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.

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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.

A Level of Comfort

With experience, in any field of work or study, comes comfort. I have been a part of this labe for just over 4 weeks now. When I started, I got to pipet samples over and over again into eppendorf tubes. I followed protocols with the postdoc I am shadowing for the quarter watching me like a hawk, ensuring I did everything properly. At the beginning, she even did all the calculations and conversions for me.

Now, though I still follow protocols (since if I didn’t I might be in some big trouble!), I have a lot more freedom. I am left to complete experiments that I start. My postdoc doesn’t need to be around in order for me to complete something. For example, like yesterday. I came by between class and work to load my samples into an agarose gel to run. After the gel ran for 20 minutes or so, I came back to lab from work in order to visualize it and check to see if we got a positive result the second time around. This entire time, from when I loaded the gels to after I finished visualizing them, my postdoc was not in the lab. She was doing her own things and I was left to just complete the experiment. I have to admit, at the beginning, I was a bit hesitant. I felt like fish out of water, but after a split second of this feeling, I didn’t let it overcome me. I started to just go about the experiment like I would have if she were here.

And today, just before she left for her lunch break, she checked in with me to make sure that I was comfortable with the protocol I needed to follow in order to extract the plasmids from the cells. I told her I was okay, that I will be able to do it on my own. And indeed I am okay. Because I got sample at the end of following the protocol.

The samples will be sent out for sequencing Monday. The My bacteria grew nicely and now have found a new home in 4 degree Celsius.

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.

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.

Learning Curve

I wish I could say that things are smooth sailing, but that would be a lie. Classes have started and within the first week of the quarter, I have had three quizzes, one writing assignment due, 50 plus pages of biology reading, plus 15 poems to catch up on. It doesn’t help that I don’t have all my books and that my schedule is still not set in stone.

On top of academics, I am not part of a journal publication on campus as well as a member of three campus organizations. And to add to it all, I think I will be joining yet another journal publication and I am employed.

Does this post serve as anything significant? Not really. Just an update, from here in Evanston. It has been a rough week but also it has been a great one as well. I am getting to know more of myself each day, test my abilities, and meeting some really great people. Other than that, not much left to say. Hope you all are doing well!

Goodbye. Hello.

Two simple greetings. Marking the boundaries of a journey.

In 48 hours, I will be crawling into a dorm room bed yet again, XL long twin mattress covered with my purple blanket. In 48 hours, there will be no bed to fall asleep under, no little sister to kiss goodnight. Instead, it will be me in my own room, with the few belongings I am taking away from this place I call home.

Friday I parted with my elementary school teacher. 2001 was when I first met her. 11 years later, she still remembers me, vividly recounting memories of when I was a little girl. Tomorrow I say goodbye to my little sister, the kid that I used to hate but I have grown to love, the kid that brings out the kid in me, the kid that has the utmost faith and belief in me and my dreams.

Today I started my goodbyes at my old high school, my alma mater. I saw my old band teachers, Mr. Fey and Mr. Galli, wishing them well and just updating them on where I am headed in my life now. After 4 years of teaching me and 2 years post-graduation, nothing much has changed about F114. Then I saw my physio teacher, Mrs. McElwee by chance today, a lucky one too. I miss seeing her teach in B103, the candles enveloping the room as we students walked in for class. And then there is Mrs. Schussel. All I can say is I am grateful that our lives have crossed paths, that now I have her in my life as a mentor and friend, and that I know she will be somebody I can relate to, fall back on, and share stories with.

Goodbye. I told her. She wished me well. And she told me that I will have a great time. I can only hope so.

Tomorrow I will say my goodbyes with Ms Smith and Mr. H, two teachers whom I have never personally had but have grown to know over these past couple of years. And I will say goodbye with Mrs. Chow, my AP bio teacher that has seen me through my worst and my best. These will no doubt be the hardest yet. Tomorrow I wish will never come.

But it is the significance of this move to college more than any goodbye I may wish. I took a walk around my neighborhood tonight, thinking about leaving this time. Before, when I attended UCLA, my goodbyes didn’t seem to carry as much emotion as they do this time. Maybe it is because I have grown older. Maybe it is because I am growing into my future self. Whatever it may be, this move across 2/3 of the country is a big one.

My belongings fit into 2 boxes, 100 pounds total. They were shipped off Monday. The rest, whatever is left, fits into 2 suitcases, coming with me Thursday.

Goodbye. Hello. Two greetings. Yet they are so weighted in meaning and emotion. It is the end of this summer for me. I am starting anew.

I won’t have any tearful goodbyes tomorrow. One of my best friends is teaching in San Francisco. Another one of my best friends is down at UCLA working and moving into her apartment. And my other best friend, who has known me since middle school, is in a foreign country, chasing her dreams.

The others that know me well are spread across the country; Boston, Washington D.C., Houston, Berkeley, Los Angeles. I guess this is it. It is goodbye. Yet it is hello.

Something good will happen 🙂

You’re starting new and fresh.

🙂 you’ll be fine! New beginnings for you!

Midnight Ramblings: Future Ponderings

It is 4 AM. I have been staring wide-eyed and awake at the computer screen for the past 2 hours. My mind is racing. Thoughts are everywhere. As the New England Journal of Medicine articles stare back at me, the one thought that crosses my mind is the future.

What about it? Why is it so daunting? What makes it to attractive to us, that in the present, all we wish is to reach for it?

As I continue to grow older and develop a sense of the world, I can’t help but notice how the future hoovers over the present and how every decision I make now affects the future me, the future life that I will have.

With only twenty-one days until I board the flight bound for Chicago-Midway, I am starting to wonder if I made the right decision in transferring to my dream school, the school I wished to attend out of high school yet didn’t get the chance to. Now that I have the chance, now that I am a couple years older and a couple years more experienced, am I ready for this sudden change?

A jolt, really, in my daily musings. A new way of thinking. But does all this — moving, a new environment, being thrown out into the world alone — lead to a better future paved down the road for me? Do the challenges make me stronger? Will they help me finally come to realize where my heart lies, what my passions are?

I have all these goals, these aspirations. I like to think that these are just hurdles along the way to my dreams, that moving to the middle of the country, attending a new school halfway through my college career, changing my future goals halfway through college are all just hurdles on the way to my ultimate goal: becoming a physician, pediatrician.

But those goals are too far distant. First, I need to conquer the immediate ones. Like packing all my belongings and getting to Chicago safely. Like signing up for the most challenging, grueling quarter yet. Like putting myself out there for people to judge, because that is the first step in loving and accepting oneself.

Life isn’t without challenges, I guess. Or I know. I saw somewhere on the internet a picture with the words

Don’t give up, the beginning is always the hardest.

This is my beginning, I like to think. This is the beginning to a life that I cannot yet know, that I cannot yet envision. It is the biggest hurdle that I must overcome in the journey of my life. So as cheesy as it sounds, and as many times as we all have heard, it is true. Life is without challenges. We will always have hurdles to overcome. It is just a matter of trusting and believing that you will get over the hurdle, that you will be triumphant in the end.

Faith. Hope. Trust. Believe. And maybe, just maybe, a sprinkling of luck.