Writing Early could save you Weeks or Even Months Down the Road

Last week I had a scheduled meeting with my program director. It was a routine checkup, just to see how I am doing, have I picked a lab? How do I like the lab and what do I see my future looking like? Towards the end of that meeting, we started talking about my research topic. She started asking me question that made me ask myself as she was talking, are these things I am supposed to know now? or three years from now?

She recommended I start writing early. She is not the first person to tell me this. Writing a final dissertation or even a grant proposal takes an enormous amount of time and effort. Starting early is never a bad idea. Daily, I read between 3-6 papers, some related to my research topic, while others are more general. Summarizing each piece into a short paragraph could lead to an accumulation of material that you may later use to write the introduction/literature review section of your final paper, or the introduction/literature review section of poster or grant proposal.  I once watched a former co-worker of mine freak out for an entire month about how stressed she as about her final paper and presentation. Her paper was due in a matter of week and her defense was schedule for around the same time. A week prior to both of those deadlines, she wrote her paper and prepared her presentation. I was wanted to ask her, why were you freaking out again? You clearly had more than enough time. Not too many people can do this. I know I can’t. I learned early that I am the kind of student who need time, a lot of time before I can turn any assignment in. If that is you, always remember to start early.

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I did five lab rotation when everyone is only expected to do three

In most graduate school applications, you are asked to talk about your research area of interest. At some schools, you can apply directly into a department and hit the ground running, while in others have applications for broader programs. Regardless of the type of program, lab rotations are required prior to choosing who it is you will work with until you graduate.

In my program, students are required to do 3 rotations prior to selecting and committing to a lab in which they will complete their thesis project. I decided to do 5 rotations. Prior to starting a rotation, you are expected to research through a list of potential advisors, submit their names to the program director, and only after you get the green light letting you know that it is okay for you to start your rotation with them, do you proceed. I decided to do things my own way. Like every other student, I submitted my list of potential advisors who I thought I might want to work with, but the ones I put down were not who I ended up working with. I followed through with my first rotation as planned but It was not what I expected it to be. I spent seven weeks merely reading papers, biting my time for when someone would come around and teach me something. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just passively sit there, I was proactively moving around the lab, asking questions, observing where I can, and asking how it was that I could help. I sort after any potential work that I could do hoping that my enthusiasm and willingness to learn would grant me a project of my own. But before I knew it, the rotation was over, the most that I did was a BSA protein quantification assay and an occasionally helped in the cell culture room.

I learned that this is the experience of many first year PhD students. The PI who ran that lab told me that the true purpose of a rotation was to give you exposure, not a project. Sometimes exposure means merely showing up, watching and asking questions. I understood, and it was fine, I learned a lot through just talking things out and reading about them.

After the experience I decided to switch who I had planned to do my second rotation with. I made the transition smoothly and only asked for approval after I had already changed my mind and started working.  This worked out great. I liked the lab, and even like the people in the lab, and I liked the project that was lined up for me. Apparently, I did a good enough job and the PI asked me if I would like to make his lab my dissertation lab. I agree because it felt like we saw eye to eye. But the next day, he asked another student as well. So now this guy was planning on taking on two students. This is fine, except for that fact that my program had this rule that each lab can only take one student at a time. This cause a bit of some drama. I was advised not to make a final decision on what it was that I was going to do, especially since at that point I still had an entire rotation left to complete.

I went through with my third rotation. This was the lab I was most excited about, but sadly it did not turn out as I expected. During my third rotation I learned that I needed an advisor who was more readily available. Some students are independent, can think for themselves and can service perfectly fine merely emailing their advisor. Additionally, some students can also come in in their first year and designed their own project. I am not one of those students. During this rotation, I felt I was going to be left stranded and aimlessly floating around waiting to figure out what it was I was supposed to do. I need an advisor who is available for more than just one 1hr every week and commits more than 7 minutes of that hour to his or her students project. I like a PI who has an open-door policy and if he or she cannot be in the lab, then there should be a senior students or senior scientists that can show me where things are and how things are done in the lab.

