Live from Neuroscience 2011



Things I’m learning so far at Neuroscience 2011:
1. This is overwhelming – it’s my first time here! It is a good thing I used the meeting planner to make an itinerary.
2. This is overwhelming.
3. This is overwhelming.
4. Moving on, I am totally geeking out at the exhibitor stands.
5. The poster sessions are intense – I am sticking to areas I understand.
6. Northwest d.c. Is very different from Northeast d.c. And the cab drivers teach you that the hard way… Although this isn’t my first time in d.c. as I went to college 45 mins away, but it has been enlightening seeing d.c. with fresh eyes.
7. I am setting up meetings to meet to set up rotations for when I leave my home institution back to the national labs…

Next up, I will report on some interesting posters I found, and nanosymposiums I attended!

The First 1.5 Months of Graduate School

Disclaimer: this is not my image. This is the image source: the first day of classes and now, I feel like it’s been a marathon race… long and hard, stretched out with many miles in between. You think you are nearing the finish as you egg on, only to realize that it’s a long stretch of more miles ahead. And it’s frightening, although it feels good to know that I stand in solidarity with my classmates and the hundreds to thousands out there in the same boat as I am.

I’ve had a few: “welcome to graduate school” moments I want to share with you on here:

a. Free pizza and beer (wooot!)

b. 300 pages of reading the first week for a class that is a passage of rites amongst neuroscience first years in my department 😐

c. Feeling lonely and missing my undergrad days of guilt-free procrastination

d. Weekly bonding moments with classmates either at the graduate bar or over dinners or over at the gym

e. Realizing I have a stipend that I thought was gold, but is actually just enough to keep me from month to month

f. First round of experiments failing and realizing why many scientists just take chill pills and try a different route later

g. Presenting my first scientific paper in front of my peers and getting nailed with questions from the professors (to toughen my skin apparently LOL – it wasn’t funny as it happened though, I took it in good faith)

h. Getting my anticipated graduation date from the registrar’s office being May 2017. I had a look of slight dismay on my face: “I have barely started, and you are trying to remind me I will leave some day?”

i. Loving the free health insurance and getting a check-up when I know there is nothing wrong with me (okay, so maybe not so related, but i’m sure someone else out there has done it)

j. Realizing that on average I probably read about 5 or 6 scientific papers a week, and I am actually fine with it… I don’t even feel frustrated with the work I have to do… weird. Maybe because I’m doing what I love? Or is it still the newness of it?

So other first years, tell me other “welcome to graduate school” moments you have had? I would love to know

p.s. I am so excited about society for neuroscience in D.C. this year WOOOOOOOT WOOOOOOT!!! Send me a message if you want to meet and hang or something – as per neuroscience student bloggers 🙂

Nerdy tid-bits


On Leprosy and Fish Eating. A Statement of Facts and Explanations. By Jonathan Hutchinson

The object of this work is stated in the preface to be “to carry conviction to the reader that the fundamental cause of the malady known as true leprosy is the eating of fish in a state of commencing decomposition.”… Mr. Hutchinson would associate the former prevalence of leprosy in the British Isles and in Europe with the Roman Catholic ordinances prescribing fish-food on two out of every three weekdays… We think that Mr. Hutchinson goes much too far in thus ascribing all variations in the prevalence of leprosy as being correlated with those of a fish-diet; even in the fact that the disease is more prevalent among men than among women he sees support for his hypothesis, for he suggests that women are more fastidious feeders than men.

From Nature 28 February 1907.



Between the last time and now (A random piece of sorts)



You know another thing no one tells you about graduate school that I just learnt the past couple of weeks? MOVING COSTS A LOT OF MONEY!!! I had to move from the location of the national lab to my home institution to take my classes for the year and then head back to the national lab next year to stay till i graduate. The moving ran me dry… so dry I didn’t even have $10 to get my eyes checked – Thank God for broke days in college that taught me how to eat my dry bread in my room and not complain LOL. Anyhow, I moved. It happened. And I avoided showing up at my department at all costs until I had to because I needed my brain break especially after my first rotation… and about that, I have bad news. The PI told me he couldn’t take me on as his student because he lacked the resources. It was disappointing… no, let me re-phrase that – it felt like I had just been dumped out of a relationship that I had high hopes for. I was crushed. It made me realize that being in graduate school is now exactly like ph.d comics said it would be – a marriage to your work, the expectations and the hopes that comes with being in such a relationship. Anyhow, I got over it… but not before one of the heads of my department said something to we the newbies about how communication is VERY VERY important in conveying how our rotations are going – the good, the bad and the very ugly. The PIs definitely can’t guess what is ongoing in our minds. It made me think back to the rotation – I never outrightly told him before the last day that I really liked it there and wouldn’t mind coming back… I didn’t make it clear to him that I was having a good time learning and getting to know some of the lab members… Maybe my lack of communication made things worse? Could I have abated this if I had been more vocal to him about how I felt about the lab environment?

