Archive for May, 2008

May 29th, 2008 · Leave a Comment

This is not the end, it’s merely a beginning.

By Admin

It’s my last week in Rochester and I never would have thought that I’d be so sad about it. Allow me to introduce myself – my name is Natassia and I’m a second-year post baccalaureate hailing from Los Angeles. I lived all of my life in L.A. with the exception of a semester spent in Chicago for school, so you can imagine how crazy people thought I was leaving sunny CA for a little town in the Midwest that’s 40 times smaller than the city I grew up in. I did it, though, and couldn’t be happier. Since I’m departing soon I don’t know how often I will be contributing to the blog (which is a shame, since I’ve been with it from the beginning :( ). Therefore, this might be a longish read.

My senior year of college was full of questions. What career path (M.D., Ph.D., or both)? What area of research? What institution? Can I leave my family? Can I leave the life that I’ve known for the past 22 years? Well, I decided that it was going to be M.D. Ph.D., out of California, and heck yes I could leave my life! After weighing my options I applied to different Post Baccalaureate Research Education Programs (PREP) around the country. PREP is an NIH sponsored program geared at increasing the number of minorities in research. The decision came down to California, Boston, or Rochester. In the end I decided on the place that would 1) get me farthest away from my family (parents on both coasts), 2) give me the best research opportunities, and 3) allow me to grow the most as a person. Mayo offered all of these things. One of the biggest things that roped me in was the quality of Mayo’s PREP. They offer the option to join a wide variety of labs, allow us to attend graduate courses, and really work to do more than just provide a place to sit and do research. As part of the Initiative to Maximize Student Diversity (IMSD), I would get to work on grant writing, give presentations, and socialize with people in the same position as myself. And honestly, I had no idea exactly how renowned Mayo was until I got here!

My mother and I set off on a three-day road trip and traversed the U.S. in my little silver Corolla with nothing but a map, some food, and anything I could pack in the car. Once I got here I excitedly looked for research labs, places to live, and people that I could identify with and make my friends. All three of those tasks I’ve thankfully accomplished in these last two years, but all have been quite a roller coaster that I will not get in to. I’ll get to the heart of the matter…

I’m currently in the Poeschla lab studying the mechanism of HIV nuclear import. For the past year I have learned tissue culture, wet bench work, writing skills, and most importantly how to do real science. It’s not just, “Hey, post-bac, do this,” or, “Hey, this is what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how.” I’ve had to learn things on my own, be in charge of my project, and really take responsibility for exactly what I want to get out of my time. It’s helped having an amazing mentor and lab mates who actually care about me and my work. If you’re trying to decide on a lab at any point in the future, please (please, please) consider the environment you will be in and not just how cool a project looks.

Personally, I’ve done what I said I was not going to do – I fell in love with a local. Knowing that I was going to be here for a limited amount of time, I decided I would stay away from any relationships (especially since it was hard enough leaving one in Los Angeles). Well, it didn’t work. I blame it all on Caribou Coffee. If I hadn’t gone down to the subway for that delicious light roast I never would have gotten into this. Haha. No. It’s been amazing. That, coupled with a handful of people that I have grown to absolutely adore, has gotten me through one heck of a transition period in my life. It’s been hard. I’m not going to lie. Taking the MCAT, taking the GRE, doing research in two labs, applications, presentations, etc., all while trying to have some semblance of a normal life… tough. How did I do it? How have I managed to keep sane? I know that I am doing work that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Am I curing HIV? No. Am I going to publish a Science paper this year? No. Have I grown up as a scientist and a person? Yes. I have accomplished things here that, in my opinion, are just as important as getting that Science paper.

In less than two weeks I’m going to be a Hawkeye. I’m starting at the University of Iowa in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) and will be embarking on a 7-8 year journey towards an M.D. Ph.D. This is what I came to Rochester for. My two years here were never looked at as a means to an end. It’s been a formative journey every step of the way. I achieved my goal. I made it happen. Now will someone tell me why am I so sad to leave?

We all fear change to some extent. I knew I feared it coming here exactly two years ago, and I fear it for Iowa. What makes some of us stand out is that we face it. We look at the fear of loneliness, uncertainty, and failure in the face and say, “I got you.” Most of us who have come to the College of Medicine aren’t from Rochester. We’re from L.A., San Antonio, Florida, Detroit, Thailand, and Seattle. You name anywhere else we got ‘em. We did it, though, and we’re still here. We have our work, each other, and the bigger picture in mind. If moving halfway across the country is going to do as much for me in the future as it did coming to Mayo, I’m never settling down :) .

I owned that bass

Friends and I at X-mas

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May 12th, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Doctors……..who needs ‘em?

By Amine Issa

I am sure all of us have been there. You know… the doctor’s office where you sit down and tell that random person in a suit what’s wrong with you.  Ninety percent of the time, it feels like that guy isn’t even listening and at the very end gets up, smiles a no doubt “genuine” smile, and passes you off as another patient with another disease who no doubt needs the same treatment as the last one. Ok, so maybe I grew up in a place with a lot of terrible doctors… Maybe I am just paranoid and don’t like doctors, but that’s not the point. The point is that the title of doctor is a respected title that carries with it a lot of prestige. This is tenfold true outside of the U.S., and a lot of people get into the profession for all the wrong reasons (good pay and good status in society). The most ironic thing is that here at Mayo, probably one of the most prestigious medical institutions in the world, is that there is relatively little of that nonsense. I am not going to lie to you and tell you no one here is like that. If I read a blog that said something like that I would probably stop reading right there on account of too much B.S. to handle in one sitting.

