Jan 23, 2012

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Skin Care Attracting Top Doctors

Aspiring doctors put in countless hours and rack up thousands of dollars in student debt, but not all are aiming for prestigious fields like cancer research and cardiology. In the past few years, the most sought-after fields in medicine have been much more superficial: plastic surgery and dermatology.

Figures from the Association of American Medical Colleges show that last year, about half of medical students who put dermatology as their first choice for residency were rejected. In contrast, the acceptance rate for internal medicine was 98%, while that for family medicine was 99%.

And it’s not a matter of competence: many of those who failed to get dermatology residencies were top students in their respective classes. The reason is that dermatology continues to be a niche field, with less than 500 residencies up for grabs. Internal medicine offers over 5,000 residencies, while family medicine has about 2,500.

The demand is understandable considering the high price of aesthetic procedure. A Botox treatment can pay 20 times as much as a heart disease check on a per-hour basis, with the added perk of flexible hours and not being on call all the time. These work conditions are attracting the country’s best medical students, leaving primary-care fields to graduates of foreign medical schools. These doctors, although just as capable, seldom stay longer than a few years, choosing instead to practice in their home countries. This explains the growing shortage of practitioners in many other medical fields, which in turn contributes to the less-than-ideal state of American healthcare.

Current and would-be dermatologists see their specialty as more than skin-deep. According to them, because skin problems are more noticeable than, say, high blood pressure, they can cause psychological problems that can affect a patient’s overall well-being. And not all dermatology patients have superficial needs: plastic surgery is sometimes needed to restore facial features following an accident or when a tumor spreads to visible areas.

Another thing that lends credence to skin care is the rate at which technological developments and treatments are entering the market. Doctors have access to a wide range of tools to help diagnose and treat even the most difficult skin problems, and often, they don’t have to consult with other practitioners to reach a diagnosis.

Not all aspiring dermatologists are after the job conditions, although it’s definitely a welcome perk. Some are more interested in research, going after new treatments and crafting new procedures for diseases like skin cancer. In any case, if you’re ever in need of a capable doctor in the next few years, you’ll know where to look.

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Jan 23, 2012

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Where to Go for Grad School Without Going Broke

The typical college graduate exits school with bleak job prospects, no thanks to a tanking economy. No wonder so many people are looking into graduate school; if there are no good jobs to be had, might as well use the time to make themselves more hireable. The catch, of course, is that university doesn’t come cheap–and most graduates are already burdened with student debt to begin with.

One attractive solution is to look abroad. There’s little doubt that American and British universities are among the world’s best, but they are notoriously expensive. Other countries have equally strong yet much more accessible educational systems–the kind that lets you pay your tuition in full, with more than enough left for food, rent, and even a little travel. Here are some places you may want to look.

Spain (and the Hispanosphere)
A full-time graduate program at a Spanish university can cost around $2,000 a year, roughly a fifth of what you would pay in the U.S. The University of Barcelona and the University of Madrid are among the best in the country. In South America, the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil is a consistent top-notcher; in Mexico, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) is a source of international acclaim. These schools are especially strong in history and the social sciences, and are fairly open to interdisciplinary interests.

The French take pride in their intellectual culture, and they have the educational tools to prove it. Foreign grad students pay as little as EUR200 ($265) for a year of internationally renowned education. The École Normale Supérieure de Paris is ranked 28th in the world and offers master’s programs in 50 areas, including arts and literature, social sciences, science, health, and law.

There’s a reason Singapore has become the favourite destination of Asian grad students. The best universities charge under $5,000 per year of graduate study for foreign students; this includes Singapore National University, which ranks just behind the École Normale Supérieure de Paris in world rankings. Selections outside Asian studies and history may be limited, but travel opportunities are cheap and abundant.

South Africa
Education was one of the first things to bloom in South Africa after the apartheid, with locals more than ready to enjoy their newfound intellectual freedom. Johannesburg, the capital, and the tourist city of Cape Town have the strongest offerings in the country, with international student tuition averaging $4,000 a year. The cost of living is also quite low, which is why a lot of graduate students seem to spend as much time on the beach as they do in the library.

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Jan 23, 2012

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Facebook App Helps Trace Virus Spread

Scientists at a Tel Aviv University (TAU) in Iran have turned to Facebook to help them track the spread of viruses and infections. Researchers Nir Ben-Tal  and Gal Almogy at the university’s Faculty of Life Sciences developed an app dubbed PiggyDemic, in which users can pass a simulated virus onto their friends or vice versa. Their plan is to see how social interaction affects where a virus spreads and how many people it infects.