We will never know now will we? Moving on.

Graduate School Orientation – AMAZING! I don’t know if it’s just at my institution, but coming here, I’ve gotten a feeling that during the graduate school interviews, it’s harder to gauge just how chill some students are with each other and how helpful the Professors are – you get just a tip of the iceberg. This past week has re-enforced the fact that I do LOVE the fact that i’m here and that more than anything else, I have made the right decision. The close-knittedness of my department is one that I’m really looking forward to. And another word about the free food and drinks galore in grad school… I still don’t know if the objective is to get us obese or drunk lol… but regardless, I like the fact that a long time ago, someone thought it up to make satisfying the palates a part of the grad life.

I’m up for my second rotation – this time it’s a lab that uses electrophysiology to study calcium ion channels and their spliced isoforms. I’m excited because it’s something different from what I am primarily interested in doing, however I am pushing myself to explore other areas of neuroscience in this year of classes and my second rotation… who knows, I may just turn into a channel neuroscientist! We’ll see.

One of the older graduate students told us the happiness and hopeful glares in our eyes will fade out by the time we are fourth years… I plan on proving that wrong.

That’s pretty much all that has happened between my last post and now… I should update more frequently… however, the tire from my first rotation and just trying to recover from moving took a toll on me 😦

p.s. if you are a fellow grad student or even post-doc, don’t be shy to drop in a line or two, and even the link to your blog if you have one. I’d love to hear your feedback on posts, and even get to know you more on your blogs!

Cheers and have a great labor day weekend.

My First Lab Rotation Part Two


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I’ve decided that I’ve gone through five stages during my first rotation (kind of like the five stages of grief, except this is the five stages of your lab rotation, and I believe there is a cycle somewhere in there). This post talks about my last two stages.
Sane curiosity -> Overblown realization -> slight disillusionment -> fearful trials -> All is well fort

This is a follow-up to my last post where I wrote about the first three of the five stages that I am going through in my first lab rotation.

Side note: I want to test the hypothesis that I do go through these five steps in every rotation. I have four more rotations to go, so we’ll see! Oh look, i’m already on the way to answering a research question :p
Back to the matter at hand. Now that I had settled into lab and started making a few acquaintances, something else started bothering me. See, I’m rotating in a mid-sized lab, where there are all either staff scientists or post docs. The Investigator is relatively young and starting out. He has only had one other student rotate in his lab, and he has never kept a graduate student (i’ll get back to some of my other issues later). The Investigator therefore placed me under one of his best staff scientists. Now, I was nervous at first, because there are all sorts of teachers out there, especially in research. My worst fear was getting stuck with someone who wouldn’t be willing to teach me anything. My fears were subdued. She has the teaching spirit in her – you know the apt of one who has the sincere desire to impact knowledge on a newbie. I loved it! And, I think she empathized a lot with me especially when I would make mistakes like not being sure if I had put some EDTA in the IP buffer etc, and she would tell me stories of her yore days when she was a graduate student. All was fine and good, especially since I was just starting and didn’t know where anything was. But, three weeks in and I came to the dreadful realization that she was “babying” me. I don’t know if that was part of the reason why some lab members asked me if i was either a) a high school student or b) a summer student. And every time I explained who I was, there was always an Oh! and look of surprise or maybe it’s because I defy stereotypes with my youthful exuberance!

            I mean, I guess I could understand where she was coming from. She hasn’t seen my work aforehand, and isn’t sure of what skills I have. But… I told her before, I’ve spent a year and a half doing PCRs and sequencing – I can genotype these mice, trust me. I spent a summer running nothing but western blots, your samples are safe with me… But then again, seeing is believing. I had to prove myself over and over again. I became scared of making mistakes or worse, appearing inept. And since our expert-novice relationship was still at the “babying” stage for a while, I started to feel stifled. On the one hand, I didn’t want to say: “Look I can do this myself” and have her back off and never provide guidance, and on the other hand I didn’t want to keep being told how to load a western. A Dilemma. I decided on quiet initiative. I basically took what she said to do a step further. For example, if I was prepping samples for a western and she was away on her break, and it was unreasonable to wait when i have all the samples, I went ahead and started loading them. She came back and saw I had gone ahead, she cross-checked that it was correct and she was okay with it. And this week, she was more hands-off compared to last week. I started feeling like a Ph.D candidate at one point. But it was only short-lived. The reality is that I’m still very much at the beginning of the race, and I will have to prove myself capable before i’m trusted to take a jab at things myself. We’ll see how my next rotation goes. It will be hilarious if I get someone totally hands off that expects me to maneuver my way around the lab and I start crying on here about I need close-supervision. The irony of life.