These concerns led me to my 4 rotation. At this point I am learning, just because someone work is a good fit with your interests, it does not mean you have to pick them. For me, it was important that the advisor, the project, and the lab culture was a good fit for me. I did my 4th rotation without telling anyone. It lasted a week and half. I did one assay, and within 10 days, I learned what the lab was about, what they did, and the culture of the lab. I liked it, but I had two concerns. One, the senior student I was working with told me I should consider elsewhere and only if everything else does not work, should I consider his lab. This made me feel like maybe I was not wanted. When I thought about it, it felt like maybe they did not take me seriously because I was bouncing around so much, and I only scheduled a week-long rotation with them, so maybe they felt like I was not serious myself.

When I started my 5th rotation, the lab which I ended up choosing, the PI of the lab received me with a lot of enthusiasm. My program director email him, (a program outside the graduate program) told him I was looking for one last rotation and asked if he could host me for a few weeks as I learn how things are done. In a sense I came somewhat recommended, by, circumstance. This must have given him some impression that maybe I’m smart. We set up a meeting and met within a few days. I liked the guy right off the back. Calm focused, smart, motivated, has a lot of work going on in his lab and a lot of funding. I liked what he was working on and looking forward I saw that I would received a full education in his lab.

I came into this program interested in virology and host pathogen interaction and ended choosing to work on rheumatic disease with a specific focus on spondylarthrosis. I’ve been told that I strayed away from my initial inters, I was unfocused and did not know what I wanted, I say, I knew what I wanted, and this integrated program has given me the chance to learn about a lot of different fields. Pathogens has been implicated with development of a lot of rheumatic disease and autoinflammatory dieases, so from a different angle, I feel I am doing exactly what I came here to do.

Planning it all out..

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First, I have to say, plans are meant to be changed. But no matter how many times you must change the plan, I have come to realize that, having a plan, no matter how disorganized, is always better than not having a plan at all. So, don’t hesitate to go back to your planner to redraw and re-plan things out. I firmly believe its all part of the process.

We were asked to think carefully about how we want to go about our graduate education. Looking forward in time can be a little overwhelming. It is 2018 and I have just finished my first year of the program but now I am being told that I have to figure out how I want to go about the next four years. It is a bit much. Below I will highlight what this plan is supposed to look like. For my program, the goal is to get you out within 5 years. Even I can see that this is just hopefully thinking. For some people it takes the additional sixth year to finish because a lot of things goes into how quickly one finishes their program. There is the personal motivation, support, project, and most importantly the advisor.

  1. Year One (2017-2018)
    •  Courses
    •  Lab Rotation
    • Select a Lab
    •  Pass the comprehensive cumulative exam
  2.  Year Two (2018-2019)
    •  Courses
    • Pre-dissertation Research
    • Pass the qualifying exam (defend your proposal)
    •  Form committee
  3. Year three (2019-2020)
    • Pre-dissertation research
    • Develop a research plan
    • Hopefully, publish a paper
    • Attend a conference (present a poster)
    • Make sure to meet with your committee a few times during this year
    • Think about writing a grant proposal
  4. 4.       Year four (2020-2021)
    •  Pre-dissertation research
    •  Start writing your dissertation
    • Schedule to meet with your committee
    • Attend conferences/Meetings
    •  Start thinking about what you want to do after graduation
  5. 5.       Year five (2021-2022)
    1.  Finish Project
    2.  Finish writing
    3.  Plan your future
    4.  Defend your thesis
    5. Graduate and Leave

It all seems like a lot, but 5 years is a very long time, and through each step there are people to reach out to that can assist you in planning everything out. A mist everything you must deal with, life still must happen, and I think this is what makes the whole experience so difficult. You have your personal aspirations outside of your studies, there are friends and naturally family is always there, so a balance is critical.

After completing the required course work, on average, you spend 10 hours in the lab. Breaks and holidays becomes a myth and are only possible if you are up to speed with everything that you need to do. So there are no built-in weekends, breaks or vacation. All that will be determined by how organized you are.

Slowly but surely you become a spectator to the outside life because your work demands unreasonable time commitment. This is made worse by the countless failed experiments. By year five, most students are angry, depressed, and more than ready to leave. I know it sounds scary, its no different than any other thing in life that requires time and energy, so when done correctly, the benefits can be worth the time commitment.

Some of these things I have yet to experience, but what I have seen, is that when graduation comes around, you do not see a single sad face. Everyone is celebrating, making thank you speeches, and most move on to what they always pictured themselves doing.

