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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Rhythm

I didn’t think that I would start to enjoy lab when I first signed up for this experience. I did it because I fit the need to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself at this new school I found myself at in the fall. Yet somehow, over the course of the past few months, I have grown to love the work that I do and love the time that I spend on the fourth floor of Cook Hall.

It has been a busy quarter, filled with an enormous amount of firsts. There have been milestones though. I wrote my first grant. I made my first research presentation and then presented it to my labmates during meeting. Small steps which seem like nothing but mean so much.

What I have come to see is that research is tedious at times; challenging, time consuming, draining, and downright frustrating. But regardless of whatever feelings it may arouse, I know that it is something that has grown on me. Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, don’t discount all the negatives about what you know of research, because you never know, it could grow on you and add more to your life than you could ever imagine.

Setbacks in the Lab

It’s been about a month now. I have had a project since the first day of the quarter, but it seems that the project which I once thought was mine no longer is. I came back from class today to find an envelope sitting at my lab desk waiting to be opened. They were my primers. Three sets of them — sense and antisense.

Though it may not seem like it, I am really disappointed in myself for the results that I have been getting. I know that it shouldn’t fall on my shoulders because I can’t control if two proteins are to interact or not. I followed protocol and that should be what matters. However, tonight, the night before my biochemistry midterm, all I could feel was frustration over my research. I started my new project today. I ended my first one today too.

This is the first time I have felt so invested in something and to see it not work? Heartbreaking.

I know this is only part of research, and that I have learned so much from this month. But still, part of me feels as if I have let my PI down and my lab down.

Your thoughts?

Back to the Grind: 2013

There are certain things that I feel as if I will never be able to wrap my head around. Nor will I ever come to fully understand the implications of many of the things that have been happening in my life recently.

Are there reasons why I am so fortunate for being able to come across this opportunity to research in a wonderful lab? What is the purpose of my deciding to push through with a quarter filled with endless hours performing lab research, understanding my project and its implications, as well as trying to keep up with very time consuming, content filled courses?

I guess this isn’t the place or time to be thinking about all of this. I can say though, that after a week back at school in 2013, I am very overwhelmed and wondering what it is I can cut out from my life in order to really, fully grasp everything this quarter has to offer, as well as push myself and do the best that I know I can do.

Overall, I am looking forward to tackling the project that I have been given by my PI. I feel like it is a great starting point for me to really come to understand how to study eukaryotic transcription at the molecular level, something that is truly fascinating and intriguing. Aside from doing basic preparations I have been reading up on the literature written about the proteins I am working on. There is so much unknown out there that it is amazing how I get to be a part of this discovery process. We may think science has offered us all the answers but to this day, there is still so much unknown, so much uncertainty that only through research and discovery will we be albe to come one step, one baby step, closer to understanding how our body works on the molecular level.

Research: Failures and not Measuring Up to Fellow Lab Members

For the first time in a long time, I feel like something is working out, that there is a small flicker in the light at the end of the tunnel. As with many people, we all have our own struggles and find ways to combat them. One of the struggles I have is feeling like I am making the right choices with my future and that I belong where I am at in my schooling and with research and just in general.

These past few days, as I have been spending more time in my research lab as well as reading up on various news going on around campus, I kept coming across a similar theme: these people that I am surrounded by, especially fellow undergraduate students, are so much better than me and are so much more capable than I am. This thought had been running through my head over and over — on replay — and kept me down. It didn’t help that my bacteria didn’t grow the other day or that I forgot the procedure to make an agarose gel or that the project that I am helping my mentor work on wasn’t going as planned.

Regardless, despite all these negatives, I felt like I saw a small flickering light at the end of the tunnel for me. I came to realize (even if I don’t believe it yet) that it is okay for me to not know what is going on with the research, that it is okay for me to not have all these accomplishments and accolades that my peers have because I just got involved a couple months ago. I am new to the world of research. I need to start thinking like a scientist soon. I know there isn’t ever an excuse for failing or for not being good enough or not measuring up to other people you are surrounded by but these are just my jumble of thoughts.

This isn’t my best writing by far, but I needed to really just leave it all out there and see what others have to say on this topic.

Lastly, I want to leave you all with this thought:

Isn’t it strange, however, that we are told to look for clarity in our experiences and various aspects of our lives, that we must seek understanding and clarification yet in the research that I am doing, we start with clear LB broth and overnight, it becomes clouded with unknown matter? And instead of starting from a cloudy, occluded mixture and go towards a clear solution, we start with clarity, proceed into the uncertain, and emerge, after many flickering lights, at the end of the tunnel, victorious in our search for whatever it may happen to be.

A Calm Amidst the Storm

Strange, right? It is something that I have been thinking about lately. What is the one thing that keeps you grounded and focused when the rest of your world is falling apart and spinning to pieces?

For me, that is lab. It is this experience. I went into my undergraduate time thinking that I will never set foot in a wet lab because that is something that I cannot see myself doing ever. Being cooped up inside a research laboratory, sitting in front of an illuminated computer screen late into the night analyzing data, was something that I told myself — promised myself and others around me — that I would never in my life. Thus, I started seeking out clinical experience and dry labs to participate in. I found a clinical lab to volunteer in my first year or so at UCLA but then, when things got rough in my personal life as well as with the transfer process, academics, and my job, I decided I needed a break from the volunteering and to reevaluate all that I want out of my life.