           And now, i’m going into the last two weeks of the rotation. I have an irking that it will be smooth sailing from here on out… I will wrap up, thank the lab for having me and come back with a diabolical plan to make the Investigator offer me a spot in his lab.

*sigh* This is something that I’ve spent quite a couple of moments discussing even with wiser older students. I will talk about my fears about asking to be in his lab, and why I think I want to stay.

Have a great weekend 🙂 It’s really hot today in my part of the U.S.

My First Lab Rotation Part One


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I’ve decided that I’ve gone through five stages during my first rotation (kind of like the five stages of grief, except this is the five stages of your lab rotation, and I believe there is a cycle somewhere in there). This post talks about my first three stages.
Sane curiosity -> Overblown realization -> slight disillusionment -> fearful trials -> All is well fort

I’ve been trying to curtail the experiences of my first rotation with fresh eyes (that is void of whatever external circumstances that may be going on). I want to examine it almost ideally:  assuming the world is perfect, how is my first rotation going?
For starters, I’m six weeks in, with two more weeks to go (almost a home run, and no I don’t watch baseball). I’m in a government lab, so it is not your traditional University atmosphere – the post-doctoral students and Investigators on this campus therefore out number the graduate students (this has its perks!).
At first, I was running wild with questions in my head – Why this? Why that? What is this? What is the name of this protein again? Why would anyone call it that? Whoa there is a 7-minute blot transfer machine? (How had I not known this?). Some of your classic run-off-the mill questions for the first couple of days. Clueless is the best word I would describe me six weeks ago. And I feared getting anywhere on campus because I got lost every single time I had to venture some where new. Places that I later discovered would take me 10 minutes took me about half an hour in those good old days (see how far I’ve come!). Then I had to dive into the obligatory scientific papers-up-your-nose-business when you first start in a lab and then those questions kind of died down.

As the weeks passed by… and the smoke started to clear…  some things started hitting home. What on earth am I doing? Do you know where you are? Like are you kidding me? You are wayyyyy too young for this. You should have taken a year off! (I just graduated from undergrad in May this year). I was in that frenzy midpoint in-between knowing that you are in the right place at the right time and being scared of relapsing into failure. The good side of it felt like being on a high where I can’t be dragged down from. However, it gave me that sober realization that I just wasn’t in Kansas anymore (and Kansas refers to undergrad). It’s the big guns now – quality, quality and more quality (garnered from an advice the Professor with whom I will be doing my second rotation with once told me when I asked her the best advice to give someone who aspires to be a Principal Investigator someday).

    So I was slowly getting settled in – I could find my way around campus a bit faster, I kind of started understanding what people talked about during lab meetings, and some of the lab members were saying hi to me at metro stops – progress!

    Or not. I started entering this eerie stage of disillusionment. I got depressed. I realized that the long haul towards this degree were long stretch of hours, lots of failure, isolation at times and loads of tiredness. I was getting tired. It will just be research, research, research from dawn to dusk… I almost felt like I was in this world of slaves where this is what will rule me and there would be no time for me to play or read or just be a couch potato. Then I thought of the alternatives (you’d think I would have thought of all this before applying to graduate schools – trust me, I did). The sad thing on thinking of alternatives is that there is nothing else I would rather be doing in the world (except if I were a well-paid couch potato!). Slowly however, this cloud lifted off as well. It must have been the whole process of getting indoctrinated into lab life I guess. Somehow, I reconciled myself to the fact that there is nothing else I’d rather be doing.

   Meeting fellow graduate students helped – a lot! Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not in a traditional graduate program, so there aren’t a lot of students around me. I’m in the midst of much older and wiser people now. You can imagine the dearth of my mates that i was feeling, add that a top of my disillusionment and the novelty of my new spot in life. I finally broke out of my introverted shell and made it to social-networking hour (a.k.a known as happy/beer hour at other institutions). Apart from getting really cheap food and drinks off the menu, I was rewarded with conversations that made me laugh so hard I had a tear or two come off the side of my eye. That was when I realized I made the right decision coming here for graduate study. I realized I wasn’t alone, and this hour right here was the cure to my future hours of disillusionment. If I ever forget and think I’m in this alone, there are others in this with me, and we are share a common path. The other advantage of this of course is that these are my fellow future collaborators, bosses, employees and my colleagues… oh and not to forget amongst them are potential Nobel laureate winners of course! I should have started going to this sooner than later.