The method challenges the current system of tracking virus spread through mathematical algorithms. The latter’s flaw is that it assumes that every virus is equally spread from one population to another, which is hardly ever the case–social interaction always comes into play and throws the pattern off track. For example, according to Almogy, Africa has a high concentration of HIV while Asia and North America have the largest share of some flu strains. This is proof that viral infections are in part a social phenomenon.

By adding (digital) human interaction into the mix, the researchers expect to get a more realistic look at viral interaction. Facebook, the world’s largest social network with 800 million active users, is an ideal place for such a study. Once a user installs PiggyDemic, the app follows his or her news feed to see which people they interact with. Uninfected users are given risk rankings such as “immune” or “susceptible” based on their interactions with infected contacts. A network visualization tool allows them to see how the viruses are passed on from one person to another.

Besides tracking, PiggyDemic also doubles as a health guide for users who install it, offering tips to help users make healthy choices. It can also be used as a game, with people trying to “infect” as many of their friends as they can. Perhaps most importantly, the app has also been designed to track real-life virus outbreaks in real time by allowing people to report when they are actually infected. Such a tracking method can alert people in the network of the added risk.

The initial findings already seem to challenge current beliefs about virus spread. For instance, although the app is not configured to incorporate seasonal changes, the flu “virus” has spread more in the winter, the usual peak period. This suggests that in addition to environmental factors, social patterns can account for the rise and fall of different viruses through the seasons.

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Jan 23, 2012

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Should You Homeschool Your Child?

It’s a daunting task for parents to take their children’s education into their own hands. But more and more people are doing it: about 2 million students in North America are homeschooled, and that’s only counting those whose parents have registered their kids with school boards. The real number could be a lot bigger. But what makes parents decide to homeschool their children?

The reasons vary from the practical, such as the lengthy trip to school and the constant threat of teacher strikes, to situation-specific, as is the case with children who show promise in art, sports, or other areas outside the curriculum. Some parents simply enjoy the experience and want to monitor their child’s progress with things other than grades. There’s no universal rule as to whether or not a child should be homeschooled–it’s a decision that should take into account several factors, including the child’s learning style, the parents’ commitment, and the many implications it can have for the child’s future.

The first thing you should ask yourself is whether you have the time and energy for homeschooling. It takes more than a couple of hours of spelling and math on the kitchen table; you need to follow a curriculum, prepare lessons, give and grade assignments. You should also be careful not to take the ‘home’ in homeschooling too seriously: a child needs to get out of the home and learn from things other than schoolbooks. Trips to the park, museums, and local libraries are essential to rounding out a homeschool program.

Next, make sure you can afford it–you may not have to pay tuition or buy as many school supplies, but it’s a given that at least one parent will have to commit to the task full-time. If you’ve lived with two incomes for a while, this may take some getting used to. Compare the annual costs of sending a child to school to the income you’ll be giving up if you decide to go this route.

The most important factor, of course, is whether your child is ready for it. Some children simply thrive better with parents as teachers, but others will feel they are missing out on things like making friends, learning from a variety of mentors, and getting to know other people. It’s often a good practice to take it one year or one semester at a time, and leave a door open so that your child can go back to traditional schooling any time they want.

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Jan 23, 2012

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Nurturing A Child’s Strength: The Psychology Behind Grades

Much as we’d like to believe otherwise, some kids are born luckier than others. Studies have consistently shown that children enter school with different strengths and weaknesses, and some strengths, such as math and spelling skills, just happen to be more desirable and measurable than, say, social skills.

Grades aren’t everything

So how do you manage kids with different strengths in the classroom, or even at home? Experts agree that it starts with looking beyond grades. It’s long been known that grades aren’t a good indicator of ability or effort. A child who gets a C after hours of studying deserves just as much credit as one who coasts through school with straight A’s. Parents and teachers should reward not the grade, but the achievement.

Set different goals

The easiest way to do this is to set individual goals. If getting A’s is easy for one child, give him or her a goal that helps them work on a weakness; for example, teachers can monitor relationships with peers and reward them for making more friends during the school year. Likewise, if a child is actively involved in school plays but works only hard enough to get a C, a more appropriate goal would be to move that up to a B, because getting the lead role would not be much of a challenge. In other words, schools and homes need to accept that a one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t work.

