Stephen Hawking Says Earth Only Has 600 Years Left, For Some Reason

Iconic cosmologist Stephen Hawking pulled out a rather extreme sales technique in Beijing on Saturday: trying to literally scare up support for a plan to send tiny ships into deep space by raising the specter of the apocalypse.

Speaking at the Tencent WE Summit Sunday, Hawking warned that overpopulation and extreme energy consumption will turn Earth into a fire ball by the year 2600. It’s unclear what Hawking is basing this timeline on, or how exactly our air conditioners will melt an entire planet.

Given the famed physicist’s record of concern with climate change, it’s likely he’s using a little hyperbole to make a point here about the need for a more sustainable approach to the use of our limited terrestrial resources. But to be clear, while rampant drought and desertification is a very real threat in the coming decades and centuries, it would probably take a catastrophic collision with a massive comet or dwarf planet to literally turn our planet into a fireball.

(I know you may have heard about just such a threat lurking behind the sun, but I promise you that one is a hoax.)

Hawking’s latest bit of existential scare-mongering comes within hours of warning attendees of the Web Summit in Portugal about the apocalyptic dangers of artificial intelligence.

His message of doom in China, however, was merely the preface for a pitch to support Breakthrough Starshot, a Hawking-supported effort to send laser-propelled nanocraft to explore the nearest star system beyond our sun, Alpha Centauri.  Hawking says such a tiny craft could fly-by Mars in just an hour, reach Pluto in a few days and make it to Alpha Centauri in about twenty years.

Alpha Centauri’s partner star, Proxima Centauri is thought to be orbited by the potentially habitable planet Proxima b. If all goes perfectly, the Breakthrough Starshot team hopes to use the nanocraft to take our first close-up pictures of a planet around another star, including whatever may or may not live there.

It’s actually a very noble and exciting endeavor, so why Hawking needs to inject science fiction into the narrative to drum up support for his science project is a little baffling. But then again, here we are talking about it.

Source: Forbes, Eric Mack (You may follow him on Twitter @ericcmack and on Google+)

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Peer review: how to get it right – 10 tips

Brian Lucey is professor of finance at Trinity College Dublin. He is editor of International Review of Financial Analysis and Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Finance. Reviewing is a good way to keep up with literature and sharpen your own writing, says Brian Lucey. In the following, he shares some expert advice on how to be helpful, scientific and professional when reviewing a paper.

1) Be professional. It’s called peer review for a reason. You, putative reviewer, are the peer. If you don’t do it for them why should they do it for you? This is a core part of your job as an academic. It shows both that you are part of the academy and willing to engage in the interplay that makes the profession work. Reviewing is an excellent way to keep up with literature and a superb way to sharpen your own writing.

2) Be pleasant. If the paper is truly awful, suggest a reject but don’t engage in ad hominum remarks. Rejection should be a positive experience for all. Don’t say things in a peer review that you would not say to the person’s face in a presentation or in a bar after a conference.

3) Read the invite. When you receive an email inviting you to review a paper, most journals will provide a link to either accept and or reject. Don’t respond to the editor with a long apology about how you would love to do it but your cat has had kittens and you have a paper yourself to do, plus a class to teach and anyhow wouldn’t prof von Juntz at Miskatonic be better? Click. The. Link. The invite tells you when it’s due. It may also give you specific instructions, so follow these.

4. Be helpful. Suggest to the authors how to overcome the shortcomings you identify. It’s the easiest thing in the world to poke holes in something. It is usually much harder to suggest how to fix them. A review is more than a suggestion to revise, reject or accept. It should be meaningful. It should guide the author on what is good and what is not so good as you see it. If it’s too short, then it probably isn’t going to do that. So be loquacious. Explain what is going on in your thinking. Suggest alternative approaches.

5) Be scientific. Your role is that of a scientific peer. It is not that of an editor in either the proofreading or decision-making sense. Don’t fall back on filling a review with editorial and typographic issues. If the paper is rife with errors, tell the editor and give examples. Concentrate rather on showing the added value of your scientific knowledge and not so much on missing commas etc. If as part of your revision you think that the paper should be professionally proof edited (as I sometimes do with my own), then say so. A caveat to this is that the paper (and indeed the review) is an act of communication. If it is so poorly constructed as to fail in its communication role, then tell me that. Remember that in the end the paper is not about style but substance, unless the style gets in the way.