 

What I learned about Maximizing the PhD Experience

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I had the opportunity to attend a career development workshop where a guest speaker came in and talked to us about what to expect after the PhD. It was to my surprise, we learned that 57 percent of PhD students do not know what they want to do after they graduate. Majority of those surveyed chose to go to school because they either felt they had to, or because of some vague notion such as they love research and the accumulation of knowledge. It turned out that after graduating, they learned nothing, 51 percent of Postdocs still do not know what they want to do next. As a result, majority of PhD’s choose academia by default because that is the conventional route.

While I am only in my second year, it’s become obvious that in addition to focusing on my lab work I need to start thinking about what I want to do after I graduate. Most second year students might be able to relate, trying to figure out your future at this stage in the game is extremely exhausting. That is completely normal, you are only in your second year, knowing what you are going to be doing 4-5 years down the road is going to be exhausting because a lot can happen between years 2 and year 5.

Most of us are advised to keep up to date with current events in our perspective fields, read up on topics outsides our immediate focus, attend conferences, take developmental courses and network. All these are good option, by doing the following, you meet people and develop new skills. Interestingly, its not going to be someone within your immediate network that will be offering your next gig, its going to be someone from an extended network, probably twice removed. In addition to doing the following, it is highly recommended you do informational interviews.

What exactly are informational interviews? This is when you contact someone who is doing something you think you might want to do, and you go talk to them about their job and what its like to be in their position. What most people do not realize is that people love to talk about themselves, scientist are the worst, and so you will be welcomes greatly. And what is the worst that could happen, they say no? Through an informational interview, you can find out information like average salary, the day to day routine, the politics, support system, potential for growth, out of work life, and requirements to be considered, thus allowing you to tailor your studies towards meeting those requirements.

Word of caution. Never ask for a job during an informational interview, you will ruin it for anyone else who comes after you. The expectation during an informational interview is to get information, not a job. Additionally, the person you will be talking to is probably in no position to offer you a job. So asking for a job after the fact makes things awkward, dampens the atmosphere, and puts a lot of pressure on the professional who has donated their time.

In summation, expend your repertoire of skills, and keep asking questions. Spend time with people better than you, people doing what you want to do, in that circle, no information is a waste.  

Minority Enrichment Programs and the Un-talked about side Effect.

I feel the following questions replays in the minds of a lot  minority PhD students, even if they do not say it out loud, they probably ask themselves, do I belong here? Who viewed my application and what made them think that I’d be a good fit? These are not rare question, and I am sure almost everyone (black, white, Asian, Hispanic, etc.) asks themselves this, but I decided to bring this up to address something that I have been thinking about a lot. There are a lot of enrichment program out there that aims to help students from disadvantaged background get to where they want to go, academically and professionally. However, the true value of affirmative action or program that aids individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds is under appreciated. Furthermore, too many people fully understand the importance of a diverse work force, but even more importantly, very few appreciate how serious and wide spread systemic oppression really is. I feel this is a problem even among the students whom these programs aim to help. Below you will see what I mean.

In high school I was an upward bound student, in undergraduate I was a McNair scholar. As a Post-baccalaureate, I was a PREP scholar and now as a graduate student, I am an IMSD scholar. I have benefited greatly from these enrichment programs and appreciated the help of the many mentors I have come across.

As I have highlighted above. I myself, have taken advantage of the educational programs that aims to help students from marginalized background advanced forward in their academic pursuits. I have received a lot of grants, scholarships, and travel awards, and through my experience I have heard a lot. My scholarships have been called the black scholarships, the recognition I have received for my efforts, I have been made to feel that I got them only because of my skin color. After receiving this kind of feedback for so long, I began to question myself as well as the work of those around me who are trying to close social, political and economic gaps among the different race groups. Have I just gotten this far because of my skin color? Am I as good as I think I am? Am I as smart as I think I am. If I were white, would I have gotten the grants, scholarship or travel awards that I received?

I have seen many institutions award their minority students for their accomplishments. I appreciate this because nothing builds moral than acknowledgement that your efforts are being noticed. However, is titling these awards minority awards painting the picture that minority students are not as good as everyone else? I ask this question because I was thinking about a conversation I had with a fellow student who was going to be recognize, he did not feel excited about his award. He felt the award was merely recognizing the fact that he was from a minority background, and not actually recognizing his accomplishments.  He said, if he needed someone to remind him that he was not white, he would just go home and talk to his parents, or look at a mirror, he did not need a minority accomplishment award to know that he was a minority. I said, damn!.

