Friday, January 31, 2014

Interview by King Boo!

Last week's Interview with King Boo went really well, so I decided to flip the tables. This week I let him write interview questions for me and I answered them. 
  1. What makes you the HAPPIEST?      
    SCUBA diving makes me the happiest, it is so peaceful and relaxing. I miss it very much.       
  2. What's your least favorite part of the week?
    Friday mornings, between lab meeting and department seminar I can never get any lab work done.
  3. What's your favorite part of the week?
    Wednesday nights, we get home and King Boo and I have a standing snuggle date from 8-8:30 to watch Dreamworks Dragons Defenders of Berk on Cartoon Network.
  4. What's your favorite video game?
    Lego Star Wars! I love blowing things up into Lego bits
  5. What is your least favorite video game?
    Sonic Colors, that game is very annoying.
  6. Do you like playing Legos?
    Sometimes! I like building them but I dislike stepping on them!
  7. What is your favorite part of the month?
    Pay day LOL! I only get paid once a month.
  8. What's your least favorite part of the month?
    Bills day, there goes half the paycheck!
  9. What's your favorite month?
    December, I love all the Christmas holiday stuff.
  10. What's your least favorite month?
    Hmm, that one is harder. February is pretty depressing as winter drags on and spring still seems so far away.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Adventures in Cooking

Hamburger Helper Taco
I am always trying to find ways to simplify my life in the kitchen. I will freely admit I have never been blessed with mad kitchen skills. I can open a box and follow the directions just fine, beyond that.. well it's hit or miss. I have been working on it though, cooking for me and King Boo is an important skill. Recently, even when I make the box mixes I do try to at least plate them pretty (I've watched enough Chopped to know presentation counts ;)). To get away from the boxes every night, I have been finding recipes and attempting them and more recently modifying them or even making my own up!

Easy Peasy Chicken Parm
The first step towards making up my own was pasta sauce. You cannot get much simpler than tomato sauce! I'm a big fan of semi-homemade so I start with a container of Heinz tomato sauce then I just add spices, veggies, red wine, etc., anything that sounds good and keep tasting until it becomes delicious. This past week I had made some pretzel covered chicken tenders based on a Rachel Ray recipe I found online and was trying to decide what to do with the leftover tenders. They kind of reminded me of a chicken Parmesan so I sprayed them with cooking spray and crisped them in the oven while I made a pot of noodles and sauce and POOF! Easy Peasy Chicken Parm :)

The newest adventure has been crock pot meals! I found a bunch of recipes online and one of the sites suggested putting it all in Ziploc bags and freezing the bags (there are a TON of recipes there too:

http://www.mommysfabulousfinds.com/2013/09/easy-crock-pot-freezer-meals.html). I made the honey garlic chicken one on Monday. It tasted really good, but was cooked longer than recommended so the chicken fell apart and I could not figure out to plate it nicely so there is no picture. Boo liked the chicken but not the carrots in the honey garlic sauce. I still have orange chicken and a Portobello balsamic chicken (from a diff. site) in my freezer to use. I am in love with the idea of freezing the pre-mixed meals, it makes it a lot easier to have homemade, healthy meals even with my crazy, busy schedule.

My triumph was this past weekend, I really wanted butternut squash soup but all the recipes I found I either did not have all the ingredients or I did not like half the ingredients. Having looked at dozens recipes I finally gave up and said FINE! I will make my own! I had the basics having looked at a bunch of them and 3 cups of frozen pre-cooked butternut squash. So I started tossing things into pots, tasting as I went, letting King Boo taste towards the end and we came up with a delicious, low Weight Watcher points Butternut Squash soup. King Boo even gobbled his portion up!


Apple Butternut Squash Soup
Doesn't that look fantastic!

  • 1 apple, cored, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼ inch slices
  • 1 tbls EVOO
  • 1 pack Knox homestyle stock, concentrated chicken
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  •  ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp back pepper (or to taste)
  •  3 cups pureed butternut squash
  •  ¼ tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbls light brown sugar (to appease the child)

Cut apple and carrots, sauté in EVOO 3 or 4 minutes. Add cinnamon and toss to coat and sauté another minute. Add water, chicken stock packet, nutmeg, allspice, salt and pepper. Bring to boil and simmer for 8 minutes (let it reduce down about a third). I like a little more chunky to my soups than most, so I strained half of the apples and carrots out and set them aside, if you like smooth soup you can leave them in. Fold in the butternut squash and then purree in blender (I cooled mine and then used my magic bullet for a few seconds). Pour purree back in the pan, blend in held back apples and carrots and add vanilla and light brown sugar. Bring back to boil and serve warm.  I calculated the entire pot to be 3 Weight Watchers point plus! When I made it, I let King Boo taste it and he said it was too tangy. So that’s how the brown sugar came to be added, I liked it without ;) Personally I think it needs some walnuts but King Boo is allergic to nuts.. it was missing that crunchy, earthy element.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Creating GMO's

