Social media connections lead to greater patient activation

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This is just a quick post about an article I found on Nature Review Rheumatology. It says that social media connections lead to greater patient activation. Compared to patients who were assigned to answer module questions using a diary, those who were assigned to answer questions using social media forums showed greater agency, community, self-efficacy and empowerment. The findings suggest that interventions that promotes patient’s activation could potentially increase patient engagement in their own treatment, promote a healthier lifestyle, drive healthier behaviors as well as reduce delays in seeing medical attention or going in for annual checkups. Below is the link to the article. Visit the link below and share with other people. You never know who might benefit from this.

I welcome any idea, stories, or just a chance for a friendly exchange. As the link below implies, social engagement brings about a sense of community and belonging which leads to healthier choices which leads to healthier life style.

To me this makes sense, if all your friends are doing the right things, making the right decision, sharing their stories, and taking care of themselves, you are more likely to follow suit. So share your experiences, what can others learn from what you have been through?

Citation:

Sadun, R.E., and Schanberg, L.E. (2018) Using social media to promote medication adherence. Nat.Rev.Rheumatol.
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41584-018-0037-1

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How I deal with my anxiety as a graduate student.

Anxiety and depression in graduate school is real and is a problem. It can affect your work and your personal relationships. While most institutions provide resources to help their students, many still struggle. Those coping with anxiety or depression, unless pushed, will not come forward and talk about what they are dealing with. No one wants to be a bother, or always being the one complaining. We are all dealing with our own things, so it’s a lot easier to just hide. Despite your difficulties, you are still more important to yourself than your school, your job, or your research. You must take care of yourself first. If you don’t, it does not matter what you want to do, you won’t be able to do it, because you will be too overwhelmed to do much of anything.

Anxiety and depression can occur because of a lot of different things, and while some may say ups and down is part of a normal day, a lot of people feel down all the time. It can be because of school, future, work, a failed relationship, family, self, friends, a bad memory or a bad experience. Whatever the case, it’s real.  A comment from a reader on a previous post about anxiety and how the body responds got me motivated to share my tips on how I deal with my anxiety. Depression is something I have only witnessed, I cannot say with confidence I have experienced it.  Below are 4 things I do to deal with my anxiety.

•    Reach out and talk to someone: It’s such a simple thing to say and can be so hard to do sometimes but talking could make all the difference in the world. Find someone who at minimum is willing to listen, just listen. For me, talking is also an opportunity to process my feelings. When you are inside your head, try saying it out loud sometimes. You will be surprised how different things sounds when you say it to someone else compared to when you say it to yourself.

•    Read: When I start to feel overwhelmed I read. Read a good story or if you are like me, read about the anatomy of anxiety and depression.  I have come to learn that when I do not understand what I am feeling, reading helps. Once I have a picture of some of the possible triggers to my anxiety, I could start to evaluate what has been happening in my life that may have brought about the tension.

•    Exercise: One of the best things you can do for yourself is excise. During training, your body releases growth hormones of various types that strengthen mental and physical capacity, all of which counteract the adverse effects of anxiety and depression.

•    Experience: Broaden your experiences and try new things. Make it a point to try something new, atleast once a month. I have come to realize that, the more I experience, the less anxious I feel. When you try something new, naturally you’ll be anxious, you have never done it before. But the more times you put yourself out there, the more confident you will become. Strength comes from experience. I know that sounds like a quote but the science behind it is cool. Comment below if you would like to know more.

Share your tips on how you deal with anxiety and depression in the comment section below. I welcome stories or resources other students might find helpful. Knowing that someone out there knows what you are going through could make all the difference.

Free food and alcohol in grad school: more important than the research.

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As a current graduate student, I feel the most important thing any graduate student should know before knowing anything else about their program is, when and where the free food will be served. This is no joke. Having this information saves both time and money.

One of the things I have come to enjoy the most about my graduate experience thus far is the free alcohol and free food. For those who are living the graduate student life, every second you are not doing anything mentally of physically draining is more important than your research. With this in mind, at least for me, free food on campus is 30 minutes to 60 minutes in which I do not have to spend in the evening cooking. That is time I can spend doing something else, or simply enjoying something on Netflix.

In addition to gaining a few extra minutes to your day, taking advantage of the free food at school keeps a few dollars in your pocket. The money you would have spent on food for that day can now either go in your savings or be used for something else that makes you happy.

The key is to show up at each event with absolutely zero shame. Whatever being served, have your fill, and do not show any remorse taking more than you can eat in one sitting, because whatever is left is for the next day. If you do this right, you can secure yourself enough food for up to three meals. My former mentor actually used to come the guest lectures with containers. At the end of each lecture she would confidently fill up her container with the left over food. I watched other wait for the left over food to be taken to the student lounge. Before it even gets there, there would already be a group of student waiting for its arrival.

So the alcohol. This is something I just recently began to think about. The graduate experience is tough. It is tough mentally, and emotionally and nothing is more relaxing that a cold beer or a glass of wine on Friday evening after a long week of work. The best part it’s all free.