6) Be timely. There is no point complaining about how slow the paper publication process is if you’re part of the problem. When you agree to review a paper with a timeline given (unless there is a really good reason), you should stick to it. Believe it or not, editors do track who is reviewing what and when. We have to balance the natural tendency to give more reviews to those who do most, with a realisation that people are doing this essentially pro bono and have limited time. So the timeframe we give is designed to be timely but mildly pressurising. Deadlines are good. Stick to them.

7) Be realistic. Be realistic about the work presented, changes you suggest and your role. You as a reviewer are part of the process. You don’t have final say on the determination of the manuscript. I, as editor, have that. Sometimes editors override the suggestions of reviewers (hopefully with good reasons). You can, and in that case engage, in a dialog with the editor as to why – ideally this is a learning opportunity for all. Sometimes this overriding is because the bar being set by the reviewer is too high for that paper. Data may not be available, a paradigm suggested not appropriate. These may be useful suggestions for another paper but each paper is, or should be, one main idea.

8) Be empathetic. Think of the best review you have gotten in terms of guiding a paper forward. Then think of the worst. Which would you rather get on average? Then put yourself into the shoes of the author whose paper you are reviewing. Where along the scale will your review fall? What goes around comes around and therefore ensuring that your reviews are scientific, helpful and courteous is a good idea.

9) Be open. Unless it’s a review for the Journal of Incredible Specialisation, specialists and generalists both have a role to play. Editors, especially of general interest journals, will try to get both specialised and more general reviewers. Saying “it’s not my area” is rarely an excuse, especially when you have recently published a very closely related paper. Saying “I’m only one of the authors” in response, doesn’t cut it either. Editors try to balance reviews. That is why we ask for a number of reviewers. We may want a generalist, a subject specialist, someone with experience in the methodology and someone whose work is being critiqued. If we ask you then assume you have a valid and useful role to play.

10) Be organised. A review is, like a paper, a communication. It therefore requires structure and a logical flow. It is not possible to critique a paper for logical holes, grammatical howlers, poor structure etc if your critique is itself rife with these flaws. Draft the review as you go along, then redraft. Most publishers provide short guides on structuring a peer review on their website. Read some of these and follow the main principles. At the start, give a brief one or two sentence overview of your review. Then give feedback on the following: paper structure, the quality of data sources and methods of investigation used, specific issues on the methods and methodologies used (yes, there is a difference), logical flow of argument (or lack thereof), and validity of conclusions drawn. Then comment on style, voice and lexical concerns and choices, giving suggestions on how to improve.

Source: Higher Education Network, Guardian

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‘Clean meat’ start-up Memphis Meats raises $17m in funding

Cargill, Bill Gates and Richard Branson are among the backers of US ‘clean meat’ company Memphis Meats, which has completed a $17 million fundraising round.

The round was led by venture capital firm DFJ, with further financial support from Atomico, New Crop Capital, SOSV, Fifty Years, KBW Ventures, Inevitable Ventures, Suzy and Jack Welch, Kyle Vogt, and Kimbal Musk.

San Francisco-based Memphis Meats produces beef, chicken and duck from animal cells. The company grows meat in tanks by feeding sugar, oxygen and nutrients to living cells. It has now raised a total of $22 million.

Memphis Meats plans to use the funds to continue developing products, to accelerate its work in scaling up clean meat production, and to reduce production costs to levels comparable to – and ultimately below – conventional meat costs.

The company expects to quadruple its headcount, and has already begun growing its team of chefs and scientists.

CEO of Memphis Meats Uma Valeti said the company aims to bring meat to consumers in a more sustainable, affordable and delicious way.

“Meat demand is growing rapidly around the world,” he said. “We want the world to keep eating what it loves. However, the way conventional meat is produced today creates challenges for the environment, animal welfare and human health.

“These are problems that everyone wants to solve, and we can solve them by bringing this incredible group of partners under one tent. This group will help us accelerate our progress significantly.”

