A Story A Day: Part 3

**This is a continuation from my previous post**


I finished my Bioinformatics final on Wednesday afternoon, reaching the intended conclusion that genome mutations in cancer do not necessarily lead to dysregulation of the corresponding genes, nor do they all contribute to the development of metastasis. It turned out to be a very interesting assignment, even if I don’t study cancer.

I spent my Wednesday morning helping a couple classmates (one in particular) work out the kinks to their programming code. The TAs wrote this final assignment and brilliantly gave each student a different set of original data, so no two students would have even remotely the same answers on their submitted projects. I think it’s brilliant because it is a nearly-guaranteed way that every student will write their own programs. Though it does complicate their work in grading.

I left campus in the early afternoon to, of all things, help my father catch my cat. When we’re out of town, my cat typically stays with at my parent’s house with their cats so he’ll have some company for the duration of my absence. As anyone whose owned a cat knows, they don’t necessarily (or at all) like car rides, and especially don’t like being in their little cat cages for any period.

I came home for a grand total of maybe 30 minutes, 15 of which was spent waiting for my father to get to my house. As soon as he arrived, a called my cat in from the backyard – he actually responds when I call for him – and put him in his carrier. He immediately started whining and looking at me like I had betrayed him. I hope he forgets my betrayal by the time we get back. Unfortunately, I had to return to campus for an afternoon seminar. I would have much preferred to stay home.


Every Friday, the Biochemistry & Cell Biology faculty and students get together at lunch, eat pizza, and listen to one of the PhD candidates present recent data or general overviews of their doctoral research. I count on this gathering as a source for lunch every Friday. Don’t get me wrong, the research is awesome and it’s a nice way to take a break from the lab every Friday, but I come for the pizza. However, Friday morning, the lecture for that day was cancelled because the woman scheduled to present defended her dissertation last month and didn’t want to come back in to give another one. In her position, I probably would have done the same thing.

Unfortunately, it meant that 10 minutes after getting to campus, I realized there was no reason for me to be there. I did some busy work for a couple hours, wrote some notes to myself about how I should proceed with experiments in January (assuming I’d forget them while on vacation), and left.


We flew out on Saturday night. I don’t usually board early enough to get one of the seats up front but was able to get an aisle seat in the first row (yay for extra leg room), at which point I snapped the picture above before we took off.

I don’t also don’t usually talk to the people around me but overheard the couple next to me talking about their vacation plans. We struck up a normal small-talk plane conversation; the kind you have with someone you know you’re very likely to never see again. I told the woman sitting next to me that I was a PhD student and explained my research in clinical context. I’ve found that the average person connects far more to the idea of what your research is going to do for them than what the day-to-day operations are really like.

We talked for a bit about medical issues relevant to her and the research I was familiar with that was working towards to treatments for them. I most used to having that conversation, where people pick my brain about cutting edge therapies for whatever ails them and their family/friends. I love having those conversations because it tests how much I’ve been paying attention to biomedical research, though I freely admit whenever there’s a disease/disorder I know nothing about.

After talking for 20 minutes or so, the flight attendant stopped us, having overheard most of our conversation, to suggest I check out an organization she was a part of called P.E.O. (People Educating Others). I had never heard of the group, but she said that over the past 20 years, they had awarded grants totaling almost $25 million to PhD students in the last 2 years of their program. The awards are very competitive (~10% of applicants receive the grant) but can involve projects from novel treatments for viral infection to women’s education in developing countries. She recommended I apply for the grant when in that stage of my training and gave me her contact information if I needed any help getting in touch with the chapter closest to me.

The entire flight was an odd but unexpectedly pleasant experience. I happily take advantage of any time I can bend someone’s ear about my work and even happier when someone points me towards an organization with similar interests/values to mine. It goes to show that you never know when someone can help you and many people will do so if given the opportunity.

I sometimes need to remind myself to be kind, excited, open-minded, and patient. This is why.

A Story A Day: Part 2

**This is a continuation from my previous post**


I spent my Tuesday morning putting together my presentation. The seminar series I participated in sources its speakers by assigning students, trainees, and postdocs one day a year where they are required to present their work in front of other researchers working in stem cells or regenerative medicine. Normally, only about a dozen people show up but, it seems the entire group of ~40 people came down to hear my talk.

