updates from the past!

edit: this was a draft i never published… i’ll be back soon!


It’s been a long time since I’ve updated. Some quick updates on life as a first year grad student: Westerns. All the time. For those of you that are not familiar with the Western blot, it’s basically a way to measure the amount of protein produced in a cell and how large it is. The method is fairly straightforward: you harvest cells and lyse them, so that the proteins are no longer enclosed in the cell, run them on a gel that separates them by size using gel electrophoresis, transfer the proteins from the gel to the membrane, and eventually use antibodies to look at specific proteins. It’s a simple process, but an all day process. I’ve been trying to get figures to finish a paper that the lab I’m rotating in is putting out and it’s been a rather dreary three weeks…

I’ve also been working on a proposal for an NSF fellowship. The government closed for a few weeks… and I was sort of hoping the deadline would be postponed, but alas ’twas not to be. I am very excited about the research I am proposing, but I am less excited about my personal statement.

I’ve also been teaching myself how to knit. Apparently, trying to make a hufflepuff scarf with stockinette stitch is a bad idea, because it curls like crazy. But at least now I know how to knit!

Weekends at Work


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Science. It doesn’t take a break and neither should you.

But that isn’t really true, is it? With all good things, there comes a time where you need to step back, take a breath, smell the roses and then dive back in. I haven’t posted in a while. (I haven’t forgotten you!) I’ve been busy with schoolwork (or, well, mostly reading papers takes up the most time, as well as studying for the occasional quiz) and fencing (which has been my go-to take a break activity these past few weeks). I haven’t had as much time to read as I could wish. Last weekend, I adventured to Madison, WI and saw the new buildings at Epic, which was pretty cool.

So. Lab. I’ve been enjoying my work with the ECF sigma factors a lot. My last few days have been all about Western blots. Needless to say, I went from having done one blot in the last year… to having done at least five in the last week. Right now, I’m in lab prepping samples for next week. I love the collaborative/collegiate atmosphere of being in lab, but I also treasure the times I can just be alone at my bench and listen to music while working. 

Classes have been exciting. I enjoy learning more of the fundamentals of genetics. I do get my ego deflated a lot when others score perfectly on exams and I’m still missing one or two questions. Sigh. But compared to how I did at Mudd, I really shouldn’t complain. Grr.

I’m starting to work on my application to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship… this is difficult writing, so naturally I’d rather write a blog post. The difficulty lies in the broader impacts aspect of the essays and proposals. I’m glad I’ve been forced into thinking about this in the past, thanks to my undergrad college’s mission statement:

Harvey Mudd College seeks to educate engineers, scientists, and mathematicians well versed in all of these areas and in the humanities and the social sciences so that they may assume leadership in their fields with a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society.

– http://www.hmc.edu/about1/mission.html

Nevertheless, translating that into a personal statement of my involvement in society is harder than it seems. ARgh!

And finally, the fun things. Fencing has been awesome. I’m quite terrible at this point, but hopefully I’ll improve. I started crocheting again last night and I want to learn how to knit. Mostly, there’s a fencing tournament about 8 hours away, and I feel like knitting might be a good way to wile the time away. Either knitting or working on that application. As for my other known interest, perfumes, I’ve been busy sniffing! I’ll post a few reviews of the samples I’ve been sent in a little bit!

Now back to reading. 

First rainy day in Iowa City!



I am so excited. And also annoyed because I have to get to lab in the rain. 

I love rain, though, and I’m willing to forgive that slight unfortunate circumstance. Overcast days, faint drizzle, utter lack of the daystar that burns… it’s all good. Plus, I feel much more atmospheric when I curl up on the couch with a hot drink and a blanket and a book (or homework, as the case will be today).

This is excellent.

Everything smells so good!


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One of the things that I’ve found myself interested in over the past year or so has been the art of scent – perfumery. I’ve always had an interest in the way that things smell. I often catch whiffs of people’s deodorant or soap or something that smells good and make a mental note in my mind that that person smells good. This makes me sound more creepy than I actually am. Note: if you use Irish Spring, I will probably think you smell good.