I am currently stuck in the crazy world of establishing a genetically modified soybean. My lab ordered these soybeans from another uni that is quite good at transforming them. They have a 3% success rate! Which sounds horrid but for soybean is actually impressive. This is how hard it is to make GMO's. I went to a talk a few weeks ago by one of the scientists over at Dow Agro and they spend 8-12 years and $136 million on R&D of modified lines. It's not as easy as plop the gene in and everything works! Right now I have spent 6 months on mine and a year was spent creating this line prior to my arrival in the lab. So what has been accomplished in that year and a half?

The other uni's scientists took our gene construct and put into soybean by taking advantage of the natural plant pathogen Agrobacterium. Agro (as we call it) has the ability to insert it's pathogenic DNA randomly into the DNA of the plant host. This insert can occur once or multiple times. We ordered 3 transformation events and they sent us 6! Nice bang for the buck, though 2 lines were not tested at all due to low seed production. Before I got here some seeds for each line were planted and growing. My first day of my PhD was spent collecting and weighing leaf samples to analyze the plants.

Our inserted gene is nice because it is attached to a reporter gene. A reporter gene produces an easily measured protein that is not found in your organism. The one we use (GUS) is an enzyme that can produce fluorescent molecules which are easily measured on a spec, making the entire process fairly automated. I tested all of the plants for both GUS activity and presence/absence of the gene using PCR. For the most part all the plants tested positive, which is expected in the T1 generation. So now we need to move on to the T2 generation and try to locate a single copy, homozygous line (two or three would be better). To explain what that means, let's step back to genetics 101.

For the genes of sexually reproductive organisms, there are typically 2 copies of the gene: one from Mom and one from Dad. These genes can be the same or they can be different.If they are the same, the organism is said to be homozygote. If they are different there are two types: dominant (the one that gets used) and recessive (the one that doesn't) and the organism is said to be heterozygote. Visually you cannot distinguish between a homozygote dominant and a heterozygote dominant-recessive since they both will use the dominant gene. To tell them apart you have to go to the next generation. This is often visualized by the classic Punnet Square:

Punnet Square showing two heterozygotes mating, 1 offspring will be dominant (A) homozygote, 1 will be recessive (a) homozygote and 2 will be heterozygotes and appear dominant.

When you transform an organism you often get either a heterozygote or a hemizygote (only one copy of the gene exists due to it not having a match in the genome). So to achieve a homozygote line, you have to go to the next generation and count them. If you get 3:1 dominant to recessive, as shown in the Punnet Square above, you know that one of them will be your homozygote. To confirm exactly which 1 of the 3 is the homozygote, you have to plant the next generation and only dominant plants grow. Once we get to that stage, I can actually begin testing hypothesis in experiments.

This week I planted the T2 generation of 1 of our 6 lines (50 seeds). In two weeks I will screen them to find those that have the copy of the gene, which if it is present it will be expressed so it is analogous to the dominant recessive in the Punnet Square. Hopefully I will see approximately 38 plants that are dominant and 12 that are recessive which is close to the 3:1 predicted from the mating of our T1 heterozygote generation. If I see a vastly different ratio it probably indicates that the gene was inserted more than once, which makes the plants very difficult to use in experiments. Testing is actually pretty easy, in addition to our gene of interest, the transformed soybeans also carry an herbicide resistant gene. All I have to do is paint one leaf with a little herbicide, wait a week and then score it based on appearance.
The problem with this, of course, is that it takes 2 weeks for them to get large enough to treat without killing the plant and then a week after application to get results. Space limitations as they are means it will take me at least 12 weeks (3 months) to get all the lines tested and the potential plants moved up to the greenhouse where they will take an additional four months before we will have seeds to grow the T3 generation and confirm we have a single insertion homozygous dominant line (all of the offspring will be resistant if they are homozygous). Those seeds will take another 5 months to have seeds that can be experimented on once they are planted. And those are the seeds I can use for experiments, so somewhere between 8 and 11 months from now I will have seeds I can work  with from at least one but hopefully 2 or 3 of the lines. Making GMO's is not as easy as a lot of people seem to think.

Social Media Sunday

If you are looking for some other Mommy blogs check these guys out!

Social Media Sunday-From ABC's to ACT's

By the way if you are looking to follow me, I'm on Twitter @PositiveMom365 but I am using it mostly as a challenge to myself to tweet one positive thought about parenting every day this year.  It might have some blog related items on it but this blog is not the main focus of the account.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Interview with King Boo

Scientist J interviews King Boo
This is something that I saw before I started blogging on Crappy Pictures and have been mulling the idea of doing it with King Boo for a while. Family Friday seemed a perfect time!