             I will try and explain why I think this is true in the best manner possible. In the first few years, I arrived here I was shocked but pleased by how nice and helpful everyone in the various medical professions was. Coming from Lebanon, I was constantly looking for the façade… the truth beneath the surface. Most doctors back home are just there because there is a severe shortage of professions that work in that sort of economy, and when kids are young they are all encouraged into that profession. After all, what could be better for a mother than to have a well off, well respected doctor as a son? Honestly not much going by the old fashioned sense that has persevered in our world. Here, in the United States, it is much better, but there is still a lingering essence of the same beliefs. I believe that the work ethic and the way the system is set up here at Mayo (and probably at other institutions I have never been to) are strong at combating this.  

First off the “Midwest work ethic” is especially puzzling to someone like me. The truth of the matter is that people here are the way they are because a lot of them, themselves grew up on a farm or had a parent who grew up on a farm. If any of you are familiar with farm life or even know anything about the history of Superman ( the most noble boy scout that never existed), then you know nothing builds character more than old fashioned farm work. Most farm people are honest and kind too. Those are obviously ideal characteristics for any doctor to have. 

As for the way the system works, there are conferences happening on a daily basis and although they cover a broad array of topics, most of them attempt to use the mistakes committed to learn how to better the quality of the medical care. It’s common for smart people to learn from their mistakes and more importantly the mistakes of others, but to see it done on such a grand scale is impressive. These conferences also happen to have free lunch which of course is not the reason at all why I go… (I hope you didn’t buy that line), and a surprising number of the ones I attend actually focus entirely on what some people find obvious and others don’t: putting yourself in the patient’s shoes. Even the one’s that don’t focus on this almost always include a section where they discuss how the patient could have been cared for more.

Every institution is like a tree bearing fruit and no one tree can produce solely good fruit, but a tree is considered of excellent quality if the majority of the fruit is good. After all, bad apples fall from every tree, but never have I seen tree of this quality. This quality really does show in everything Mayo does and translates over very well into the graduate school, but I will talk about that more in the next blog.


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May 5th, 2008 · Leave a Comment

An Introduction to my life at Mayo Clinic

By Admin

I figured there was no better way to start off this blog than to tell you about myself. I'm Andrea, and I'm currently in the second year of the immunology PhD program at the Mayo Graduate School. I've lived in a number of towns in Minnesota or Wisconsin for the majority of my life, except for a brief semester abroad in London during my junior year of college. Because I grew up in so many places I don't really have a hometown. But if I had to choose I would say it is Northfield, MN just because that is where I graduated from high school. My undergraduate degree is from a small liberal arts college in Minnesota - the College of St. Benedict. I studied biochemistry in college, but became fascinated with immunology when I did a summer internship at Mayo after my junior year of college. After doing research that summer I decided that I would like to attend graduate school to continue conducting more research.  I applied to various graduate schools across the country and even some in England, but chose Mayo in the end because I liked the city of Rochester and I knew that Mayo Clinic provided a lot of research and educational opportunities for their students, in addition to a full stipend for financial support and free tuition. (I couldn't pass that up! Who wants to take out more loans after already taking out so many for undergrad?!) Life in Rochester so far has been interesting to say the least. This past year I've been busy establishing my thesis research in the lab in which I chose to conduct my PhD. I've also been taking many classes. For our program we have to take a series of core courses which are taught by various faculty (mainly researchers, whom I will otherwise refer to as principal investigators or PI's) at Mayo Clinic. Since my first year at the grad school I've taken courses in biochemistry, genome biology, virology, immunology, cancer biology, and cell biology. This past year I've spent two winters taking very specific classes in the field of immunology. The idea is that when you are done taking these classes you will know a lot about the field of immunology, or hopefully enough to pass the written and oral qualifying exams that are given in the summer. Those are only two months away for me now so I really need to start studying for them. Throughout all of this I've also been presenting scientific papers at journal clubs in the department. Journal clubs basically consist of a room full of people discussing a recent scientific publication. When you are presenting for a journal club you have to pick the paper that will be discussed (it's best to pick one from a top-notch scientific journal like Science or Nature) and then you have to lead the discussion of this paper for an hour. I remember last year when I did my first journal club I was so scared to present to a room full of scientists and doctors who have been in the field for a much longer time than me. But after doing these presentations a couple times this year again, things have improved a lot and my nervousness for the most part has subsided. It really is remarkable how much one improves in public speaking and communicating scientifically after two years of graduate school. At this point in time I can't imagine what type of scientist I'll be by my 5th year of graduate school (2011), at which point I should hopefully be graduating with a PhD. It seems so far away right now, but I'm sure the time will fly by as fast as it has the past two years.

I feel like I should talk a little bit about my life outside of graduate school. Yes, graduate students do get to have a life outside of the lab… sometimes. In my free time I like to take community education classes. The city of Rochester, despite not being that large (around 100,000 people I think), actually has a lot of extracurricular opportunities. You just have to know where to find them. My first year of graduate school I didn't know about everything that Rochester offered. But now after my second year here I've managed to find some activities on my own and through word of mouth from friends or other students. For instance, last fall I took a pottery class. I really enjoyed that and was able to make a couple of halfway pretty pots. Hopefully I can take another class this fall again. I've also joined an intramural softball team that a group of fellow grad students recently formed.  We play against other teams in the city.  I've never played softball in my life before (I'm not very athletic, nor am I good at hand-eye coordination), but I find that it is pretty fun and most importantly it's great exercise! If I have any free time left after school and those other activities, I like to go downhill skiing. Recently I attended a scientific conference in Utah. In between poster presentations and listening to scientists from all over the world talk about their cancer research, I was able to go skiing on an actual mountain (not a whole lot of those in Minnesota).
Well I need to get going now.  But I hope this gave you somewhat of an idea of who I am.

 Here's a pic of me skiing in Utah








My blog

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