Tag Archives: university

An Update On Things Happening

I seem to recall a resolution I made not to abandon this again… and then things happened.

Namely, last semester of my Master’s studies. Fun times of:

Finishing up my research project – which included a 3-week trip to Sweden, which was nice, even though I spent pretty much all of that time at the lab.

Writing thesis – about half of which was done over the course of 3 weekends spent in a house in the countryside, with no indoor plumbing and being constantly attacked by mosquitoes, while two of my best friends brought me food – those were probably 6 most productive days of my entire life.

Being bugged by that one professor who thinks that the last few months of our degree studies is the perfect time to broaden our horizons by making pointless presentations and writing pointless papers, which would normally be totally my thing (because I love random science), had it been, you know, not the last semester of my Master’s studies.

And… sometime in that period a totally dream-come-true (or so it seemed at the time – more on that at a later date, probably) PhD gig opportunity landed on me and I just took it.

Then I spent the summer actually finishing up my research project – I was finally able to solve that last problem which had been eluding me for more than a year. It actually felt more fulfilling and exciting than getting my Master’s degree. I also studied some for an English test I had to take to prove that I know enough English to follow classes or whatever. And I took an actual vacation, most of which I spent watching movies and reading because it was too hot to go outside.

And here we are, or more accurately, here I am – back in Sweden, trying to make good use of this gap time, if you will, before I become an actual PhD student.

This has been an update post because I’m kind of rusty at this blogging thing, promising to get better, even if only for my own benefit,

Noodle.

Knowing What I Know Now: What I’ve Picked Up As An Undegrad

There’s a new undegrad student working at the lab (incidentally, their major is the same as mine was – Biophysics). It makes me feel a bit strange – not being of the youngest ‘generation’ at the lab anymore. It feels a bit weird being asked questions about this protocol or other and classes and stuff. Weird, but kind of good. I feel like I can actually help in some cases. On a rather nice coincidence, Jeremy Yoder is holding a carnival over at molecularecologist.com: Knowing What I Know Now – giving advice to yourself in the previous stage of scientific education/career. It’s very inspiring and full of excellent thoughts – I’m taking notes from all the contributions. And since I guess I’m now old enough – here goes a few things I’m glad I did as an undegrad and a few things I wish I had done better/differently:

Start Working/Doing Research (and actually show up)

I guess I’m mostly glad that I started working at a lab pretty early – at the start of my second year. It wasn’t paid or anything , I just started working towards what should be my Bachelor’s degree. I only wish I had started in my first year; maybe then that first year wouldn’t have been so depressing with only the often boring introductory classes to occupy me, but I just couldn’t make myself do anything about it.

To be fair, I don’t think I did too well at that first lab. For one thing, at least at first, I rather failed at the showing-up part because I used to be so hung up on the actual studying. Looking back, I needn’t have studied so hard. I know, it’s a bit weird, but I was so afraid of failing classes that I studied too much (my friends certainly thought so). I could’ve balanced classes and lab work better. Oh well. Showing up is key.

Try out different labs

The second thing I’m very glad about is that, after sticking with the first lab for roughly two years, I finally braced myself to leave (for some reason I was rather scared to do it). So I applied to a number of summer internships at quite a few labs (there’s this cool centralised science summer internship programme in my country, but I’m sure there are all sorts of different opportunities everywhere). And it turned out really well. So well that I’m still at the same lab more than two years later.

Also, It might be common knowledge but I didn’t know it and, in the transition process, I also realised that the work atmosphere and stuff like that is just as important as the research project. Or something. I pay a lot of attention to that now.

Take challenging classes

I’m also glad that I braved some challenging elective classes. Those turned out to be my favourite courses, even though I had to work more than I would have otherwise.

Going abroad to study for a semester is another idea I’m glad I had. I was told I should save it for later when I’ve studied more, but I’m glad I did it in my third year, even if I didn’t use all the opportunities that the trip presented. I managed to get reasonably good grades in a couple of rather tough physics classes, so it worked wonders for my confidence. Quite frankly, that alone would be enough for me to be completely satisfied about the whole thing.

I only kind of wish I had done more suggested (not required) background reading during those 4 years of Bachelor’s studies; all those books professors suggested at the beginning of each course – I checked out hardly any of them. Darn House, Doctor Who et al.

Feeling so grown-up, I think, I’ll go play with my Legos now to forget it,

Noodle.

P.S. I’m really not sure if I actually know anything. I just feel that instead of blindly stumbling in the dark, I have a candle now, but I still can hardly see. Maybe by the time I finish a Post-doc I’ll have a flash-light, or something.

Shiny Brains (and Other Things I Wouldn’t Mind Working On For My PhD)

So, the last few days I’ve been spending a fair amount of time trying to figure out and narrow down what sort of topics interest me. I don’t know if any of my thoughts will actually pan out into actual research, but I figure at least I have something to say when I talk to someone about my PhD thoughts and stuff – “um”, “I don’t know” and “anything” doesn’t make me sound like I actually want this, does it?