So, my question to everyone out there is, is affirmative action helping, or is it creating a culture and mindset that minority students cannot complete. And while it is critical to address the issues of the historical events that has led to the established system, how can students take advantage of the enrichment program that aims to close the social, economic and political gaps without feeling less about themselves? Are “minority accomplishment awards” helping or creating more harm? I am not questioning the system that has been set, nor am I criticizing the efforts of the programs that has helped to get to where I am at this point. But every now and then I come across people who makes me question myself, making the imposter syndrome feel more real.

What depression looked like, from the outside looking in.

This might be a little unrelated from my other posts, but here goes nothing. How do you appreciate something that you have never truly experienced? How can you understand something that you have never gone through? How do you begin to wrap your brain around something you can’t even visualize? These are questions I started to ask myself as I stood by friends or family who were experiencing depression. I decided to write this piece after I started reading about the anxiety and depression experienced by graduate students. But then I realized, at one point or another, I have either seen or lived with someone going through depression, so I wanted to describe what it looked like and what I have seen.

Having to watching someone you care about suffer from depression is hard. I say watch because that is all you can do. Be there and watch. You want to assure them that you are always going to be there, and that everything is going to be okay, but, as nice as those words sound, have you ever truly evaluated what that will take? Ever asked yourself if you truly can even be there, and if you can, are you who or what they need to get past their depression. I do not know what the right answer is, or what the right thing to do. Supporting someone suffering from depression can often go one of two ways. You can one, help them heal and they might get better, or you can become an enabler and make them sicker.

It is no secret that major depressive disorders are under appreciated or not fully recognized as diseases. This is something that even I was guilty of until I watched it unfold multiple times. I grew up in a small village west of Kenya along the shore of Lake Victoria. A part of the world where there is more emphasis on surviving than maintaining mental health. As a result, there are a lot of children and adult living with mental health problems. I must make myself clear that I myself have never gone through depression, so below is just my recollection of what I have seen looking from the outside in, either as I listen to someone who was going through depression or trying to help them cope.

People must realize that depression is not a choice, nor is it a phase, it’s a sickness with well characterized and defined biophysical and biochemical pathophysiology. Depression presents itself in varying degrees. Some cases milder than others, but, it encompasses more than just a change in mood, it alters your entire life. It changes how you feel, how you think, your interaction with your family members, your friends, and even your significant others. It changes what you think is true, and what is false, it changes what you think is real and fake. It changes the way you eat, if changes the way you sleep. It changes the way your body feel, it affects recovery, bone growth, brain development, and even shortens life expectancy.

The hardest part for me, has been figuring out where I fit in in the grand scheme of things. Looking from the outside, there is nothing you want more than to make a change for the one suffering, to make them feel better. There is nothing you desire more, and if you could, you would wave a magic wand over their head and make the whole thing go away, but the world does not work like that. And so, you begin to feel helpless. With each episode you begin to realize just how little of a “measurable” difference you can make. The situation gets worse when the one suffering sees how hard you are trying, but no matter how much they want to, they cannot change how they feel. Keep in mind that they did not ask to be this way, and if they could they would turn things around. While depressed, they are embarrassed for being the way they are. They don’t want to be dependent on anyone, they don’t want to be complaining all the time, they don’t want to be an inconvenience to anyone. Battling with all these things in their head drives them deeper into depression which only makes this worse.

They won’t deny the fact that they are struggling. They will tell you that its hard, and that they hate what they are and how they are feeling. They will apologize to you for what is happening, and what it must feel like for you. As they deal with their struggles they are thinking about you and what it must be like for you to be going through that with them. If they see you having a hard time they start to feel bad for you and about themselves for putting you through all of that.

You realize this cycle and starts to wonder, or atleast I did, what good am I doing? For some this can be overwhelming, but in the process you have to stay strong. In some situations, you might be blamed for certain things that may have nothing to do with you. You might be told that because you did this, and you did that, I am this way. You might be told you caused this and that. But you must remember that is not them talking. That is what they are feeling.

