Archive for the ‘General’ Category


The Big Picture

September 1, 2009

I think I’m approaching graduate school with a very different perspective, and coincidentally a very different goal, than my peers. And while the benefits of that are important, I think I need to start taking a few pages from their books.

The major difference I’m facing has a big part to do with what we each individually want from this 5.5 year experience. For a lot of these kids, they want a Ph.D. in biology and the lab experience and the publishing credits to go on and get more lab experience and publishing credits to someday run their own lab. And to a certain extent, that’s what I think I want too. But while not everyone is as certain about all of this as I make it sound, I definitely feel the most lost. The general consensus of people have broad goals, are unsure of what kind of research they want to do, and what lab they want to end up in. And that’s exactly the point of this first year of rotations: to get a taste of everything you might like to see where your passions lie.

But I’m not so sure about research. I decided to apply and go to graduate school because I thought it was the next logical step. I decided I did not want to pursue chemical engineering, so that took out grad school in engineering and going to work in industry from my list of options. I decided a long time ago not to go to med school, so all that left was this second major in biology. And graduate studies in biology was definitely the best choice for me. Nothing makes me happier than getting to talk about science. Nothing makes me happier than learning some new story about how we came to be or what is the world in which we live. Nothing makes me happier than getting to share those stories with others.

So it made sense. Of all my choices, all my decisions, it made sense to go to grad school. But the thing that I’ve noticed since getting here. Not even that. Since meeting people in my interview weekend or randomly chatting with people on facebook. I have a different goal than everyone else. Everyone else wants great rotations and to find themselves in research, find what they like, find their niche. I want great rotations because I want to find myself in science, find out what’s out there, what’s going on in this world, and get to share the stories that I’ve learned. I want to teach what I’m learning, first and foremost.

But while the big picture in my mind is different, I do need to open my eyes wider and see what is going to be best for my career. because like it or not, I’m on a track to becoming a research biologist, and I need to start acting that way. So after a strenuous day, and a lot of meetings, I decided to switch rotations. These first few rotations I need to put my career first and look at the labs I may want to join. Then maybe I can explore the world.


Nature’s Struggle

August 27, 2009

So for the past 2 weeks, I have been… Moving. And watching TV. And moving. And not the fun moving like running around a beautiful park or playing some kind of physical activity. Picking up a box, and moving said box. But after 2 weeks of driving, shopping, unpacking, organizing, one and a half seasons of LOST, cleaning, exploring an unfamiliar city, not getting mugged, and a whole summer of Cheers, Frasier, Conan, Big Brother, and countless other trashy reality shows, I am finally running again. To hopefully stand in place.

I haven’t actually had my first real day yet. I spent this week trying to get settled in and find out what I need to start doing. I chose to make my first lab rotation something completely new. I liked the prof’s background: Histone structure. Big deal prof in the world of biophysics is exactly what I need to get a good grasp on something I’ve literally never studied. And I know about histones: they form a protein octamer that together with the DNA wrapped around it forms the nucleosome and activation and repression all have to do with modifications to the histone that may make the DNA looser or tighter or more or less accessible. But seriously, I have no idea how to crystallize a protein. Or do… that’s actually the only technique I’ve even heard of…

But even luckier for me, the professor told me in my first meeting that I may end up doing a joint rotation with another professor. And guess who, another big wig biophysics guy who probably also knows everything there is to know about this field I know nothing about. So after reading 4 papers from the first professor and now another 4 papers from this professor, I am now utterly confused, have no idea what is going on, and tomorrow I will be learning a technique I heard about for the first time yesterday. Awesome.

But what everyone keeps telling me is that this is all worth it. I am literally learning from the best. And even though more sensible people will advise to make the first rotation a bit easier, maybe in something you have some knowledge and background in, I like that I’m being thrown in head first. I like that these professors aren’t giving much regard to my safety as a student. Because that’s exactly what I need. I don’t want to be given an easy project where I just quickly relearn a routine and repeat over and over and get a handful of results. I want to LEARN! This is my chance in life to see the world. To experience science I may never get a chance to see again. So what if I suck. So what if I have no clue. How I adapt and the techniques I learn will make it all worth it, results or no results, happiness or no happiness.

That seems like an overly dramatic thing to say. The lab is actually kind of fun. People are nice. So I should have fun, but do you get what I’m saying? I need to take this time, this year, to learn about biology. I don’t want the easy way out.

In one of my favorite episodes of LOST, The Moth, Locke teaches Charlie about moths. Moth make silk and wrap themselves in a cocoon in which they develop wings and become winged moths. Locke says that he could help the moth get out of the shell by cutting the cocoon open. But the moth would come out of the shell and quickly die in nature. this is because the struggle the moth goes through to pull itself out of that cocoon makes it strong enough to survive the obstacles of life and nature. “Struggle is natures way of strengthening” says Locke. This year is my cocoon. I need to struggle. I need to feel the challenge. It will only make me stronger.

And I can’t help but bring this all to the perspective of evolution. Because that’s really what evolution is all about. Nature throws obstacles at you. And you must struggle to make it out. The weak don’t succeed. And the tough fight to the end. In the end, the moth that breaks free will produce babies that will break free. Now while I doubt grad school is going to leave me with a thousand biologist babies, I do know that if I am not strong enough to make it out of here, I never would have made it as a biologist anyway. But as I sit here, about ready to go watch Big Brother and then go to a gym that I’ve never been to before where I’ll have to fight an old lady for an elliptical, I know how important it is that I keep running. Because like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, I have to keep running to stand in place.