So I present to you the World According to King Boo:

  1. What is your favorite subject in school?
    Art and music, because I like coloring and making sounds ::proceeds to put hands to mouth and pretend to play Deck the Halls on the flute:: and when I'm frustrated in art I can draw or scribble on the paper to calm down.
  2. What makes you feel the happiest?
    Legos, video games, running, having sodas and that's it.
  3. What makes you mad?
    Somethings that aren't a big deal, like if someone gets the wrong thing.
  4. What is love?
    Love is liking a lot.
  5. What is the funniest word you know?
    Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
  6.  If you could go on vacation anywhere in the world, where would it be?
    London, cause the Olympics were there.
  7. What is your favorite song?
    Moves Like Jager
  8. What is your favorite color?
    Red and blue
  9. What is your favorite part of the week?
    Fridays, because at after school care has show and tell and I like bringing a toy! And I can stay up as late as I want.
  10. What is your least favorite part of the week?
    Mondays, because at school they have new spelling words that's hard to know. 
  11. How would you describe Mommy to someone who doesn't know her?
    She has brown hair. She has brown eyes. She wears multi clothes. She puts lipstick on to go to her school. She is a really calm person.
  12. What is your favorite thing about Mommy?
    She plays Super Mario Galaxy 2 while I watch!
There you have it a dozen of things according to King Boo! I was not sure what questions to ask so if anyone has any suggestions please leave me a comment and perhaps I will write a part deux! ;)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Best Helper Ever


Monday was a holiday here in the USA, both King Boo and my school did not have classes. Now just because there are no classes that does not mean you do not have to work as a
graduate student! However, when the mommy has no school/day care for child hits the grad student has a ton of work to do train one must improvise. The big project on my agenda right now is planting seeds like the world is ending, over the next month I should plant and process about 400 soybeans. I decided to give King Boo a try at being my little helper in the growth chamber. He came in completely excited.... at first. After all Mommy's work in the lab is an awesome and mysterious place where science occurs! He helped me get everything set up, got to ride the freight elevator up to the greenhouse, and then it was time to dive into the soil making.

The mix is one part potting soil, one part top soil and one part manure. He helped at first but decided he did not like the texture of the soil on his hands so he washed up and played games on my phone. He lasted about 15 minutes and now I was worried. How long would he stay content playing on my phone? How much more work would I be able to get done? Surprisingly, he lasted over two more hours! I got all the soil mixed and the pots filled. Then we moved them into the big chamber.

Next came planting the actual soybean seeds. This was the part where he jumped back into help.I made the right size holes in the soil (6 per pot) and he came along and carefully put a seed in each hole. Then he covered them back up with soil and patted them softly. It was adorable and he asked me to take a video where he explained what he was doing. I asked him why we were growing them and he replied "so you can examinate them!"  <3

I was so incredibly proud of him, he listened and was quiet and respectful for the 3 hours we were at uni. He had fun helping me plant and hopefully it will make him feel more of a part of my PhD pursuit.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Women in Science

Women in science is a hot issue right now. There is still gender inequality in the field and this has been talked about at length but rarely is anything positive done to fix this. Here and there you'll see a drive or a grant come up to encourage women in the STEM fields. Recently however, the editors of Nature, one of the most prestigious journals spanning the sciences, published an article that suggested that the reason women are less represented in the sciences is because women stay home with children and cannot keep up with the pace of research and publishing and we should stop trying to make the genders balanced. (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v505/n7483/full/505291e.html to read the full excerpt for free try http://mathematigal.com/home/2014/1/15/and-now-for-a-completely-different-rant). Nature editors did quickly backtrack and make a comment on the article about how they strongly support women in science, blah blah blah.

Now I have several thoughts on all of this. To start with the initial knee jerk reaction: The original author states,
"Because it is usually women who stay at home with their children, journals end up with more male authors on research articles. The effect is exacerbated in fast-moving fields, in which taking even a year out threatens to leave a researcher far behind."

Now I've seen this attitude of women cannot do babies and science firsthand. And not just from male colleagues, but lots of women scientists have a chip on their shoulder about being a woman in science and push other women harder and resent them if they have kids. I was strongly encouraged to be happy with just a masters when I got pregnant, to just give up and stay home. That having a baby would change me and make keeping up in science harder and almost impossible. Which is... gasp... totally true! Yep having a baby DID change me! It is harder to keep up now because I have more on my plate. But guess what.. it's not impossible!

