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Jacob Lahne - You Are the Company You Keep

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Dr. Jacob Lahne is an assistant professor of food science at Virginia Tech Jake brings an interdisciplinary background to sensory science. Besides his extensive work experience in the culinary field: he has worked as a farmhand, as a line cook in fine dining, and as a cheesemonger at Cowgirl Creamery. He is broadly interested in adapting new tools into sensory-science and has had success adopting diverse approaches to understanding sensory perceptions, from qualitative research to complex-systems and data-science. Jake collaborates widely with researchers from outside sensory science, with current collaborations in computer science, agricultural economics, public-health nutrition, and science & technology studies.

Transcript (Semi-automated, forgive typos!)

John: So, Jacob, welcome to the show.

Jacob: Thank you so much for having me.

John: Okay, it's great. And we're just a little laugh because in a previous take we had that you collaborated wildly, which may also be true. But we'll go to let's get started because you have fascinating background and I think you bring a lot to the field. So I'm really happy that you're on the show today. So why don't we start with some of the things that we've been talking about. Maybe you could just start with kind of an overview of your research interests for our listeners who maybe aren't too familiar with you in your work.

Jacob: Absolutely. So I have a broad and as a kind of prompted by being on here, I was looking back at what I've done over the last decade or so, and it's been both consistent and varying. So I came into food science because of a general interest in food and flavor. So I come from a culinary background and I was just really driven by those ideas. And I first got into actually flavor chemistry, working on Rye whiskey. And that interest in distilled and fermented beverages has sort of been a through line in my career. So both at the University of Illinois, where I did my master's degree again kind of more on a flavor chemistry side through to postdoc work at Davis, where I did some work, some further work on whiskey to here at Virginia Tech, where I've continued working on whiskey and then started working on cider and other fermented beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. I'm such one major strain. But the other set of interests that sort of have developed in parallel has also stemmed from that culinary background. I've always been interested in craft practice, sort of cooking right? And artisan foods. And so far I've been interested in how I can develop new flexible methods in sensory science to try to capture some of those effects and properties of artisan foods that maybe aren't as obvious in the laboratory that we tend to overlook or that we treat as biasing that we don't effectively capture. And so that's led to a lot of those extra disciplinary collaboration's with people like anthropologists and such.

John: Oh wow! Okay, well, there's a lot to talk about there. It's always the most challenging part of being a host, you have to kind of pick the direction because we could have 100 different interesting conversations.

Jacob: Yeah, I think you and I tend to just go off in many different directions whenever we talk. So we have to keep ourselves rein in then.

John: So let's try this. Let's try on anthropology. Once you took the collaboration with anthropologists and how that's evolved and what I mean, what does it even mean to sensory scientist collaborate with an anthropologist?

Jacob: Yeah, so that's a really good question. So when I was finishing up my master's degree, I kind of realized that I was not a great fit for bench work. So I had a chemistry background. And so I was working flavor chemistry and I just discovered that I wasn't really enjoying working just on volatile aroma compounds. And so I kind of went as far in the opposite direction as possible and applied to the tiny food science program at the University of Vermont, where my future advisor, Amy Trubek, is a food anthropologist with an appointment in food science and nutrition, which little unusual. I didn't really realize how unusual was at the time because I was a master student and I didn't really know anything. And so I kind of sent her a letter, kind of like in the last week before the application deadline and say, hey, do you want a PhD student? You know, I have really good grades. I'm very much a food scientist. And she was like, you know, that I'm an anthropologist? I said, yeah, no problem. It'll work out fine. And so I don't know why. I guess I was very convincing on the phone. She offered me a position and I had read, you know, a lot that was, I guess, in 2010. So, you know, in the last few years, that was really when there was starting to be an explosion in public interest in food, both with science and food studies, right? That was really when our culture we started pivoting towards food as this important cultural medium. And so I was reading all this stuff that was somewhat in like food anthropology, but I didn't really know much about it. So she was very good about making sure that I continued being a food scientist. But obviously as an anthropologist, she you know, had me read and take classes in that area and sort of we developed an interdisciplinary project together that way. And through her and through sort of the connections I made during that dissertation, can lead to collaborate with a lot of people who are in anthropology and I guess what I call sort of loosely affiliated disciplines, right? So like geography and sociology and rural sociology.