7 days

August 8, 2009

So I will eventually finish my other blog post… In the mean time I’ve been working very hard to figure what exactly is a Chicago accent. The goal is to have a subtle but present accent so that when I move to the east coast, I will stick out just a little bit to give me a small uniqueness. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing too good of a job learning it, and I got it to stick a little too much…

But it is Saturday night. In seven days I will be starting grad school, driving out to my new apartment, in my new city, in my new school, to meet my new friends (hopefully), while sleeping in my new bed (if I can find one), using my new kitchen knives (they’re Japanese which means they are the best according to my mom), in my new kitchen, wrapped in my new towel, after showering in my new shower, etc. etc. etc. Suffice it to say everything is changing very abruptly for me.

How bittersweet. One day you are sitting at home, bored out of your mind with nothing to do but read, eat, practice that new Chicago style, and worry about what’s to come. And all the worrying does is make you dread the day. And then the day comes. You’ve lost your family, your bed, your stability, and are now trying to create a new balance, a new boredom, but with the benefit of having ultimate control, free from your family’s boundaries. You may be teetering and constantly worrying, but all for the benefit of eventually balancing independently. So naturally, I’m ridiculously excited. That’s why this whole thing is so strange. It sucks to have to move, it sucks to have to start over, but ultimately these changes are ridiculously for the better.

Undergrad was exactly the same, but a microcosm. You think you’re gaining independence, you’re finally moving away, to get to do what you want, learn what you want, in an environment of like minded people. And to a certain extent that is very much true. But undergrad ends. And your like minded friends move away. The learning stops, if you even got to learn something you wanted to amidst all the distros and requirement, and you may get to pursue your true passion, if you’ve even figured that out yet. And if you haven’t guess what, you’re back at home, and your independence is gone again.

But grad school, to a certain extent, is what we were all looking for when we went to undergrad. I’m getting true independence by moving to this new apartment in this new state and getting a new drivers license and insurance policies, all being paid for with the stipend I’m getting through school. School has become the job! I’m learning exactly what I want to learn and my job in the end is the job I want to do for the rest of my life (I think). This is the dream. And the most exciting part: all the people I’ll be meeting in a month’s time are thinking the same thing. They have the same dream, and the same interests, and the same fears, and the same hopes. What better than to worry among friends?

And last night, with everything I have to worry about, like moving, buying everything I need, affording everything I need, and grad school in general, the only thing I could worry about were the people I’m going to be working with for the next ~6 years. Who are these people? But really, the thing is, I’m not worried about meeting them at all. I just want to know now what they are like. Who is ridiculously into research? Who just loves science? Who is bitter about the world? Who absolutely does not believe in god? Who is scared about what’s to come? Who else has no idea if this is the direction he or she needs to go?

Seven days I move. In seven days, God apparently created the universe (I’m not really sure about this, someone told me that). Hopefully in the next seven days I will be able to upturn my life. And hopefully, in seven days, I’ll land on me feet and ready to start running. With a subtle Chicago accent.


Summer Before Grad School

August 1, 2009

Welcome to my life!

This is the first day of the August, and rightly so, it is my first blog post. And as a first blog post, I guess I should introduce who I am, and what I hope to accomplish. I am an overly enthusiastic wannabe scientist pursuing graduate school because it is the next logical step in my life. After suffering 4 horrible years in a college major I did not enjoy, in a field I did not enjoy, at a school I … enjoyed … I am now hoping to correct all of my mistakes by going to graduate school in my real passion: biology. While this makes logical sense to most, you have to understand, my former major and career path could have gotten me a fantastic, high paying job of my choosing in a suffering economy (I know this because that’s what all my friends are doing). But instead, I’ve chosen biology.

But I have a few goals with this blog I feel I should share:

1. I want to share with the world the crazy adventures or lack there of that the average graduate student in biology undergoes. It’s a tough career choice only the brave and foolish could decide on. Our story demands to be heard.

2. I want people to see how a biologist (at least, this biologist) views the world. If your career is staked not on learning how the body works and what afflicts it like a person in medicine but rather how the cells in your body work and interact and function and allow you to even have a body of interworking cells, your perspective becomes quite different. Also, people asking me for medical advice gets really freaking old (I seriously, don’t know what that bump is on your butt, in my opinion, it’s cancer).

3. I want to teach you a little biology. Biology education has long been considered the “easy” science among scientists and the “memorization” subject among high school students. Somewhere along the way we considered having kids memorize a bunch of bone names and stages in the cell cycle as teaching science. But what this lacks is the magic that is biology. How we come into existence is much more interesting than memorizing a bunch of facts. We need to instill in our children a fascination for biology. Current education does not do that. Biology is not the “easy” science; just ask any sixth year Ph.D. student, if you know one. It is a lot of hard work, and the work people are doing is extremely fascinating; we just need to tell the stories they discover in a better way.

So that’s why I am here. This is the summer before I start. In 2 weeks I will be moving into my new apartment, to begin the craziest adventure of my life. As I work long hours of the day with my right hand pipetteing clear fluids into tiny tubes hoping to god, or shall I say Darwin (no that’s horribly cheeky), that I have some small amount of DNA or protein, and my left hand holding an insane number of journals to read and study, all while sipping from a feed back half cooked ramen noodles just for sustenance and not flavour because my taste buds have de-differentiated back into stem cells on my tongue to be both mean and ironic, I hope I paint you a picture of what it means to be in…