I took 7 years off.. not a mere year as the author laments, but SEVEN of them. And I did this largely because of the fear that one could not be a good mommy and a good scientist that I had been force fed most of my career. I've heard it over and over, have a baby have to choose career or motherhood. This belief that is entrenched in the scientific community is easy to buy into. It is a crazy act of balancing to be a decent Mom and be a decent scientist, let alone be great at one or both! I chose now to go back to school because King Boo is in school and that gives me a work day with minimal after school care. Does it bother me to put him in child care at all? Yep. Is it expensive? Ohhh yes. Is it worth it? Boy I hope so.. but only time will answer that.

After the flap, there was a second comment on the article, the second commenter stated:
"This has been studied and the conclusion is that a lot – but not all – of the dropout of women comes from having children. This then just raises the question of whether this should be so. Should we be helping women to return to science after having children, or do we find it acceptable that a temporary hiatus in someone's career is enough to end their career?"
The article that he linked to this study which finds that a lot of women do leave science because of marriage and kids. I do not have access to the full text article so I have to operate off the abstract, which you can read if you click the link above. His question though is a very valid one. Obviously I think that YES we absolutely should be helping women return to science when they are ready to return.

I finally made the jump back into science because not only was King Boo in school but with my masters degree more than 5 years in the rear view window I was afraid that my skills and knowledge would evaporate. Competing against fresh out of the classroom and laboratory undergraduates terrified me, I was certain that my application would pale in comparison to their applications. My accomplishments were impressive, five years ago, but now.. how could I tell? I had applied to another uni the year before I applied to this one and was rejected. I took that as my skills were out of date and I almost did not apply here. But I had sent out feelers to this lab and had an invite to visit. The visit was amazing, I left feeling re-inspired.. took a lot of soul searching and thinking though to step out just the two of us and try this.

So after this trip down memory lane, lets return to the question poised: Should we help women return to science after having children? YES, but how? I can give you a few suggestions from a single mother's perspective.

Monetary help in various forms would be a good place to start. One of my big expenses every month that non-mommy scientists do not is childcare. And the university is the MOST expensive option!
Affordable, or free, childcare would be a big help in encouraging mothers. I pay 1/10 of my income a month in childcare and a friend of mine pays almost half her paycheck. Use the university's education majors for staff, get them experience and provide a service to returning women. Another point, healthcare! If I want to get my son healthcare through the university it will cost me $600 a month.. $600!! "Luckily" for me I make little enough that King Boo qualifies for state aid (which is MUCH better insurance than the uni provides). University's could provide these services, child care and healthcare or they could create scholarships (preferably tax free I can't afford my income increasing or I'll lose King Boo's insurance). Money is something that policies and politics can provide, what is harder to regulate is understanding and the culture change that needs to come along with it.

I am in a very blessed situation, my adviser is one of the most understanding, family oriented man I have ever worked with. He understands that I'm all King Boo has, I have to leave randomly for child related stuff and cannot stay late like a lot of the other students. He knows when the elementary schools are closed I probably will not be in (or if I am it will be minimal with a 7 year old in tow). A lot of advisers are not so caring. He also knows that I will get work done and I do a lot of computer based work from home (read journals, study for quals, etc.). I am not sure I would make it in a lab that was more cut throat and less compassionate of my situation. If we, as a society, want to encourage more women (especially single moms like myself) to go into or return to the sciences, we should take lessons from my adviser. Be considerate of the situation of the scientist, think about the issues they are balancing and judge them based on their ability to balance. Stop making it an all or nothing situation, no one should have to choose between being a parent and being career oriented. Because when the chips are down, any parent is going to choose their child no matter how much they love their job.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Anger Overload

I have a usually wonderful first grader, King Boo, who has high anxiety and is prone to fits. My BFF and I call him mini Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. He is incredibly smart, like crazy scary smart, but must have things just so or total meltdown will occur. When he was younger, meltdown usually looked like biting and hitting me. That's faded, mostly, and we're down to just screaming, yelling, tears and throwing things. Last week when we were stuck in the apartment after the blizzard, he had several fits of epic proportions beyond that which I had seen in months. He screamed in my face, cried, threw things, bit me, hit me, kicked me, it was awful. He looks possessed, the rage is all consuming and it is pretty close to impossible for me to stop him from raging. He has to let it all out and eventually he will calm down where we can talk. These usually last 20-60 minutes, a long utterly horrible 20-60 minutes that I eventually go hide in the bathroom until he calms down enough that we can talk. 

I have looked and looked for answers to why my child rages. I wondered about sensory processing disorder, perhaps he is raging because he simply cannot control the sensory overload and his higher brain functions have shut down. Sensory processing disorder is an extremely complicated situation with lots and lots of different signs and symptoms. Some of which he does fit. He does crave tactile contact, likes spinning and motion, is always in motion, has trouble sitting still, and has NO clue about personal space. And while I do think he might have a touch of SPD, it doesn't really explain his rage..