President of growth ventures at Cargill Protein Sonya McCullum said: “We are committed to growing our traditional protein business and investing in innovative new proteins to ultimately provide a complete basket of goods to our customers.

“Our investment in Memphis Meats is an exciting way for Cargill to explore the potential in this growing segment of the protein market.”

DFJ partner Steve Jurveston, who will join the Memphis Meats board of directors, believes clean meat is an ‘enormous technological shift’ for humanity.

“This is a moment where the investment potential and the potential to do good for the world are both off the charts,” he said. “Investors have been watching this space for years, and Memphis Meats has emerged as the clear leader.

“It is thrilling to watch the team work, and to try the products, which the entire DFJ team agreed are the real thing. I am so excited for the future that Memphis Meats will create.”

Memphis Meats has said its process of creating meat uses about 1% of the land and 10% of the water needed for conventional meat production.

Earlier this month, meat alternative start-up Impossible Foods closed a $75 million investment to continue development of its meat substitute made from plants.

Article taken from

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Maryam Mirzakhani, award-winning mathematician, dies at 40

(Reuters) – Maryam Mirzakhani, the first and only woman to receive the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for mathematics, died on Saturday at age 40 after a battle with cancer, said officials at Stanford University, the California school where she taught.

The death of the Tehran-born Mirzakhani, who specialized in theoretical mathematics, came three years after she received the Fields Medal at an event in Seoul.

The prize is handed out every four years to honor mathematicians under 40 who make major contributions. Mirzakhani was 37 when in 2014 she became the first woman to win the prize, which was established in 1936 and is equivalent to the Nobel Prize for mathematics.

The mathematician received the medal for her work in understanding the symmetry of curved surfaces, Stanford officials said in 2014.

Mirzakhani at the time said she had dreamed of becoming a writer when she was young, before taking an interest in mathematical problems.

“It is fun; it’s like solving a puzzle or connecting the dots in a detective case,” she said in 2014.

Growing up in Iran, she attended an all-girls high school and gained recognition as a teenager in the 1994 and 1995 competitions of the International Mathematical Olympiad.

She later graduated from Sharif University in Tehran and then headed to Harvard University in Massachusetts, to obtain her doctorate in mathematics.

Mirzakhani joined the faculty at Stanford in the San Francisco Bay area in 2008.

In recent years, she worked with Alex Eskin at the University of Chicago to investigate the trajectory of a billiard ball as it bounces around a polygonal table. The complexities in the ball’s movement have long bedeviled physicists.

Mirzakhani, while solving mathematical problems, often drew on large sheets of paper while scribbling formulas on the edges, an approach that her young daughter believed to be a form of painting, according to Stanford.

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrák, and a daughter, Anahita. A Stanford spokesman said he did not have any information on where Mirzakhani died.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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Winning the Memory Game

Memory loss over time is natural, but researchers have found that you can take action now to build a better brain. Here are ways to offset some of the cognitive decline as you age, as well as new research into memory’s most vigilant foe, Alzheimer’s.

Most of us have done it. We climbed to the second floor of our house, for example, and paused on the landing to wonder why we’d made the journey. Had we come to fetch the phone charger? To collect towels for the washer? As we stand there casting about for a reason, we might also wonder: Is this just a normal hiccup in memory or could it be something more?

Memory loss and difficulty with recall are natural consequences of aging. They can start as early as our 30s and make simple tasks, like remembering a word or a person’s name, take a little longer. While normal, these lapses of recall can be scary. We wonder if it portends something more serious.

In fact, surveys have shown that more people are afraid of losing their memory through Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia than they are of dying from cancer, according to Constantine Lyketsos, director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center. “What makes us people are those higher functions [like memory],” he says. “It cuts close to the bone to think we are going to lose our personhood by losing those very unique capacities.”

Continued here

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The Final Hurdle: Persuasive Responses to Peer Review


The revision process can represent a golden opportunity to enhance your work based upon input from the reviewers. With this in mind, you can respond in a way that maximizes your chances of having your paper accepted upon resubmission.

Peer review can be one of the most challenging aspects of publishing your work, and many people find the process frustrating. Like many researchers and academics, you may find that after working hard to gather your data and findings in a manuscript and sending it to your chosen journal, the journal’s response is “maybe,” rather than the straightforward acceptance you had hoped for.