I have enjoyed the smells of different things: rain, books, vanilla, cookies, the scent of a newly opened house, trees, lavender. I did my undergrad thesis on chemosensation in C. eleganswhich basically involved the response of the worm to how different bacteria smelled to them. In O. Chem lab, we extracted limonene from orange peel. These are the things I’ve done with scent.

I have a few different perfumes, too. I mostly have oils from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab – I like these because they’re pretty subtle (or you can make them so), natural, and smell like interesting things. I have (or had) a bunch of Bath and Body Works lotions/body sprays/etc. Recently (and the actual cause of this post), I acquired a set of randomly sampled perfumes from Surrender to Chance.

I don’t know much about how smells work. I also don’t know much about perfumes. I know that there are different layers to each scent. I feel like I’ll be reading about this and about the chemistry behind scents in the next few months…




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Today was just one of those days when my brain didn’t work. It was one of those days when things would come out of my mouth in garbled strings and loops of syllables. I felt utterly not on point. It was terrible. I forgot to start cultures of competent cells, so I didn’t get to finish my transformation. I explained a graph during journal club really terribly. Nothing worked coming out of my brain and into the outer world. I mean, I got a chromosomal DNA extraction to work, I think. But aside from that… ugh.

I did get to watch a presentation on super resolution microscopy. It was pretty cool. Mostly I was there for the pretty microscopy pictures. My current project doesn’t really need microscopy, but I worked in a lab that studied cell division and used microscopy to look at the localization of cell division proteins. Microscopes are freaking expensive (sigh, money and research).

So now I am going to sit here, read more about DNA replication, possibly read some of Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman, eat some of my giant dish of lasagna (seriously, it is hard to make one serving of lasagna), change the water in my vase of flowers that I got while talking to a really interesting florist (who talked microbes with me!), and go to sleep early because I am tired.

I need to get back into running… but all of my running clothes have been sweatified and need to be washed…

Also, I’m considering going to the fencing club practices! I fenced for a semester (about) at Mudd and it was fun… maybe this will be a good time to get back into it!


Books, Blue, and the Boy


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Today I acquired a coffee maker. It makes five cups of coffee and I can program it to make coffee when I wake up. I wanted to find one of those pour over coffee filters, but I couldn’t… I’m not a huge coffee drinker (I prefer tea, because I can taste the different flavors better), but sometimes I just really crave some coffee flavored life… Luckily, I found out that making the coffee maker make 2 cups of coffee is actually the equivalent of one cup of coffee for me. So it all works out in the end. (I’m testing the automatic feature tomorrow morning… with any luck, I’ll wake up to the smell of coffee and not my apartment burning down).

I am now more than one week into grad school. The results of last week (and this weekend, because bacteria don’t recognize weekends): mutants! I managed to make three deletion (well, deletion in that we inserted kan resistance genes where the actual genes were supposed to be) mutants in B. subtilis. Also, I am getting better at saying subtilis the right way and not “sub-till-is.”

My dearly beloved person that I adore (also known as the boy) visited for the Labor Day weekend, so I got to enjoy dragging (not really, he went willingly) him to the bookstore, where we got matching copies of Dune (by Frank Herbert) and the Magicians (by Lev Grossman). We also somehow avoided going to the Iowa vs. Northern Illinois game… but were a little overwhelmed by the amount of black and gold downtown… This is very much a Big 10 town and I am terrified of how my little non-sporty self is going to cope (… maybe it’s time to wikipedia the rules of football…). My favorite geeky moment was probably finding a random conference room at Bowen and working out what relative percentages of blue caused by beta galactosidase cleaving X-gal to expect on my plates. Since the boy is a computer scientist (whose interests in biology tend toward the computational, conceptual, and/or neuroscientific areas), I got to practice explaining my work, which naturally helped a bit in me understanding what I am doing. The hardest part of being a rotation student is that I don’t quite feel like I’m doing science or contributing much intellectually. I feel like a pair of hands. Which is good in that I learn a great deal of techniques. But I also feel like I need to be doing more thinking than I actually am.