So I investigated ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and when you examine the symptoms (from mayoclinic.org) you can see he fits part of them:
  • Have temper tantrums  - YES
  • Be argumentative with adults - Sometimes
  • Refuse to comply with adult requests or rules - The ones he doesn't agree with
  • Annoy other people deliberately - Nope
  • Blames others for mistakes or misbehavior - Yep
  • Acts touchy and is easily annoyed - Yep
  • Feel anger and resentment - Yep
  • Be spiteful or vindictive - Not even a tiny bit
  • Act aggressively toward peers - Rarely
  • Have difficulty maintaining friendships - Nope
  • Have academic problems - Not academic, he's always top of charts
  • Feel a lack of self-esteem - Yes
So he does have some, but not all and he is not even a little vindictive but a sweet, caring child.  He genuinely hurts when people around him are hurting. The more I would read about ODD the less it felt like it really fit him. So I kept looking (isn't Google a wonderful thing!).. I finally stumbled across a blog which led me to an article on something called Anger Overload. It's not a recognized disorder but the article really spoke to me about King Boo. A brief excerpt from Dr. Gottlieb below (emphasis mine):
The term "anger overload" is used to refer to the intense anger response which has been the presenting problem for a number of young children and preadolescents seen in a suburban outpatient practice. There is an intense and quick reaction by the child to a perceived insult or rejection ...[section cut]... Parents often explain to the mental health professional that these reactions have been going on since early childhood in one form or another. It is frequently reported that these children become sassy and disrespectful: they will not stop talking or yelling when they are upset. At other times, when their anger has not been stimulated, these children can be well-mannered and caring.

The problem is called anger overload because it is more severe than a temporary anger reaction lasting only a few minutes. With anger overload, the child becomes totally consumed by his angry thoughts and feelings. He or she is unable to stop screaming, or in some cases, acting out physically, even when parents try to distract the child or try to enforce limits and consequences. The anger can last as long as an hour, with the child tuning out the thoughts, sounds or soothing words of others.
As I read that all I could think was O. M. G. THAT is King Boo!! He is a well-mannered and caring child when his anger has not been stimulated but when he gets upset BOOM! RAGE! And he cannot hear me when he rages, tunes out everything but the red that fills his head. Now that I had catchphrase I quickly scoured the internet for more information. One of the big things was visual cues to help the child cut the anger off before it hits rage stage, once you hit rage stage you've gone too far.

I had to think about it but we did find a visual cue. Last week we started a bead system. There is a listening and non-listening cup and a cup full of pretty beads. Since most of our rages occur when he is told to do something he does not want to do, I decided to make this an exercise on listening and being obedient even when we do not want to hence "Good Listening" jar and "Bad Listening" jar. For the last week, every time I asked him to do something if he did it immediately I would praise him profusely and have him put a pretty bead in his "Good Listening" jar. But if I had to ask him more than once, I would calmly tell him that I had already asked him to do this once and now he not only had to do it but I would put a bead in the "Bad Listening" jar. The act of me getting the shiny bead into the jar was enough of a cue to get him to do the item instead of starting to fight with me and eventually hitting rage stage. It worked wonderfully for the first 6 days... yesterday we had a loooong drawn out conflict about homework. He earned four bad listening beads and only 1 good listening bead BUT I did not yell, which I have been working very hard to not let myself escalate as that only escalates him. And he did get close to rage but we calmed the situation and then I sat with him and we did get his homework done. So I will still count it as a win  :)

Elephant sharks and the power of the genome

Recently an article was published in Nature News called Why Sharks have no bones. Now as you know, I'm a plant biologist who studies soybean. So what is my interest in sharks? My first love has always been marine biology, in fact my master's degree is in marine biology/biochemistry where I studied marine algae. Anything ocean is going to pique my interest. That was enough to make me click the link, and then I saw this:
Norbert Wu/Minden Pictures/Getty Images
That is an elephant shark.. something I was not even aware existed! It looks like a vacuum cleaner! I personally think it is one of the coolest sharks I have ever seen! They sequenced the genome of this shark, the first shark to ever have its genome fully sequenced. That, in of itself, is an accomplishment. It amazes me how quickly genomes can be churned out. Modern DNA sequences are incredible, they can do hundreds of thousands of nucleotides in mere hours! It used to take us weeks to accomplish less than a day's worth of sequencing.

After sequencing they went and compared protein families found in this shark with that found in bony fish and lampreys (which are jawless fish) to try and see what proteins might be missing that could explain why sharks and rays do not have calcified bones but only cartilage. They used genomic and transcript levels, which is DNA and RNA respectfully, to examine what genes were present, as well as being produced, in this fish. Some might be wondering how they can be comparing protein families when they measured DNA and RNA. DNA stores all the information of every protein the shark is capable of making, but RNA will show only those genes which the shark is actually using. And since RNA is the blueprint from which proteins are synthesized, and we know how to read these blue prints, it is easy to take an RNA sequence and relate it to known protein sequences. This technique let them distinguish between genes that are simply not present (not found in the DNA) or are not being expressed (in DNA but no RNA) in the shark. It answers the question of are they capable of calcifying bones but those genes are not activated for whatever reason, or are they incapable of turning cartilage to bone.