I’m convinced that people don’t attend more often because it’s a 12-1PM seminar that doesn’t provide food. As a poor graduate student, anything required in the noon hour but doesn’t provide any sustenance should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. To rectify this, I brought homemade shortbread cookies decorated with random patterns (holiday-themed, science/math-themed, polka dots, etc.) for attendees to consume.

I sped through my presentation because people, who I needed to wait for, were running late and I needed time to get across campus for my class at 1PM. Thankfully, both the presentation and the cookies went over well, I got some good feedback, and the higher-ups in our department seemed to be impressed by the work (judging based on the number of faculty who stayed after to speak with my PI about the project).


My passport was ready Tuesday afternoon, but I didn’t have time to make it downtown between my presentation, class, and dinner plans with a friend. Instead, I went into the city Wednesday morning, waiting until rush hour had subsided, to pick up my new proof of legality. While waiting in the lobby, I received an email congratulating me on receiving the 2018-2019 Steve Lasher and Janiece Longoria Graduate Student Research Award in Cancer Biology from my graduate school. This award is typically given in recognition of a student whose research aims to improve the knowledge or treatment of leukemia and other blood cancers. As someone whose work could lead to a new cell therapy source for many different blood cancers, my work qualified.

I had applied for several scholarships/fellowships through my graduate school at the end of October but, as a second-year student, I truly did not expect to receive anything. To say the least, the award was a surprise and an honor. I sent a letter of gratitude to the sponsors of the award and hope to meet them sometime in the spring to tell them about my research.

While mentally processing my award notification, I was given my new passport and forced to drive home while still in moderate shock. I had planned to stay home Wednesday to finish my Bioinformatics final, ultimately a very good idea because I could process everything from the morning at home on my couch. I find it much easier to process unexpected information while laying on my couch.

**Continued on A Story A Day: Part 3**

A Story A Day

As the end of the semester, this past week included unexpected adventures, unavoidable hurdles, and delightful surprises. In its culmination last night, I knew I needed to write everything down to make sense of it all and thought I might share it with anyone vaguely interested/willing to listen. My next few posts, which will be posted periodically over the coming few days, are a brief account of what happened this past week.


I had spent the majority of the day working on my Bioinformatics final project. As is common, I had dinner with my parents that evening and on the way back to our cars, my mother reminded me to find my passport for vacation the following week. In the back of my mind, I had known that I needed to find this document, but had kept shoving it down the back of my mind as something to deal with later. Suddenly, “later” became “a week before we leave”.

After returning home, I checked my usual important document storage place in my house but didn’t find my passport there. It sank in quickly that I truly had no idea where it was, but denied this fact for the next hour by going through my entire house in the feeble hopes that the little voice in the back of my head was wrong. It wasn’t.

I texted my mother, admitting my faults, who then sent me the information for two different local services touting a very fast turn around time for individuals seeking a passport at the last minute (i.e. 24 hour turn around, compared to the 8 weeks required by the federal government). I chose between these services and sent off my information to be reviewed at the start of business Monday morning.

The fact that I stayed relatively calm throughout the evening truly shocked me, but I’m thankful I was able to keep a level head.


The morning started off normal with my weekly meeting with my advisor, who I told of my passport woes and seemed far more worried about it than I was. We quickly went through my lab business of the week: data I couldn’t yet explain, experiments I needed to rerun after the holidays, and the rundown of the presentation I was to give to our colleagues the following day.

Soon after, my father came by the lab to drop off my birth certificate, so I roped him into chauffeuring me around downtown so I didn’t have to take these all-too-important documents on public transportation. One of the advantages to my father being retired is that he’s a softy, and now has the time help me out with whatever I need, of which I take full advantage.

We went by the civil courthouse downtown and I took care of my business inside while my father drove around for a few minutes because parking was scarce. There should really be more signs around the courthouse directing visitors because the unfortunate men sitting at the security desk seemed very annoyed with having to give the same directions to newcomers every day. After finishing there, we dropped off the remaining paperwork with the magician who could get my new passport within 24 hours. It turns out the the U.S. State Department contracts out the ability for companies to make a certain number of passports a day. Those desperate enough (which I was) can utilize their services for the hefty price of $500+, including federal and local fees.

**Continued on A Story A Day: Part 2**