Hello :)

It’s been a minute, wordpress. I don’t think the title of my blog applies anymore. I’m thinking of starting blogging again, because as you know, life happens. I changed courses quite drastically, I must say. I’m no longer a graduate student. I graduated last October with my master’s degree and left the city I fell in love with this past April. I moved back to my home state, but to the southern part instead. I had a job for a few months but then suddenly lost it and now I’m a bit lost and confused.

I’ve been searching for employment for two weeks now, looking in the biotech sector to do research and development but also in the education sector. I thoroughly enjoyed my time mentoring high school students while in graduate school, and when I tutored and taught briefly at community college. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t go get my teaching certificate so I could teach high school students but then again, I had a passion for research and lab work, so I followed my heart for a bit. Now, I feel like I’m back at square one, unsure of where to go from here.

You see, through all this, I’ve been discovering myself. I get down on myself quite often and I must say, I see the world with a glass half empty point of view. Or I did, I should say. I have been trying my best to see this as an opportunity, a blessing in disguise. It is a chance for me to figure out what I want to do with my life and career and I’ve been chasing my hobbies lately.

I went skydiving. If you know me, you know I absolutely hate heights and free falling. I don’t actively seek out adventure and I’m more of a homebody, sit on the couch and watch a baseball game and cuddle or read a good book at a coffee shop with my dogs type of girl. The most adventurous I’ve been is going to the ball park for a baseball game on a Monday night.

I dyed my hair and got it cut short.

I started to boulder and rock climb more, everyday in fact for over a week straight.

I run more now than I have in months. I’ve also got the Chicago Marathon coming up in a few short weeks.

I’m slowly beginning to physically and mentally prepare myself for a triathalon.

I’ve fallen in love. And let myself fall in love wholeheartedly, to the point where I’ve gotten heartbroken and now am hurting and confused.

Most importantly, I’m beginning to turn my life over to God. I believe in a higher power but I never grew up religious. However, nothing in my life made sense. I didn’t understand why I was being “punished” with mental illnesses and pain and emotional distress. I didn’t understand why I never managed to kill myself despite trying at a minimum of three times. I didn’t understand why I self-harmed for 10 years and am now left with the scars as reminders. I did, however, understand it the only way I could: because I was a failure, a mistake for my parents, a problem and I needed to be punished.

Now, however, I’m starting to see a purpose to my struggles. I’ve been able to speak out about my suffering, my experiences, my pain, as a way to help my friends understand that even the best of us who seem to have it all together can suffer. I’m more outspoken about my mental health because I believe in my heart that there is a meaning behind why this happened to me and in my lifetime. I share my story because if I can save one person from taking their own life, then I have won this battle with my mental illnesses.

I’m not going to preach to the choir about finding God and believing in His greater power, because truthfully, I don’t even know Him fully. I’m just scratching the surface. However, I can say that when I went skydiving, I put my life in His hands and let him guide me to safety. And I am doing that with my life too. I’m turning over my heart to God because He is the only one that knows who is the right one my heart belongs to. He is the only one that can bring two hearts together as one and while I feel I know who I want to be with, only God can provide me with the right individual in due time. I don’t know where I’ll end up in a day, in a week, in a month. I don’t know if I’ll have a job or a roof over my head or money to keep myself alive or if I’ll have the privilege of being somebody’s girlfriend and partner, but I do know that God’s timing is right and that it will work out in the end the way it is meant to work out.

He wouldn’t give me anything I am not strong enough to handle. I may not see my strength now, but when I look back, I’ll know exactly how strong I had to be to overcome the things I have and will have to in life.

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First year Grad student…

It’s been a few months since I last wrote. There isn’t much that has happened, to be quite honest. I started graduate school and am nearing the end of my first rotation. I have two more before I choose my thesis lab and am officially admitted into the program I am in. Then, it will be preparing for qualification exams, teaching, and applying for grants, fellowships, conferences, teaching certificates, etc.

What has been hardest for me hasn’t been classes or finding time to do research. It is challenging to be in two graduate courses, attending seminars and journal clubs weekly, and fitting in a full schedule of research but it has been manageable. What is the hardest is approaching somebody I respect and would be honored to be mentored by and telling them that hey, I want to join your lab and while I know you have three other rotation students coming in the next two quarters, don’t forget me alright? I am not one to speak up for myself and make it known what I want. The last time I really did that was high school and that ended up in a really bad situation (let’s just say I ended up scared of returning to my parent’s place). I don’t like to advocate for myself out of fear and the profession I have chosen to pursue is one that requires one to not be silent and to put oneself out there. Conflict much?

