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.