My process is pretty simple – I just pick an institution (a university) and go through their lists of research areas and topics. And so far my main thoughts are:

Interestingly (for me), I find that I don’t particularly feel like getting into the sort of thing that I’ve been doing so far – microfabrication, surface chemistry, biochip fabrication, that sort of thing, at leats not as the main focus of my work.

Neurobiology / developmental biology is extremely interesting. However, I’m a bit worried about the amount of genetics involved, because after photosynthesis, that’s the biology topic I find most difficult. Though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, challenges make things more exciting; genetics and epigenetics fascinate me. Plus, I would get to work with fruit flies whose brain light up in different colours.

Cell biology: stem cells, cancer, all that stuff. I have a bit of experience there now and I’ve taken quite a few university courses in that general subject, so this one feels most comfortable in a way, but there’s also stuff going on there that makes things interesting – genetics / gene expression, proteomics, and that’s just glancing through a fairly random sample during a couple of days.

Just realising that I haven’t stumbled upon any laser-tech-involving topic yet and wondering whether I even want to,

Noodle.

I’m a Minority?!

This is something I only started thinking about recently as I somehow stumbled upon some blog entries discussing various aspects of being a female scientist, scientists who are LGBTQ, why heteronormativity* is a problem in scientific institutions and so on (sadly, in my frantic reading, naturally, I forgot to bookmark those posts). And while I was reading social studies papers on people in Science-Technology-Engineering-Maths fields, it suddenly hit me – that I’m a minority in science too, because I’m female. I mean, I don’t know if it’s weird or not, but I never thought of myself like that before, even though for the last couple of years I’ve been doing my researchy stuff at a laser technology department which was 100% male before I came along, and my supervisor keeps asking ‘are the guys treating you all right?’ pretty much every time he sees me**. But the reason I’m writing about this today is that I found this post by Suzie Sheehy and this video.

The video is about two female inventors/businesspeople who invented this bike helmet that is sort of like an air bag for your head which, in my opinion, is very cool. But then (and this is the part the post takes issue with) they get to talking about how it’s all totally amazing that two girls managed to do this. Um, what them being female has to do with anything? Apart, you know, from the fact that this sort of “helmet” doesn’t squish your hair (unless there’s an accident, but in that case I think your hair is the least of your problems), but with Edward Cullen and Justin Bieber inspired hairdos for men, I’m fairly sure guys would appreciate that too. Anyway, I digress.

And now I’m just going to quote Suzie Sheehy from the post I linked to, because she basically expresses my thoughts too***:

I’d like to know who these mysterious people are who think women can’t do things… because as far as I can tell they don’t exist. As far as I can tell it’s only ever women who say ‘no-one expected us to do this because we’re women’. This is my whole problem with a lot of ‘women in science/engineering’ stuff. By making out like there’s something special about your achievements because of your gender, you’re undermining the whole achievement.

I guess this comes in part, with our cultural heritage/identity or whatever. I mean, men have been “doing things” for centuries while conveniently keeping women with baby cribs and pots, so they (we) had little opportunity to express our abilities. And during like the last 100 years, we started getting more opportunities and it’s like whenever a woman achieves something, she (and some other women) are like: oh, wow, I didn’t know we could do that! So, yeah, I think, humankind has a bit of growing to do there still. And in the interest of full disclosure I guess I should admit that I’m not entirely free of stereotypes either. I mean, for instance, part of the appeal of the Physics department for me was the fact that there were a lot of guys in it and I thought it should be free of drama and other sort of craziness.**** However, looking at my experience since starting University, I have to say that I’ve met a few male professors which I rate rather high on the wacky/irrational/narrow-minded/’I’m-always-right’ scale, but no such female professors. I know they are out there, though.  My point is that there are all sorts of people and their gender most often doesn’t matter. It’s difficult to get over prejudices/biases though, but I’m trying. I’ve always took pride in my achievements (however small they might have been so far), like kicking ass during exams and stuff, not because I wanted to prove that a girl can do something like that (because I think that should go without question), but because I want to see that I can do it. If that makes sense. Though in the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I do sometimes feel proud that I’m a girl who isn’t afraid of wires, screwdrivers or lasers, simply because I haven’t met that many other females who are like that, but IRL and interwebs experience is quickly teaching me that there are loads of them and that this isn’t something extraordinary.

Wondering if I managed to make my point clear,

Noodle.

*I didn’t know what it meant at the time: it’s an assumption that everyone is heterosexual until revealed otherwise.

**’Yes, they’re OK.’ is always my answer. And it’s true. I’ve always thought that was nice of my supervisor to ask that. However, in the light of the thoughts I expressed in this post, I’m wondering whether I should be a little offended at his question. I think, I’ll choose not to be offended, because ‘mistreating’ could also be the guys looking down on me as though I couldn’t understand things which they’ve never done.

***This post somewhat reinforces the point.

****I chose a different department in the end, but I’ve had a fair share of classes at Physics.

Hello Sweden

I arrived in Sweden a week ago, to spend the next 3 months training and working at this kick-ass lab. I got my first glimpses and impressions of the country on the train from Stockholm to the University town. I was instantly comforted by the fact that the flora here is very similar to my home country. I also loved the crazy amount of lakes and all the random rocks and, were those mountains at the horizon?