You might also be told to keep everything a secret making you the only person who sees them through their pain. I mean who wants their business out there. What is happening is already embarrassing enough. They have probably been told they are just seeking attention. Or maybe they are spoiled, they probably have also been told there are bigger issues in the world, other people have quit on them before, it’s too hard. The worse one is being told, why can’t you just snap out of it. I was once asked to think of any sickness out there, anything from a broken bone to an auto immune disease. How would you feel if you went to someone, told them you need help and they said to you, snap out of it? I got the picture, you don’t want to hear that.

 The secret to supporting anyone, is that you cannot go down in the pit with them. Its in the very nature of the word. Being a support mean you must support, you can’t support anything if you fall apart. I learned this from a YouTube video I once watched. Think of a boy who falls in a well and you want to get them out. You cannot afford to fall in with them, or you will never be able to do anything for them. So, you swallow whatever you are feeling, and you absorb what you need to absorb, and you do what needs to be done to make the situation better. Or atleast that’s what it feels like you must do. During this time, the one who is depressed will see what is happening, and they will try their best to make things just a little bit lighter, but that will only last for so long.

For that child who fell in the well, if your hand is not long enough to get them out, go get a rope tell them to hold onto it and pull them out. Call the fire department and the police. Call the community and bring together who has the necessary resources to help you help this child.

Lastly, talk about how you feel. The worse thing you can do to someone who is suffering from a lack of self-confidence is to treat them as a helpless child who cannot handle anything. I get it, why would you make things about yourself. After all they are the one that is struggling, but, in talking you build trust, bond which brings strengths to the relationship which will give them what they need to keep fighting.

After countless hours thinking it over, I cannot for the life of me reason out the best thing one can do for themselves or for the depressed, but whatever the case is, talking is key. Talk to each other, talk to family, talk to significant others, and talk to professionals.

My PhD slump and tips on how to overcome it

I have just completed my first year of graduate school and I would like to think I did pretty good. I past all my first-year classes, I completed all my lab rotations, and I feel I have found the lab I will be doing my thesis project in.

When I was still applying to graduate school, I was told it is still not too late to get out. At the time I did not understand what my mentors meant when they warned me. Both my mentors were 5th year PhD students on the verge of graduating. They only thing left that they had to do was get a first author publication and write a review and they would be out the door, but they walked around functionally depressed. I am beginning to see why.

I would normally wake up nice and early around 6:00am, 5:30am sometimes depending on the time I went to bed the previous night.  I’d check the news, take a shower, make my breakfast and make my way to school. At school, I would go through my classes, after class I would go to lab, complete my scheduled experiments and then go to the gym. After the gym, I would make my way to the grocery store to buy what I will be cooking for dinner. After dinner I would take care of a few things, and then hit my books to prepare for the following day. I was able to keep this up for about 12 months, but I can’t anymore, and I cannot figure out why.

The enthusiasm to read comes in waves. Like a passing wind. When it’s there, it’s refreshing, and I remember why I do what I do, but then other times, I put most of my energy into maintaining that temporary spur of energy. When I think about it, things have gotten difficult and below are a few reasons why.

  1. Solitude: Since the start of the program I have spent majority of my time alone. I used to think I was the kind of person who loved to spend time alone, but I have come to realize that even that had its limitation. I have watched a lot of videos and read a lot of stories of students talking about the solitude and what it did to them. Some stories worse than others, but all the same the solitude drains away at the mind and the spirit. I do not have lot of time to go home to see my family, nor do I have the time to make any friends. Easily, without even thinking about it, 10-12 hours can pass by without as much as hello from another human being. This repeats itself for 3-5 days during the week, and when the weekend comes around, it’s the same thing .
  2. Routine: The schedule is extremely routine, especially when the course work came to an end and I started my lab work. I felt like I was doing the same thing day in and day out and the weekends are no different.
  3. Time: There never seem to be enough time for anything. It’s kind of crazy. Let’s say I ‘sleep for 6 hours, this leaves me with 18hours to do everything that I need to do to move forward, but no matter how well I organize myself, there never seem to be enough time to do anything. What’s worse is that most of that time is committed to things that are not helping my studies move forward.
  4. Future: This is one thing that just kind of hangs around in the back of the mind, but as the weeks turn into month, the month turned into a year, I started to wonder, whats coming next? What is all of this going to turn into? What will I be doing next? While researching post PhD life, I found that the possibilities are endless, truly endless, the only issue is getting there. There are more PhD’s than there are positions in academia. Getting grants is harder than ever, and most people do not receive any until well into their 50’s. The industry is more promising and guarantees a higher income, but even that comes with its own barriers. Furthermore, as I get older in age, I start to wonder if I would like a life outside of work, like have a family or something like that. But I’ve decided not to let this stress me out too much. My niece told me something interesting this past weekend. She is 10 years old, and while sitting at the dinner table she said to me, after being prompted through a game, “try not to focus too much about your future. If you worry too much about your future you will get stressed out.” I asked myself you are 10, what do you know about worrying. She said she wants to be a soccer player, an artist, and a veterinarian. When she thinks about how she is going to become all three, she starts to feel anxious, like maybe its too much and that she won’t be able to do it. I said to her, you can become whatever you want.

