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Interestingly, I never got to update on the Neuroscience 2011 posters that caught my attention. A combination of the lack of energy from my return, and having  my comprehensive exams come up were the penultimate time takers. Speaking of comprehensive exams – utterly brutal process that makes you sick to the stomach and conjure the evilest of imaginations of failure. Whoever invented that knew it would be an effective torturous ‘welcome to graduate school’ gift. Needless to say, I survived. I passed provisionally – I have to rewrite two questions, one from each of my exams. At the end of the day, I realized that psychology played a big part in how my cohort mates and I prepared for this exam. We were so gripped with trepidation that we learnt needless details – who needs to know the names of the three middle ear ossicles for a systems neuroscience exam? In the grand scheme of things, it should be about the medial geniculate nucleus and upwards in the auditory pathway. Remind me of that in my reincarnated life. Trailing off from that, I wonder if I will still be a graduate student in a reincarnated life. Regardless of if you think it possible or not, would you take the same path you have been through/are on if you had a second chance? Anyways, I digress. Comprehensive Exams. Right. That. Is. Over. With. Thank God.

Moving on. Back to #sfn11.

Apart from the occasional confusion at how enormous SFN was, and my continual overworked body during the whole conference, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lovely parties I tell you. And even more, great science. And a grand epiphany!

I met with two P.Is in D.C. They are both stationed at the government lab location where I will be moving to upon the completion of my classes in May. Here is the catch: they both work in the area of biophysics of ion channels! If you’ll recall my first lab rotation, I’d written about how I rotated in a lab that focused on parkinson’s. And although I am yet to elaborate on this blog, I have an interest in neurodegenerative diseases that led to my whole spill in my personal statement to graduate schools on why I want to study neuroscience. However I am learning slowly that indeed it is of the utmost importance to truly keep an open mind upon entering graduate school. I came in thinking I was dead-set on studying either parkinson’s, alzheimer’s or huntington’s. And of a truth, it isn’t because I have a background of laboratory research in those areas. Maybe it ties down to my pre-med nature want to be close to the area of diseases (oh, I used to be a pre-med, yup, I’m one of those – I should really write my undergraduate life story on here shouldn’t I?). Time and time again during graduate school interviews I was told by many faculty to keep an open mind as my interests could and would change. And I’ve been told by older graduate students, no one is going to check my personal statement and ask why I’m not in a neurodegenerative lab. To compound to my somewhat dilemma, my molecular Neuroscience class, the paper I presented in that class and the lab I’m currently rotating in have violently swayed my interests toward ion channels and electrophysiology.

So back to my epiphany. At SFN, I found myself galavanting between posters on neurodegenerative disorders and ion channels and they both fascinated me… An outside observer would then say: “Why not just work in a lab that interfaces the two?” I am not widely read in both fields and only know of the implication of a possible role of calcium ion channels in parkinson’s. I relayed to both P.Is my personal statements and my intention to interface molecular techniques and electrophysiology. For the purposes of onward conversations let us call each of the P.Is: P.I.#1 and P.I.#2. I instantly liked P.I.#1, I felt very comfortable with him. He is a brand new faculty, just setting up his lab, energetic and willing to take on a graduate student. He is interested in the modulation of ion channels and will be willing to take me on to rotate. I thought: “Awesome!” But then he asked if I was interested in biophysics. And I cringed? What does that really mean? It created worry in me. And I felt confused and not sure that I would find a project that I am wholly passionate and devoted to if I venture into studying ion channels. I can’t imagine working on a project for the next four odd something years if i’m not passionately inlove with it (not to sound like a zealot, but I’m sure you know what I mean). I therefore left feeling impressed with him, and comfortable, however a bit intimidated as to how a project would go (mentally), although he was encouraging in that I could easily learn the techniques etc. P.I.#2, I liked as well, although I can’t say I liked him as much as P.I.#1. He is up for tenure. He is more seasoned, a smallish lab and has graduated a graduate student. And he talked about how his lab is transitioning into projects that would involve recordings from ion channels in alzheimer’s mice models  … That excited me – it seems like the perfect interface between my two interests… but then comes another confounder – what if I rotate, and end up being more comfortable in P.I.#1’s lab and like P.I.#2’s projects better? I’ve been told by all to pick environment over project – always? What do you think dear reader?

In a nutshell, that is a summary of my epiphany – that I want to have a thesis project where I can study ion channels in a neurodegenerative disease… I can’t seem to think of something else that excites me more. And I’ve prepared myself that worst case scenario, I can do an ion channel project for my thesis and work in a neurodegenerative disorder lab for a postdoc, that is a fad these days anyhow – people hardly stay in the same field for both Ph.D and postdoc, in neuroscience as I know of. I will conclusively know whose lab environment I will like better and whose lab projects would be worth losing sleep over in my mind of course.

In other news, Happy Holidays: Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Sallah etc in arrears and Happy New Year in advance. I will be enjoying the next few days as I prepare for a month of neuroanatomy and right after spring semester classes 😐

And keep an eye out on this space for reviews of scientific articles, soon to be posted!

And by way of a shamless plug, don’t be shy to show the novice a wave of hand by following me on twitter: @noviceneurosci. Much appreciated!