John: Sounds interesting. You know, first off let me just say geographers do some pretty serious math, actually surprisingly serious math in my experience.

Jacob: Well, they're like all over the place, right? They're a little bit like how archaeologists and anthropology, archaeologists are technically a type of anthropologist, right? But there is like I feel like that there's all kinds of quantitative geographers as well as qualitative ones. And so if someone says I'm a geographer, they could be doing a whole range of stuff.

John: Right. That's interesting. That kind of brings us back around that you're talking about interest in. Well, I mean, one things I think is really interesting about your research is your excitement over the nuances of the sensory experience. You know, the things that maybe you're saying wouldn't be so easy to measure in the lab. And I do want to get to what you, I mean, I have this hypothesis that after this crisis is over, there will be an increased interest in people cooking things for themselves. So I'd like to talk about that. But before we get to that, I'd like to hear what are some of the measurements that you think need to be made that are not maybe that standard measurements, things that you know, ways of conducting sensory evaluation that take us to a more nuance understanding of the sensory experience of food?

Jacob: Oh, that's such a good question. Yeah, that's such a really interesting question, especially because it reveals the moment I start thinking about I think about all the things that I don't do that I should be doing, right? As a sensory scientist, because, like, the thing that I talk about, the number one thing is sort of trying to understand people's individual context and cultural background, sort of which are overlapping concepts I guess. But we recently, I think I showed you some of this data. We were doing a study where we asked about people's social networks and their preferences for fresh vegetables. And we showed that actually the social network has about this is just in rough preliminary analysis and it's a small sample size. But we are showing that the social the effect size of what their friends like is about to an order of magnitude greater than the vegetable type on their rated liking, which just shows us that this is a huge under measured thing like where an individual is coming from. And we kind of knew this. If you go back, there's a paper that Moskowitz wrote in like the 1970's. It's like a tiny little thing because back in the 70's you could write short papers and it was great, right?

John: I heard stories of him saying that a typewriter and typing out of paper one draft.

Jacob: Well, that's amazing. Don't you just wish we live in that world? Yeah. So this one is probably one of those. But he did some work in India. And I want to say it was in Punjab Province but I might be wrong. So I apologize in advance if I am. But anyway, he was looking at you know, we have the basic assumptions from like Monelle. We have those great pictures of babies with basic tastes, right? And making different faces. So you get the rejection face with bitter. And you get an acceptance face with with sweet. And then you get intermediate face for salty and like kind of mild rejection for sour, right?And so there's the idea that sour will always be aversive. That's our kind of increasing levels of sour will generally lead to aversiveness. And this was, so he went and he looked at like high caste and low caste people in this province. And the cuisine there has an emphasis on tamarind, which is super sour. And so he basically showed that people who were, I guess, more westernized, the higher caste people had, the predicted sort of response curve in terms of effective liking for increasingly sour. I think you're just being citric acid. But I could be wrong again. But that you actually saw the opposite. You just saw increasing liking in the low caste sample because the cuisine there, you know, emphasizes the sour flavors. And so I think we both tend to think that our results are overly universalizable. And that we also want to pretend that we can get away with that too often, and that's what I was thinking about. I just do this all the time in my own work because, you know, I live in a tiny town in the middle of Appalachia. So not even representative or state, much less representative of the United States of the world. And a lot of our work, we just tend to, you know, work with convenience samples we can get. And that's not the case for lots of sensory scientists are working really hard to stratified samples. I understand this. But I think we don't understand all the ways in which the samples could and maybe should be stratified if we want to generalize.

John: That's really interesting. Yeah, this is one of the criticisms I have of using just standard demographic variables to try to characterize sensory segments. I think you can get somewhere as you add more and more variables. But the idea that, you know, all millennial women like the same thing is just basically a silly idea. It's not going to be that way. And so but this is really interesting what you're saying about your social network. Right? Which may you know, maybe there should be, have you put questions on questionnaires about what people's friends tend to like, that kind of thing?