Regardless, rotations have been stressful. Finding your own rotation for winter quarter while making sure you don’t step on your classmate’s toes but also making sure you get what you want is a tricky thing to balance.

I wish I had something more profound or better to say but currently, with very little time left in what I consider the most crucial rotation I can have, nothing really makes sense anymore. I am terrified with the prospect of not being able to join any lab, as I am an incredible liability to anybody who takes me on. More than that, I am not a very strong scientist, one that cannot perform experiments properly and cannot analyze data or read the literature. Why am I in this graduate program then? That is a very good question. I am not sure and I wonder if I will ever find out.

Proteins

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This is what science is to me. The white powder simply is nothing to most but I know that my protein sample is preserved, that the purification and care I took in processing the cell culture worked. Because that powder is my protein. And that protein is mine.

Cell Biology Videos :)

I think I mentioned before that I have been accepted into graduate school and will be working towards a PhD in biological sciences. However, I don’t know what exact discipline I want to go into but the good thing is I am part of an umbrella program so I get to rotate in three labs and choose!

So to preview I guess what I may be studying — cell biology!

Enjoy 🙂

Hello :)

Hi there readers!

It’s been quite a while since I last posted. All I can say is that life happened, in a good way though. I have finally figured out what I want to be doing with the rest of my life and it’s nice to know I will be staying put here on the shores of Lake Michigan for a few more years!

I applied to the graduate program at my undergraduate institution and was accepted, so I get this wonderful opportunity to study what I love, learn new skills and techniques, be surrounded by the best in the field, all while getting four seasons and starting my own, independent life.

It’s weird but I guess that’s what comes with graduation. That’s not to say you can’t take time off or such but this is what I want to be doing and my gut feeling is telling me to pursue graduate studies in a biological sciences interdisciplinary doctorate program. So I am. I would have never thought when I transferred universities, let alone just a month ago. Sometimes things change quickly, other times slowly. And patience, as I have learned, is the best way to approach all the curveballs life throws our way.

For now, I end with this thought, something that has given me a new way of approaching life. More soon, and I cannot wait to share with you all and document my journey through a doctorate program.

Challenges and obstacles on the path of life may seem initially like things that are standing in your way but in reality, the obstacles, roadblocks, challenges, curve balls are the path of life. You can’t avoid hitting a curveball when it comes your way because if you do, then it will keep coming back. So why not just go for it? You may miss the first time but you will eventually get a hold of it and drive it right over the shortstops head into left field.

Just a thought…

It’s been a while since I updated…

However, I did make quite an interesting observation this morning in lab. Terrific broth cultures, after subjecting them to denaturing conditions with GnHCl, are not pleasant to work with. After spinning down my cultures and getting ready to incubate them for purification, I proceeded to add 20% bleach to the tubes to make it easier to clean. Instead, the solution turned a bright orange upon addition of the bleach and it foams and smells really bad.

I let out a squeal because it was nasty. I can’t shake the smell or feel of it right now. Good thing I was wearing gloves because bleach and bacteria are no good combination ever.

Lesson? Lab safety! You never know what two chemicals can do when placed together.

Save those samples!

I let out the biggest sigh of relief when I saw those three letters in that 1.5 mL eppendorf tube sitting in my box in the -20C freezer.

It has been a couple months since last posting due to the fact that a lot has been going on in my life personally and academically. I have just gotten a chance to sit down, today, with my PI to discuss the project that I am currently working on and all the results that I have gotten.

A time crunch is an understatement for the situation that my project is in. I have been working on this since February, and since the middle of March, my project has been going in circles. Finally, after somewhat conclusive NMR data and yet again unexpected SEC-MALS data, we (my PI and I) have come to the conclusion that quite possibly, something as minor as a His-tag is affecting my entire protein sample.

It would have helped to realize this sooner, but despite all the failures that I have seen in the past couple of months, it is good to know that all my experiments and tests have not been in vain. Though I am going back to step one by transforming my plasmid with my target sequence into E. coli for overexpression, at least I know that what I am about to work on will give me a shot at producing some results at the very least.

My first year at Northwestern is coming to an end and my time in lab has been nothing short of amazing. I have pushed myself to so many limits and cannot have asked for a better lab to join. The people I work with are so incredibly talented and though it often times makes me realize how little I have accomplished in my life and how much of a failure I seem compared against my fellow labmates, I use that to drive me to do what I need to do.

I am motivated and determined to be able to push my project forward. It really is satisfying to see results coming out, to be able to interpret them on your own, and then discuss with your PI in a two-way conversation regarding what the next steps are.

