May 29th, 2008

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

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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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