Jacob: No, not yet. So we just did this. I haven't even managed, this is prepublication, but it's a I'm hoping to present it at Eurosense. Assuming Eurosense happens.

John: It sure will happen in some form.

Jacob: Right. Exactly. Maybe it will, I guess people have a joint Eurosense- Pangborn if it gets postponed for a full year or something like that. Yeah. The odd. But anyway. Yes. So I think going forward, we're looking we're going to start trying to think how we can capture that. And then there is the flip question, of course, because we can know that this is important. But how to utilize it gets more difficult, cause I've been thinking about that a lot, too, because, like, you know, how are you ever really going to deal with that unless you have, like, a complete picture like this is why Facebook, you know, why they run on marketing? Because they have a close to complete picture of people and you just can't have that necessarily. So how do you use this when you have incomplete data? How can it be important? And I guess maybe you could look at effect sizes as one way. Like if you have a product, that's where you can show that it's like kind of regardless where they affect size of the product variable is much larger than the social variable. That's great. That's something that's going to sell really well. So maybe we can find ways to capture it that way.

John: Well, what's interesting is we collect psycho-graphic data or you have behavioral information. It's often about what are someone's behaviors. Right? But it might be that adding like questions. What do you tend to do with your friends? Right? That may actually be very informative to say, do you know what sort of restaurants do you and your friends would tend to go to check all that apply or something like that? Right? But I don't know.

Jacob: Yeah, I think the trick with that is, of course, you run it through, right? So then you run into the demographics problem or not the demographics problem, but the demography problem, I guess. Right? Where if you throw in you run to the same trouble variants wants it right? Where if you ask lot, you run into sort of spurious correlations potential.

John: Yeah, that would have to be a concern. I mean, I think that some of that gets handled through modern data science methods. You know, when you've got cross-validation or you've got tests or something like that, you set aside, I think, and some of that you can manage. But yeah, that's a reasonable point. But I think the general idea of being aware of the influence of the friends, that's a good idea that, you know, I do these calls to get some good ideas, and that's one of them.

Jacob: Awesome. Well, I'm really I hope that I think there's a lot of room there to explore it. Have you read? So that came from, I got, you know, people in University of Vermont for being like a really small food science program. I got some really great exposure, me, because it was so small, because I went to talk with all these other people. And so that Danforth and Dodd's lab or the Dodd's Danforth lab up there, that's like it's complex systems. It's more or less was inspired by that idea. It took me about 10 years to actually get around to implementing it. But I sat in on some of their classes and in some of their work group discussions, and they had done this great study that if you haven't read it, I totally recommend taking a look where they created an online. It was a music marketplace in some fashion, essentially, where they uploaded 50 very obscure songs and they created like 10 different instances of this in order to see the influence that prior liking has on or that knowing what other people like has on your own liking. And so they allowed sort of 10 versions of the same universe to run, right? Because people enroll in the study, but they didn't know which room they were getting. So I didn't know there were different rooms. And they showed that essentially there was a rich get richer effect there. And then they also did it, of course, in a control room where you couldn't see liking.

John: You mean people tend to like things that other people are liking?

Jacob: Yeah. They were allowed to. Yep. Yeah. Once they could see what other people had downloaded, they tended to report liking that more and they would download it more themselves.

John: Yeah. That's fascinating.

Jacob: And so this was sort of what inspired that idea because like we see this, I mean, that's the whole business model for a lot of companies in the last decade, right? Is that mining that in some way? But the food industry, I don't think has done it to the same degree or let me step back from that, I don't know what the food industry has done. Sensory scientists haven't taken advantage of that as much.

John: That 's interesting. Yeah, because you do see influencer marketing, obviously, and influencer marketing is a real thing. There's some question about the effect the pandemic will have on influencer marketing. But influencer marketing works because of the social proof side of human nature. People like to see social proof. So I don't think it's going to go away. There's an interesting point you might want pay attention to this. If there's ever a headline that is a question, the answer is no.

Jacob: Yeah, I agree.

