Saturday, May 31, 2014

1st Almost Done

Boo is almost done with first grade, there are 3 days of school next week and they barely count. Monday is field day, Tuesday is who knows and Wednesday is their play and the school awards ceremony. So I assume Tuesday will actually be practice the play all day. He had a week free of extra homework and strikes! I would love to assume that means he is actually getting the hang of school, but a more likely explanation is that his teacher just gave up on being overly strict this week and is already half way to vacation mode. He got to go to the store since he did not have strikes (brought home a bag full of junk) and had his last show and tell at after school care (took his new Toothless from Build a Bear).

It all feels surreal right now. He is almost done with first grade, which means soon I'll be a Mom of a second grader. He can compose stories, do two-digit addition and subtraction, read chapter books (by choice!)... when did he get so big! Tonight he went through his books and pulled out all the ones that were too easy and no longer interesting for us to donate to his first grade classroom. <3

For his teacher, we are working on a little booklet with things he learned and liked about her that will serve as a gift card holder. Trying to figure out the best gift card. He says Starbucks, I lean towards Amazon or Target. We had best come to a consensus soon.. school is out on Wednesday!

Any suggestions? What gift cards do you think teacher's would like?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Summer Schedule

Because I am a graduate student, I inevitably get the question "Will you be coming home this summer?" This is a very undergraduate view of Academia. Graduate students do have a summer break, but it is not the type of break of which you are thinking.

Summer is graduate school Wonderland. The halls are quiet, and classes both as a teacher and a student have vanished. For a few precious months we have few to no obligations other than research. It is the time to buckle down and make a mad dash for data. If your project involves field research, these truly are your glory days! You can run through the forest, ford the streams, dive the oceans, collect ALL the samples!! Most graduate students I know look forward to the magic that is summer.
In SUMMMMMMMMMMMMERRRR!!
Disney's Frozen

I, sadly, do not have field research in my current project. My masters work involved copious amounts of SCUBA diving every summer and I do miss that. However, I do get my own Summer Wonderland as my schedule at work will be: research, research, research, research, lab meeting, mandatory graduate student meeting. That's it. No classes to study for, no lectures to prepare, no items to grade, and no classes to attend/teach that interrupt the flow of research. The only things I have to do out of the lab are every Friday for the lunch hour, the grad students are getting together to either a) present their work (one student a week) or b) journal article club, and lab meeting on Friday morning where we will talk about our work. Fin. The rest of the week can be all research all the time! MWAHAHAHA! Ohhh where to begin!
Pretty much exactly how I look
Disney's Emperor's New Groove


This summer, research takes 2 forms: wet lab work and proposal writing. My goal for the summer is to get some pilot studies done and write the introduction to my PhD proposal which will be due next year. Which means I need to actually design the pilot studies! I have some vague ideas, but not exactly sure how to approach them. The research question I have right now is pretty broad, need to narrow it into smaller, manageable questions and then design the workflow.
And this is how I look planning experiments
Disney's Meet the Robinsons




While not as glamorous as doing wet lab work, experimental design is a critical part of research. Every variable must be accounted for so that you are only manipulating what will answer you question. You need to not only know how you are going to collect data but also how you are planning on analyzing the results. A great deal of thought goes into experimental design.. something I need to work on more frequently.

What are your summer plans?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Happy days are here again

Last week I had my qualifying exams (for catch up read part 1 and part 2) and, you might have noticed, did not post on Friday. There were 2 reasons for that: 1) my brain was dead, seriously it had not potential left to think of anything interesting to say and 2) Boo and I joined a group of family for a local minors baseball game so I spent most of the afternoon and evening just hanging out with family/friends and enjoying chit chat and beer. It was glorious!

Now my 3 day weekend is ending, I spent a lot of time sleeping, read a novel just for fun (Fleet see my Goodreads review here), and family time. Now it is time to layout the week of RESEARCH!! FINALLY!!! DANCE OF JOY!!! (yes I show my age.. shush)


Boo also joins in the action as Mommy now has time to PLAY!


I have not been in the lab other than to splash some water on plants since the beginning of May. Four weeks is like four years in lab time. On our way home tonight, Boo and I stopped at the lab to water the soybeans and I grabbed my lab notebook. This is how long it has been, I need my lab notebook to lay out my week... I couldn't just go off the random post-its and notes scattered around. So far I have 4 things to catch up on and then it is time to lay out the summer schedule (more on that later)

Normally I do this on Sunday, sit down and make the week's lists. My lists usually include: Lab work, study items, grocery, and maybe a dinner plan (which I rarely follow). So I'm curious, does anyone else take the time to lay out your week's activity? What lists do you make? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Quals Part 2

I am neck deep in the part 2 of my qualifying exam.. my review paper is about 2/3 completed and I think I can finish up draft 1 tomorrow. I had hoped to have draft one completed today but I am just too tired to keep working tonight.

