Gone Fishin'... Kinda. Part 3

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Hey everyone!

When I last left off I was on my way to Petra. We arrived in the town we were going to be staying in called Um Sayhoun (Oom Sci-u-n for pronunciation). This was a Bedouin village, as opposed to the typical Jordanian town. I assumed they were one and the same, but I quickly learned how wrong I was. The Bedouin regard themselves as a separate group of people, much like Americans versus English people; they have their own culture, dialect, and sense of identity. These were going to be the workers that I was going to be digging along-side for the next month.

The home we were staying in was one of the properties owned by Dakilala the Sheik. A Sheik  is the Bedouin's version of a town elder/mayor of sorts. He was an older man that kind of reminded me of my grandpa, with a good sense of humor (I'll get into that in a later post). His daughters would be cooking us lunch and dinner everyday so we'd be treated to true Jordanian cuisine. 

We lived primarily on the second floor of the house, which contained our bedrooms, kitchen and common area. The third floor had rooms for the trench advisors and professors who were with us on the trip as well as a bunch of desks and storage bins for the artifacts we had found. The roof contained the large water storage units and would be the main place that we'd be cleaning pottery; we could also see one of the rock cut tombs from the roof of the home.

The neighboring town was called Wadi Musa, which was Arabic for Valley of Moses; this was the supposed oasis from the Bible where Moses struck a stone and water flowed out of it. We went here for our first dinner: pizza. One thing I must say is how good all of the food we got in Jordan was. I'm pretty sure this was because there was very little frozen food in Jordan; almost everything was made fresh that day and it really made a difference.

After dinner we returned to the house and were assigned our rooms. I was placed with 2 students from SUNY university, Megan and Katherine. We got along great from the start as we were all essentially a bunch of nerds. We grew extremely close over the next few weeks; so close that I visited them this past winter break! We all went to bed around 10pm as we were getting up at 6am the next morning to go see the Treasury!

I'm going to leave you all with this cliffhanger; I'll write more soon!



Gone Fishin'... Kinda. Part 2

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Hey readers!

Sorry for the delay. October was certainly a fiendish month; in addition to 8 exams, my pet cat of 16 years had to be put down so I was out of comission for a few days. I still have 2 other cats at home that need lots of love so I'll be ok. But I digress...

So last we left off I was getting ready to go to Jordan. I got to go on a hectic shopping rush to get clothes appropriate for both digging in the desert sands and being respectful to a rather conservative culture. My wardrobe now consisted of a crapton of khaki pants and bright pastel t-shirts. Then came the vaccines, a total of 3 in one day :P Rather unpleasant, but completely necessary to keep me in good health.

When the day to leave finally came, and I promised multiple times that I would contact my parents as soon as I could, I was off to the airport. I was going to be traveling with one other student, Brad, and we were going to be meeting our professor, Dr. Bedal, at the Jordanian airport in outside of the capital Amman. Our travel consisted of 3 flights: one to Detroit, only an hour long, then a 9 hour flight to Paris, followed by a 5 hour flight to Amman. Though that's only 17 hours of flight time, including the layovers, we were traveling for about 24 hours straight. Holy jetlag, Batman. (Also, either airline food has gotten much better or I was just that hungry).

When we finally got into Jordan, we realized we had arrived on their independence day. There were people singing and dancing in the streets, firewords going off, and the traffic was crazy. It was really bizarre to see all the signs written in arabic, a language I knew nothing about. I was warm, but not humid in the least. The buildings were very flat and all sandstone in color. The big thing that stood out though was the gardens. Everyone who could had a garden with fruit trees and grape and olive vines everywhere. They were incredibly pretty.

After a good night's sleep in Amman, we were on our way to Petra which was about a 2 hour drive from the city. We stopped for lunch along the way and I was introduced to my first Jordanian cuisine. Our lunch was very share-friendly. We were given plates with fried eggs, pickles, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, plain yogurts, hummus, and olive oil all to stack/dip with pita bread. I liked pita bread at the time, but by the end of the month I had eaten so much pita bread that I never wanted to even see it again.

It was at this time where I got to know the other students on the trip: many from Brockport NY as well as Vancouver, Canada. They were very kind and welcoming once they realized that I knew pretty much no one there (I had met Brad for the first time at the airport). By the end of the trip I gained some friends I'm sure I will have for a lifetime.

Well, I'd say that's enough for now. Next time: exploring Petra!



Gone Fishin'... Kinda.

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Hey readers!