The vast majority of manuscripts are not accepted without revision, and the process of revising a manuscript in light of the comments from the reviewers can greatly improve its quality. In this sense, the revision process can represent a golden opportunity to enhance your work based upon input from the reviewers. With this in mind, you can respond in a way that maximizes your chances of having your paper accepted upon resubmission.

Responding appropriately to reviewers’ comments and criticisms

Responses to reviewers’ comments can take different forms. Perhaps acceptance of your paper will require that you do additional work to strengthen your study and support your arguments. Perhaps changes to the manuscript are necessary to provide a clearer description of your work and convey your ideas more effectively. Alternatively, perhaps the reviewers’ concerns can be addressed through discussion via your response letter. Careful consideration of the reviewers’ comments is therefore necessary to determine the type of response that is appropriate.

Don’t miss our companion article, “Responding to Reviewers: You Can’t Always Say What You’d Like

Writing your response letter

Whether or not additional work is required to address the reviewers’ concerns, a key element in achieving publication is the letter you send to the journal editor detailing your response to the peer review. Typically, this response letter opens with a short letter to the editor, which begins in a similar way to the cover letter that you included with your original submission (for more on writing a cover letter, see this article)  but goes on to summarize your response to the peer review. It is an opportunity for you to briefly list what you have done to improve your manuscript and answer the reviewers’ criticisms, and it provides the editor with an important first impression of your response. Following this summary, the letter might close with an invitation to discuss your manuscript further if the editor wishes.

The opening letter to the editor should be followed by your detailed, point-by-point responses to the reviewer’s questions and criticisms. In writing these responses, remember that your goal is to convince the editor and reviewers that your manuscript should be published by the journal, and your responses should therefore convey a number of impressions. It is very important that your responses convince the editor that all of the reviewers’ concerns have been appropriately considered and addressed, whether through further work, changes to the manuscript, or polite and robust rebuttal.

The editor acts as the gatekeeper in the review process, but it is important to remember that he or she is on your side. Editors want to publish high-quality, high-impact papers, and they are using the peer-review process to determine whether your work meets their quality standards and is aligned with the interests of the journal’s readership. The editor will likely read both your letter to them and your specific responses to the reviewers to determine whether you have met the required quality standards in your work. As such, by striking the right tone in your responses to the reviewers, you can cast your work in a positive light and make a positive impression on the editor.

Making a positive impression

How do you strike the right tone when responding to reviewers? First, remember to thank the reviewers, regardless of the nature of their comments. Give them the impression, true or otherwise, that all of their comments were welcomed. Thank them for their positive comments and repeat these positive points before moving on to your responses to their concerns. Remember, the editor will be reading your responses, and this gives you an opportunity to highlight the reviewers’ positive impressions of your work.

Structuring your responses to the reviewers

It is a good idea to begin each response by quoting the reviewer’s comment before providing your answer. Then, you can describe the corresponding changes you have made to the text, give details of any additional work performed to address their concerns, or provide a polite rebuttal. While the first two types of response are relatively simple, making a robust but polite rebuttal is often more challenging.

Perhaps the reviewer’s criticism is the result of their failure to understand a particular aspect of your work or a statement made in your manuscript. In this case, the best strategy is to apologize for the confusion and provide clarification. This situation might highlight an area of your manuscript that needs further work to better convey the details of your study or its findings, and as such, you should view it as a chance to improve the quality of your manuscript. The ability to point to a change made to the manuscript can help give a positive impression not only to the reviewer but also to the editor.

In other cases, you may simply disagree with the reviewer’s point of view on an issue related to your work, and in this situation, a counter-argument that is well supported by your results or by the published work of others can support the validity of your work and your findings. This can have a major impact on how the paper is perceived by the editor, which in turn can affect his or her decision to either publish or reject your manuscript. It allows the editor to gauge whether your work is robust, i.e., will it be able to stand up to scrutiny in the field, which can ultimately affect the reputation of the journal. Some specific examples for phrasing your responses to reviewers in a polite and effective way can be found in the article “Responding to Reviewers: You Can’t Always Say What You’d Like” and in our downloadable resource on this topic.