John: Is this the end of influencer marketing? I saw that online today. No, it is not. So. Yeah. But it is interesting to think about because you do see influencers and they flash brands around or whatever, you know. In fact, here's a term that I think I've talked about on a previous podcast, Influencer Surveillance. Do you know about this?

Jacob: I think you have actually told me about this a little bit. But go ahead. Give me the broad strokes.

John: I mean, the idea is there's this whole activity of monitoring the behaviors of influencers. And some of these companies have 30000 influences on the database. And you can go through and you can mine their behavior to try to see if your brand is congruent with their behavior in various ways.

Jacob: Do you think that's vulnerable to similar like, so a lot of these are so shifting, that's the interesting thing about like trying to get at this quantitative sociology in some way, right? Like, so, you know, the Google Flu Trends story, I'm sure you know it. So, you know, Google figured out that in the one flu season, like they could predict flu outbreaks by looking at searches. But that effect we can do over time as people become became aware of it.

John: Right.

Jacob: So I'm wondering if there's a similar thing that this is vulnerable to.

John: Yes. Well, you know, there's Campbell's law. And if you came across that and you're not. So, yeah, Campbell's law is the idea that any metric when used to optimize performance or especially to guide behavior will eventually become corrupted and have a tendency to undermine the behavior that is trying to encourage that. A classic example of this is the kind of No Child Left Behind standard of learning stuff where the idea is we're going to fix the education system. So let's make this metric. And then everything becomes aiming the metric and the education system. But there's a lot of that playing out on social media, too, right?

Jacob: Yeah. Well, I think that's like, honestly, an interesting thing with Zoom and everything is sort of a resumption of direct social media like out. I mean, I don't want to say outside surveillance because that means a whole lot of other things, but sort of outside of public performance where you have more immediate direct connections being made in a lot of these current pandemic, reaching out moments and who knows how long that'll be. But if you think about it, it's quite different from, like the performative stuff you do on Facebook or Twitter or something like that.

John: Yeah. But even that not long, Jake, because I have studio lights in my....

Jacob: So you're saying that there's nothing corruptible. Everything is a facsimile.

John: As soon as the rules become clear. Well, that really tried to game the system somehow.

Jacob: I think you're right, unfortunately.

John: So that's interesting. But at the end of the day, I mean, things do taste good or not good, so I guess. So how does this play out? So how would it happen then? How would you see sensory science starting to bring in some of these insights from anthropology or social science more generally?

Jacob: Well, stepping back a little bit from the social network idea. Because I think I'm still started still trying to think about how we could use that. I think some of the suggestions you just made are really good, actually, about starting to ask about what people's friends like that kind of thing.

John: Or what they do with their friends, maybe.

Jacob: But yeah. Yeah. Just because I think that's still exploratory, we don't really know how to best access that and capture that. But when I was doing my dissertation research, we were looking at a socially valued good. So we were looking at Vermont artisan cheese. Right? So Vermont's a tiny state and there at the time, I think there's more now. At the time there were like six hundred thousand-ish people in Vermont. And like between 50 and 60 independent small cheesemakers who were selling at least regionally in New England and often nationally. So that's kind of crazy if you think about like the average rate of cheesemakers in the United States. Right? And of course, obviously, this is like influence a little bit by my own background as being a cheese monger. So I thought it was really cool. I didn't get a lot of convincing to look at it, but I was kind of curious as a stand in for all these different goods where we attach value outside of their material nature. Right? Like, how do we because in things like artisan cheese or, you know, canonically wine, but all kinds of these goods, a lot of what sensory scientists typically call extrinsic factors are claimed to have sensory value. Their claim to cause directly or indirectly sensory attributes. And my advisor, Amy, had done work on terroir, which is another idea that now has become so broad spread. Everyone thinks about terroir, the taste of place and how like where something is made might influences taste. But that time it was still pretty novel in the US. And that's another example of that. So I was kind of interested in how sensory science could maybe access a lot of the lot, could access some of that in evaluation. And that's related, of course, like Chris Simon's work on context and all of that kind of thing. These are all clearly overlapping, non distinct constructs. And so I did work as I was giving people descriptions, right or not, or giving different types of descriptions of the products to see if that chance of sensory perceptions. And it didn't seem to. And the question is what you do with that? Like, is everything just marketing lecture? We just say marketing is everything. Or like what is the fundamental sensory nature of foods? It's an open question, to be honest. I mean, depending I'd like, eventually you realize you've like wandered into philosophy by accident. So like where to take say this is useful and we should pay attention to this and we should say this is just like I'm caught in a spiral and I'm in too deep is a tough place to decide on. But I think especially when we look at a lot of those good there's a lot of like at the time, but even now I think there are a lot of sensory science papers that tended to conflate extrinsic and biasing factors. And I think that's a lot in the original language of the discipline, like the idea that if we put people in lab and we strip away as much as we can, we'll get at the nature of the thing. And so extrinsic in that context becomes biasing. But I don't think they're necessarily synonymous. So I think being more flexible about what is legitimate inquiry, like what's a legitimate area of inquiry for sensory science and like maybe like if you look at Lawless and Heymann, like the textbook right? There is like the hard line where marketing is this and sensory science is this, and we would never include labels or anything in sensory science. I'm not as sure about that.