And so here I am. I just drank a cup of somewhat strong delicious chocolate raspberry coffee. I am reading about DNA replication, which is turning out to be one of my favorite things to study in detail. I am slightly overwhelmed by my journal club class – we’re focusing on regulation of enzymatic activity and bonding interactions and things like AraC… and enzymes and bonding are not my strongest suits. So it’s terrifying.

I feel a little bit of the “what if I’m not actually smart enough to be here” coming on, but I’m working hard to dispel self-doubts that are actually harmful. A little fear is a good motivator… but confidence is the best. (or something like that). and I may be procrastinating right now…so i should get back to reading…


ps. Currently reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman and it is fantastic! I have laughed so much while reading this book. While I don’t agree 100% with everything she says, it is a really fascinating read and she brings up relatable points! 

The Iowa uniform…


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I went to the Campus Wellness and Recreation Center today. I was wearing a Harvey Mudd shirt, because most of my shirts are Mudd shirts… Anyway, on the way down someone stopped me and said they had gone to Scripps. Apparently, the person was a dean of the law school here. I like meeting 5C folks. So if any of you are out there, hi!

I also saw this picture on the way down:


Which I thought was really cool.

I woke up late this morning (around 8). I figured it was my last weekend before the start of class and I might as well take advantage of it. I went to lab yesterday. My first PCR in more than a year seemed to work and I did my first gel purification in more than a year… Going back to molecular biology after a year as a behavioral neuroscientist for thesis is a little terrifying. I’m not always sure that I’m not forgetting something basic. So now we have a few strains growing for transformation on Monday.

Also I called this post the Iowa uniform because I swear – wearing an Iowa shirt is required or something. I guess I should go find one. Adjusting to a large state school that cares about sports is going to be fun…

Thursday Textbooks! (and thoughtful tidbits?)


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Today I stayed home and waited for the technician to fix my Internet. It was actually not terrible. I learned a little bit more about the problems going on and got a chance to apply genetic techniques to troubleshooting… or anyway, I saw the relationship between the techniques used to figure out what was causing the problem with the things I’ve been reading in papers recently.

This entire week has been basically orientation. I’ve been getting oriented with regards to my rotation project, the University, and Iowa City. Also, my body’s been getting used to doing more physical things like running and walking and biking everywhere.

With the start of grad school (and the apparent culture of healthiness and partying that goes on here… #1 party school … yeah…) I’ve been trying to be more healthy. In my adventures on the internet, skimming blogs and reading articles and such, I’ve been exposed to the idea of being happy with who you are and being comfortable in your body. There’s the idea of dressing the way you want to – not to impress anyone, but to impress yourself. There’s the idea of being who you want to be and not caring what others think about you.

But it’s really hard. I’ve always found that I seek approval in what I do. This is part of what drove me to be academically involved in high school and into college and onwards (though now I’m driven mostly by a desire to learn more about things). This approval seeking, though, leaked into how I viewed my body. While not obese, I have always been overweight. I didn’t particularly care. I wasn’t traumatized by it. The only times I thought about it was when I was in ballet class (it’s hard not think about your body when you’re wearing tights and a leotard) and when I would compare how I looked to others (not that often in high school, when we were forced to wear uniforms). To be honest, though, I cared a little. It didn’t help that for some reason a person’s weight was some sort of conversation starter in my family and extended family. When weight was brought up, I would think to myself, “I’m not that fat. I have muscles in my legs (from ballet). And I don’t look that fat.” But then I’d look in the mirror right before the shower and frown at what I saw. Definitely not a toned torso. Largish arms. And it would make me sad and then I’d have to struggle to be okay with it and promise myself that I was still healthy and that I’d work harder to stay healthy.

And now I have that chance, that new beginning. And to be true to myself, I have to do it for me. Which is difficult, because to be honest it’s also probably a reaction to the idea of beauty that is prevalent in society. I need to find that balance and that self-cognizance to be able to know what my motivations are. I don’t just want to do things because society tells me to do things.

Anyway. That was a random rant/bunch of thoughts.

I didn’t take a picture, but I got my Microbial Genetics textbook today!

And I’m going to go back to reading papers about ECF sigma factors.


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