Tuesday, January 24, 2012

State of the confusion

The title of this post is supposed to be a play on "State of the Union", which I guess is tonight. Not a very good play on words if I have to explain it though. Yeah...

A picture is worth a thousand words, and I think this one is a fairly accurate representation of my current state. Click on the picture to make it bigger. Until next time, folks.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sunshine, rainbows, puppies, and snot

I'm sick. And it's my own fault, too. My first assignment for Bacterial Pathogenesis was due on Wednesday, so as I am prone to do, I started working on it Tuesday afternoon, even though I'd been given a full week to work on it. Naturally, I quickly realized that the assignment was harder and taking longer than I had anticipated. I wound up working on the stupid thing all Tuesday afternoon straight through to Wednesday at 4:30 am. I still wasn't finished and I had class early, so I took a nap and got back up at 6:00 am. Ultimately, I didn't get it done until Thursday night. Just those two days of stress and no sleep was enough for me to come down with a cold on Friday. I literally spent most of the day today in bed, miserable. I feel a little better now, but I have a splitting headache that even 800 mg of Advil won't get rid of.

Aside from all that, things are really good.  Every month, the grad students and a couple of faculty try to get together and go somewhere for lunch. Last Friday, I went with them to a hole-in-the-wall bar called Northern Lights in the New Center area. I had a great time, but I learned that on the Fridays that everyone goes to lunch, no one really plans to come back to work. I kinda figured this out after the third round of Stroh's had been ordered for everyone at the table (there were four rounds altogether). Before we left for the bar, I told Dr. R, the PI of my rotation lab, that I was going to lunch with the grad students and that I'd be back probably in a couple of hours. I was inducing protein expression in E. coli, and it had to grow for another 2-3 hours, so I figured that I had plenty of time. Ha. I was at lunch for almost four hours!! I started wondering how I was going to finish my lab work, drunk. How was I going to explain why I was drunk?! It all turned out okay - the PI was cool, I spun down my cultures and froze the pellets for the weekend, and I later discovered that my protein was expressed, so it was all good. Next time, however, I will just plan to cut out early and go eat, drink, and be merry.

I had taken pictures of my rotation lab and of stuff I can see out the window with my piece of shit cell phone, but was unable to get the damn pictures off the phone. I'm gonna have to upgrade to something less stupid soon. Elliot still calls it an "idiot phone". Grrr. So, I retook the pictures with my iPad and took the liberty of annotating a couple of them.

The current rotation lab - a view from my desk.
There are actually two labs. The above picture is in the main lab, where Dr. R's office and my desk are. The other lab is halfway across the floor, and that is where his wife, S, does tissue culture. Yes, Dr. R works with his wife, who is a research scientist. I am the only student in the lab, so it makes for an interesting dynamic sometimes. They're both very attentive and helpful though. Yesterday or the day before, they both told me (independently, no less!) how happy they are with me and that I'm catching on quickly and experiments are working. It's amazing how much good a little ego stroking can do! I think just that alone nearly made up for all the fail that swirled around me throughout my first rotation.

A view to the north from the 7th floor of Scott Hall.
 I used to drive past Fisher Body 21 every day on one of the connectors to get from the Chrysler Service Drive to I-94. Seeing it out the window (in much better resolution than is shown here) is really kind of eerie and sad.

Looking northwest. The Fisher Building is about a block north of where the Northern Lights bar is. Brush St. is my new, less congested, less anxiety-provoking, more direct route to I-94. Clean living.
Well, that's enough for today. I keep meaning to describe what I'm doing in the lab in some detail, but just thinking about it exhausts me. Maybe later. Now off to watch Ghost Adventures. Those guys are the biggest drama queens - I love it!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Like night and day

Much to my surprise and delight (at least to the extent that I can be "delighted" about anything), this semester has been as good as last semester was bad. I'm really not sure what has made the difference. The master's student decided to switch to non-thesis, so he's no longer in the IM department. This means that I'm still alone in my classes - particularly in my Microbial Pathogenesis class, where I am the only student. Once a week, I meet the professor in his or her office for a two-hour lecture. There's no book and no exams, but I have weekly assignments to complete. This week, I have to describe (in detail) the process of type III secretion, the in vitro experiments I would use to demonstrate the presence of one, as well as the molecular methods I would employ to do so. I'm taking a break from sifting through decades of primary literature on secretion systems to write this blog post.

I am excited about my new lab rotation. Now that I think about it, maybe that's the difference that makes this semester better. Even Chris says that it's nice not to see me so depressed and threatening to quit school and get a job at McDonald's. I'm working in a virology lab, where the focus is on proteins involved in HIV replication in host cells. So far, in the three days I've been there, I've done a successful transformation, induced protein expression using IPTG (thank you, TargeTron!), seen how a Western blot is done, observed some cell culture work, and I even got my very own 293-T cells to take care of! The PI would like me to do some gel shifts to see if a protein, NKLAM, binds RNA. There are only 5 papers in the PubMed database on this particular protein, so if I get some results on the gel shifts, it could be publishable. SO AWESOME!!

I need to get back to work, but I just felt compelled to write something - especially since things are going well right now. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to write some more later this week.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Back to the grind

On the eve of my second semester of PhD school, I'm feeling quite depressed. I don't want to go back. And to make matters worse, I think the master's student has dropped out. I'm not absolutely sure about this, but he isn't showing up on the class rosters I'm able to access. We were supposed to take the same classes this semester, but it looks as though I have to go it alone again. Literally. I'm the only student enrolled for one of my classes, which should make for two very awkward hours of instruction in the professor's office every week. My second rotation is supposed to start tomorrow as well, but I've heard not a peep from the PI who will be the boss of me for the next eight weeks. I thought about emailing him all day today, but decided that I was too depressed to do it. Now it's 11:00 at night and it might be too late to message him. Oh well. Depression wins again. I hope I start to feel better about things tomorrow; right now I'm just filled with dread and anxiety and I'm not sure how I'm going to get any sleep tonight.