This year has been such a whirlwind but I can say that I am so happy and grateful for the grant that I have been given to allow me to continue my research here during the summer months.

For now, this is it. Bacteria cells await my care. Just know, saving samples is crucial when doing research! Save those samples!

“It looks beautiful”

The first thought that came to my mind when I woke the computer from its sleep state was just one thought. It looks beautiful

I never understood why some people are attracted to research, especially when dealing with molecules such as proteins and DNA that cannot be visualized by the naked eye. It looks like a bunch of liquid, really, as you are going through the various steps of purification. Not to mention, in order to get to this ‘liquid’ phase, you need to go through growing bacteria and harvesting them and getting them — the bacteria, that is — to over express your protein.

And if it doesn’t work, you need to start from step one.

There is a lot of modification that happens in lab. Tweak the concentration of compound A. Add a little more of compound B. Let it incubate longer. Did you wake up your bacteria from the -4C freezer?

Not to mention, you never really know what the proteins are doing in this ‘liquid’ as you are working with it.

But despite all these challenges and the set backs that I have faced in lab, I am still amazed at the way various biochemistry techniques, such as SEC (size exclusion chromatography) can yield such clear, definitive results. If the protein is there, it will elute at the fraction corresponding roughly to its molecular weight. If it isn’t there, or if the protein decided it wants to aggregate and clump together, then the chromatogram will show just that.

There is such a satisfaction with seeing a pure peak, a clear, indicative peak that gives insight into what the protein in this ‘liquid’ might just be doing.

Its trivial, I know. I never understood it, from the outside looking in, reading journal publications on how researchers have this moment of “ah-hah”, how they see beauty in results. Now I get it. I have seen it from the other side. It truly is beautiful when you see the results you hope for, knowing that something you have done is right.

Back at the bench: in the dugout and in the lab

There is a strange about standing over the pH meter, watching the numbers rise — click, click, they sound. Or so I imagine. One drop too much of NaOH and there goes the beautiful click, click; it is a swoosh, an adrenaline rush.

Time to add HCl. Bring those numbers back down. But one too many drops — even half a drop — and there goes the delicate balance between hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions

There is precision to the work that I do for my independent study course. I am to spend whatever time I wish to in lab, to do my project at my own leisure. Sure, there are ‘deadlines’ I need to meet — have you purified yet? Did you run SEC? How about that protein gel? Do you have enough pellets in the -80C freezer ready to go on any given notice?

Yes. Yes. Yes. I think. No. I actually don’t have my act together. Or I didn’t. Because for the past 10 days or so, since the quarter started, I told myself that I need to focus on me, that I need to start reaching back to the old me — the one that loved to run and workout to stay sane, the girl that found joy in burying herself in her studies.

But that hasn’t worked. Back at the bench since my last class ended, following a day since my 7AM 4-hour emergency room shift, I find myself sitting at my lab desk, staying late into the night, doing one too many tasks. Run the agarose gel to see just exactly why your mutagenesis isn’t working. Incubate the EDTA with your resin in the cold room for 10 minutes before you elute. Collect your fractions from the SEC run and store them so you can run a gel on them later.

There is a list of tasks running through my head. It has been 15 hours since I was last sleeping. I tried to avoid coffee all day but half a cup down and I am going strong.

Fueled not by fear, but by passion. Back at the lab bench, it brings me back to the days when I had a seat on the bench. In the third base dugout, where despite convention of the home team getting the first base dugout, our team was, sun behind us and not in our eyes. Being back at the bench is just like being on the bench, up against the fence, cheering on the team. It is just like grabbing my battered Mizuno glove off the yellow bench, running out as I slip my sunglasses over my eyes, and looking back at the field to gather the sign and position myself, predicting where the ball will go. Because isn’t that what I am doing now? Making predictions and then running an experiment to see if what I think is reality? Because isn’t positioning yourself just slightly on the third base foul line indicating that an inside pitch is being called by the catcher and that the righty at bat will pull it down the line?

At the end of the day, I can tell myself I need this time for this and this time for that. But really, it doesn’t matter what my ”excuses” are, because this is where I feel at home. There is a feeling of serenity and calm that overcomes me as I methodically go through each step. I have my protocol memorized down to how many grams of each chemical I need. Step by step, walking a fine line.

Just like I knew the hitting signals and the fielding cues, I know my protocol. I know that an outside pitch requires me to go with it and poke it just over the first basemen’s head so I can beat the right fielder’s throw to the bag. Just like that. It is a science. Softball and research. Where I am me.