I'm sorry I haven't written in a while. Life's been rather busy since I last posted; more specifically I spend a month abroad in Petra, Jordan on an archaeological dig and I spend the rest of my summer continuing my research here in the Penn State Behrend biology labs.

I know you're probably thinking, "Wait... what?" That was my mindset for a lot of the later portion of the spring semester and summer so I'm going to make a couple posts regarding where/what I've been up to.

So a lot of this started with a sad disappointment in March. Due to the political upheaval in Egypt, the study abroad program I had applied to for there was cancelled. I was devastated, but there was nothing I could do. While going through that application process I was placed on a wait-list for an archaeological dig in Petra, Jordan (of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade fame) with my anthropology professor, Dr. Bedal.

To clear some things up, I originally was going to be an archaeology major. However, I really enjoyed biology and the difficultly of securing a job in archaeology pushed me to major in biology. However, I never lost my love of archaeology so I continued to take anthropology courses.

Let's fast forward 2 months: It was finals week, Thursday morning and I had my molecular biology and organic chemistry 2 finals that day. I checked my email and was surprised to see an email from Dr. Bedal. One of the students from the Jordan trip had dropped and I was being offered the spot. Funding was all in place, they were leaving in 2 weeks, and my response was needed ASAP.

Luckily, Dr. Campbell, my mentor and the professor I research with, is also my molecular biology professor. After completing my final, I told him about the email, but also relayed my hesitance at leaving; I had promised him I would be on campus to research over the summer and now, if I went, I would be gone for over a month. I didn't want to just abandon him. He simply smiled and said, "Cool! When you leaving?" <-- this is why Behrend professors are awesome. He wanted me to have the experience. He also assured me I would still have a research position upon my return; the potatoes could wait a bit.

I called home and my parents, though nervous about me traveling abroad for a month to the middle east, said it was my choice and they would support me, as nervous as they were going to be for the next month.

That's a pretty good prelude I believe; I'll write again soon so I don't keep all of you waiting too long ;)


You win some, you lose some.

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Hello Readers!

I'm really sorry it's been so long between posts; much like high school, your junior year of college is filled with struggles from tests, to picking out graduate schools you want to apply to, ect. Today I had an exam or quiz in every class except for yoga so it was a touch hectic.

So I have good news and bad news. Bad news first: unfortunately, the research presentation my lab partner and I submitted did not get accepted for the Council of Undergraduate Studies (CUR) Posters on the Hill session this Spring. As disappointing as this is, it is in some ways for the better. The conference was in the middle of the week so I'd be missing a ton of classes and the following weekend is the Sigma Xi Conference at Behrend where student researchers across campus present their work to the school. That's gonna take some preparation so it's good to have the week before freed up. I kinda really did want to go to D.C. though... :(

Good news time: I've received funds from Behrend to continue researching over the summer! Last summer I lived in the apartments across the street from campus, biked to the lab everyday (a 5 minute ride tops), did my research and was a campus tour guide on the side. This fellowship (a generous $1200) will help fund my living expenses and salary over the summer as well as pay for some of the equipment and supplies that the lab will need.

In the world of funding, I guess you win some and you lose some. I won't be going to Washington D.C. but I now will be returning to summer research here in Erie (which is BEAUTIFUL in the summer I might add).

Well that's all for now. I'll try to write more often!



Don't Panic! You got this...

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Hello Readers!

I know I haven't posted in a while (finals week last year was a doozie). So I figure it would be appropriate to discuss something that is currently a big part of my life right now:

Work overload.

As I mentioned in my Time Management post earlier (see All Work and No Play), I mentioned the importance of having fun and enjoying yourself during your college career, as well as getting your work done. However, there will come times where you've either procrastinated too much (all college students procrastinate at least once), a professor seems to have forgotten that their class isn't the only one you're taking, or the stars just seem to be against you in the realm of schoolwork.

This often leads to a mini panic attack for the student. You start thinking, "There's no way  can get this done; this is too much! I'm gonna fail! Oh crap, where do I start? This is worth more but will take more time thisisforthemeanprofessorohnoohnoohno GAHHHH!"

^This was me about... 4 days ago.

The key thing to do if you find yourself in such a situation: RELAX. Panicking and freaking out is just wasting what precious time you have on nothing. Another helpful thing: Make a list. Write down all you need to do and approximately how long it will take you (don't take too long to make the list of course). Not only does it feel good to cross things off a list, but you'll be much happier when you finish things earlier and it seems like you have more time.

Ok, well what if you have to do things other than your schoolwork and you can't get out of them. Well, how long is the car ride? Bring your things with you and get some stuff done. Going to a friend's track meet? Bring your stuff and work during the events he's not competing in.