Using simple stand-alone responses

As a final point, it is a good idea to include specific details of any changes made to the manuscript, quoting any changed sentences or passages, rather than simply giving page and line numbers, etc., to locate the changes. This provides the reviewers and editor with an easily understood, stand-alone set of responses, and they will not have to hunt through your revised manuscript to track down your changes. Similarly, be sure to define any abbreviations that you choose to use in your responses. This is especially important when writing about highly technical work.

Maximizing your chances of publication

In summary, peer review can be a lengthy and uncertain process, and receiving a list of criticisms of your work can be a negative experience; however, by viewing it as an opportunity and taking a positive approach to writing persuasive responses to the reviewers, you can impact the editor’s perception of your work and greatly increase the likelihood that your manuscript will be accepted for publication.

A post by Chris Showell, Quality Control Editor at Research Square,  AJE (American Journal Experts).

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The Cost of Knowledge

Academics have protested against Elsevier’s business practices for years with little effect. These are some of their objections:

  1. They charge exorbitantly high prices for subscriptions to individual journals.
  2. In the light of these high prices, the only realistic option for many libraries is to agree to buy very large “bundles”, which will include many journals that those libraries do not actually want. Elsevier thus makes huge profits by exploiting the fact that some of their journals are essential.
  3. They support measures such as SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act, that aim to restrict the free exchange of information.

The key to all these issues is the right of authors to achieve easily-accessible distribution of their work. If you would like to declare publicly that you will not support any Elsevier journal unless they radically change how they operate, then you can do so by filling in your details on this page.

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World University Rankings 2015-2016

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015-2016 list the best global universities and are the only international university performance tables to judge world class universities across all of their core missions – teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

The top universities rankings employ 13 carefully calibrated performance indicators to provide the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available, which are trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments. This year’s ranking includes 800 universities from 70 different countries, compared with the 400 universities from 41 countries in last year’s table. View the World University Rankings methodology here.

This year’s list of the best universities in the world features 147 of the top universities in the US – with 63 American universities making the top 200 of the list, including the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) as the world’s number one university, followed by Stanford University in third place, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in fifth and Harvard University in sixth. But the US has been losing its dominance of the tables, as institutions in Europe improve their performance, including those in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The UK is the second best represented country in the rankings, with 78 universities in the top 800, and 34 in the top 200. The UK’s Oxford University is ranked second in the world, with Cambridge University in fourth. This year’s ranking also marks the first time a university outside the US and the UK has made the top 10 for a decade. Discover more World University Rankings highlights here. Asia has seen a varied performance, with good news for Singapore, which now claims the top institution in the continent with National University of Singapore (NUS) in 26th place. China has two top fifty universities (Peking University and Tsinghua University) while Japan and South Korea have suffered declining performance.

Our list of the best global universities rankings include many performance indicators directly relevant to students and their families, to help them chose where to study, including faculty-student ratios, the university’s global reputation, its total resources, the international mix on campus, and its links to business. But a reason why the rankings are so widely respected is that they cover the full range of a university’s missions, including research excellence.

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Maryam Mirzakhani: ‘The more I spent time on maths, the more excited I got’


Maryam Mirzakhani has become the first woman to win the Fields Medal, the most prestigious prize in mathematics. Mirzakhani, 37, is of Iranian descent and completed her PhD at Harvard in 2004. Her thesis showed how to compute the Weil-Petersson volumes of moduli spaces of bordered Riemann surfaces. Her research interests include Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry. She is currently professor of mathematics at Stanford University, and predominantly works on geometric structures on surfaces and their deformations.

Continued here

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Pushing Through Life’s Hardest Moments

Editorial by ISM Staff

They say life isn’t always a bed of roses. Well, I can certainly vouch for that. In fact, sometimes it can be downright brutal. But, just because life doesn’t always flow smoothly doesn’t mean our careers can be put on hold—especially when what we do involves the lives of children. Sometimes we need to reach down into our depths, find what strength is left in our reservoir, and push on.

