Lazy day 06/23/2011
I haven't done ANYTHING in lab today. I was going to set up a real time, but as I was diluting my samples, we realized that one of our machines was broken and giving weird data. One of the grad students was supposed to leave town today, so I let him run his experiment and after that, it snowballed into me being pushed into tomorrow.
And, of course, the machine on the left is running samples with the wrong protocols...so I can't use that machine either tomorrow, which blows. We don't have an antibody I need, so I can't even finish up my Westerns, and I'd like to have a successful Western one day (One day, someone will write a song about my EpicFail with Western Blots). I need to get that done to get the adhesion assays going, which will END THE BLOODY PROJECT.
So, I spent all day, 7 AM to now....writing. With the help of my Immunobiology book, I decided to start my introduction and banged out a full two pages on complement (I really can't go much more detailed). The problem is, I have the entire complement pathway MEMORIZED, I deal with it daily. Regulators? Check. Protein levels? Check. Diseases? Check. So, when I write, it's really from memory and I'm fairly sure that 98% of it is accurate and that 2% is inaccurate in like, nomenclature. But, when we write research papers, we have to cite every bloody sentence (see also: Plagiarism). I'm now going to need to find the articles that say whatever the hell was in my intro, which is a pain in the ass. Retroacti
I've moved on from complement to its regulation and now I'm having a bit of trouble. Do I talk about regulation of complement at the protein level? transcriptional? cytokine? inflammatory?
And where this fits into my entire Scheme Of Things? No bloody idea.
But, I wrote 2 pages in 8 hours. It's a start.
The scariest thing about applying to graduate programs is that I need to figure out what I want to do. I LOVE what I do now, really. Gene regulation is the greatest thing ever and we have such a broad application to neurology, immunology, hematopoiesis, arthritis, cancer, diabetis (actually the last 3 are all immuno related), that I could literally study this and never get bored. College and even my M.Sc research is funny like that--we learn a little bit about everything and sort of start to specialize in a few fields, but at this point, I could make the leap to anything in biochem and be all right (to varying degrees, protein structure determination would be hard).
And now, I have to write about why I've chosen a program. Who I want to work for, where I could see myself committing 3-5 years of my life, both location and labwise. But, it's bigger than that. Where I choose to work for my PhD will define my entire research career. If I choose to study neuropharmacology, that's it--I'll be a neuroscientist. If I choose to study Cytochrome proteins, I'll be trained as a protein biochemist. If I go into B cell signalling, I'm an immunologist. My PhD research defines my fellowship which defines my career as a scientist. Once I'm in, there's no way out.
One of my best friends is going to grad school for Mechanistic Enzymology. We know a little bit about each other's fields, just from classes, but we don't understand the nuances of each other's work, and we never will. I'm never going to be an expert in everything and in the next six months, I'm going to choose to specialize in one field, one small tiny subset, which will define my next 35-40 years.
It's the proverbial fork in the road. The only blessing is that I've been exposed to an insanely broad base of research, from my first research experience, my work at UZH and here. I know what I like and I know what I don't like--but how do I narrow it down? How do I get a focus? How do I know in 10 years that nuclear receptor signaling is what I want to do? Practically speaking, funding is drying up everywhere-what field is going to have the money?
My postdoc said that it's good if I can pick a focus and show what I want to do. But then he said that I need to NOT make it sound like I'm only committed to one small subset or one small professor. And then he said I need to be clear about why I pick a certain disease, a certain problem and want to solve it (Quote postdoc: "And for the love of God, don't say you want to cure cancer forever and ever and there are roses and puppies lining your path"). But, pick a disease, pick a problem.
Do you know how many problems there are in the universe? How many diseases? How many things wrong with the human body that we need fixing? How many things that we can't even begin to understand?
p23 co-chaperone 06/20/2011
I ran my Western Blots last week and developed them over the weekend. When we run Westerns, since we're looking for protein levels, we also have to run a control, like B-actin, GAPDH or something. The control shouldn't vary from sample to sample, so that we can ensure that I did indeed load the same amount of protein per well. (Otherwise, if we show a 2 fold decrease, how do we know that that I actually didn't just load half?)
Anyway, I normally use B-actin, which a cytoskeletal protein, and shouldn't interfere at all with my gene regulation stuff. However, we were out of the antibody for it, so after a little bit of digging and asking around, I decided to use the control that our tech uses, p23. I figured, since she used it, it should work just fine for my stuff, and the postdoc signed off on it.