When the compared the information they found in the shark with the known bony fish genetic information, they found that sharks do have some of the protein families known to regulate the transformation of cartilage into bone but are missing one specific family (secretory calcium-binding phosphoprotein (SCPP). To confirm that this, the researches turned those genes off in Zebrafish (a bony fish) and found that their ability to turn cartilage into bone was significantly diminished.

So why is this cool? For starters any time someone publishes a new genome I think that is cool. The fact that all of the complex differences in biology are controlled by a simple set of 4 nucleotide "letters" is incredible. The ability to sequence and compare genomes will let us pinpoint the function of more genes across species. Who knows what information we can find! It's like a huge biological scavenger hunt! This study is a step above simple genome, they were able to find a family of genes that are lacking in this shark yet present in bony fish. They took the step beyond just comparing their database with the other ones already on the internet and knocked those genes out of a bony fish to see the effect. Studies like this are my favorite, combining the power of bioinformatics and wet lab physiology experiments. So powerful!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Eidetic memory

I wish I had an eidetic memory. Between quals and proposal brainstorming I have been reading so may different things that they are starting to meld together. An eidetic memory, commonly referred to as photographic, would make all of this so much easier. I could read the book and remember it! Instantly pull up all the figures in my mind, remember that it was Cheong that did the wounding study and Amado developed the ABA inhibitor, and keep all the details about protein biosynthesis and processing from fleeing my head. Not only would it help on the science side of life but I would be able to look at various recipes around the web and remember what they were and how to make them, read suggestions about how to help my son with his anger and not have to write them down and then search for the paper (which oddly enough does not work when the moment is occurring, there is not enough time to find the paper!).

I used to be much better at learning things. The last time I was a student I could read things once, write them down once, and glance through the notes a few times and have it down perfect. But as it stands right now it takes a lot of work for me to learn things. I have to read the chapter several times, take notes, read my notes copiously and even then it does not always stick. I have laid out my plan for studying for quals. Two weeks in and I am already unable to remember what I read the week before. I re-read the notes that I took and I have to go look up more information because what I thought was enough detail ended up leaving me with more questions. It is daunting to say the least, quals are coming (ready or not) and I cannot seem to enter even the smallest new detail from short term study memory to long term knowledge. Perhaps in my "old" student age I need a new study method but I am unsure how else to go about this journey. Anyone have any suggestions?

Of course, on the flip side, I see King Boo struggle with his inability to forget things. I have to be very careful what I say because if he thinks I am promising or saying we will do something it becomes law. With the caveat that this only works if I am saying something he wants or is interested in, if I am saying something that he does not want he will instantly and promptly forget. For example, he asks if he can have ice cream and I say maybe later then every so often he will ask and then if we make it all the way to bed time and I did not give him any ice cream he breaks down into tears because I promised and he did not get his ice cream today. But yet if I say, go brush your teeth and get ready for bed, he will vanish into his bedroom and when I go ask him what are you supposed to be doing I receive, "I don't know" for the answer. Now some might say he is just saying that but if you could see the dazed look in his eyes, you would realize the child really does not know! He instantly forgot because it was not something worthy of his attention.

Now beyond the obvious annoyance that something I, his mother, tells him is not instantly categorized as attention worthy to him, I do envy his brains ability to classify things are relevant and non-relevant. I see a movie three times and I'm able to quote most of it. I read a scientific article two or three times and I can usually tell you what they saw but I'm still struggling to remember methods or how it fits with the broader literature.

I feel like I cannot keep my head above water right now and it is starting to reach the point where I feel so overwhelmed by my inability to make progress that I cannot motivate myself to actually work. This is about to get very bad, very quickly. I have to keep pushing now to get over this hump. To add insult to my injury, King Boo has been asking me to quit my job and let us move back with grandma and grandpa. He wants to go back to the blue house to live and not live in the apartment, he wants a big yard he can run in with grass. He misses living with other adults. I am hoping this is just a transition phase since we were just back there for break, before break he was saying how the apartment felt like home. Hopefully we can get back to that point.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

FF: Single Parent Woes

I follow Parents magazine on Twitter and they recently posted an article to Twitter entitled Your Single Parenting Dilemmas, Solved. Being a single Mom I'm always interested in how to balance and solve the many dilemmas that does come with single parenting. They highlighted these as the biggest dilemmas: Time, Money, Emotional Support, Scheduling, Doing it All, Dating, Guilt, and Coparenting.

