An Earthshattered Epiphany

Ever had one of those dreams where you are trying to go somewhere, but seem to be paralysed?, – the faster you try to move, the slower things happen?, – well that’s what my last 499 days have been like, – both literally and figuratively.

On the 21st of February 2011, the city of Christchurch New Zealand was hit by an earthquake.  This was nothing unusual in itself – the city had experienced 4291 earthquakes since a 7.1 magnitude earthquake had struck at 4am,  30km to the west of Christchurch, on the 3rd of September the previous year.

Although this new earthquake was technically a smaller earthquake, it was far more devastating for two significant reasons.  Firstly, it had struck in the afternoon, – when people were out and about, rather than sleeping in their beds; the second reason was because the epicentre was effectively within the city itself.  I live in a Northwest suburb of Christchurch, 12km from the city centre.  The epicentre of this new earthquake was 10km southeast of the city centre.  A magnitude 6.3 earthquake 10km away, struck the city centre with far more destructive force than a 7.1 earthquake.

After the initial living in survival mode,.. and when I was able to metaphorically “catch my breath” , and reflect on the past few months.   I realised, – quite simply, I like to analyse data. Any data.  All data.    It doesn’t matter whether it is genetic data,Neuroscience, Ecology or Earth science, – I enjoy analysing data.  Never mind my indecision over whether I should continue my retraining in Genetics or Neuropsychology, – what I need to do is strengthen my Statistical and Mathematical knowledge.  So that is what I am now doing.  I am retraining in Statistics and Mathematics, with an ideal aim of eventually doing bio-infonomics research.

So how did I come to this Earthshattered epiphany, it didn’t come completely out of the blue/ether (so to speak).  To explain,.. we’ll go back slightly, to the September 4 earthquake.  In the first 48 hours after the 7.1 earthquake, there were 421 aftershocks, no-one had been killed but I remember how anxious people were, especially children.  My initial response was to put together a graph with earthquake data showing that the overall aftershock intensity was decreasing with time.  That graph succeeded in alleviating peoples anxiety to a certain degree.  In the following days I produced several updated graphs.

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake on February 22 2011, it suddenly hit me how I had “enjoyed” putting together those graphs.  It was data – not genetic, not biology not neuropsychology.  I realised that it doesn’t matter what subject the data is from, so thus I should concentrate on increasing and refining my existing mathematical and statistical knowledge.

Unfortunately, the road to my retraining has thus far been as potholed as the roads of Christchurch.  There have been bumps and turns, and – metaphorically –  a gaping chasm in my path causing me to stop, and double back to further reassess the path I need to travel on.  To be as succinct as possible,  I started a university paper earlier this year, and two months into studying I had to pull out because the stresses of living in post earthquake Christchurch were a bit too much.  There was another series of large earthquakes just before Christmas (as well as an additional series of large earthquakes in June last year).

With each series of large earthquakes, we “kept calm and carried on” as much as we could.  But, for some of us, the Christmas 2011 quakes were  the last straw.  Extra stress was added as the Christchurch’s housing crisis began.   Rental accommodation is so scarce in the city, that some people are living in cars and garages.  Those that are luckier are able to stay with relatives, and  households have been rearranged to better cope with the added stresses of the housing shortage.  For me though,  the cracks began to show much earlier – things starting falling apart after the June 2011 aftershocks.

After those aftershocks, what I really needed was a good hug from a spouse, – reassurance that everything’s ok.  However, I’m a single mum, – I do not have the support of a  spouse (my sons father lives in Europe,.. effectively geographically separated by the European financial crisis).  Over the last year, the earthquakes (metaphorically speaking) opened up a chasm of loneliness.  Just as I was beginning climb out of the chasm,.. the December earthquakes came, and I fell into the chasm even deeper.

That is, of course, only half the story, – the other half is that I’ve finally acknowledged the fact that I have ADD (ie the non hyperactive form of ADHD).  I first had an inkling that I have ADD during a psychology lecture on ADHD.  The less hyperactive form of ADD that  affects girls was a perfect description of myself as a child.  It took me ten years to acknowledge that I need pharmacological help staying focussed, – my old ways of coping with maintaining focus no longer worked in a post earthquake environment, one that is also occupied by a very energetic 3 year old.  Time will tell whether my son has ADHD – It is fair to say he is a handful that can rarely sit still.  So, I am now currently being formally assessed and officially diagnosed.  Needless to say, this will better ensure that I keep up to date with project work.

In a couple of weeks, when the next semester starts, I will start another statistics paper (equivalent to the one I started earlier this year)  I will also regularly be writing blog posts on haplogroup J2 haplotype data.  In the past I often assumed people understood what I was doing with the J2 project data analyses – which I realise now was often an incorrect assumption.   It is for this reason I will regularly write blog entries (ideally on a weekly basis)  showing how the course content can be used with genetic genealogy data.  Much of the content of statistics paper I will  taking is information that I do already know – but  in learning biostatistics in my original Evolutionary Ecology degree, a lot of the simpler stuff was skimmed over.  This paper doesn’t skip over the simple stuff.  I will repeat some of the marker analyses I did, this time with much more data, and this time I will better explain what I’m doing, so the results are understandable to everyone.

My next blog post will be on a topic I am interested in doing future research on – What would I do if I had unlimited funds/resources to do ANYTHING I wish with?

– I would conduct a research study on Y-DNA STR mutation rates.  I would conduct the “father of all Y-DNA STR mutation rate studies”.  It would have two broad components – one looking at direct father-son transmission mutations, and one looking at mutation rates inferred from a population study.  This population study would partially replicate that of  Zhivotovsky et. al. 2004  but in far greater depth.  The study looked at mutation rates within two populations, – Gypsies and New Zealand Maori.  This hypothetical study of mine would examine mutation rates in NZ Maori,  just like the original study, but with far more STR’s  (eg. either FTDNA’s 67 or 111 markers)and a far greater sample size.  I would study this population for two reasons – they are one of the populations directly studied by Zhivotovsky et. al, and because of the fact I live in New Zealand.  Unsurprisingly, NZ Maori live in New Zealand (though most don’t live in Christchurch).

As well as this, the study would in addition directly test father-son mutations (this study would be wider, ie. not limited to NZ Maori, but would include those within the population study) .  For such direct testing to have sufficient mathematical significance I’d probably need at least  20 000 father/son comparisons….. 20 000? …really?… yes really!… Yes, that’s a fair few…. Unrealistic yes?.. There is often a disparity between what is scientifically ideal and what is realistically possible.  I’ll talk about this in more detail in my next post.

One question you might ask, is – why study mutation rates? Aren’t the mutation rates that have already been calculated sufficient?,.. and why does it matter to the average haplotype J2 person?,.. the answer to this, and more details about this hypothetical research will be explained in my next post.  Hopefully this will be in the next two weeks.  That is,.. assuming that there are no more large* earthquakes, and/or I don’t get the flu again in the next couple of weeks (or any other unforeseen calamity)

*By large I mean greater than magnitude 5.5.  Anything lower than 4.8-5.5 is extremely common.  Incidentally, the last time we had an earthquake greater than magnitude 4.8 was a full half hour ago.  How may quakes have we had since September 4 2010?,.. just 11213 of them.  Yes,.. more than ten thousand (…. though,.. admittedly,.. 9999 of them were below magnitude 3.502)

*The aim of this post is to explain/apologise for the lack of work on the J2 project over the last couple of years (and abysmal communication to all), and explain what I’m doing next in the J2 project and career in general*


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