Offer realistic rewards

Another common false assumption is that all children respond to the same rewards. It’s easy to take for granted that all kids like candy, but there’s always that one child who doesn’t–and this child can miss out on the learning and development opportunities offered by a classroom reward system. It’s important to take time to find out what your child likes, and figure out how to use it for encouragement. For example, if your kid doesn’t like the movies but loves going to museums, reward him or her with a trip to his favourite one when he reaches a target grade or achievement.

The grade system isn’t ideal, but it’s the best way we currently know to put an educational system in place. The challenge for teachers and parents is to help children realize that while grades are important for a stable future, having fun and learning without pressure are vital to making the most of their childhood.

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Jan 21, 2012

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5 Power Scents You Can Try At Home

There’s a pill for pretty much everything, but you don’t always need them. Recent research shows that the solution to a lot of aches and pains is literally right in the air. Common household scents, some of which we encounter every day, appear to relieve a variety of conditions, from headaches to stress to mental problems. Some even seem to aid in weight loss. Scientists aren’t quite sure why, but the effects are there–and there’s definitely no harm in trying. Here are some that you might want to check out.

Florals for focus: Flowers have been found to stir positive feelings in people, most likely because we’ve come to associate it with something pure and natural. They also seem to influence the parts of the brain that control memory, motivation, and problem-solving. The study saw a 17% increase in learning speed in people who reacted positively to the smell of flowers.

Jasmine for confidence: Nervous about an upcoming presentation? Spray on a jasmine scent the morning of the big day. The flower’s smell is linked to an increase in awareness and self-confidence, as well as an overall feeling of wellness. Researchers think it alters the brain’s beta waves, which have to do with wakefulness and consciousness.

Green apples for weight loss: Apple scents were first noted as a natural remedy for migraines. New studies show that it can also aid in weight loss by reducing one’s appetite. It’s unusual for the smell of food to curb your cravings, but this scent seems to work by making your brain think you’ve eaten the thing you’re smelling, and therefore making you feel full.

Chocolate for depression: Everyone’s favourite comfort food is turning out to be the ultimate comfort scent as well. The caffeine in chocolate reduces anxiety, and cannabinoids, a special class of compounds, induces a mild feeling of euphoria. People tend to react to both effects because taste is strongly related to smell, and often, just the smell of chocolate can achieve much of the same effect.

Citrus for tiredness: Often used to relieve dizziness and motion sickness, citrus fruits have been found to improve lethargy and a general lack of energy. It works on the same principle as smelling salts, making you more alert and heightening your senses. It may also help that many people associate orange juice with breakfast, and this triggers a response in the brain that stirs you awake.

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Jan 21, 2012

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5 Myths About Sleep

You’d think sleeping would be the easiest thing in the world, but the number of Americans diagnosed with sleep problems in the last few years suggests otherwise. Part of the reason is that so many myths have been passed around and become common knowledge. Here are some things you may have heard about sleep–and need to unlearn.

Myth #1: Older people need less sleep

Babies sleep a lot longer than the recommended 6-8 hours, but that progression doesn’t continue into late adulthood. Once you hit your teens, you’re going to need the same amount of sleep until you’re 60. You may have problems sleeping as you grow older, and that’s why many grandparents are up at dawn. Chances are they take lengthy naps around midday to make up for it.

Myth #2: Alcohol is a sleeping aid

That last glass of wine may make you feel drowsy, but you don’t get the same kind of sleep. Alcohol-induced sleep tends to be shallow and restless, which explains why you often wake up the morning after feeling more tired than last night. You’re also more likely to snore and have dreams that wake you up in the middle of the night.

Myth #3: Snoring is okay

Most of the time, snoring is just an annoying habit, but sometimes it points to a deeper problem. A common cause is obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that blocks your airways as you sleep. Some people simply snore, while others stop breathing for long periods. In any case, sleep apnea can make you extremely tired in the morning and heightens your risk of heart disease–and therefore needs medical attention.

Myth #4: You can train yourself to sleep less

Some people think they can get used to sleeping just four to five hours a day. And they do get by, but not without a price. Studies show that doing this results in even more sleepiness during the day, getting worse as the weeks go by. So the occasional all-nighter may be fine, but making a habit of it is never a good idea.

Myth #5: Napping is bad for you

It’s mostly a matter of how the nap affects your nighttime sleep–and it varies from person to person. If you already have sleep problems, napping can make you less sleepy at night and perpetuate the cycle. For most people, a 20-minute nap when you’re really drained can be helpful; any longer than that and you risk waking up with a headache.

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