I overcome these sources of anxiety by taking a step back and remembering why I chose to go back to school. I wanted to become a scientist and that is what I decided to do.  It was more important than having a social life, I accepted the routine, I did not mind the time commitment, and the future would figure itself out. Whether or not I will have a family, or even truly want one, instead of just feeling like I want one is yet to be determine. There are still a lot of things to figure out in that department. Keep in mind that this is a lot easier said than done. Over the past year or so a lot of good things have happened, but I have also been challenged in ways in I neither expected or even wanted, but that comes along with the experience. Truthfully speaking it has played out exactly as my mentor predicted. I used to laugh at her stories as she vented about her problems, but then found myself living through them.

Here are my tips to overcoming some of the issues that I highlighted above.

  1. Keep Reading: My goal is to get in atleast one paper a day. Right now, there is enough time for me to commit 30-45 minutes a day to catch up on the latest work that is out there. I have subscription to nature and cell. Every morning I get notifications on the latest publication and I pick what seems interesting. Like any other skill you want to learn, you will get better at reading, absorbing, synthesizing and applying the work in the literature which will increase your confidence and make you a better scientist. Don’t just read anything that is out there, search and find what is interesting to you. When you like it, it makes it a lot easier to commit the time.
  2. Make Some Friends: Find some friends you can engage with from time to time. Someone or people that can take you out of your routine into something different just to change things up. I recommend making sure that a few of your friends are not in the sciences. The worse thing about spending time with PhD’s is that all they talk about is their work.
  3. Find a Hobby: A hobby can function as an outlet. Find something that you love. Something that brings you joy, something that you genuinely enjoy doing that does not feel like work. This can be therapeutic because it reduces anxiety, reduces stress, takes your mind away from thinking about work, and adds to your skill set. It makes you a more well-rounded human being which makes you more interesting. It gives you something else to talk about when you are at a gathering. Trust me, no one other than you, cares about your research.
  4. Calendar/Schedule: Try and organize yourself as much as you can. Set specific times for when things are supposed to be done and stick to it. This will allow you to fit more into your day, giving you the time to do what you want to do and what you need to do. It will also give a start and an end for each activity. I’ve seen that this prevents the feeling of days just rolling into each other. Having a calendar and a schedule also allows you to track what you do and what you accomplish. After writing it down and crossing it out, you can visibly see what you have accomplished.
  5. Talk to someone: Have someone you can talk to, a family member, a friend, or a significant other if you so have one. If you so need it, go to therapy. Most University offer this service for free and the best part, they must listen to you no matter how ridiculous your complaints are, and its free. Don’t feel guilty, it’s for your benefit.

Advice from a 10-year-Old

My niece just turned 10. She finished 4th grade and will be starting the 5th grade come the fall. Her hobbies include soccer, playing with her friends at the playground and spending time with her younger sister. While sitting at the dinner table I asked her, what does a 4th grader think about? What do they care about? What makes them happy? What makes them sad? What are 5 things a 5th grader should keep in mind to be successful? She decided to answer the last question because she felt in giving those 5 things, she would be able to answer all my previous questions. After about 2 hours of going back and forth, below are the 5 things my 10-year-old niece told me, that I should always keep in mind.

