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Challenge accepted!

Science Slam YouReCa Challenge 2014

xmas-blogYou may have heard a rumor here or there, and yes, it’s true, your beloved Data Ninjas rocked a Science Slam. What is this perversion, slamming science, you ask? Well, if you know us at all, you know that’s what we do: we make fun of our research. Not only laugh at it, but also just simply, plainly, down-to-earthly, ever-so-innocently make it fun. Because what’s the fun in doing research every day, if it isn’t fun? And with that last sentence you have your proof: God does everything for a reason, and there’s a reason he didn’t make us philosophists. Er, philosophers. Guess there’s a reason he didn’t make us literary geniuses as well…

So, this Science Slam YouReCa Challenge 2014: it’s organized by the KU Leuven’s career center every year, and the idea behind it is to promote science communication. Several emails had been sent out, urging young researchers to apply, which I all steadily ignored because of my not so latent suffering of flop sweat (and this is not meant in the second sense provided by Urban Dictionary). I should have known that I could not trust my attention-addicted academic twin though. One nice and sunny day, somewhere in October, innocently minding my own networky business while I’m enjoying a Pop Tart or a spoon of frosting no doubt (spaghetti monsters require a lot of energy!), my iMessage starts bleeping with the usual London drivel, during which she casually drops the line ‘I signed us up for the Science Slam YouReCa challenge 2014’.


cat1I wish I could say I remained stoic, aloof, posed, zen and whatever other unperturbed emotional states there exist, but that would be an outright lie. A headless chicken bouncing around on a jumping ball would cause less commotion than I did then. Try to imagine what I was like a couple of weeks later when she forwarded me an email, congratulating us with our finalist position… We were officially accepted. Crap on a cracker.
The deal: we got 6 minutes to explain our research in a funny way, like we would to 15-16 year-olds. Just about our level then, couldn’t be too difficult. I instinctively thought about doing something with a who-did-who-in-the-late-Republic network, since that’s just about all 15-16 year-olds think about (the who-did-who part, not the late Republic), but Silke didn’t want to talk about sex on stage. Sure, she’s ok with walking around London on a Saturday, dressed up as a giant vagina, but joking about Caesar’s liaisons was a bridge too far… She’s flaky sometimes, that one…

science slam youreca challenge 2014 fire


In the end,

we settled on a network revolving around Nero. Bottom line: if he had just taken the time to analyze his network, he wouldn’t have had to kill all those people like a raging lunatic. For those of you who are not familiar: Nero offed a lot, and by that I mean A LOT, of people: his little brother, his mom, his first wife, his mentors: the philosopher Seneca and his badass bodyguard Burrus, half the Roman senate (I might be exaggerating here), Christians, probably a pig or two, and in the end, when there was no one left, himself.

science slam youreca challenge 2014 nero-1
Nero’s network as it actually turned out, with some of his frenemies still in the game

science slam youreca challenge 2014 nero2
Nero’s network if he would have made an adjacency matrix, calculated betweenness centrality, sized the nodes accordingly, and killed off the biggest buggers

If only he had calculated the betweenness of his frenemies (how could he forget?!)! He would have been able to identify the ones that posed the biggest threat immediately, and kill only those. See the difference between the first and the second network? The first is how things actually turned out, the second is what Nero could have become if only he would have used some noodly sense: the one and only ultimate manipulator!

science slam youreca challenge 2014 end

There were two awards: one decided on by a jury, one voted on by the audience. We came in third for both, yay! That’s gonna look pretty darn good on our resumes! Here’s an awkward picture after the award ceremony:

science slam youreca challenge 2014 award2

Silke, we had a good run on this one, you and I, but I can safely say that I’m never ever doing that again. It’s just not worth all the sleepless nights. I’m still not over it. Sometimes I wake up, all flop sweaty, confused and frightened, thinking that my mike’s gone dead again (really happened, unfortunately), or that a German’s yelling at me that my shoes don’t match my age (nobody dared, I was the only doctor in the game), or that I’m standing there with no pants on (luckily you caught me just on time with that one). I’m just going to stick to what I do best: making fun of you here on the blog!

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(survivor of the Science Slam YouReCa Challenge 2014)

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