You might also be familiar with the saying, "If you study for an hour, make sure to take a 15 minute break". Sometimes in the world of Work Overload, you feel you don't have that fifteen minutes. I have 3 solutions for this:

1.) Study Groups: working with friends is less stressful, and generally you'll joke around using the material you're actually studying. I.e. to help me remember the process of gram staining, I set it to the chorus of the Lady Gaga "Bad Romance" song. At least 3 of my friends hummed that song during the exam.

2.) Work + Movie: The Movie part is critical, and it needs to be a movie you've already seen. Because you've seen it, you won't be tempted to just sit and watch the entire time to understand the plot. However, when a favorite scene comes on, you can glance up from your report, watch for five minutes, then go back to work once the scene is over.

3.) Music + Work: Ipod, Zune, whatever music player you have will come in handy. Put on some music and just go. Occasionally a song will take you out of study mode, you enjoy it, and then the next comes signaling your return to studying.

Well, I think that's enough for now though I may continue this later.


Organized Chaos

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Hello Readers!

I'll be honest with you: I am not the most organized person in the world. My desk is currently covered in books, papers, notes, index cards, and the occasional half-finished water bottle. Every once in a while, when I have the time and inclination to do so, I'll go into a cleaning spree; unfortunately, the neat results rarely last more than a few days. However, in the lab, you learn to be more organized out of necessity.

Currently, I am working on organizing array data (data concerning gene expression in the samples we are currently working with). We are not concerned with every gene we have on the array, and I doubt that we could look at all of them at once; there are thousands of them! The ones we are interested in, which deal with cell cycle genes, need to be taken from the array and ordered properly so we can truly see what these results are trying to show us.

Once these genes are placed together, their gene expression (shown in positive and negative numbers) can be compared. Is a cycle cycle repressing gene being expressed (is it turned on, much like a lightbulb is?) and, if so, is a cell cycle inducing gene being repressed? What if they are both being repressed? Why would they do that? This, dear readers, is research. And if this stuff wasn't organized, we would have no clue where to look for anything relevant.

As for the lab itself, many times you don't have time to look around for a chemical or sample. Many of our experiments involve enzymes, small proteins that often are used to break down various products, often DNA. However, if you leave your enzyme active in with your DNA too long, it'll keep chopping up your DNA long after you wanted it to stop. There is no time to wonder where you put that bucket of ice to keep the enzyme stable and nonfunctioning.

Sometimes the lab may look a bit disorganized, but there's a difference between messy, confusing disorganization and organized chaos. Though you may not have everything in alphabetical order on the shelf, if you know your enzyme is always kept on the second shelf of the fridge behind the bottle of ethanol you can make a beeline for it when you need it. Eventually the lab will get organized when there's some down time... eventually. :)

That's all for now. I'll write again soon!



Research is a journey... in more ways that one.

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Hello readers!

Research generally does not end in the lab. Once an experiment is complete, the results gathered, and their significance discussed, a paper is likely published displaying the research and what it means to the biological community. This community is global and there are always researchers who are looking for data to support or disprove the research they are currently conducting. One of the places they go are conferences.

This summer, I got the opportunity to present the research my research partner, Alyssa Gleichsner, and I have been owrking on at the International Plant Biology Conference 2010. This conference introduced me not only to the typical style of biology conferences, representatives from graduate schools, and research I never knew was happening, but to a different country all together!

The conference was in Montreal, Quebec.

I have been out of the country once, and that was a visit to Niagra Falls when I was 10. To walk around in such a beautiful city where the residents spoke a different language than me was an eye opener. It was also the first time I had ever navigated a subway or a city map so it was a rather well rounded experience.

Currently, I am hoping to apply to a CUR (Council on Undergraduate Research) conference in Washington D.C. This conference is to show the politicians in Washington why undergraduate research is important and why they should continue to fund it. Also, I have never been to our capitol and would certainly love to.

Well, that's all for now. I'll write again soon!



It the most anticipated time of the year...

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Hello Readers,

Scheduling time. It's kinda like Christmas for college students, including the hectic period of shopping beforehand.

In high school most students are directed into whichever class they are taking. Generally following this formula: 1 Math, 1 English, 1 Science, 1 Humanities, 1 Gym, 1 Art, and occasionally another random class. And the classes themselves are pretty generic: Level 3 english, geometry, biology, ect.

In college, though there are general education (GENED) requirements, you get to pick and choose amongst a medley of specific classes. Don't like european history? Take a civil war class. Do you have issues understanding chemistry? Take biology or physics. Are you painting skills on par with your pet cat's? Try a poetry class.