The Anatomy of Anxiety: How The Body Responds

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Every now and then I find myself overcome with anxiety. I am anxious about school, my future, my research, my family, and even my personal relationships. I have started to do some reading, trying to understand why am I the way I am. What am I feeling? What is happening to my mind and my body?. Interestingly, once I was able to visual what was happening, I started to come up with ways to get it under control.

My anxieties have prevented me from enjoying the simple things in life, even things that are good for me. I have taken comfort in my solitude and I put more work into being alone because stepping out my room, opening up to someone else, opening up to new experiences is just too overwhelming. The excuse is always one of the following, I’m not prepared, I dont want to, or I dont have anyone to do it with. The goal now is to move away from it, and the first step is to understand it, evaluate the cause and with that come up with ways to make it go away.

Could Cinnamon make us better Learners?

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In addition to be a great additive in desserts, cinnamon has been used for many centuries across many cultures for medicinal purposes. The health benefits are many, a few includes; anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetes, anti-microbial, immune booster with potential cancer and heart disease protective abilities.

In additional to preventing fatal disease, a recent publication showed that cinnamon can aid in learning. The paper is title “Cinnamon converts poor learning Mice to good learner” implication for memory improvement”. The data in this paper suggests that if you are not a good learner, or struggle with short term or long-term memory, it may not be your fault. Difficulty in learning has been associated with defects in the hippocampal neuronal network. This is the part of the brain that regulates learning and memory. Learning impairment are also characterized by a down regulation of many genes important for ion conduction, synapse formation, and many other cellular processes that strengthens synapses. Impairment in learning and memory is also associated with low levels of glutamate receptors, NMDA an AMPA. These receptors are crucial for calcium release in neural network which drives the release of neuro transmitters. In cinnamon fed mice, the paper shows an increase in the expression of these receptors and when tested, they mice showed increased learning capabilities.

While further studies is still required before it will be known if the same effects can be observed in humans, there has been reports of cinnamon reducing the effects of neurodegenerative diseases. I think it worth trying.

Below is the link to the paper;

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5097886/

Five skills a Science Ph.D. Program will teach you.

I am a second year Integrated Biomedical Science (IBS) PhD student, and these are five skills that I have picked up thus far that I believe are key to successfully completing any program.

Reading Comprehension: The amount of reading I have is not proportional to the amount of time available in a day.  The constant stressing over work although tedious, has been beneficial in a way.  The only thing one can do when there is more work than there is time to do the work is to work smarter not harder.  I have learned how to sift through large text and decipher the difference between relevant and irrelevant information which is a skill that can be applied in any line of work. Regardless of the company you choose to work for, you are going to be required to read, often times about some broad topic you have never heard of, synthesize the information and find a way to use that information for the betterment of the company.

Critical Thinking: One of the goals of any graduate program is to teach its student how to become independent thinkers. The papers that I must read, most of the time are over my head. But still, I must make sense of them. No matter what line of work you go into, you will be required to scan content that you may or may not fully understand, absorb the information, synthesize it, and draw conclusions or make references in ways that will aid in progressing the project at hand.

Trouble Shooting:  One of the reason PhD programs take so long is because majority of the time, you are trying to solve the many things that go wrong with your project. The difficult part is that no one is going to tell you what to do, after all you are supposed to be growing into an independent thinker. Trouble shooting a problem requires you to go back to the literature, find out if what you are doing has been done before, understand what has been done, and see if there is information out there that you can use to advance your project. The ability to trouble shoot can be applied practically any situation.  Whatever project you end up working on, things are going to go wrong, but despite the difficulties, you must get creative and come up with solutions.

Prioritizing: As highlighted above, there is never enough time for anything. For most students, there is family, class work, lab work, friends, self, and for some, significant others. The lack of time makes it very important to learn how to prioritize, especially if you want to stay on track, build the necessary skill to assure a timely graduation, while at the same time staying sane. Everything can fit into the 24-hour time frame; the key is finding out when. The ability to adequately prioritize is also very marketable. Regardless of the line of work, you are going to be overloaded with more than you can accomplish alone or at one time. Knowing what should be done when and where is critical to the success of any project.

Goal Setting: Goal setting goes hand in hand with prioritization. Sometimes it can be difficult to see where things started or where things are going. As a graduate student, overtime you can lose sight of why you are doing what you are doing, or what the end goal is. In any job, overtime, especially when things become a routine, it’s easy to forget what is happening. Without being fully aware, months would pass by and you’d have no recollection of what exactly you’ve accomplished. This makes it more important to be goal oriented. I’ve learned that it helps to set small short-term goals that you can check off as you accomplish them that eventually build up into one big goal. I’ve learned that this makes my progress measurable and tangible.

Five things I Learned Talking with a stranger over coffee.