John: Yeah, well, I mean, a couple of things come to mind here. One, you are probably familiar with, you know, Betina Piqueras-Fiszman.

Jacob: I've never met her, but I barely know her.

John: Yeah. I mean, an idea that I have kind of come across through her is the idea of psychological factors and their influence on perception, right? And I think that it's actually Michael Nestrud just put up an article on Medium couple of days ago that was interesting about that. Yeah, it was looking at the impact of kind of site on on taste, how your brain is prepped to experience certain things based on what you're seeing. Right? That it's all entangled, that your experience of your sensory experience is entangled with many, many other variables like you're saying. And to just dismiss them all as like, you know, it's bias or something I think is kind of missing the point. What someone is experiencing is real. They're actually experiencing it right? I mean. So if as far as the reasons they're experiencing it, we should try to keep track of those reasons, not just dismiss them, I think.

Jacob: I think that's a really. So that puts you like, I think more of the A what's in linguistics, there's like a linguistic prescriptivist and descriptivist. And so I like to tell Lea Hamilton, my graduate student, I have talked about this a lot, that because she's working on natural language processing. So obviously there's good parallels to linguistics that I do think of myself as having more of a descriptivist bet rather than saying that. So prescriptivist would say these things are legitimate sensory perceptions and these things are not. These things are bias and these things are true. And I think a descriptivist approach incorporates a lot more of elements from anthropology and other psychology in order to say that we can't. One of the puzzles of sensory science is we have sensory science because we one of our fundamental precept is we can't look inside someone's brain. We cannot have the same experience that someone else is happy. And so taking a strongprescriptivist standpoint, I don't think is as productive as sort of acknowledging that someone may legitimately be having that sensory experience. We should try to explain why.

John: Right. And then, of course, flipside of that is influencing somebody in the sense that you may and you'd like this, honestly. Well, you've worked in whiskey or wine or that. I mean, a lot of people don't have any idea what they're kind of looking for in a wine or when they're tasting it, they're not really or Scotch. I mean, I have to tell you, many times a friend of mine come over to my house actually took it back for Pangborn I had bought, you know, some very expensive bottle of scotch in Edinburgh, can only get it in Scotland, whatever. So I gave them a little taste of it. And she just shot it right on down. Whereas, you know, with education, with the same person after that, I said, okay, well, we do some education and, you know, explain the process, you know. Well, I you know this better than I do. But things like putting a little bit of the whiskey on your hand, you know, spreading it around to let the alcohol go off, the you can smell and, you know what it smell for or what the taste for whatever. There's like a lot of things. Yeah.