If only I had looked it up. As it turns out, p23 is a cochaperone for Hsp90, which is in a complex with the AhR. Therefore, treating my cells with things that bind to the AHR and alter what it does would end up altering levels of detectable p23. And that, my friends is exactly what happened. My blot showed the appropriate increases and decreases of whatever proteins I cared about, but I couldn't interpret it, since there were corresponding increases and decreases of p23 levels. Postdoc didn't chew my head off like I thought he would, but instead mildly said something about him helping me transfer blots (we had an issue with the whole 'be gentle with the gel' lesson)
So...I didn't screw up. This was good. However, now, I have to wait until the B-actin antibody comes in (and knowing my luck, it'll show up right when I take off for IDB) before I can do the damn blots.
And I wanted to be done with protein work by July. Le sigh.
Cambridge/MIT--for the Eurotrip folks 06/17/2011
So about two months ago, I was in Boston, Cambridge, to be precise. Americans, you've seen Boston, I'm sure (and if you haven't...go go go). This is for Sandra, Julia and Franzi--because the former two need to see a less...Amish part of the US.
The competition is laid out fantastically, being, of course, run by MIT Ballroom. Saturday morning is all Syllabus Standard, until noonish and Syllabus Latin is on Sunday morning. That leaves Saturday afternoon until Sunday 8 AM for "Anjali-time", which is FANTASTIC. I got to see Krish and Saloni, two really good friends from high school.
Boston/Cam reminded me a lot of Basel, especially with the Charles river. Nothing can compare to the Limmat, of course, but Boston does a pretty decent job, even though it is about 3 times the size. A plus for the Charles, it is cleaner than the Rhine.
Temperature fluctuations 06/17/2011
I think the heating system is broken in the lab. Just last week, we were all bitching about how bloody cold it is in lab, but now, it's like a sauna. I don't drink enough water, yeah yeah, but I've been guzzling it by the liter and I'm still thirsty and hot. And, of course, today's the day I'm stuck here forever doing an effing Western blot.
I got one successful transfer (I had to run two blots, unforch) and the second one didn't transfer or do anything, really, and I have no idea why. Hopefully there's protein there, because I have no more protein sample left (see: Why Anjali should never work with protein. Ever) I don't know if it's the buffer I've been using or what, but I used to get amazingly high concentrations of protein and now, I need to run half my sample on a gel, which is a pain. I shall, of course, preemptively split out new cells and treat them and stop the treatments, so that, in case my gels don't work, I won't waste three days redoing stuff.
I need this stuff to work ASAP. I have one more pain in the ass experiment and then, if this protein stuff works out, can finally work on the adhesion assay which I've been dying to do for a year or so, and then, I think, I'd be done with the main stuff for this project. At least, I hope so. I want at least one paper out by graduation, and with a paper, the pressure would be off slightly with the thesis and such.
I also want a successful Western before I graduate. Is that too much to ask?
This started it, really
And then, I moved to the Motherlode Blog, where I read this and the comments (FYI, how many of the people so passionate were MEN? Why is this not an issue for the XY population?)
And then, I read Dr. Michelle Au's rebuttal (Non doctors ought to read her book--certainly opened up my eyes to what it's like being a doctor), and I felt a bit better
And then, the Wall Street Journal picked it up
You know...it might be a whole issue with medicine, but it's not just medicine. How much will I have to sacrifice because I'm too busy getting tenure as a professor? Or, how much longer will it take for me to publish because I needed to take my future offspring to the ER? It's law, it's law enforcement, it's teaching, it's science, it's medicine, it's the tenure clock, it's constant traveling, it's politics, it's any career EXCEPT the stay at home wife and mommy.
It's FINE if the original article had been about the reduction of the workweek for medicine and implications for patients. It's FINE if she had written about how people need to know what they're getting into (true in any field). But, she made it about women, and that's where I take offense. When you make it about male vs. female, you reinforce decades of discrimination and 'a woman's place'. I don't give a damn which parent stays at home, or if neither parent does, or if both do. All I care about is that men and women are given the same opportunities, have the same expectations in the workforce and are both allowed to find a work life balance right for them. Childrearing is not exclusively the mother's role. It took two parents to create a child, it should take two to raise the child.