I cannot explain how truly, completely mentally exhausting this process has been. My bff told me she had never felt so smart and so stupid as she did the day of her quals. I can honestly say I've never had so many details crammed into my head at any one time.. I joked that I needed to put some cotton in my ears to make sure it did not all leak out before the exam. Writing all day, vomiting knowledge onto the papers and hoping they matched what the question was upon, had me completely tapped out Monday night. We went out to dinner and I stared at the wall.. I was going to have a toast to celebrate and my brain was fried I could not decide on a drink and just had water! I literally was overwhelmed by a beer list. Boo had a school skating party that he begged me to take him to which was actually a really good break for my brain and some activity for my poor legs after sitting all day. It was the first time in weeks I was not going over molecular and metabolic pathways in my head and was fully engaged in NOT science. It felt as good as an oasis in the middle of a desert, the change of pace and scenery! But then had to go home and start part 2.

I thought I was tired on Monday.. however two days I've spent digging through the literature, taking notes, compiling information, and writing has brought me to the Challenger Deep of exhaustion. Sitting on my gluteus maximus, staring at my computer and typing furiously has been the entire extent of my daily activity and yet I feel as if I just swam for two days. My muscles hurt, my brain is exhausted, I have no fingernails left to speak of! This is taxing in ways I had never anticipated.. I think I'd rather run a marathon with no training (ok.. maybe a half). The purpose of quals has always been to test our knowledge but I think it is also a little bit about testing our stamina.

Tomorrow I must finish draft one so that I can proof on Friday and get it in well before the noon deadline. But right now my vision is blurry and my fingers are sore so I shall retire and leave you with a picture of my current best friend, Mr. Ubiquitin.
Creative Commons License by Wikipedia user Rogerdodd

Monday, May 19, 2014

Quals Part 1 complete

I survived!!! That's the best thing I can say today after spending my day writing as detailed answers as I could to the 8 required quals questions. Our exam consists of 12 questions, since my specialty is in biochem/molecular my sections were biochem and molecular. Each had 6 questions and we got pick 2 questions to skip. The questions to skip were no brainers.. I was not very confident and/or had NO clue so bye bye. I had one in each section that I was shaky on.. I knew I was forgetting some key details but I got most of it. The others I'm fairly certain I rocked. Hopefully it will average out enough to pass.

Now it is time to move on to part II which is a 7 - 10 page review paper on an assigned topic, mine is ubiquitination. I know the basics.. time to dive into the details.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review: Terrors of the Deep

I loved books as a kid, I still love books but now I have so much less free time to read fun novels. Boo has picked up on my love and reads a lot. We read every night and a lot of times in the car he is in the backseat reading. I keep the backseat always stocked with comic books and novels.

Another one of my passions is the ocean. My M.Sc. is in marine biology/biochemistry, I've been SCUBA diving over half my life and I often find myself pursing marine biology journeys to read abstracts. So needless to say when Boo brought home the book Terrors of the Deep from the schools Scholastic book fair this spring I was incredibly excited! It has a shark on it! And the write up mentions deep sea submersibles! Sign me up!


It's rated grades 3 - 6. They did not shy away from long scientific words (awesome!) so he had a little bit of trouble but he read a chapter a night in about 15ish minutes. Unlike some of our other chapter books, this book is full color. There are a few different types of pages. All the story pages have the submarines location in the water column along one side. Some of the story pages have pictures (not drawings, actual photographs) of oceanic organisms. There are also factual pages, in green, that talk about a variety of things from individual creatures, hydrothermal vents, sub history, etc.

 
Yet with all it's that set up, I only gave it 3 stars on Goodreads. There were a couple of problems with it and one gigantic one that made it impossible for me to give it the 5 stars I wanted to when we first started reading.

SPOILER ALERTS BELOW

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dinner Discussions

As I am busily preparing for quals, cooking and cleaning and pretty much everything that makes me a good housekeeper and to a certain extent a good Mom is going out the window. To that end we are ordering pizzas and going out to dinner a LOT.. more than my budget can really afford but it's the price of sanity.

The other night while out to dinner Boo observed that our server was a waitress because she was a girl. And if we had a boy it would be waiter. As I'm not one to point out differences between boys/girls I wanted to know what he thought about it. So I asked if he thought two names were ok for boy vs girl. To which he replied yeah that way one can tell them apart which is a boy which is a girl.

Ok, I guess I can see that. But I wanted to push a bit farther and asked why it mattered. He didn't know, just did. We have reached grade school logic levels.