  1. Be Smart: As a student it is important to keep up good grades. The grades are everything.
  2. Be Fit: It is important to be fit because you don’t want to get tired playing with your friends. Take good care of your body because it looks good and feels good when you are fit.
  3. Don’t worry about your future: Try not to worry too much about your future because if you worry too much, you will start to get anxious about everything. When you start to get all anxious about everything, either everything goes wrong, or you just won’t be able to do anything because you are too anxious.
  4. Get the Job Done: As a student, if you don’t do your job, you can get the good grades, and if you can’t get the good grades you will get in trouble.
  5. Be Polite: Remember your manners. This is the first thing people see from you, and if you re rude, no one will want to be your friend.

This was a conversation that went on for what felt like 4 hours. We went back and forth discussing the finer details of each point above.  I feel she even surprised herself. I could not tell if she was just trying to impress me or if these are things she thinks about when she is alone. But either way I was very impressed.

 

Post-baccalaureate Research Education Programs (PREP) and how they can help you decide what to do next.

If you are a student interested in going to medical school or getting a PhD in biomedical science, but you are not too sure about yourself, not sure where to start, or maybe you need to improve your academic standing, consider applying to one of the 41 Post baccalaureate Research Education program (PREP) that are offered in over 20 different states across the country.

I started my pursuits with one semester of lab experience. During that experience, the only thing I learned was PCR. When I started my experience as a PREP student, I knew nothing about molecular biology. On the first day on the job, I was brought in to speak with the professor I was to work with. He oversaw a virology lab. He asked me, “what do you know about viruses?” He cut me off seven seconds into my explanation, gave me a book and told me to come back once I have read the assigned chapters. I came in knowing nothing, and I left knowing how to succeed.

The PREP programs are designed to go for 1-2 years where you live on your own, work along side faculty and graduate student either helping on a project or on an independent project.  They facilitate your test preparation, help you apply to schools and mentor you on anything else that might be going on in your life. The PREP program offered me an opportunity to experience the life of a graduate student before becoming one. I found this to be useful because it a was chance to see what is out there, take it in, and evaluate how it fits into my long-term goals.

See the link below to find out which ones are in your area and who you need to contact to apply.

https://www.nigms.nih.gov/Training/PREP/Pages/PartInstPREP.aspx#IL

Why I think diversity encourages innovation. My personal Experience.

 It is not just the diversity of skin that is important, we need the diversity of thought and believe to drive innovation. During my academic pursuits, I have come across individuals who thought I got to where I am because I was black. The scholarships I received were looked at as the black scholarships, not considering my merits and effort that put me in the position to even be evaluated. A mentor once told me, so what If you received funding set aside specifically for student of color. On graduation day, it won’t matter if you are black, white or yellow, you will all be doctors. We need different people from different background doing different things and below is why I think that is important. 

I think diversity is critical for change because it enabled a thorough look at issues through multiple lenses.  While the core of any problem may be universal, how people are affected by any problem depends on time, location, and the perception of the problem. Gathering individuals with different academic, professional and personal backgrounds in the same space allows for a multifactorial approach to problem-solving that encompass the needs of everyone. And this drives innovation. I graduated from undergraduate with a BS in Conservation Biology. However, it was not until my senior year that I realized I was interested in something else. I started to lean in the direction of biomedical research and potentially pursuing a research career. Unfortunately, I did not have the background to confidently send an application to a biomedical science program, so, I took two years off from school to focus my interest and improve my academic standing. In this time, I worked on scientific integrity research in Washington DC. Following that opportunity, I worked in a retroviral repository lab. After that, I applied and was accepted into a one-year Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program where I worked alongside graduate students on my own research project. I walked in with no prior experience and became a dependable point person in the lab.

So, what exactly is different about me?

I offer a different perspective on how a student can major in one degree at one institution and over time, work to gain the required experience to enter into an entirely different field of study. In addition to my ethnic background, as a conservation biology major, I have an appreciation for the political, social and economic risk factors that lead to disease susceptibility and severity which extends beyond the background of a classical biomedical science student.

 I would not have imagined myself as a biomedical science Ph.D. student after leaving undergrad with a degree in conservation biology. I carefully thought about my actions and how they will affect my long-term goals, personally and professionally. Staying focused was important because if I wanted to compete with my peers, I had to learn fast. I am a dual citizen. I was born and raised in Kenya, and so I overcame a lot of barriers in my academic pursuits.

It is through sharing stories like this, can we show other students that it does not matter where one comes from, all that matters is where they want to go.