The stress mostly comes from the limited class sizes and setting up the schedule itself. For example, a class on reading fiction would likely fill up fast than a class on writing 10 page papers. Seniors, honors students, and atheletes have priority for scheduling, so as a freshman you may not get into that fiction class, but as a senior your chances are high that you could snag a spot.

As for setting up the schedule, everything must fit. You can't be in two places at once, therefore you can't schedule two classes at once. Generally, you'll likley have to choose between two classes at times and make sure you're not taking too many difficult classes or too many easy ones.

Luckily, you're not on your own with scheduling. You're advisor would be glad to help you and they're pretty knowledgeable of the classes you'llbe taking. They've seen students succeed and fail so they know what classes go good together and which classes don't. Just make sure you ask them!

That's all for now!




Proposals: the keystone of a researcher

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Hello Readers,

Research isn't free. Like any other career, research is a business. All businesses require resources to run. Resources cost money.

You can all guess where this is going.

Resources in a biology lab can range from a bottle of purified salt to a 5mL bottle of "Mastermix", a chemical mixture that provides the necessary ingredients for PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). I won't get into the details of PCR here (maybe later), but it is a critical test that is run in my lab many, MANY times. Oh, and that tiny bottle of mastermix I mentioned before?

It costs about $500.

I twitched when I first heard some of the costs of the chemicals and supplies we need every day in the lab. A 3mL bottle of purified water = $70. My response was, "It's just WATER!" However, the special system used to purify the water has a copywrite, so unfortunately for us, there's a monopoly on that purification system so those that make this water can charge whatever they wish.

Welcome to reality, huh?

Luckily for us though, there's a lot of money to be had through sponsoring and grants. Research in all fields pushes us forwards medically, technologically, and socially. Therefore, there's a lot of people willing to help us pay for that $70 water vial if we can make sure that the chemicals used to prevent their potatoes from sprouting are safe to consume.

As an undergraduate researcher, this funding comes from the school in the form of a research grant. In order to obtain the grant, the researcher must write a Research Proposal.

A proposal consists of an introduction, abstract, research plan, goals, and, of course, a budget. The introduction provides background on the project: what's going on, what's its real-world relevance, and what's the problem it will be addressing. The abstract provides an overview of the project itself, what needs to be done and where the project is heading. The research plan and goals fit together in that they are essentially a list of what the researcher is going to be doing specifically and what will result from those actions. And the budget of course, lists the equiptment needed and the costs.

Learning how to write a proposal is key to becoming a successful researcher. If you can't prove to people that your research has value, why would they bother funding you? And like many things, your proposals get better with practice!

That'll be all for now. I'll write again soon!



Nobody's Perfect

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Hello Readers!

Nobody's perfect. It's a simple statement, but an accurate one. Everyone has their talents and skill, and those abilities that just will never come to them. It's what makes everyone unique and essentially keeps our society going. These individual talents are highlighted exceptionally in college, especially when it comes to one's major.

Whenever a student decides upon their major, more often than not the student will pick something they are good at, whether it's math, or writing, or engineering ect. However, though you might excel in your major, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll excel at everything in your major. That's why when you ask an engineering student what their major is, they'll say, "Mechanical", "Computer", or "Electrical" engineering. They select the particular category in their major that fits them best. Though a computer engineer may take a few electrical engineering classes, their focus is computer engineering.

This kind of educational well-rounding will happen in any major. As a biology major, I'm currently taking 5 classes: Genetics, Microbiology, Organic Chemisty, Technical Writing, and SCUBA diving. The last two are general requirements (english and kinesiology respectively). The other three though pertain almost directly to my major. However, I'm not necessarily doing incredibly well in all of them. I'm hoping to focus in Genetics and I really enjoy that class. I understand the material and I find it interesting. Microbiology on the other hand, though I understand it, it is a very difficult class and I find myself struggling. Organic Chemisty is an entire world unto its own, though I feel I'm doing pretty well in it.

If you were to really struggle with a particular class, there is such a thing as Late Drop Credits. You get 16 of these credits throughout your college career. If you're really struggling with a class you can "drop" it, where you're grade essentially disappears and it is as if you never took the class. However, if the class is 3 credits, you've gone from 16 drop credits to 13, so it's not a good idea to just drop classes left and right; they are useful in an emergency though. Also, very few students make it through their college career without dropping a class, so it's not a bad reflection upon yourself. Just remember:

Nobody's perfect.

I'll write again soon!


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