My next question was if he thought boys/girls should be paid different for the same job and he looked at me like I was nuts.. "No that's not fair!" he blurted out. OK, at least he thinks they should be treated the same. I tried to find out why he thought it was important that they be labelled differently but all I got was a shrug and a topic change to the video game machine in the back of the restaurant.

As a woman in Academia I'm well aware of the challenges a woman faces vs. a man to be successful. It often feels like I have to work 100x harder than anyone else in the lab to overcome my challenges, aka having 2X chromosomes and an offspring. The first is not my fault. The second would not be held against an XY due to the perception that Mom's take care of kids. I'm well aware that I will probably get paid a lot less than my XY counterparts when I graduate despite the fact that we both can add Ph.D. to the end of our names.

It was actually really hard for me NOT to launch into a long winded lecture to my poor 7yo about separating job titles and differences between compensation. But I simply smiled and let him change the topic. At least he thinks compensation should be fair, we can work on the differing titles later.

Monday, May 12, 2014

1 week

There is one week left until Quals arrive. Seven days.. exactly 7 days from this moment I will be frantically writing everything I can think of about some unknown subset of this massive amount of information I am attempting to learn.  

Biochemistry and molecular biology has been reduced to alphabet soup in my memory. RecBCD, eIF4f, TER, SSB, Mcm2-7, CDK, TPE3, Wnt, Fz, Smad2/3, Ras, on and on the letters go. They all MEAN something and each is important to various topics. The problem is going to be keeping them all straight and properly aligned with their topics! Rec is DNA repair but Ras is involved in signaling pathways. Watch me mix some up next week when I take quals!

 Today, and pretty much the rest of the week, will be spent drawing pathway after pathway on my dry erase board, reviewing all my notes, doing flashcards, and talking myself through everything until I cannot stand to look at it another moment.  I already feel that way.. but I also feel that I know nothing. As soon as I finish reading/writing it, all the information leaks right out of my brain and is lost. I hope it starts sticking or I'm in TROUBLE!

For 8 hours next Monday, I will data dump every bit of info I can squeeze out of my exhausted brain through my pencils onto the papers. 8 hours.. 8 questions.. anyone else hearing the Jaws theme?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Lego Mama

You might remember my post about Boo's anxiety. He worries about me a lot and it is distracting for him at school. We have talked about the fact that he can worry about if I'm having a bad day or if I'm going to pass a test or if my experiments are working but does his worrying change any of those things? Logically, he knows the answer is no but it still bothers him.

One of the things that his therapist suggested was giving him a trinket to take to school to be a connection between us. Honestly, at first I was pretty much convinced she had lost any sense of reality. Sure I'll send a Best Friend necklace to school with my kid.. yea that won't get him a good butt kicking. More I thought about it though, the more I realized at HIS age I LOVED my BFF necklaces and crap like that. I actually think I gave my BFF one while we were in grad school and we both giggled like little girls. So maybe the therapist was not completely crackers.

But I have a 7yo boy.. a BF heart necklace that we can each wear part of is probably NOT the smartest of ideas (plus like I really want to have one of those things on every day!). I racked my brain to try and come up with something he could take that would be small, fit in his pocket, not be a distraction, but would have some sort of meaning. Finally, the idea hit.. Lego minifigure! I was going to take him to the Lego store and have him build a minifigure, but we have so many that we went through our collection and built. Now when he goes to school he tucks Lego Mama (who is a SCUBA diver with epic hair) into his pocket. Then when he worries that maybe Mom is having a bad day, or something bad might happen, or what have you, he can check to make sure Lego Mama is there and be reminded that Mom is ok and he can go back to work at school.

So far he has reported that it helps and for the last two weeks the number of non-completed assignments coming home has decreased. It does add one more thing to my frantic get-out-the-door-in-time-to-not-be-tardy checklist, but if it helps him then it is worth it.

How about the readers out there.. ever have a silly piece of advice given to you that you almost blew off but then it turned out to be not so stupid after all?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The 12 days of QualsPrep

On the first day of QualsPrep My studying gave to me

An email cancelling lab meeting

On the second day of QualsPrep My studying gave to me

Two broad categories

On the third day of QualsPrep My studying gave to me


Monday, May 5, 2014

Practically Perfect Protein Primer



PhD’NtheSingleMom Presents: 
Practically Perfect Protein Primer 

In an amazing choose your own detail format. For beginners, just read the blue, for full blown Quals level read the blue + black (which is how I feel after all of this studying...)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Study + Mommy = Insanity

I am 17 days away from the start of quals.. that means I need to learn EVERYTHING in 16 days. This past week started full blown study mode, no more lab work... But I still had the requirements of my normal grad school schedule. I gave my final to the course I am teaching on Monday and presented my last talk for my seminar course today so now I can focus on just quals.