Jacob: There's lots of different techniques that you can approach sensing with. Right? Like there's a great I want a plug although you know how well a lot of our colleagues who are French who write really, really great articles, sometimes there's like a French way of writing that can be dense and, like, difficult to get into sometimes. So I'm going to recommend a French sociologists who unfortunately has a similar writing style. He has some really amazing insights on sensory perception that are really worthwhile. So, Antoine Hennion. So it has a lot of stuff on sort of the practice of sensing and the practice of becoming like someone who cares about the way something tastes. Which is super relevant to what we do. Like, how do we know, especially if you're working with a product that you want people to attach to, that that isn't just pure utility, but what you want them to become kind of service. So you want to see wine, whisky, all those things? I think how you can foster those communities and how you can facilitate that practice. Like, there's lots of ways you might want to think about that. So I think his work is really useful. But it's kind of like you're describing. It's like it's not just the pure encounter of a sensor and the transmission into a perceptual system. There's all the layers both before and after.

John: Right. Yeah. With my friend, after I kind of educated her, she actually started to appreciate scotch now, you know. I think that actually technology can help with this. And I had Cordelia Running on the show a few weeks ago. And she and I were talking about the role of technology for education. You can use technology to educate your panelists remotely. I mean, you've got lots of other stuff happening remotely because of this brave new world. Yeah, but I do think that, you know, apps, chat bots, this kind of thing, like Apothic wines, which maybe is in the world's greatest wine, but they have all, it's okay, it's fine.

Jacob: You showed me. It was super cool. Like, I thought that was actually a really neat tool.

John: Alright. That's what we did talk about this, that they have a chatbot that will walk you through a tasting and then, you know, like they're gonna be able to point out what you should kind of listen for with your mouth, so to speak. Or what you should taste for the experiences is improved. Right. And you deepen the relationship. So I think that that's definitely we can do this stuff, you know, kind of observationally and try to figure out what the factors are. You know, you've got influence, which I guess is the type of marketing. But if you're helping someone to have a better experience and then enjoy your product, I don't see anything wrong with that.

Jacob: Well, I think that a lot of the things that we talk about a lot a goal. I don't know if it's a reality. It is for them to be scalable. Right? So that a lot of sensory science is difficult to access for producers that, you know, like small producers can't access sensory science all that easily a lot of the time. But if we're talking about sort of semi automatic methods to evaluate and then communicate these kinds of things, like a chatbot or like Lea's work in terms of figure out ways to identify descriptive language and extract it without using a panel. Again, like I think it's important not to get into sort of tech industry mystique of like this will change the world for the better because everyone will have access to this kind of thing.

John: We're democratizing it, Jake. We are democratizing sensory.

Jacob: Yeah. That's obviously what we're doing. But I feel like, you know, that I could at least be a goal. You can at least feel like it would be cool if we could flick. It seems like this should be possible. So maybe we could figure out a way out a way that could happen.

John: Yeah. It is true. I do think decentralization is one of the themes of the fourth industrial revolution. And actually the coronavirus situation is accelerating.

Jacob: That's really interesting. Yeah. Oh, wait. So you wanted to talk. I know you're interviewing. But you had some thoughts about cooking, which I think we've all thought about a bit with the coronavirus.

John: Yes. I would like to hear what you think about how the coronavirus situation is impacting cooking now and into the future after hopefully we get back to some sort of normal life.

Jacob: Well, that's funny because I work with some colleagues. One of the things that I've done in my, again, very varied range of interests is develop a validated skill for cooking practice, which was really interesting because I got into a structural equation modeling. And of course, it's so rewarding. But I was really curious to see if I could maybe nudge some my friends in economics or in public health nutrition to field a survey with that in it. Like because they had come to me and said, we survey people, people are doing all this kind of crazy stuff. Suddenly, maybe we should see this. I don't know if anyone is fielding that. So there are definite people doing studies on that. I think qualitatively, I'm betting that it's been interesting to watch like the big and the small. What parts of the food system are resilient? I can only speak to Blacksburg because I'm busy trying to keep my own class running. But like the small farms around here, I don't know what their full business is like, but they've been pretty resilient terms, like immediately setting up small shops, figuring out ways for people to do custom ordering. Like I've continued to shop from, like the small farms around here. And so it's really interesting to see if that will actually grow. And it'll be interesting see what kind of restaurants come back, right? Because Blacksburg is a big college town. We have a lot of like burger joints and pizza places and not a lot of like. I don't actually know what the right term is anymore. I don't exactly mean fine dining, but I mean something that might cater a little bit more towards something that's actually cooked from scratch. So it'll be interesting to see if people develop more of a taste for that. But I don't know if they will, because The New York Times, that article on increased sales, on comfort processed foods. Right. Like Cheetos, is seeing a big comeback. So I think things will change. And I have no real insight into which way.