Time and money I'm not sure why they are on a single parent list.. they should be on EVERY parents list. The write up of the dilemma is I work full time and then I come home and run my kids around.. hmm that sounds like every working mother I know married or no. And Money, Kids be expensive! Regardless of 1 parent or 2 in the house kids are expensive! I am a single parent who has never lived with the other parent, not a divorced parent who goes through the AHHHHH WTF from 2 vs kids to 1 vs kids, so it probably gives me a different perspective. I'm not sure which type of single parent is more common. From the Parents magazine list and the write ups of their dilemmas I'm going to assume that divorce is more common than never together. Money says going from a two income to a one income family is hard, which is undoubtedly true. But I still advocate that Time and Money should not be the first two single parent specific dilemma's.

As for the rest, I do think this is a good list for stressors that are more apparent in single parent life than dual parent homes. Emotional support, I have a wonderful, but slightly stressful child.. he is a little mini Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory incredibly smart but things have to be a certain way or he melts down. Having someone who lives in the house, having the same struggles would be fantastic! But that's why I have a BFF on Skype speed dial.

The hardest part of single parenting for me is what they called Doing It All. I've posted before about all the hats I have to wear. Homework, cooking, cleaning, sick/snow days etc. it all falls on me. This week, in particular, has been hard because the school district canceled school EVERY day. I have not been to work in 3 weeks (off for 2 at Christmas)! Not only is it driving me crazy, but I am falling behind on my research because I have not planted anything. Soybean takes months to grow seed to seed. A week might not seem like a big deal but it can be the difference between having seed in time for summer work or not. Being isolated several hours by car from extended family I have had no one to take King Boo while school is closed. And the crazy thing is, that is not even how Parents Magazine presented doing it all but used the example of a single mom being jealous cause her girlfriends husband will fix a leaky faucet. I'm not jealous of a man who can be handyman, I can purchase that. I'm jealous of my friends that I see who have a sick kid or a snow day from school and have that other parent who they can take turns being off work and caring for the child. Those are the curve balls that are hard to catch as a single parent. Where is your solution for that Parent's Magazine?

Since I have been home all week off work to watch King Boo, obviously I have not come up with any solution to this dilemma or I would have gone back to work already. The only future plan I can hope for is to make a good stay a home mom friend in the area who can take mine in on random school closing days. When he is sick I'm still the main person on call because no one can sub for Mommy to a sick child. He better not get sick, I cannot afford any more days off. One of my largest fears about going back for the PhD was how can I be both a good Mom and a good scientist. I had been balancing in it well, in my opinion, for the first semester but right now I feel as if I am failing miserably.

Has anyone else felt like this about single parenting? Have you found support in the community? What do you think?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

WW: So cold...

First Wacky Wednesday of 2014 and I have decided to use this time to discuss how cold it has been this year. January is usually cold here in the midwest of America, but this has been bone numbing, eyelids freezing cold. The year started with a massive dip in temperatures.. according to weather.com the high on Jan 1 was 21F with a low of 15F, this is all within normal averages for our area in January.

But then:
* Jan 2 High: 16F Low 1F with a few inches of snow
* Jan 3: High: 14F Low -10F (MINUS!)
* Jan 4:High: 32F Low 12F.. it was a pretty sunny Saturday, that we spent in the car all day doing post-winter break custody exchange.
* Jan 5: High: 32F  Low 7 It snowed A LOT, we got about 14 inches. Early in the day the temperature was still "warm" so we went out and played in the snow. Then the sun went down and the Arctic air started coming.
* Jan 6: High: 20F  Low: -15F (MINUS!!) Before the day even started, the uni was closed down, as were the roads. Illegal to travel Jan 5 into Jan 6 that is the intensity of the wind + snow! The high was in the middle of the night, when we woke up it was -10! By the end of the day it was -15F with wind chills in the -40F. We even did the boiling water, toss it outside and watch it turn instantly into snow it was so cold!
* Jan 7: High: 7 Low:-14 There was no word on school for Wed so we made the usually 2hr drive from my parents house back to the apartment. It was awful and took almost five hours, even though there had been no snow in two days the roads were terrible. We saw 28 cars that had spun off the road.

With the predictions ranging from lows hitting -21F without windchill to the balmy -15F that we reached, my initial thoughts about this whole polar vortex were caught up with how a cold snap like this would disrupt my entire schedule. And it has.. but that has been a really good thing! They closed down the university Monday and Tuesday due to the snow and subsequent freeze complicating clean up. That provided me with guilt free time to hang with King Boo. We built Legos, watched movies, snuggled and even played in the snow a little bit.

Today his school is closed but mine is back open. Thankfully I have one of the best Advisers in the world. He understands that I am a single Mom and don't have anything to do with Wayne when school is cancelled. He gave me things to work on from home and then we will meet tomorrow to lay out this years research. I feel so very blessed right now!  