It really came when I received my rejection letter from applying to be a Resident Assistant for my junior year. All my goals and aspirations from before this moment seemed so solidified; I was motivated and ready to tackle it all head-on. But then that one email changed everything for me. Drastic? Not really. From the time I received that email, I have been reevaluating things since. I have decided to venture down a road I promised myself I would never go down: to pursue medicine and go into molecular biology research.

That all said, I am so glad I decided to go down this path. In spite of everything that is happening in my personal life right now, the time I spend in lab is what keeps me calm. It is the place I want to go and am willing to go to after a long night, a long day in class, or just the typical day. Regardless of what it is I am doing for other aspects of my life, I am willing to drop everything and head into lab to make some acrylamide gels or grow bacteria or re-suspend pellets.

Opportunities like this come once in a lifetime, I like to think. Things fell into place in order for me to receive this offer and opportunity to work in the lab more full-time for the remainder of my undergraduate career. Sometimes I feel like the toys which toddlers play with, where there are various shapes and they need to be placed through the corresponding holes. It is as if there are thousands of shapes waiting to fall into place, and the one that has fallen into place is lab.

Even though there may be 999 more shapes that slowly need to fall into place, I am not worried. Why? Because though things may be a bit stormy right now in my life, I have lab, this calm amidst the storm. I am able to focus and clear my mind for just a few hours a day when I put on my hat as a research assistant for the Northwestern University Department of Molecular Biosciences.

Quick Update 10.30.12

It has been a while since I have posted. Since I last posted a week ago, nothing much has changed. To be honest, this week felt like it went by extremely slowly. I had an exam last week along with a paper due and four or five quizzes (too many to keep track of). Aside from that all, research has just been getting more and more interesting; each day I learn something new and each day I see the results of what I am working on. This is truly a rewarding experience.

For example, just yesterday, I inserted a TEV plasmid into E. coli competent cells and after growing overnight in an incubator, there were colonies on my agar plate. As weird as it sounds, the colonies are really pretty. I don’t know what it is about the small things of this research — growing colonies, seeing bands on the gel, extracting plasmids — but I am absolutely in love with what I am doing. Sometimes, I wish I could just skip classes and run tests all the time. Sure, there were a few hiccups here and there during the first couple of weeks where the bacteria didn’t grow properly or the plasmids weren’t extract or inserted into the cells, but these are minor compared to the end goal. To know that I have been matched with this lab and to be able to truly see the words transform into the laboratory is more than I could ask for.

But for now, this is all I have to say. I am just going with the flow and taking everything one step at a time. Nothing in life can’t be overcome; I just have to keep a positive mentality and just keep pushing forth.

Starting from simple tasks.

They told me that as an undergraduate, all I would do is wash their used dishes and pipette microliters of substance a thousand times over. They told me that I would not ever do any meaningful research and that professors despised undergraduates.

Whoever told me this, I didn’t want to believe them, but I did. Rumors, they were.

I am glad that I kept an open mind going into my junior year. By doing so, I was able to meet somebody who knew a professor who was looking for an undergraduate to research in his lab and it just so happend the work the lab is doing relates to my interests.

I have been in the lab for a week. I have gone in three times now. Each day I have done something different. I have prepared bacteria to be transvected with a plasmid and grow, I have extracted plasmids from the bacteria that were grown, and I have made broth in which bacteria can grow. Each task, as simple as it may seem, has been a learning experience. I have not had to wash any dishes. I have not had to pipette micro quantities a thousand times over. What I have done is followed protocols. I have followed instructions given to me and been left alone to complete them. The post-doctoral student I am working with this quarter has helped me each step of the way, explaining why things are the way they are and then leaving me to do what i need to to. Nobody watches me like a hawk. And yet I am entrusted with the most basic yet critical tasks for running future experiments.

WIthout the work that I am doing now and the techniques I am learning, I will not be able to perform any future projects. It is critical (at least for the research the lab is doing) that bacteria can grow in large quantities and that plasmids are available in large quantities to work with and manipulate for future studies.

Everything I am doing has meaning. Everything I am learning has value. Nothing is mundane, nothing is useless.

I am building the foundations of what will eventually lead to an independent project and maybe even something more. But for now, I am taking it slowly, taking it one step at a time, and soaking it all in.

Words Come Alive.

Experiences shape the life that you live. I slowly come to think, each day, that this chance — this once in a life time opportunity — really has been a blessing, in a sense. I don’t strictly believe it is a blessing but I do believe that it is fate that I ended up here, that I have made the decisions I have made thus far.

Three weeks ago, when I first came to Northwestern, if you were to ask me what I think I would be doing at the end of the second week of the quarter, I would have told you I would be scrambling to find a lab to join, be swamped with coursework and horribly behind, and lost without friends. But at the end of two weeks, I can say I love this place more than anything, that I want to stay here for as long as I can, and make the most of this opportunity.