Different people have different approaches to their first encounter. First date, first interview, first whatever, it all feels the same because it is foreign, that is why it is first. This can get even more complicated when it comes to dealing with people. You never know what people are going to say or do. So, how do you go about sitting in front of someone you do not know, talk to them for a good minute and benefit from the interaction without being creeped out or creeping them out? Let’s make it more interesting, how do you deal with someone, who from the first few seconds of meeting, you already know they are your complete opposite?  Below are five key points, I have learned and witnessed to be suitable for taking charge as well as contributing to any interaction and if done correctly, will produce fruitful results.

1.      Make eye contact;

a.      At one point or another, you have felt ignored, and I am sure you hated it. This holds true for everyone. By keeping eye contact, it shows that you are present and interested in what is going on. Do not be a creep through. Keep eye contact but the same time, don’t look like you are spacing out. Remember to blink and even look away at times. Staring directly into someone’s eye can get wired very quick.

2.      Ask relevant questions;

a.      Asking questions is does three things, it shows you are actively participating in what is going on, you are paying attention, and three you are interested and want to know more. This is a good thing because it keeps the conversation going.  Ask questions that keep the discussion going without changing the subject. It is very awkward bringing up something utterly unrelated to the present situation. Also, remember to take turns. Asking too many questions in a row will slowly tune things into an interview, and we all know how uncomfortable those are.

3.      When answering a question, offer something about yourself;

a.      In asking question, you are going to have to answer a few yourself. Don’t be stiff, answer the question you are asked, but in addition to your answer, offer something about yourself. This is very crucial in social settings than in professional settings but can still be beneficial in a professional setting and here is why. By offering something about yourself, it makes you more human making it so much easier to connect with you. This will lighten up the atmosphere. A light atmosphere enabled openness which brings forth more sharing, in sharing questions are created and so on.

4.      Pay Attention to your body language;

a.      Pay close attention to your disposition. People and keen to body language whether they want to or not. Are you up and alert of tired and lethargic? Whatever it is you are projecting is what the other person is going to emulate. For reasons I cannot explain, we as people tend to soak up the energy of those around us, so your body language can make or break your first encounter.

5.      Stay Collected;

a.      Basically, what this means, is get a hold of yourself and get your life. Look like you belong. What does this mean? This required you to pay attention to the other four things listed above which will allow you to gauge the direction of the situation. While anyone can come up with a series of step to handling everyday interaction, the truth is, people are unpredictable, so you have to be able to make a decision on the go and adjust yourself accordingly based on what you see is happening. Why is this important? During your first encounter, you do not know the other person and so what is typical for you is not typical for everyone, so pay close attention.

 

How Do-able is a PhD program?

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When you tell someone that you are a PhD student, their eyes get big and I think whether they intent to or not, they automatically place you on a pedal stool. I was even once told, you are probably too smart for me. I’m like nooo!!!, if only you knew. While higher education is good and those who do it, are better for it, I feel this mindset has made the doctorate degree something most feel they cannot attain. So, I got curious.  I wanted to know, how many people are receiving doctorate degrees and what has the trend been like in the past 30 years so. Below is a graph I made from data I found in a 2016 report published by the National Science Foundation (NSF) showing how many science and engineering doctoral degree has been handed out in the United States between 1973 and 2016. The data shows an upward trend. More and more people are getting doctoral degrees. Based on the data, one can make a few assumptions 1). More students are applying to science and engineering doctorate program, 2. More students are finishing and as a result more people are entering the job market more qualified. If we are seeing an upward trend, then getting a PhD is not for a select few, I think it’s for anyone who is willing to put in the work. To see where I got the numbers, please click on the link below the graph.

Recipients.JPGhttps://www.nsf.gov/statistics/srvydoctorates/#tabs-2

My Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) Experience

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There is a lot of pressure to figure out what is next after undergrad, except no one is going to tell you what to do. You must decide your own future. I knew I wanted to do research but had no clue where or on what. To figure it out, I applied to The University of Chicago Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP).  I started working in a lab that studied the dengue virus (DENV), the causative agent of the dengue fever. My project was focused on identifying potential sites of the DENV genomic packaging signal. The lab previously performed a transposon insertion mutagenesis screen of DENV genome. This served as an extremely powerful approach to creating many mutant DENV genome with random insertions for the study of the genomic packaging signal. Mutants genes were then electroporated into target bacterial cells.  To test for packaging, I cultured bacterial stocks of each mutant and isolated the viral DNA using standard DNA purification kit. The purified DNA is then used to make RNA which is electroporated into Huh7.5 cells. I measure potential variances in packaging among the mutants using plaque assay and qPCR. A lot of fancy words and technical terms up there but, they are not important. The point is, I went into the PREP program knowing nothing, and came out knowing something which has helped me get to where I am. now.  When you do not know, find someone who does know and ask questions. If you cannot decide what you want to go to school for, or what kind job that you want. There are people and there are programs out there that can help you figure it out, and for me, the PREP program was the right fit and match to help align my thoughts and set my ambitions into motion. If you are a recent graduate interested in the field of Biomedical Science but not sure where to start, #getyuhlife and dont hesitate to shoot me an email.