Nerds on the Beach: BCB Retreat 2018

My graduate school has a very general scientific premise. We are the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences; GSBS to those who know us. Everyone who graduates from my school receives a MS or PhD in Biomedical Sciences. Because biomedical sciences encompasses such a diverse array of research areas, students in our graduate school join a scientific program in their first year based on their research project and interests.

Each program dictates which courses students need to take in order to graduate. Programs also provides students with a network of peers and faculty with the school, connected by common research interests.

We have seven scientific graduate programs to choose from: Neuroscience, Quantitative Biosciences, Immunology, Cancer Biology, Therapeutics & Pharmacology, Genetics & Epigenetics, and Biochemistry & Cell Biology (BCB). Based on my interests in regenerative medicine and my project in stem cell biology, I joined BCB.

Each program offers various resources and benefits to students, encouraging both academic and professional development over the course of their degree. In addition, each program hosts an annual retreat where current students and faculty get a chance to present and discuss their research with colleagues in a casual setting, typically off campus.

My program held its retreat this past weekend and we did things a little differetnly this year. On Friday afternoon, we had scientific presentations given by current BCB students, as well as faculty recruiting new students. That evening, most of us drove down to Galveston Island to stay at a few beach houses rented for the weekend. Friday night provided an opportunity for students and faculty to socialize in a relaxed setting, including background sounds of ocean waves.

BCB student bonding via Cards Against Humanity.

On Saturday, we had a series of small group discussions on various topics including creativity in science, emerging technologies, and making the most of your PhD.

The Co-Director of our program, Dr. Ilya Leventhal (standing in the Germany soccer jersey), spoke to the students about the importance of creativity and keeping an open mind in science.

That afternoon, we spent a few hours on the beach playing volleyball and relaxing in the sun.

We gave it our best shot, but we’re definitely more skilled in the lab than on the court.

Many students and faculty left after dinner, but those of us who stayed had another evening of socialization before heading back to Houston in the morning.

I’d estimate that 10+ faculty, 25+ current students, and 10+ first-year students came to Galveston for the retreat. Many more were scheduled to attend, but weather concerns and last-minute homework assignments stopped many students from making the trip.

Overall, the retreat went very well and it seemed that both faculty and students enjoyed themselves. As someone who is still relatively new to the program, I appreciated the chance to meet and get to know faculty and student in a way I hadn’t gotten to before. As PhD students, there aren’t many opportunities to have conversations with faculty about topics completely unrelated to science and research, and I appreciated the opportunity to do so.

The retreat was also a fantastic time for first-year (i.e. new) GSBS students to get to know current BCB students. Program retreats are the most efficient and [hopefully] enjoyable way for new students to determine which program they’re most interested in joining.

Our retreat ended up being just under 48 hours long, allowing students and faculty to recuperate on Sunday before returning to class/lab on Monday. Personally, I’m still recovering. I’ve got some minor sun burns, a truly frustrating number of mosquito bites, blisters on the bottoms of my feet, 3 lbs gained from deliciously unhealthy food & drinks, and many hours of sleep to catch up on… It was totally worth it.

Getting My Footing

I stress bake… a lot… which my classmates and colleagues are figuring out because I brought them macarons last week and mini cupcakes today. I find that baking and cooking utilize the same prinicples as my scientific work, but I tend to be successful in the kitchen far more than I am in the lab. However, I could never pick up a chef’s hat full-time because I want it to stay as my decompression rather than have it become a responsibility. Unfortunately now, when I get the urge to bake/cook, I take a step back and try to figure out what is stressing me out.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been waking up at 5:30AM, getting to the lab by 6:30AM, and working until 5:30 or 6PM, at which point I either go to the gym or an evening event; I am usually home by 7:30. So long as I get enough sleep, this schedule hasn’t felt like it’s causing me any additional stress, and I’ve actually been productive in my time before class. My problem is that I feel like a boring person for not having anything to do outside of the lab or class. I volunteer with organizations when I have time and I keep telling myself that my social circle is expanding, but it never feels like I’m living the life that others think I should have in my situation.

I am very introverted and feel like I need extensive time alone to work up the energy to be surrounded by people at school/work. At the same time, I feel like I use my introvertedness as an excuse to not be social, not go out with friends, and generally stay home. I decorated my home so it would always feel welcoming, safe, and relaxing, so I find it very comfortable to spend much of my time there. When I’m home, Clooney (AKA the adorable fuzzball pictured above) keeps me company so it never feels like I’m entirely alone, but my house is usually very quiet.

To be honest, there’s no real purpose or conclusion to writing all of this. I was hoping I could convince myself to go out more and meet more people but, at this point, I’m too tired and I don’t make near enough money to spend on frivolities. At least I now make a pretty darn impressive macaron.

As for my actual graduate education, I am finishing up my fellowship applications, which are due at the end of this month, and am presenting my research from this past summer at a regional symposium next week. Thankfully, my work keeps me so busy I have no extra time to deal with my insecurities.

This week’s lectures in class actually made sense, for the most part, which is the first time all year that has happened. Granted, I’ve heard we were not prepared well for the homework, so that should be a draining use of my time this weekend.

Essentially, I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of the grad student lifestyle, but nobody will tell me whether I’m doing it right or not.