I was tired but the person who met me at the train station in the University town had to go back to the lab, so it was the first thing I really saw after landing in Stockholm airport. Although I was tired I thought that was pretty cool, you know, a sign of the true kick-ass-ery of the lab. They showed me around a bit – a long hallway lined with rooms cluttered with a lot of cool things and machines of mysterious scientific purposes – I‘m sure I‘ll find them out in due course.

My dorm room is pretty unremarkable apart from the fact that there wasn‘t an internet connection at the ready. I mean, what?! But after a week living like this I find that it‘s actually kind of fun spending my evenings reading or listening to music or audio books and going to bed early because there‘s no internet or TV to absorb me: no emerging from a sort of stupor past midnight wondering where the evening went. I‘m only missing my kitchen back home.

I‘ve started my training now – basic cell culture stuff, some of it I’ve done before during my very first epic-fail of a project as a Biophysics undergrad when I was trying to get cells eat… stuff. I might as well have been trying to shove those things into my cultured cells with my bare hands. I blame a bad batch of stuff. Unless the cells just didn’t like me or something.

That failed project was more than 3 years ago now. I have stayed away from cells, not entirely purposefully – I just happened to fall into a project that was something entirely different, but also I think, I (un)consciously tried to block those memories (or you can alternatively read: move on). But now it‘s coming back to me, and not in such a bad way as one could have expected. Although, being a rather low-maintenance gal (I flatter myself to be), I’m sometimes annoyed at what high-maintenance little divas those cells are. But then again, we‘ve ripped them from their nice soft homes where they were surrounded by just the right extracellular stuff and all other different cell neighbours and we‘re asking them to grow in hard plastic flasks all by themselves. It‘s natural that we need to put some extra work to keep them happy.

Missing my kitchen worse than I realised,

Noodle.

P.S. I seem to always be promising myself to try and always failing to keep this blog a regular thing, but here I am promising again and I really really really mean it this time.

Milestones

Today I graduated, with honors. I have a Bachelor’s degree now. It should feel like I’ve accomplished something, like I’ve reached some sort of significant demarcation mark. I thought that when I have the actual diploma in my hands, I’d feel something, and yet I don’t think I do. It feels like I only finished Junior High, which in a sense, it is. I mean, the only bigger bit of excitement I felt today was when I filled out my preference list in my grad school application – I’ve not stopped to take a longer break, because really, there isn’t much occasion for that, in my mind. I don’t want to really stop until I reach what I’m aiming at.

A friend told me that this strange feeling of no accomplishment is probably due to me setting my goals too high. I guess, she’s right. I’ve never really considered Bachelor’s degree a goal. I mean, sure, I need it, but only because it’s on the way to becoming a scientist. However, it does feel good to be reassured that I’m on the right track, that, step by step, I can do this science thing.

I find it a bit strange when graduating people talk about how they’re unsure of what to do next or how they don’t know what job they should do, and I feel no doubt. For as long as I remember, I’ve always wanted to be a scientist. Sure, there were a lot of other things, too, but science was one thing that never changed since I was in fifth grade and I wanted to be an archaeologist (and travel to Australia to prove once and for all why dinosaurs really disappeared – and I understand now that the correct term for that would be palaeontologist, but, hey, I was just a fifth-grader then). After that, my subject of choice would change from time to time, until, as I was graduating High School, it had settled on something new-technologies-in-biomedical-research-related, which coincidentally is what I’m working on already. It feels a little … bizarre. I mean, I’m actually doing what I’ve been dreaming of doing for such a long time. That does feel like an accomplishment.

Thinking that there actually was a reason to celebrate today,

Noodle.

P.S. Now, I remember that after the first year, I was seriously considering quitting and starting over with some other subject of studies. Man, am I glad I didn’t!

Priorities (in the Kitchen)

Conversation in my kitchen tonight. Me washing dishes. E comes in.

E: Totally burnt weekend.

Me: Totally. Especially me. Totally totally burnt this weekend.

E: Well, I burnt it even more totally than you.

Me: Yeah… At least we’re feeling well-rested.

E: Yeah.

Oh, and by ‘burnt’ we meant ‘wasted’. E and I have this weird way of talking to each other.  But that’s not the point. The point is that it got me thinking. I remembered all the to-do items (homework, grocery shopping, etc.) I put in my calendar on Friday to be done by Monday. And I didn’t do half of them, and the ones I actually managed to do even weren’t that high up the list. What happened to my priorities? Just a couple of months ago I was desperate to find a good grad school “anywhere but here” and keep ahead with my classes this semester. And now, I’m figuring, heh, staying in this neck of the woods may not be such a bad thing (I’m enjoying what I do and feel good and stuff, so what would be so bad?); and I’m so tired after all that studying for midterms. I think I can allow myself a couple weekends of resting, getting into Christmas mood or whatever, right?

Wondering if I sorted out my priorities right,

Noodle.