Academics aside, I am so lucky to have this chance at research. It just happened that last week, when I attended an informational meeting for a research workshop program I am a part of, as I waited to talk to a facilitator who’s interest lie in genetics (like myself), another facilitator came up to me and struck up a conversation. Research interests came up at one point and it just so happened that the Principle Investigator (PI) she worked for during the summer was looking for an undergraduate student. And it happened that the research this PI is doing is something that is very intriguing and is a field that has a lot of room to grow.

So here I am, two weeks into my last two years of my undergraduate career, spending my time in the research laboratory, playing with Escherichia coli (E. coli) during my free time. It is a post-doctoral student that I get to shadow this quarter, with the opportunity to grow and learn, to get caught up to speed since later on this quarter and for sure starting next quarter, I get to take off on my own project. The topic? I have no idea. I received a couple of papers to read up on what may potentially be the topics of my project but nothing is set in stone. This unknowing breeds my curiosity; it drives me to want to keep working and learning as much as I can, because I can only grow from here.

This post is titled “Words Come Alive”. Why, you may ask? The driving force (and my motivation) for me finding a laboratory to join is that I love to learn but the things I learn, I look to apply. I seek to be pushed to ask questions, to continually learn, and to see how the concepts I learn every 10 weeks translates into actual research. And these first two days, that has happened. Yesterday I got the chance to prepare E. coli with various plasmids which, after treatment with enzymes and other chemicals (which I cannot recall right now), was incubated overnight. When colonies were gather, these were grown in liquid culture for greater quantities.

Today, when I went in to lab after classes ended, the colonies had grown. The plasmids were taken up by the bacteria. All we had to do now was to extract these plasmids. Easy, right?

It is, the concept that is. All you really had to do is open up the bacterial cells and then isolate the plasmid from the rest of the cell contents and the bacterial genome, purify it, and there you go: plasmids. I learned this in class, in my molecular biology class. Yet it doesn’t really make sense on paper (at least for me it didn’t).

But I got to do it today. In about two hours, I created two small vials of plasmids which can be stored for later use. Later use, that is, in experiments, such as when a researcher wants to linearize the plasmids to run them on a gel or insert them into a new genome for further study.

Yes. This is tiring. Yes. This path I choose is exhausting. But yes, this is the most rewarding thing I can think of at this point in my life. I regret no decisions I have made thus far. Things will slowly fall into place, and this dream is worth chasing.

A Process of Self-Discovery

Isn’t that what college is? Isn’t that what life is about?

I left the place I knew for 15 years after I graduated high school in 2010. I left hoping that within two days of landing at UCLA, I would find my niche, and I would discover the person I would be for the rest of my life. Needless to say, it has taken me more than two days and I am still in that process. One thing I can say, though, is that this process is a wild ride, one that I wish to keep on enjoying.

I have been here for two weeks. In these two weeks, I have stepped more out of my comfort zone than I ever thought I would. I have signed up for more campus organizations than I ever knew about at UCLA, I have talked to complete strangers and shared my story about transferring with them, I have applied for positions in various campus organizations that I never even considered before I came here, and I have walked outside in below 50 degree weather with capris on thinking it would be a nice sunny day only to freeze my butt off as I trekked from one end of campus to the other rushing to get to class on time (lesson learned: check the weather BEFORE leaving the room not when you are inside a classroom all warm and toasty). On top of all this, I have found a job where I work as a lab aid for a master’s program student and even considered joining Greek Life here at NU.

All in all, I am glad that I have made the decisions I made. This thought has hit me several times the past couple of weeks that I have been here but it has also been a decision I have doubted countless times as well. There are times when I think I love it here — talking with the students and faculty, being in classes engaged with the material and the professor, learning about the amazing opportunities — but then there are times when I get so homesick, when I miss having my safety blanket that all I want to do is go back in time and not make the decision to apply.

Today, though, I think I finally am okay with the decision I made. No, I am more than okay with it. I am satisfied. It will be a hard road, and I know it. But I am now at the point where one of my best friends, who I text and talk to regularly (since she was supposed to be my roommate but now we aren’t 😦 ), has noticed a change in the way I am talking and thinking and just changing as an individual. It has been extremely hard to leave the close friends I made at UCLA (it helped that some of them went off the graduate school and post-bacc programs so I wasn’t the only one leaving) but then there are the few that are my year or a year older than me that I worked with daily or talked to a lot and shared great conversations with that I wish I could still have with them. I gave up the great weather out in California for the ever changing, unpredictable weather that comes with being right on the shores of Lake Michigan and next to the Windy City. But what I have done is give myself a chance, a chance to do something that I never in a million years would have thought about.

It is in transferring that I am finally starting to understand who I am as an individual. It is in transferring that I am starting to realize that I am worth this life to live and that I have a future ahead of me. I don’t want to give up now. I know I can’t, so in the hardest of times, I remember all the sacrifices my family and friends have made, all the nights I felt worthless as a member of society, and the hurdles I have jumped through to get here.

But this journey will be worth it. It is a long one but it will be worth it.