UPDATE: They cancelled school again tomorrow... I REALLY need to get in the lab!! This is getting frustrating.. stupid Blizzard! 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

MM: Qualifying Exams

There is a time honored tradition in PhD programs known as Qualifying Exams. These exams take place at various points in the PhD candidates journey but in all cases they are win or go home. They are a test of your knowledge, a rite of passage,  and usually the first flaming hoop of death that the candidate must successfully jump through.

Quals, the less intimidating slang that is slung around, usually happen within the first one to two years of a students career. In most programs that I am familiar with they are the crossing point between being a PhD hopeful and a PhD candidate. In some cases, passing quals also brings a raise to the newly minted PhD candidate (at my old uni this was the case, not at my current uni.. bummer!). Of course, if passing quals brings all this grandeur and joy to the candidate, failing quals means utter dispair. If you fail quals, you are out.. done.. finito.. completely dead to the academic community.

 Quals at my current university are a standardized test, all PhD candidates in this field take the same written exam and then must write a review paper on some biological topic that will be assigned at the end of the written exam. The written exam is 12 questions of which you must answer 8 in the 9am-5pm time allotted. That is both good and bad.. bad news first, they are giving us 8 hours to answer 8 questions.. this means they will not be simple questions! Good news, well at least we get to pick the 8 we feel the most confident about answer. That's part one of the exam. Part two will be a list of six topics from which we select one and have 72 hours to write a comprehensive review paper from the primary literature on the topic. I have heard from previous survivors that the topics will be hand selected for each candidate to ensure they do not overlap with any topic you are currently studying. Thus since I study plants, I can probably count on six mammalian topics.

On the bright side of quals at this uni, they have given us a list of study topics for the written exam. It has 20 categories and spans 5 textbooks. But at least it is a list.. right? My study plan, there are 21 weeks until quals and 20 topics. Tackle one topic a week, comprehensive study sheets and flashcards to review over the rest of the weeks. Preparation, preparation, preparation.. that is my game plan!

And notice above I said this is the only the FIRST flaming hoop of death...

Friday, January 3, 2014

Family Friday Waiting...

Last day of break until King Boo returns! He has been with his dad since last Saturday and I have not heard from him since :( It's very rough.. add that to the fact that my arm is hurt so I could not work in the lab this week. It was sad to see all of the Legos and Christmas presents neatly stacked agains tthe wall and no one playing with them. Sometimes I relish the quiet when he is gone but over Christmas break.. it feels suffocating to be with out him. BUT tomorrow is the big day!! The blizzard better hold off because I want my baby back!!! :-D

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Welcome 2014!

Goodbye first semester and hellllloooo 2014! First I must apologize for my extended absence. Suddenly it was finals and then holidays and time simply escaped my grasp. A quick update on the end of the semester:
  • Teacher - wrote and successfully administered the final practical for the lab course I was teaching. Student grades were lower than I wanted but in line with the other lab sections. 
  • Student - studied my booty off and felt REALLY confident on the exam... however, the test score was lower than I was expecting :( I did keep my B+ in the course though so all is fine. 
  • Researcher - I finished the genetic screening of our transgenic soybean! I have 8 samples left from 2013 that did not get processed in 2013. 
  • Mommy - King Boo was the Grinch in his classes Readers Theater.. it was ADORABLE, he did voices and everything. We had a great Christmas. The day after Christmas he was wearing his Star Wars pjs, watching Star Wars Ep 1 and building all of his Star Wars Legos, I will call that a parenting win ;) 
  • Personal - I did successfully write 50k in NaNoWrimo but it turned into mostly romance easy word count and the main storyline got a bit lost. I will need to firm that up a tad more. 
 Now looking forward to 2014! The spring semester promises to be incredibly challenging! The agenda includes:
  • Teacher - Monday am lab of the same course from before, so at least I have the backbone prepared, though exams will have to be created again. 
  • Student - I will only be taking a plant seminar course which I am really excited about! BUT this semester also includes qualifying exams... ::Jaws theme song plays::
  • Researcher - I will be creating my proposal for my PhD dissertation project so lots of preliminary studies, reading and writing is ahead.
  • Mommy - make sure King Boo finishes his year strong and hopefully build lots of Legos :D
  • Personal - Reading challenge will be 12 fiction books this year, finish at least one of the in progress NaNo novels, and keep up better with this blog :)
Starting next week I am going to try a new format where I will post M/W/F:
Molecular Monday will feature a science themed post, usually current things in the lab either research or readings
Wacky Wednesday will be my random day
Family Friday will focus on family stuff
I am hoping to find a groove with this blog. Hopefully everyone out there will keep reading throughout 2014. For now I leave you with this: