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New insight on height, arthritis

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Terence Capellini, an associate professor of human evolutionary biology, is co-author of new research revealing a genetic “switch” that changes the activity of a key skeletal gene related to height, and pinpoints a variant in the switch that favors shortness and is far more prevalent among Eurasian populations than expected.

The study, described in a July 3 paper in Nature Genetics, also points to a surprising link between the sequence that favors shortness and an increased risk of osteoarthritis.

“There are a couple [of] aspects of this study that are interesting,” Capellini said. “One is that these genetic variants are occurring in noncoding sequences, so while genes are important, this shows that the genetic machinery around a gene can have a dramatic impact on how it works. But another interesting finding is that while evolution has increased the frequency of a variant that leads to decreased height, because of linked mutations, there is also an increased risk of osteoarthritis.”

From the outset, the goal of Capellini and his colleagues wasn’t to understand that link, but simply to better understand the genetics behind height variation.

To do so, the team from Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, combined the power of developmental biology, evolutionary genomics, and bioinformatics. The gene they chose to focus on, GDF5, has been linked repeatedly to height variation in genome-wide association studies.

“This type of study has been done on upwards of 250,000 people,” Capellini said. “When you look at the results of these studies, this gene comes up again and again, and when you zoom in on the GDF5 region there are a lot of genetic variants that are also associated with height variation.”

Essentially, Capellini said, those variations — found in the noncoding regions around the gene — can alter the activity of the gene in various areas in the body if they occur in specific genetic switches.

“If you want to influence height, one place you want to turn on the gene is in the growth plates of bones,” Capellini said. “But the reality is that, for all the height studies that have been done, no one really knows the switches, let alone which one in the GDF5 region contains the actual DNA variant that causes the change in height.”

To find it, the researchers attached a blue-producing reporter gene to each potential switch, and then tracked where the color was expressed in mouse embryos. What they found, he said, was a sequence that controls the activity of the gene in the growth plates, and, more importantly, a single DNA base change in the switch that influences its activity and height variation.

When Capellini and colleagues deleted the GDF5 growth plate switch from mice, their bones became shorter. This was in line with what the researchers saw when testing the human short height variant. Interestingly, they also saw that the femoral neck — the connection between the femur and the femoral head — grew shorter as well.

Other tests showed that the variant in favor of shorter height is prevalent among European and Asian populations, but rarely seen among African populations. Capellini and his colleagues suggest that this may be due to several factors:

“We argue that shorter height may have been advantageous in the past … because if you were living in a colder climate, having a short, stocky body may actually help you survive,” he said. “When you look at animals that reside in the Arctic, they tend to have shorter appendages to reduce the risk of frostbite and to maintain body heat.”

However, given the effect of the switch on femoral neck length, Capellini and Stanford’s David Kingsley also suggest, “If you’re tall and you have a long femoral neck, you’re at higher risk for hip fracture … So the thinking is that a shorter femoral neck might also have been a protective mechanism that’s brought this sequence to very high frequency in some populations.”

“It’s a very interesting situation, because favorable selection during human history means the variant we are studying is now present in literally billions of people,” said Kingsley, a professor of developmental biology and co-leader of the study.

The growth switch wasn’t the only one Capellini, Kingsley, and colleagues found.

“The variant that decreases height is lowering the activity of GDF5 in the growth plates, but there are lots of other mutations that are physically linked to it,” Capellini said. “A few others occur in different switches we found, each of which turn GDF5 on in the joints, and these mutations are associated with hip and knee osteoarthritis risk, and likely lower GDF5 activity in the joints.”

While the study offers new insight into the roles of noncoding DNA and the complex relationship between height and arthritis, Capellini stressed that GDF5 is only one gene of many that play a role in height, and that more work needs to be done to get a fuller picture.

“We know the genetics of height and arthritis are complex, with potentially thousands of genes involved,” he said. “This makes us appreciate that biology is highly complex and we need to tease out more of these relationships to really get a sense of how one feature may be associated with another.”

The research was supported with funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Arthritis Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the William F. Milton Fund of Harvard, the China Scholarship Council, and the Jason S. Bailey Fund of Harvard.

Fragonard portrait shows value of Harvard curators’ loan efforts

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A contemplative visitor has recently arrived at Harvard. Her name is unknown but her presence is unmistakable. She is the subject of a vivid portrait by the French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard.

Muted hues of browns, reds, and blues contribute to the wistful appeal of “Young Girl Reading,” installed in a second-floor gallery devoted to 18th-century neoclassicism and rococo at Harvard Art Museums. The sitter looks serene in her yellow velvet dress topped with a white ruffled collar. Her head bowed, she is immersed in the small book she holds in her right hand.

The image is one of Fragonard’s fantasy portraits, a series from the middle of his career in the late 1700s. The 15 works are similar in size, always of a single figure, sometimes a man, sometimes a woman. Often the subject is engaged in an activity that suggests a sort of “cultured leisure,” said Cassandra Albinson, Margaret S. Winthrop Curator of European Art.

“We think that they are images of people that actually sat for him and they are certainly in what we call a portrait format, so the focus is on the face and the upper part of the body,” said Albinson. “But there is also something imaginary and sort of fantastical about them.”

“Young Girl Reading” is just one of many masterworks that have been loaned to the Harvard Art Museums through the years, part of a series of exchanges that have enabled Harvard to share from its own rich collection and brought a range of famous works to campus.

Recently Winslow Homer’s canonical nocturne “Summer Night” was on view at the museums as part of an agreement with the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. In return, Harvard lent the Paris institution “Summer Scene,” a vivid oil landscape by the French Impressionist Jean Frédéric Bazille depicting a group of young men bathing on the banks of a sun-splashed river.

Many factors are considered before Harvard says yes to such a request. First, if a piece is too fragile, a loan is out of the question. Curators also carefully research the museum making the request to ensure its gallery conditions meet lighting and temperature requirements. Also considered is the impact of taking popular works off display.

“It’s one of the most serious duties that we have as curators, to make those decisions about loans and to work with colleagues and with our director to come up with a reasonable response,” said Albinson.

The magic and moonlight of Winslow Homer

Still, such exchanges bring rewards.

For one, the trades connect visitors with masterworks they might otherwise never see in person, such as the famous Fragonard, on view through Sept. 11 and the subject of an Albinson gallery talk on Wednesday and a lecture on Saturday with two French art scholars.

The journey of “Young Girl Reading” to Cambridge began a couple of years ago with a curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., who was organizing a U.S. show of 18th-century French painting. She wanted to include Harvard’s famous 1750 portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV, by French painter François Boucher.

“She asked to borrow one of our treasures, really one of our very, very best paintings,” said Edouard Kopp, the Maida and George Abrams Associate Curator of Drawings, who helped facilitate the request. Eager to fill the space that would be left by the loan, Kopp and colleagues considered works from the National Gallery that could match the Boucher in size and subject matter. “Young Woman Reading” fit both requirements.

“We had this idea of asking for this magnificent painting by Fragonard,” said Kopp, “and to our delight they said yes.”

The piece hangs near a number of Harvard-held paintings and drawings by the prolific French artist in a mini “thematic” installation inspired by the loan.

“As a draftsman and as a painter you could say Fragonard is a very virtuosic artist,” said Kopp. “He’s not interested in the exact minute depiction of small details, but rather he has a witty, vigorous approach to drawing.”

Bloomberg Harvard mayoral education program launches in NYC

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Across most of America, the governments of workaday cities and towns don’t have the luxury or the capacity for the political gridlock that plagues national politics because, for one thing, the garbage would pile up.

Though the federal government draws the lion’s share of media attention, the level of governance that most affects Americans’ daily lives is not in far-off Washington, D.C., but a few blocks away on Main Street.

That’s why 40 mayors gathered in New York City last week for the inaugural session of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, a collaboration between Harvard University and Bloomberg Philanthropies, a nonprofit foundation created by businessman and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“Local government is close to the people. Mayors are most immediately held accountable when something goes wrong,” said Jorrit de Jong, lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and the initiative’s faculty director. “We also see at this time there’s a moment for cities … Cities feel like they can’t rely very much on the federal government, so they’ll have to deal with social inequality, climate change, and economic development themselves.”

De Jong said that Bloomberg, whose $32 million gift last year helped create the initiative, wants to foster creativity and innovation in cities and help them become high-performing organizations.

“Nobody else is going to take care of these problems,” de Jong said.

Mayors, aides, and professors gather in New York to kick off the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. © Bloomberg Philanthropies

The three-day executive session, which wrapped up July 19, was developed and taught by faculty from HKS and Harvard Business School (HBS) and included comments from Harvard Provost Alan Garber. The gathering was just a start. For the next year, it will be followed up with remote, online sessions through HBS’s HBX Live online learning platform. The initiative also will offer programming for the mayors’ top senior staff members, who will attend a four-day session in New York City next month, de Jong said.

Other aspects of the program, whose Harvard home is HKS’ Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, include a research effort to identify innovative solutions to the problems facing cities, the development of case studies to teach leaders how to improve city programs, and an internship program that will dispatch Harvard students to work with the mayors. The mayors also will trade their own expertise, learning from each other.

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome of Baton Rouge, La., attended the New York program because, as a new mayor — she took office in January — she felt it was important to take the opportunity to learn.

“Local government is close to the people. Mayors are most immediately held accountable when something goes wrong,” said Harvard Professor Jorrit de Jong, the initiative’s faculty director. Photo: © Bloomberg Philanthropies
“Local government is close to the people. Mayors are most immediately held accountable when something goes wrong,” said Harvard Professor Jorrit de Jong, the initiative’s faculty director. © Bloomberg Philanthropies

“I believe the sessions have been very productive, very insightful,” Broome said. “As a leader, I recognize that personal and professional growth is very important … It’s certainly not an opportunity you get every day. It was very valuable to me to get this insight and academic experience so that I can go back and create a community where everyone can thrive and prosper.”

Broome said Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capital with a population of 220,000, is confronted with many of the same challenges that other cities face. She singled out economic inequality among residents, however, as one she’d most like to tackle. Broome said she will stay connected to the initiative over the next year, which will give her access to technical expertise as she moves forward. In the next four years, the initiative expects to assist 300 mayors and 400 senior staff, from both the United States and abroad.

In an op-ed in The Boston Globe last August announcing the initiative, Bloomberg and Harvard President Drew Faust said that leading a city is one of the most complex jobs around, entailing overseeing bureaucracy, delivering services to residents, drafting and managing budgets, building infrastructure, responding to crises, and building coalitions among legislators to further goals. Despite these needs and the public expectation that mayors govern at a high level, there are very few educational opportunities to help them do that once they’re in office.

Mayor Don Iveson of Edmonton, Alberta, and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome of Baton Rouge, La., at the opening reception. © Bloomberg Philanthropies

“As more and more people around the world live in cities — nearly two in three Americans already do — how well cities are run will affect the future of the planet in profound ways,” Faust and Bloomberg wrote. “Helping mayors accomplish their goals and enhancing the performance of local governments would contribute to significant improvements in people’s lives.”

De Jong said that the program is nonpartisan and that the inaugural sessions were designed to deal with different topics each day. The first day was dedicated to the local impact of global issues such as climate change, immigration, and the economy. Day two was devoted to developing a culture of innovation and continuous improvement in city government, and how to utilize data to find better solutions. The last day focused on exercising public leadership and strategic communication to mobilize people and create broad support to drive change.

“It’s really a nonpartisan approach,” de Jong said. “Innovation is good for conservatives and liberals. [We’re] trying to do more good with less money. We’re not making government bigger, but making it stronger.”

Mayors were asked to prepare for the program by reading case studies and identifying a priority — fighting blight, ending homelessness, boosting economic development — they can work on through the year.

“This is a three-day time commitment, but a yearlong engagement,” de Jong said. “It’s a really diverse group of leaders, all selected based on their commitment to innovation.”

A unique aspect of the initiative is its shared focus on mayors and senior aides. De Jong said that is because organizers recognize that a mayor — however energized by the session — will be inundated on returning to the office. Providing similar programming for senior aides is a way to boost support for the mayors’ initiatives, as well as to improve the chances that progress will be maintained over a year.

“I think that’s extremely helpful,” Mayor Ethan Berkowitz of Anchorage, Alaska, a College alumnus, said of the inclusion of senior staff. “Leadership is a team effort because of diffusion of responsibility and delegation of authority, and there is the necessity to work together if you’re to achieve substantial results.”

Berkowitz said that while Anchorage faces challenges similar to other cities, it is also coping with Alaska’s economic downturn and the state’s fiscal crisis, related to the heavy dependence on oil revenues at a time of low prices. Another unique challenge, he said, involves the changing environment as the Arctic warms.

“I think local government is the last bastion of functional government in the country right now. Washington, D.C., is wildly dysfunctional, and state governments are also consumed with partisan combat. But the actual delivery of the services and infrastructure that affect people on a daily basis … is now squarely on local government,” he said. “I think this has been extremely productive, in terms of re-energizing and refocusing, and that to me is very critical.”

Year Up program provides students with skills, opportunities

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On the website it’s called closing the opportunity divide, equating economic justice with economic prosperity.

In real life it means helping a young person who’s seen friends and relatives die young, who’s known poverty, drugs, violence, and even homelessness, realize his professional potential.

That’s the work of Year Up, the brainchild of Harvard Business School graduate Gerald Chertavian. Since it began in Boston in 2000, Year Up — a nonprofit program that helps underserved young people gain the skills and discipline they need to succeed — has trained and placed nearly 17,500 young people in professional internships in 21 cities.

One of them was Stanley Fenelon. And for him, it was a game-changer.

Fenelon grew up rough in Brockton. “My brother, sister and I all have different dads, and it was just our mom and us kids … It was the same story as most: urban city, poverty, a lot of drugs and violence,” he said.

Gun violence quickly became an issue. By high school he was regularly attending friends’ funerals, but when his cousin was killed weeks after turning 14, it shocked him.

“He was shot three times. I was 16 at the time,” said Fenelon. “It was a pivotal moment when I had to see him lying in the casket. It inspired me to strive for a better life.”

Fenelon graduated from Brockton High School, and began classes at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. After a year he transferred to Palm Beach State College in Florida, moving in with his father for the first time. But the father-and-child reunion wasn’t happy, school didn’t work out, and soon Fenelon was homeless and jobless.

“It was tough, but sunshine is great when you’re homeless,” he said.

A man of optimism and perseverance, Fenelon eventually found a job. He worked hard, got his own place, and was even able to buy a car. But then he was injured at work and had to move back to his mother’s house in Massachusetts to recuperate.

It was while he was recovering that he learned about Year Up. And after six months of training and another six working in an internship, Fenelon was launched on a successful career. He is now 25 and a business systems analyst in the Harvard University Information Technology unit.

“I saw that our country had incredible young people. … They’re often smart, ambitious, hungry, motivated, and incredibly talented, yet they have absolutely no idea how to move that talent to productive capacity.”

— Gerald Chertavian

Fenelon is one on a long list of successes for Chertavian.

In 1987, the Lowell, Mass., native and recent Bowdoin College graduate was 21 years old and living in New York City when he signed up with the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. He was partnered with David, a 10-year-old boy living in one of the city’s most dangerous housing projects.

Over the next three years, they spent every Saturday together, and those weekends changed Chertavian’s life.

“I saw that our country had incredible young people — people like David — living in places like that,” Chertavian said. “They’re often smart, ambitious, hungry, motivated, and incredibly talented, yet they have absolutely no idea how to move that talent to productive capacity. I saw so clearly that it was David’s ZIP code, his mother’s bank balance, the color of his skin, and the school system he attended that were limiting his God-given potential.”

Chertavian left New York in 1990 to attend Harvard Business School, which he graduated in 1992. He married, founded a company, became successful, and moved to London. He also kept in touch with David, visiting him as often as he could and ultimately bringing him to London, too. David, he said, was part of his family.

David’s success showed Chertavian what young people can do when given a chance, he said. And the question of how he could help change the trajectory of the lives of other disadvantaged kids stuck with him. It nagged at him so much that when he sold his company, there was never any doubt as to what he would do next.

In 2000, Chertavian poured much of his newly acquired wealth into founding Year Up. The organization’s mission is to support and empower urban youth.

“There are 6 million Davids in this country today,” Chertavian said. Statistics that show that one out of seven 18- to 24-year-olds is out of work, out of school, and with no more than a high school education — a “recipe for disaster” in a knowledge-based economy, Chertavian said.

“The people at Year Up and here at Harvard saw potential in me,” says Hillary Tan, an accounts payable analyst. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

One year for a new life

Thus: Year Up. The model is simple — commit to a year and learn how to change your life. But the training is rigorous.

The first six months are spent in the classroom, learning technical and professional skills. Students can choose one of five tracks: financial operations, information technology, business operations, software development, or sales and customer support. There are also life skills: how to dress and maintain professionalism in the workplace; the art of networking; the importance of punctuality, preparation, and determination.

Most of all, they’re taught discipline, and it’s that which what drives Year Up’s stringent point system. Students start with 200 points, which they can lose for infractions — even seemingly minors ones such as an untucked shirt, lateness, or missing an assignment deadline.

The points translate into money. Year Up participants are given a small stipend to help offset costs of the program. You lose points, you lose money — a real motivator.

Graphic by Daniel Hassett-Salley/Harvard Staff

In the second six months, each student is paired with a mentor and placed in an internship in an entry-level position. Participating companies have the option of hiring the interns without paying a placement fee, and Year Up says it performs six times better as a talent pipeline than traditional recruitment sources.

The training is not for the faint of heart, and that’s intentional. Students come to Year Up to learn to succeed. Those who can’t handle it “weed themselves out.” It’s a distinction instructors stress in lessons and even in the terminology they use: Students “earn” infractions based upon their actions, they’re not “given” them; they “fire themselves,” instead of being fired.

The result, Year Up officials say, is young professionals with solid technical training and a commitment to respect and value others; be trustworthy, honest, and accountable; embrace diversity; continue to learn; and work hard and have fun.

Harvard University began working with Year Up in 2003. Since then it has hosted nearly 200 interns and hired 115 of them for permanent or temporary positions. Year Up interns work in Schools and departments across the University, such as Harvard University Information Technology, Finance, Media and Technology, and athletics, among others.

Year Up officials say the partnership with Harvard is a “natural fit” because its model — sustained investment in developing and nurturing young people — aligns so perfectly with Harvard’s.

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with Year Up, and incredibly fortunate to have so many remarkable young people placed with us as interns,” said Harvard Executive Vice President Katie Lapp. “Interns come to us already fully prepared, and that saves us time, energy — and in the long run, money. It’s a win-win for everyone. We’re helping young people start their professional lives and producing, growing, and nurturing a pipeline of talent that’s beneficial to Harvard.”

Jamar Nelson says the networking skills he learned through Year Up helped him land his job as a finance and human resources assistant for Harvard Athletics. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Harvard also organizes a variety of development seminars for the interns, offers mentoring, holds practice job interviews with hiring managers, helps with resume writing, and provides continuous career coaching to its individual cohorts, which have grown to more than 40 a year.

Etaine Smith, a senior human resources consultant for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), said Year Up’s interns arrive “ready, set, and equipped to contribute.”

“They have the technical skills — whether it’s accounting or financial or IT skills. But they have the life skills too, as they know how to communicate, how to introduce themselves, how to act professionally. They know how to present what they can and cannot do, and are enthusiastic to learn new skills. These are all skills that will serve them well in life, as well as here at Harvard.”

Since the beginning of the partnership, hundreds of Harvard employees have volunteered to serve as mentors not just to interns working on campus, but to those placed in companies across Greater Boston.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my mentee, and have learned as much from her as I hope she has from me. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to meet, and make a difference in the life of, someone who’s just beginning their career,” said Amy Nostrand, assistant vice president for finance and administration at Harvard.

A growing concern

Year Up’s timing seems perfect. An article in the Boston Globe last month headlined “Help (desperately) wanted in Massachusetts” reported: “Massachusetts finds itself at a remarkable economic moment. Holding us back is an ample supply of labor.” The article cited a recent report by MassBenchmarks, a company that tracks economic trends in Massachusetts, that found the commonwealth is “facing looming constraints on growth as a result of a shortage of available skilled workers.”

Chertavian said that in the U.S. today, there are at least 12 million jobs that will go unfilled in the next decade if we can’t find the talent and skilled labor to fill them. Year Up is prepared to step in and help fill that void.

“We provide a strong, diverse pipeline of talent to our partners,” said Anita Fulco, director of partner relations at Year Up Greater Boston. “The program makes good business sense. It’s a money-saver for organizations like Harvard because Year Up internships reduce the time and costs associated with all that typically goes into a hire — the recruiting, onboarding, and training.” In addition, she said, Year Up employees tend to stay 50 percent longer in a job than other entry-level employees.

“Many of these young people have external challenges, which many would say work against them,” Fulco said. “But they’re not your typical employees. They have tremendous grit and perseverance. They want to be there. And they’ve worked incredibly hard to come as far as they have to get there.”

The organization itself has grown, from 22 participants and two staff members its first year in Boston, to offices in 21 cities nationwide. And for the participants?

According to Year Up, 90 percent of their graduates are working and/or enrolled in post-secondary education within four months of completing the program. For employed graduates, the average starting wage is $18 an hour, or approximately $36,000 annually.

“That is livable wage money in this country,” said Chertavian. “Their average annual salary before many came to us was often less than $10,000. So in one year, you’ve put yourself in a situation to be able to make a livable wage. There are not many places in America where an 18-year-old can say that they’ve made that much of a change in a single year.”

Chris Vargas (left) speaks during a recent Year Up event. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

“Year Up and Harvard saw potential in me … and believed in me”

Chris Vargas, who recently interned in Harvard’s media and technology office, said he was determined not to “just become another statistic.”

“I had friends who joined Year Up and their success stories really motivated me,” he said. “The neighborhood where I grew up wasn’t all that great and so to see someone who was able to break out of that environment was really a big factor in pushing me to apply … I knew those were the types of footsteps I wanted to follow in.”

Vargas said the support systems at both Year Up and Harvard helped him succeed: “They helped me build confidence by providing the right resources and support system.”

Hillary Tan, of Malden, Mass., an accounts payable analyst in financial administration, agreed.

“The people at Year Up and here at Harvard saw potential in me,” she said. “They believed in me. They were grateful for my help and it was obvious that they genuinely wanted me to grow.”

Jamar Nelson of Randolph, Mass., began as a finance and human resources assistant in Harvard Athletics last month, but the path was not a straight one. Nearly four years ago, when Nelson started as a Year Up intern, he set the bar high and decided to earn a college degree while spending every summer working in Harvard Web Publishing. In May, he received his diploma from Framingham State University.

Throughout his college years, Nelson stayed in contact with human resources and his managers at Harvard. “I was thinking ahead. They really drilled that in at Year Up: network, network, network — and use those connections,” he said.

Fenelon echoed the point. “They have a saying at Year Up that your net worth is your network … it’s all about the people,” he said.

Chertavian said the aim of Year Up is to level the playing field. He said many young people, particularly those of color and low incomes, face steep hurdles. Rather than assess everyone as if they’d begun at the same place, he said, we should help those with the odds against them get to the starting gate.

“If we could imagine the degree of difficulty in just getting the chance to compete, we would assess talent fundamentally differently.”

If you are interested in hiring an intern or becoming a mentor, contact Amy Nostrand at amy_nostrand@harvard.edu.

Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography

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From the journal’s Aims and Scope page:

“The Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography(JASE) brings physicians and sonographers peer-reviewed original investigations and state-of-the-art review articles that cover conventional clinical applications of cardiovascular ultrasound, as well as newer techniques with emerging clinical applications. These include three-dimensional echocardiography, strain and strain rate methods for evaluating cardiac mechanics and interventional applications.”

Now available to University of Cambridge users from volume 8 (1995) to present.

Access Journal of the American Society of Echocardiography via the ejournals@cambridge A-Z or at this link.

Nature Ecology and Evolution

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New on ejournals@cambridge A-Z : NATURE ECOLOGY AND EVOLUTION.

Nature ecology and evolution, a new journal published by the Nature Publishing Group, has now been added to the University’s site licence.

“The journal will cover the fundamental science of evolution and ecology, from molecules through to ecosystems, as well as the applications to fields as diverse as conservation, behaviour and medicine.”

Available to the University of Cambridge electronically from volume 1 (2017) to present.

Access Nature ecology and evolution via the ejournals@cambridge A-Z or at this link.

Cambridge libraries are key to success in TEF Gold Award

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The University of Cambridge has recently been awarded the Gold Award in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). HEFCE, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, describe the TEF as aiming to “recognise and reward excellence in teaching and learning, and help inform prospective students’ choices for higher education.”

Alongside statistical data, a narrative was submitted by the University as part of the assessment process, which can be viewed here.

The role the University Library plays in supporting teaching and learning at the University is highlighted on page 7 of the document. Importance is placed on the extensive holdings of the University Library, with specific mention of Cambridge University Digital Library, focusing on increased access to the Library’s unique collections, which in turn supports teaching and research at the University. The high level of engagement the University Library has with the student population is emphasised, such as the annual competition which the Department of the History of Art runs in collaboration with the University Library, allowing Cambridge students “to curate an exhibition for the library’s display cases, based on material in the library’s collections.” The key role that department, faculty and college libraries play in the lives of students at Cambridge is also highlighted, specifically in terms of their “specialised collections […] for particular subjects” and the part they play in “providing important study spaces” for students.

The University Library’s Futurelib Programme receives praise for the user-centred research and design work it conducts, “in order to ensure that Cambridge’s library provision remains world-leading.” The narrative includes specific mention of the Spacefinder service, a website designed by Futurelib as a result of research conducted with students, which allows people to find their ideal study space(s) based on the features and facilities that best support their work. Spacefinder is described as “a bit hit with students” and a Student Union representative is quoted praising the service, referring to Spacefinder as being “so up-to-date and relevant to student life!”

This recognition of the different ways in which Cambridge libraries continue to play a vital role in teaching and learning at the University is a visible and deserved reflection of the dedication of staff across the Cambridge library network. 

GRE Quant Best Practices: Improving Problem Recognition

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Manhattan Prep GRE Blog - GRE Quant Best Practices: Improving Problem Recognition by Cat Powell

You can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person GRE courses absolutely free. Ready to take the plunge? Check out our upcoming courses here.

A number of students have recently told me that they struggle with “problem recognition,” particularly in the Quant section of the GRE. What many mean by this is that when they look at a problem, they don’t immediately see how to get to the solution. They might recognize some of the concepts involved, but the problem as a whole has aspects that make it look unfamiliar and difficult. When this happens on the test, in a high-pressure, time-sensitive environment, the resulting feeling can be paralyzing.

I have a different idea of what “problem recognition” means, though. Here’s the secret: when I see a difficult GRE Quant problem for the first time, I often have the same reaction—I have no idea! I don’t see the whole solution right away. I may not even feel confident I really do know how to solve it. I have to fight the reaction, honed by many years of math-aversion, to panic and give up.

However, having spent a lot of time learning GRE Quant best practices, I’ve trained myself to take a different, more deliberate approach, regardless of my instinctive reaction. First, I remember two things:

  1. The makers of the GRE design problems that look intimidating. But this doesn’t mean that they’re all terribly difficult. Sometimes the problems that look the messiest end up being relatively straightforward.
  2. There’s a finite amount of math content on the test. I reassure myself that I know the topic this problem is testing, even if I don’t yet understand how it’s being tested. (And if I see a topic that I’m not familiar with, then I remind myself that skipping a problem or three is often a smart test-day strategy).

Next, I take a deep breath and get started. I pick an entry point and start doing something. Precisely what I do depends on the topic and the format of the problem. For example:

  • On a difficult geometry problem, I’d start by drawing or re-drawing and labeling the figure.
  • On a difficult divisibility problem, I’d start by making factor trees for the numbers involved.
  • On a difficult word problem, I’d start by translating the text into formulas or notes.

Notice that each of these opening tasks is fairly mechanical. I’m doing something that I know how to do, which builds confidence. I’m also doing something that doesn’t take a whole lot of brain power. Instead of banging my conscious mind against the problem, I’m absorbing the information in it and letting my sub-conscious, problem-solving brain get to work.

Solving any difficult problem is a dialogue between conscious, directed work and unconscious processing— think, for example, of people who report having worked on a difficult task unsuccessfully all day only to find the solution to the problem in their dreams. To solve hard problems effectively on the GRE, you want to allow space for this unconscious processing to help you out. This is why starting each problem with a routine task is so useful. It minimizes anxiety, because you’re doing something that’s likely to be helpful while giving your mind room to make intuitive connections.

As for how to know which task to start with, fortunately this is a skill that can be trained. I find the “see this/do this” format really helpful for developing this skill. Here’s how it works.

After I solve a tricky problem, I go back and think about what the ideal approach would have been. What task should I have started with? What clues in the problem point to that task as the right entry point?

Once I’ve answered these questions, I make a flashcard. On the front, I’ll write:


And on the back, I’ll write:


Over time, as you build a stack of these, you’ll find that, in addition to the content on the GRE being finite, there are a limited number of problem “types.” While you’ll probably still see problems that contain unfamiliar or surprising elements, you’ll have a go-to starting place for anything that might come up. This is what problem recognition means to me—not necessarily knowing exactly how to solve every problem, but having a good plan for where to start, and confidence that, if I know my content, this strong start will help me find my way to the right solution. 📝

Want more guidance from our GRE gurus? You can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person GRE courses absolutely free! We’re not kidding. Check out our upcoming courses here.

Cat Powell is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in New York, NY. She spent her undergraduate years at Harvard studying music and English and is now pursuing an MFA in fiction writing at Columbia University. Her affinity for standardized tests led her to a 169Q/170V score on the GRE. Check out Cat’s upcoming GRE courses here.

The post GRE Quant Best Practices: Improving Problem Recognition appeared first on GRE.

Fuente https://www.manhattanprep.com

Med School grad to trade scrubs for space suit

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Jonny Kim was in the grocery store when the call came: He would have to exchange his emergency room scrubs for a space suit.

“I was happy, jubilated, excited — all these emotions,” Kim said. “My wife was there. I told her and she was jumping up and down in the grocery store. So we looked silly. I was about to pay for the food.”

Kim, a 2016 Harvard Medical School (HMS) graduate, was one of a dozen candidates picked by NASA in June for its next astronaut class. A year into a four-year residency at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Kim will put his medical career on hold so he can learn to fly a plane, spacewalk, operate the International Space Station’s robotic arm, and master other skills NASA considers essential.

This isn’t the first time Kim has exchanged one high-pressure career for another. Before going on inactive reserve to pursue his medical training, he was a Navy SEAL with more than 100 combat missions under his belt. His military honors include a Silver Star and a Bronze Star.

“Why wouldn’t NASA want him?” said David Brown, head of MGH’s Department of Emergency Medicine and MGH Trustees Professor of Emergency Medicine at HMS. “We wanted him. Harvard Medical School wanted him. Everyone wanted him.”

Kim, 33, has come a long way from the shyness and small dreams of his Los Angeles youth. Buffeted by family instability and a difficult time at school, he didn’t see in himself the qualities he admired in others: the courage of the astronauts whose posters adorned his walls, the quiet professionalism and odds-defying determination of the Special Forces. As high school graduation neared, it seemed only a radical step could get him off the road to nowhere. So he enlisted in the Navy and asked to become a member of one of its elite SEAL teams. The recruiter could promise only the chance to try. For Kim that was enough.

“I didn’t like the person I was growing up to become,” he said. “I needed to find myself and my identity. And for me, getting out of my comfort zone, getting away from the people I grew up with, and finding adventure, that was my odyssey, and it was the best decision I ever made.”

SEAL training was just as tough as advertised, Kim said. He considered quitting during “hell week,” a five-day stretch of near continuous training in cold, wet conditions.

“They let us sleep for a couple of hours in nice sleeping bags, one of only two naps you get in five days of training,” Kim said. “And when you’re snuggled up in this warm sleeping bag and they wake you up and immediately make you go in the frigid ocean, it was the closest I ever came to quitting. I had that taste of comfort, and then it was taken away from you. The cold was magnified because your body’s so broken. When you’re exercising, you can push through the pain. When you’re cold, you’re just by yourself.”

Once past the initial phase, Kim had additional training that prepared him for service as a navigator, sniper, point man, and combat medic. Combat was inevitably very different from what he envisioned as a high school recruit, and Kim said he still feels a duty to close friends killed in fighting.

“I don’t watch a lot of war films and documentaries anymore,” he said. “Losing a lot of good friends galvanized me and made a lot of my remaining teammates make sure we made our lives worthwhile. I still, to this day, every day, think of all the good people who didn’t get a chance to come home. I try to make up for the lives and positive [impact] they would have had if they were alive.”

Kim traces his interest in becoming a doctor to a day in 2006 in Ramadi, Iraq, when he was serving as a medic and two close friends were shot. Both eventually died. Kim treated one in the field.

“He had a pretty grave wound to the face,” Kim said. “It was one of the worst feelings of helplessness. There wasn’t much I could do, just make sure his bleeding wasn’t obstructing his airway, making sure he was positioned well. He needed a surgeon. He needed a physician and I did eventually get him to one, but … that feeling of helplessness was very profound for me.”

The doctors and nurses who worked on his friend made a lasting impression on Kim. Three years later, in 2009, having joined a Navy program through which enlisted personnel can be commissioned as officers, he left for undergraduate studies at the University of San Diego, with the intention of ultimately going to medical school.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in math in three years — the Navy required full course loads during the academic year plus summer school — and then, in 2012, arrived at Harvard Medical School.

Among the people he met early in his HMS career was Assistant Professor of Neurobiology David Cardozo, associate dean for basic graduate studies, who served in the Royal Canadian Navy and acts as an informal mentor for veterans on campus. The Medical School’s community of veterans is small, numbering about 20 at any one time. Students with special operations backgrounds are even fewer. Though Kim was one of the School’s most decorated veterans, Cardozo was struck by how modest he was.

“He’s the steadiest person you could imagine,” Cardozo said. “He’s very gifted and he has a depth of character that’s unequaled. He did wonderfully here.”

During his third year at HMS, Kim entered a mentoring program and met Brown, who heads the hospital’s Emergency Department. After graduating, Kim decided to specialize in emergency medicine and joined the Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency, a cooperative program between MGH and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Kim wasn’t expecting to go to astronaut school — not yet, at least. He joined more than 18,000 other applicants for the NASA class — recruited every four years — as a first step, hoping to improve his chances in the next selection process, once his medical training was complete.

