Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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How listening to the universe can help quiet your self-doubt

MICHELLE THALLER: I often get questions about what it's like being a woman in science, which has traditionally been a field dominated by men. And the interesting thing is the complexity of that to me because I grew up in the 1980s. I went to college in the 1990s. And that certainly was after the era, at least for the most part, where women were just told point blank, you shouldn't be here. You can't be a scientist. You don't belong here. That never happened to me. I never had anybody say to my face, in terms of a teacher, you're not welcome here. You don't belong here. And, in fact, when I was in college, some of the highest-performing students in my physics classes were women. They were certainly in the minority in terms of numbers. There were fewer of them in class compared to men, But they were doing very well. One of the things that's most surprising to me, and I've talked to a lot of my women colleagues about this is that I really didn't expect some of the biggest barriers to come from inside myself.

From the very start of my scientific career, and I'm talking about undergraduate, being a physics major. I grappled with almost crippling self-doubt. It was really hard to get myself into the class. I mean sometimes, I actually had to work myself up into a character. I'd sort of stand outside a classroom and think about how a physics student should feel or how they should behave. I felt very deeply that I didn't belong there, but that was coming from me. That didn't seem to be coming from anything external. Through most of my career in science-- and I'm talking about my education-- I was too scared to ask a single question. I spent my entire undergraduate and most of my graduate classes in the back of the class terrified. I was copying the notes. The teacher was deriving something on the blackboard. I was copying it down, but it could have been in a foreign language. I didn't understand it. And I was so embarrassed to admit that I was that lost and that far behind. I spent my entire scientific education being scared. And I look back and I think, why? It turns out-- I now have a doctorate in physics-- I can learn that. I can do physics. I can be successful at that. I'm not an idiot. So why was I so crippled and held back by my own fear and by my own shame at how I wasn't understanding this very quickly.

I've heard people use the term imposter syndrome. That for some reason, you're absolutely sure you don't belong here, and, in fact, you must have fooled people into letting you be here. I've had it pointed out that if you can pass comprehensive exams in physics, which I have, it probably means you belong here, probably means you learned the material. But it never felt that way. It always felt like maybe I had sort of pulled the wool over people's eyes, or I shouldn't be here and I've fooled people into thinking I belong here. And there was this sense of shame. And I'm going to admit this to you, I still feel that today. I feel that every single day I go to NASA, and I'm with these brilliant people all around me.

Every single day, I still feel like I don't belong, and it's been some kind of mistake that they let me in. Imagine your whole career being like that. Never feeling like you belong, and I'm not saying this is something that only happens to women. I'm sure this happens to men, too. But I've had to ask myself, why? It's true that society as a whole gives you lots of very subtle messages that you don't belong. As a woman, it's remarkable that you're a scientist. And why is it difficult being a woman in science? Even those questions begin to put you apart as something different. And there's all of these tiny little messages that you're not right. My wonderful, gifted, and talented counselor in high school I loved said, but you don't have a scientist personality. You can't be a scientist. You're not that cold, logical person. Everything about me has been wrong and been defined as being wrong since I was a child. And I internalized that, and I have not found a way to get beyond it. The thing that has sustained me, of course, is that I have some wonderful colleagues. Some of them are women. Many of them are men.

The first person that really encouraged me was my research advisor in college. Shout out to David Latham, who saw this very scared, nervous girl who loved astronomy. And he took me under his wing, and he said, you can be an astronomer. There's nothing magical about it. You don't have to be brilliant. There's not a specific personality you have to have. If you love astronomy, you can do this. He was absolutely right. I do need encouragement. I do need people to say, we're happy to have you in our group. We're glad you're here. I wish I didn't need that encouragement, but I do. That really, really helps me. You may not realize the people around you are struggling with that self-doubt, almost that self-sabotage, that they just sort of want to run away at any time. But if I'm experiencing it, I think it's a good chance the people around you are as well. Take some time to appreciate each other.

Take some time to take care of each other. And think about what it's like to be a woman in general. I often give people this example, picture yourself in a world where the roles were reversed. Where every person who walked on the moon was a woman. Where every president of the United States was a woman. Where every major religious figure, and philosopher, and artist, and musician, and all the top chefs, and all the authors, they were all women. And, yeah, OK, there's an occasional man here and there. We call them out, and encourage them, and make examples of them. But you're in this whole world where the right way to be is to be a woman. And a lot of people, I think, need to put themselves in that and really think about, what is like being told subtly that everything about you is wrong? And somehow less from the moment you're born. The universe has inspired me since I was a child. This was nothing faked. I wanted to look at the stars when I was a little kid. As soon as I could walk, my mom would find me out there trying to look at the stars.

The universe picks people to be fascinated by it. It can be any gender, or ethnic group, or socioeconomic group. I've met people from so many different walks of life who love stars, and they can't even tell you why. That's my tribe. I belong to a group of people that, for some reason, love astronomy and are inspired by space and by the universe. And nothing can change that. Nothing can ever take that away, even my self-doubt. So I've lived a life steeped in fear. But I've also found such beauty and such inspiration. It's complicated. I'm still kind of a mess, but I'm moving forward. And I have that inspiration, that connection to the universe that will never go away.

  • We all experience self-doubt — sometimes called 'imposter syndrome'.
  • NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller explains how the universe itself has been a salve for her fears.
  • The universe chooses people to be interested in, she says. What has the universe chosen you for?

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Unhappy at work? How to find meaning and maintain your mental health

Finding a balance between job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle is not easy.

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  • "The evidence is that about 70 percent of people are not engaged in what they do all day long, and about 18 percent of people are repulsed," London Business School professor Dan Cable says, calling the current state of work unhappiness an epidemic. In this video, he and other big thinkers consider what it means to find meaning in your work, discuss the parts of the brain that fuel creativity, and share strategies for reassessing your relationship to your job.
  • Author James Citrin offers a career triangle model that sees work as a balance of three forces: job satisfaction, money, and lifestyle. While it is possible to have all three, Citrin says that they are not always possible at the same time, especially not early on in your career.
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