John: Yeah, I notice it is interesting to think about that. Well, we're in the process of trying to figure it out. You know, I think it is important to be doing studies right now, though, because it's like when a cloud, when bird in a plane flying through a cloud, you should be taking some measurements while you're in the clouds trying to get in the clouds clearly you have some idea where you are.

Jacob:Yeah. Ideally, you're not flying at the ground. There's some one of the totally off subject. One of my favorite novels from the last year of the Purpose by oh, gosh, the guy who wrote The Curious Incident of the dog in the night, whichever one read is opens with that exact scene and some good advice which the character doesn't heat and ends up in a plane wreak.

John: Like the far side comic. What's a mountain goat doing up way up here in the clouds?

Jacob: Well, I certainly did. I love the far side as a kid.

John: Good. Alright, Jake. Well, we have actually run over time. So we need to wrap it up here. This has been a great conversation. So thank you very much for being on the show.

Jacob: Well, thank you for having me. We can talk forever.

John: So let me ask you just couple questions before we go. What advice do you have for young sensory scientists who's just about to enter their career, either coming out of undergrad or maybe with a graduate degree?

Jacob: So the number one piece of advice which we've taught touched on barely at all in this conversation is learn to code. Doesn't matter what you learn to code in. It can be R, it can be Python. It can be, I don't know I think Apple has some stuff on iPhones unlike Swift. It's just learning how to do algorithmic thinking in general. Once you know a programming language, learning another one is not that hard. And so much of what we do in terms of analysis, but also in terms of like simulation studies are increasingly important. And you can't run those if you can't code.

John: Right. And at that point, I would get started. Doesn't matter. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Jacob: No, no. Well, that's great advice in general. I feel like I struggle with that every day. You know, that feeling of if I can't pick the right thing to learn, I'm not going to learn anything. So just pick up something.

John: Yeah. Whatever you feel like, do it.

Jacob: Yeah. And you don't need to wait. You don't need to take a course.There's lots of good free resources. I mean like for R there's a million free books from like O'Reilly has most their books post online. You can learn R in your free time.

John: Yeah. I think R is that the front end of R a little bit like more inviting. I think personally, I mean in my take.

Jacob: Yeah. No I actually completely agree. I think R actually there's like even a built in like learn ah interface that one of my students was using that someone wrote a cool package that's like interactive. So it's definitely that's one piece of advice. I'll give a quick second just so I give multiple ones I guess, which is I think be interdisciplinary outside of agricultural science even. So talk to talk to some other people I personally find, you know, obviously I talked a lot anthropologists, but I think that insight just will spark a lot of ideas that you're not going to have otherwise. I mean, Leah has a minor in English, and I honestly think, as well as making it great that she can write papers just off the bat with her writing is great. I think she's gotten a lot of ideas from that. And take some interdisciplinary classes. Yeah. Get those interests.

John: I agree with that. Usually that a small amount of knowledge in any field goes a long way like the first, you know. The last thing I would say is, how can people get in touch, someone's listening to this they want to join your lab as a graduate student or, how should they reach out?

Jacob: So as we've talked about, I'm a social media sort of a hermit, so I don't really have a presence. So it's the easiest way is actually to email me, cause, you know, I'm very old. So it's Or if you just Google my name like I have an uncommon name happily so like the Virginia Tech website with all my contact information comes right up.

John: Okay, we'll put the link to that on the show notes.

Jacob: Yeah, absolutely.

John: Alright, Jake. This has been great. Thank you so much.

Jacob: Thanks, John.

John: Okay. That's it. Hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you did, please help us grow our audience by telling a friend about AigoraCast and leaving us a positive review on iTunes. Thanks!


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