“So we were all surprised and thrilled when he was selected, but not really all that surprised,” Brown said. “He’s just a remarkable young man … incredibly committed, absolutely unafraid.”

Kim said he’s ready for whatever NASA asks. Due in Houston in late August, he recently left the residency program to prepare for the move with his wife and children.

“I’m going to be a student at the bottom of another totem pole trying to learn as much information as possible,” he said. “I’m excited for the adventure. I think it’ll be another occupation where I say, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting paid for doing this.’”

Reader Services Assistant (Fixed Term)

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Applications are invited for the post of Reader Services Assistants (RSAs) at the University Library. Initially on a one year rolling contract.

RSA posts provide general support for the University Library including (but not limited to) regular book moving, fetching and shelving activities.

This position is a diverse and active role within the Reader Services Division which provides key functions in the Reading Rooms, affiliated libraries and to other departments within the University Library. The post holder will handle print material and assist in the organisation and logistics of the collections across our many sites throughout Cambridge.

To be effective in this role, you should have a good educational background (including IT literacy), excellent communication and strong interpersonal skills, and be a flexible and adaptable motivated individual.

Applicants must have the ability to not only work unsupervised but also as part of a highly active team; you must therefore be physically fit (able to cover significant distances daily across the library, fetch and carry books, and regularly use stairs).

This entry level role is particularly ideal for those who wish to start a career in Librarianship, or for those who are interested in information services, and understanding the complex nature of academic libraries and their services.

To apply for the post, please click on the Cambridge University Job Opportunities link. This will direct you to the University’s web-based recruitment system, where you will be able to create and log in to create an online application form.

The closing date for applications is Monday 7th August 2017. If you have any questions about this vacancy or the application process, please contact Camilla Jefferies, tel: 01223 747454, email: jobs@lib.cam.ac.uk

Please quote reference VE12856 on your application and in any correspondence about this vacancy.

The University values diversity and is committed to equality of opportunity.

The University has a responsibility to ensure that all employees are eligible to live and work in the UK.

Fixed-term: The funds for this post are available for 1 year in the first instance

How Trump Jr. emails, meeting might affect Mueller investigation

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President Trump’s repeated insistence that no one in his campaign was aware of or involved in Russian interference in the 2016 election is now in doubt after the president’s eldest son published emails that not only confirmed a June 2016 meeting between top campaign officials and Kremlin-connected Russians, but also hinted at an offer of access to information potentially harmful to Hillary Clinton.

Though the president and his son have characterized the meeting as a polite sit-down to chat about opposition research, many intelligence, Russia, and legal analysts say the gathering appears to have been designed to gauge the willingness of the campaign to accept covert help. Such an approach is typical of Russian intelligence operations, experts say.

Three senior campaign advisers present at the meeting — Donald Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and now a White House aide — are scheduled to testify next week before Congress.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen is the director of the Belfer Center’s Intelligence and Defense Project at Harvard Kennedy School. Before coming to Harvard, he served as director of intelligence and counterintelligence at the U.S. Department of Energy and was a distinguished intelligence officer in the CIA for two decades.

In an interview, Mowatt-Larssen discussed the Trump Tower meeting against the backdrop of the ongoing probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

GAZETTE: In a recent piece in The Washington Post, you said the Trump Tower meeting had all the hallmarks of a carefully orchestrated Russian intelligence operation. From your vantage point as a former intelligence officer, when you consider what is currently known about Russian meddling in the election, what do you see?

MOWATT-LARSSEN: It has become clear that the Russian intention was to attempt to enter into a collaborative or cooperative relationship with the Trump campaign in order to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign to their mutual benefit. To that end, the Russian government employed hacking activity to collect information and then embarked on an ambitious intelligence operation to leak that information to Trump’s advantage and to Clinton’s detriment. The question that remains, and is most important to answer, is did the Trump campaign willfully accept this assistance from the Russian government and enter into a conspiracy to benefit the campaign?

The Mueller investigation should be examining the three key questions, among others, that could get at the Trump campaign’s intentions. First, why was the meeting not reported? Second, what happened to the documents that the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, reportedly left behind concerning Hillary Clinton’s alleged illegal donors? Third, can anyone at the meeting confirm who in the Russian government tasked and backstopped the Russian emissary’s approach to the Trump campaign in June [2016]?

GAZETTE: From the Russian side, what would be the intelligence strategy behind setting up such a meeting?

MOWATT-LARSSEN: When you make a recruitment approach, as it looks like the Russians attempted to do through this June 9 [overture] to the Trump campaign, there are three things that can happen and two of them are bad. The good outcome is the person you’re approaching says yes, I want to work with you; the second outcome is they say no, and they’re outraged with this inappropriate approach; and the third outcome is not only do they say no and it’s inappropriate, but they report it to the authorities immediately, to the FBI in this case. That would have two negative impacts on the broader meddling campaign. No. 1, it would compromise what they were trying to do to the investigators who were trying at that time to determine what was going on. And No. 2, it would make the effectiveness of their overall campaign much less direct because it would mean that they were working with an unwilling conspirator as opposed to someone who was either tacitly or explicitly joined in on the effort.

GAZETTE: How does the Russian 2016 election interference compare to past intelligence operations against the U.S. in terms of its success?

MOWATT-LARSSEN: I would say it’s the most consequential Russian intelligence operation in my lifetime in terms of the attempted scope of their intention to penetrate our domestic politics and influence an American election. I can’t recall a precedent where they were that ambitious and that aggressive in pursuing that kind of goal. It’s hard to imagine that they would have done so with a completely unwilling partner.

GAZETTE: If some in Trump’s inner circle were compromised, how much damage to U.S. intelligence is this having, and in what ways?