As a writer, I have the advantage of heading to my keyboard and purging my thoughts, fears, and tears onto a blank document. It’s my way of clearing my head for the day ahead. Sometimes I share these written realizations, but more often than not I just save them to my electronic journal. It’s my creative release. However, not of all of us are writers. Releasing tension, fear, pain, anxiety, (insert your own noun here), in order to get through your day is something you need to find that works best for you.

I’ve done some research to see how others deal with life’s hard moments. Prayer, meditation, exercise, and busy work seem to be the Internet’s secrets to overcoming hardships. But again, these won’t work for everyone. I don’t doubt that some of you reading this have no desire to head to the gym when you’re feeling blue, and I know personally that when my head’s spinning, meditation is one of the hardest exercises to endure. So, I’ve dug a little further into the search results and come up with a few tips that will hopefully offer some possibilities for all personality types.

Confide in someone. Opening up about your troubles doesn’t come easy to everyone. Again, for me personally, I would rather torment my keyboard and hard drive than burden a friend or a co-worker. But, there is great relief in getting what’s weighing you down off your shoulders. Talking does help. It’s not about looking to others for answers or empathy. Sometimes just speaking your troubles out loud, hearing your own voice define them, helps you release some of the grief. And, if the person you choose to talk to about your life moment does have a positive perspective, then you’ve gained not only release but also a new way of looking at your troubles.

Plan time to “mourn.” You probably think that wallowing in your pain is the opposite of how you should push through any situation. Actually, it might be just what you need. Make a date with yourself to feel what it is you’re bottling up. Pick a time, say 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., when you’ll do nothing else but face and sort through (or come to terms with) what it is that’s bothering you. Make a deal with yourself to not let it affect you until then—that you’re going to face it from 5 to 6, but until then you’re not going to allow it to consume your thoughts.

Ask yourself “And so?” I learned this trick a few years ago when I was trying to overcome my phobia of fire. I don’t know where this fear came from or why it suddenly started haunting my commutes, but one day as I was driving home, all I could think about was what if my house was on fire as I turned down the street. It became such a real fear that I actually started checking news reports before leaving the office and altered my route so I could see what was happening in the neighborhood before I made it to my street. Crazy, right? I had to break the cycle! It was interfering with my life and I knew it had to stop before it paralyzed me. So, I started asking myself “and so” as I was driving. What would be the worst thing if I did come home and found fire trucks and chaos? I would lose my material things sure, but again, “and, so?” I can replace those things. “And, so?” My insurance would help me rebuild. “And, so?” Life would go on. See how that works? You keep going through the possibilities until you realize that there is a bright side, or at least another side that’s bearable. It’s helpful to remind yourself that no matter what you’re facing—death, divorce, financial hardship, illness—there is always something better waiting on the other side of the pain.

Just look at the facts. It’s so easy for us as emotional beings to jump to conclusions. We take a stern e-mail from our boss and play it out that we’re treading on thin ice, or process a comment that was intended to be innocent as something dreadful. Step back from the situation and just absorb the facts. Don’t allow outside issues to pollute what’s happening in the office. Things might be difficult outside the office, but that doesn’t mean that everything is crumbling.

Do something kind for someone. This is one of my favorite tactics for overcoming hardships. It’s all too easy to spread misery when you’re hurting. Break the cycle! No matter what you’re facing in your personal life, by doing something kind for someone else, you’ll actually feel better yourself. It doesn’t have to be a large act of generosity—sometimes the smallest tokens of kindness mean the most.

Laugh. It’s not always easy to find humor through pain—but, trust me, it’s there. Watch a sitcom, find a funny YouTube video, take a few minutes and read the funnies, search for funny images, remember something that always makes you smile … you see where I’m going with this. Even if the joy you feel from this is brief, it can be enough to push you through your day productively.

Honor your feelings. If I haven’t already made this clear, the best thing you can do for yourself, your family, and your career during life’s hardest challenges is honor yourself and what you’re feeling. Don’t bottle your feelings up and try to ignore what you’re feeling, but don’t allow these moments to take over your world, either. Acknowledge what you’re going through, know that others have been where you are, and have the courage that you’ll get through this moment just as you’ve gotten through other tricky moments. It’s not always easy to face your own vulnerability, but in the end, you’ll be a stronger person for appreciating and respecting your struggles.


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