GRE studying, Day 1 06/14/2011
Why on my birthday? Because, really, I forgot about it until I was woken up and dragged out of bed.
"Happy birthday, Anju!"
And, the test is in 30 days.
So, a few things about the GRE
1. If my SAT score is higher than my GRE score, I will be forever angry. Seriously folks, same test
2. There's a reading comp section?
3. This isn't math.
New students 06/13/2011
We had a grad student who was checking out the lab for the day. After she had spoken with a few people, one of the more well meaning graduate students brought her to me. *Cue Awkward Introduction*
Well meaning grad student: "So...tell her about what you're doing!"
GS: "Yeah, about your project, maybe show her an experiment if you're doing one....*trails off as she notices that the latter is currently comprising of a disaster zone at my bench*
GS: "Maybe just talk..."
So, I talked. About my project and what the lab studies and everything about the immune system, and well...I may have overwhelmed her a bit, especially as she heard about 5 different speeches from all of us.
And really, I learned two things-I can't explain my research. Secondly--when I first started, I had trouble keeping names straight and I'm pretty sure people talked at me for a few months before I started to figure things out. I kept saying that I understood, but let's be honest: I didn't. I STILL don't understand anything at all. Maybe I kept explaining and rambling because it made me feel better and like I was being productive and helpful, but I haven't a clue how to actually be helpful to a new student.
Chalk that up on my list of things to learn.
Test taking forever 06/11/2011
So, I'm taking the GREs in a month and five days.
Normally, I wouldn't give a damn. I work for a GIGANTIC TEST PREP COMPANY. I have standardized test prep material everywhere in the house; it's ridiculous. Also, as far as standardized tests go, the GREs are somewhat on the low end of the spectrum. Harder words than the SAT, yeah, but generally the same level of math. Honestly, Vocab isn't even an issue for me.
So why am I actually stressed?
It might be because this is the least content based test I've ever studied for. There is literally NOTHING here I can prepare for. Science? NO History? NO Politics? NO. I have to do a bunch of abstract bs thinking and reasoning and wtf memorizing antonyms? I don't have time to memorize antonyms and definitions of a bunch of words I'll never use in my life. And, honestly, people in my field look at the GRE as a "Oh good, she took the test and has a number" test, not as a "THIS SCORE DECIDES YOUR FUTURE" test
But, if I bomb, I basically suck at life.
So, SAT 2.0. Let's do it.
Don't you miss it? 06/10/2011
I've had Nutella once in my life, during French class in high school, where I was enamored by the chocolate and deliciousness and decided, "screw the hazelnut, I'm only SERIOUSLY allergic to cashews". It was delicious, but about a minute later, I felt the tell-tale signs of a moderate to severe allergic reaction. My skin broke out, there seemed to be something preventing me from swallowing and my lips were inflamed. Never again, Nutella. Never again.
I've apparently been allergic to tree nuts since I was about six or so, but we didn't figure it out until one of my aunts in India handed me candy and I started choking. The thing with food allergies at a really young age, is that if a kid tells the parents that they don't feel good after eating something, it's easy to chalk it up to "Child is a picky eater". The second thing with food allergies is that they get worse with every adverse reaction, so a simple stomachache when I was six could morph into something really serious now.
We absolutely stopped tree nuts after we moved to Pennsylvania when a cousin gave me some Indian sweet (I hate Indian sweets, but this one came from the temple so...RELIGION) and, 3 days after our big move, I found myself throwing up in our townhouse with a swollen face.I did used to steal my best friend's food, cranberries, mixed with walnuts, but after a while, I had to stop that too because the microscopic bits of walnut were making me sick..
Fast forward 8 years and Mama can't cook cashews in the house. We have walnuts and hazelnuts, but I avoid them like the plague. For some reason, eating peaches, apples and plums cause the same reactions, so do Bing Cherries. I think it's the skin on the former and I couldn't tell you what on the latter. Therefore, I stick to pomegranate, pineapple, mango, guava and banana. Cooked fruits, FINE, but if it's raw and has a peel, nope.
But I'm always asked if I miss the fruits and the nuts and the stuff I used to eat. Frankly, no. Why would I miss something which makes me sick? I don't like my symptoms and anytime someone sticks a cashew in my face, I can't help but think of the symptoms and not the delicious dish that goes with the nut.