MOWATT-LARSSEN: Unfortunately, just the mere suspicion that there might have been willful cooperation between Trump associates and the Russians creates concerns in the intelligence community that they can’t trust the president. That has deep implications on the necessary support that intelligence needs to provide to the president.

GAZETTE: If they don’t feel confident in the president, what effect does that have?

MOWATT-LARSSEN: The key question buried in that question is that they have to trust the president and they have to support the president. The intelligence community cannot make its own decisions to provide or not provide the president the support they are duty-bound to provide. Therefore, it’s absolutely necessary to resolve this investigation one way or another. I have not said the president and his associates are guilty because I don’t know that to be a fact. But I do think this needs to be resolved; there can’t be suspicions.

GAZETTE: Why hasn’t the U.S. been able to squelch the effectiveness of tried-and-true espionage techniques from the KGB playbook like kompromat, dezinformatsiya, provokatsiya?

MOWATT-LARSSEN: The Russians have, perhaps, placed a greater emphasis on the aggressive use of the hybrid means or the asymmetric means that are emerging in the intelligence world, most notably cyber tools, and integrated those tools effectively into their classical espionage human means. Their motivations, frankly, are greater than U.S. motivations to incorporate these things in countering their adversaries, in part because the Russians are weaker than the United States. Second, the U.S. has more legal barriers to conducting some of the same activities and responding to the Russians in kind.

Typically, we don’t necessarily respond in a tit-for-tat manner. In classical espionage, that tends to be the case, [but] in the cyber world, I don’t think we see established rules of the game in how we respond to attacks on one another. It’s important to bear in mind that the Russians are attacking us in certain areas, and certainly they regard the U.S. as having attacked them in other areas. It’s not a case of the Russians utilizing cyber means and the U.S. is standing by doing nothing.

GAZETTE: So how do you expect the U.S. intelligence will respond to Russia?

MOWATT-LARSSEN: If I were advising the U.S. government, my first piece of advice would be not to start with the question of how do we retaliate but how do we get to a position [where] there’s less destructive behavior being conducted by both sides against one another’s interest. It’s not a popular idea right now to suggest that the U.S. and Russia, despite everything that’s happened, need to sit down and talk this out. We do need rules of the game. We need to end embarking on a course that leads to cyber mutually assured destruction. We need to lower the level of confrontation and we do need to open up lines of dialogue.

Interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Chemist Charles M. Lieber receives Harvard’s highest faculty honor

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Acclaimed chemist Charles M. Lieber, a professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has been named a University Professor, Harvard’s highest faculty honor.

Lieber will be the first to hold the University Professorship newly established by Joshua Friedman ’76, M.B.A. ’80, J.D. ’82, and Beth Friedman. The chair supports a tenured faculty member who has shown both extraordinary academic accomplishment and leadership within the University community.

Lieber’s appointment as the Friedman University Professor took effect on July 1.

At Harvard, Lieber has pioneered the rational synthesis of a broad range of nanoscale wire-like materials and characterization of their unique physical properties. He has also pioneered methods to assemble these “building blocks” into unique structures that have impacted and created new opportunities in areas ranging from electronics and computing to biology and medicine.

“Charlie Lieber is an extraordinary scientist whose work has transformed nanoscience and nanotechnology and has led to a remarkable range of valuable applications that improve the quality of people’s lives,” said Harvard President Drew Faust. “He’s also a widely admired teacher, mentor, and colleague, and it’s a pleasure to welcome him as the inaugural occupant of the Friedman University Professorship.”

For more than a decade, Lieber pioneered the field of nano-bioelectronics, creating nanowire electronic devices with powerful new capabilities for ultra-sensitive, real-time detection of cancer markers and viruses, as well as the first nanoscale transistor tools capable of monitoring and modulating the behavior of individual living cardiac and neuron cells. He also was at the forefront of the creation of a new paradigm for electrical implants called syringe-injectable mesh nanoelectronics, whose ultra-flexible mesh enables the electronics to integrate seamlessly within the brain without causing damage. This new approach has allowed Lieber to record and stimulate the same neurons and neural circuits for time scales of at least a year, creating unprecedented opportunities for fundamental neuroscience research that could lead to powerful therapeutic tools capable of treating neurological and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as ameliorating declines in cognitive capabilities that come with natural aging.

“I sincerely appreciate the recognition for my work and, implicitly, the support of my student and postdoctoral co-workers, collaborators, and the Harvard community,” said Lieber. “I am especially honored to be named the inaugural Friedman University Professor.”

Lieber received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Franklin and Marshall College in 1981 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry from Stanford University in 1985. After two years of postdoctoral work at the California Institute of Technology, he was appointed an assistant professor of chemistry at Columbia University in 1987 and promoted to associate professor of chemistry in 1990.

In 1991 he joined Harvard as a professor of chemistry, and since 1999 he has held a named chair as Mark Hyman Jr. Professor of Chemistry. Since 2015 he has also served as chair of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

An author of nearly 400 articles in peer-reviewed journals, Lieber has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Von Hippel Award (2016), the highest honor of the Materials Research Society, as well as the IEEE Nanotechnology Pioneer Award (2013), the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (2012), the National Institutes of Health’s Pioneer Award (2008), and multiple awards from the American Chemical Society. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Inventors, the American Physical Society, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Chemical Society, and several other professional societies.

Lieber is co-editor of the journal Nano Letters, and serves on the editorial and advisory boards of several other science and technology journals. He is the principal inventor on more than 50 U.S. patents. Active in commercializing nanotechnology, he founded the nanotechnology company Nanosys, Inc., in 2001 and the nanosensor company Vista Therapeutics in 2007.

The first University Professorships were created in 1935, as a means to recognize “individuals of distinction … working on the frontiers of knowledge, and in such a way as to cross the conventional boundaries of the specialties.” With the addition of Lieber, 26 Harvard faculty members across the University now hold this honor.