lecturer in chemistry at the UEA, in collaboration with David Read, who is a principal teaching fellow in chemistry at the University of Southampton, have been using this concept of flipping teaching for some time.  If you are interested in it here is a link to some reading on this topic:

now I am going to read more about flipped lectures and not only about that.  We were also introduced to the importance of making jokes (the impersonation of Marlon Brando from the Godfather performed by the lecturer wasn’t so bad..), having breaks (and I am not writing about the coffee/tea break we had, although it was important to have that one as well) and changing the tone of your voice to stress some key learning points (using repetitions and without shouting at the students).

Then, we were introduced to how to deal with some aspects regarding the students’ discipline and the process of writing a lecture using different styles and software packages.  Finally I learned that the UEA hour for a lecture has been fixed to 50 minutes, which makes the preparation of the structure and the rehearsal of the timings of the lecture very important.  However, those 50 minutes can be reduced even to 45, making a flipped teaching approach to work more effectively.

The following link is kind of interesting

Posted November 4, 2014 by andrecatte in career

assessing students’ learning: it’s more than just marking   Leave a comment

This morning I attended an optional module of the course on developing teaching skills, which was dealing with the assessment of students’ learning.  I know, it does not sound so exciting… anyway, it was fascinating and informative not only to follow the pathway of this subject presented by the lecturer, but also to see how professionals with different backgrounds approach the assessment process in more or less similar ways.

My experience in this aspect of teaching is extremely limited.  I have to go back in time to my first job as a tutor of organic chemistry for biology students.  At some point one of my colleagues and me with the supervision of one of the professors of the course had to mark the written tests.  It turned out to be not an easy task.  I remember my colleague and the professor complaining benevolently about the high marks I was giving the students.  So today I have been finally introduced to the importance of developing a marking scheme to assess students’ learning and to other things as well.

When we were working in groups we had to read two essays on an environmental topic individually and, then, we had to discuss our marking.  The discussion was very vivid, not turning into an argument though, but everyone wanted to explain the reasons why the essay of student 1 was much better than the one written by student 2 or vice versa.  At the end we came to the conclusion that our group marking scheme needed some revision, and we did a relatively good job because the marks of our group were close to those assigned by professional teachers.

So today I started getting familiar with the UK academic grading scheme.  It was kind of fun having to do it in a relaxed environment.  In the real world it is most probably going to be much more complicated than just marking a couple of unknown students.



Posted October 28, 2014 by andrecatte in career

developing presentation skills… in a couple of minutes   Leave a comment

If I try to think about my scientific talks two out of not too many come first to my mind.  The presentation of the results of the thesis of the degree in chemistry is probably the best in my mother tongue (14th of July 2000) and the one I gave at the Biophysical Society annual meeting held in Salt Lake City in February 2006.  The latter was my first presentation at an international meeting.  I remember that I worked a lot on the preparation and the rehearsal of that talk.

This morning I attended a lecture on developing presentation skills.  At the end of the lecture we had to work on a two minutes talk about our research topic in the event we were going to be selected for a videotaped presentation.  So I was lucky enough to pick up the folded post-it with the letter p on it.  Then, me and other six colleagues with a similar luck had to present something related to our research in a little bit more than a couple of minutes.  I was kind of nervous because it usually takes me the same amount of time to introduce what kind of job I am doing.  Could I have managed to give at least a general idea of what I was actually working on?  the short answer is no.  I was the last to present and I soon realised that I would have needed a better preparation.

After the last tragic short talk the lecturer played each short talk for about one minute.  In this way each speaker had the chance to receive a helpful feedback from the lecturer and from the audience and to understand better her/his strengths and weaknesses.  Apart from a tremendous lack of confidence and structure, my talk was not so bad.  I received many useful advices from the lecturer and from the other colleagues, and hopefully they will help me to improve my presentation skills.

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Posted October 21, 2014 by andrecatte in career