…the bible-black pre-dawn

there have been “issues” at work as of late.

essentially, we have a postdoctoral student in the lab who refuses to follow standard safety protocol. things like handling infectious material without wearing gloves, then not washing his hands as he proceeds to handle materials in the lab as well as the department.

i brought this up to my PI using a calm, rational approach.

it wasn’t until he told me to “stop policing who washes their hands” that i began to go from a low simmer to a raging boil.

i pointed out to my PI that this individual is not only putting himself at risk, but also everyone in the lab as well as the department. we work with an infectious agent whose transmissibility we don’t yet understand. i felt i was justified in going to my PI and asking him to put a halt to it.

he said that he can’t control what people do in the lab.

there is precious little i can do. sure, i can go over his head and get myself into a whole heap of trouble, potentially ending in getting dismissed from the lab. or i can keep my mouth shut and let it run its course. but after some careful thought about what i could actually do to improve my situation, i’ve decided to change my working hours. the alarm goes off at 4:15am, and by 5am i’m in the lab, setting up my experiments for the day. by 10am, when my PI finally arrives, i’m halfway through my day. at noon i leave for 2 hours to attend class. and by 4pm i’m out the door – guilt free and having accomplished a mountain of work. this situation eliminates all interaction with the postdoctoral student, as he generally doesn’t show up until 1pm.

and the icing on the cake?

i get to leave work while it’s still daylight out.



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pretentious mac snob

there is a long-standing tradition of harassment in our lab, whereby our PI is a hardcore mac user, and the bulk of the lab technicians and postdoc live for PC. any time a mac crashes in the lab, the PC users cheer. anytime the PC in the seminar room crashes, our PI cheers. there’s a lot of trash talking, and i try to stay out of it. i ended up with my very own personal macbook pro purely by chance, mostly because i caved to some illogical peer pressure. the thing is, i love my mac – but i’m also fluent in PC. each has it’s pros and cons, and is adapted to do different things.

but ohmygod i love the software that comes out for mac. love. love. love. if i could take it to bed, i would.

first off, there’s omnifocus.

i just started messing with it… all of last night. and i’m a smitten kitten. sure, all i know how to do is make to-do lists (which you can do through a keyboard shortcut – you don’t even have to go into the program!) and take “clippings” from documents and webpages and insert them into the program. but i know the possibilities are endless. and it syncs with my ipod touch (after shelling out the software for it). but here’s the thing – are you involved in academia in ANY way? yes? use your .edu email address and get some ridiculous amount off (i think it’s 40%). suddenly omnifocus is reasonable for a graduate student.

there’s actually a whole suite of omni software – and i’m itching to try it all – i just don’t need it. yet.





then? there’s papers. papers lets me place all of my .pdf files into its little repository (which is actually on my hard drive) and i can open and access them on an itunes-like interface. oh, and take notes, highlight, etc – all sorts of crazy stuff.

and i can sync up my papers to my ipod touch. which is great, fantastic, and brilliant.


i geek out over very few things, but these are two software programs i’m not entirely sure that i could live without. ever. you will pry them from my cold, dead hands.

and that, my friends, is why i’m a mac user. but i’m trying not to be a snob.



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i choose life!

last weekend i was cajoled eagerly accepted an invitation to climb a relatively local peak, under the auspices that the recent span of nice weather would make it a quick, painless, 3 mi trot to the summit. ‘but there might be snow up there, and we don’t have the gear’ i protested. ‘we’ll turn around if we have to’ was the quick, and reassuring, reply.

leaving in the pre-dawn darkness, i was tired, but thrilled. i have been dreaming of summitting emigrant peak for some time now. my regular running habit gave me the confidence that i could climb the 3 mile trail – so what if it went up 5’000 feet in elevation? bring it! i had coffee, a good friend, plenty of warm clothes, and my dog. pulling up to the trail head though, i started to grow weary. and by the time we got a mile in, something in my brain simply stated ‘i don’t want to do this today’. maybe it was the graduate student guilt of the midterm exams waiting at home, or perhaps i knew i would get into another… ahem… situation. but i pushed through it, thinking i was being silly.

emigrant peak - on the right. not my picture - there was MUCH less snow when i was there!

emigrant peak - on the right. not my picture - there was MUCH less snow when i was there!

yeah, those gut instincts? they’re usually right. and i need to listen more often, even if it means looking like a tool.

i made it most of the way up, and it was tiresome. about halfway in, we hit the snow line. snow that had fallen and accumulated at least two feet in depth, and spent the last several days in 50F+ temperatures. the ascent wasn’t atrocious, as we were within a wooded area, and the snow offered some purchase and stability. it just slowed us down quite a bit. and when the treeline ended? breathtaking views.

snow-capped mountains in all directions

snow-capped mountains in all directions

for example, the image to your left.

and that’s about when i stopped taking pictures. because all i could see up ahead was snow-littered rocks, and an ascent that went pretty much straight up into the sky. no big deal – i had crampons on. and for the most part, it was a difficult, but not dangerous, climb.

until the wind came.

and came.

and got worse.

it got to the point where i would lift my leg to step forward, and if the wind picked up at the same time, resulted in actually knocking me over. i’m not exactly a tiny girl. but let me tell you, having the wind knock you flat on your ass makes you feel like the most insignificant creature on the face of the earth.

but still, the ground was relatively firm and the going was good. slow, but good.

until i had to start crawling on all fours, punching my hands into the snow in front of me, and using my crampons to keep me from losing my footing. at about the 10’000ft mark, i realized that it wasn’t worth it. should the wind knock me over, i wasn’t going to just fall into some rocks. i was going to fall of a ridgeline. i’m not ok with death. not yet.

and so i got to a relatively safe and sheltered place, turned to my partner and said ‘this is where i get off’. he didn’t put up a fuss, just asked if he could continue to summit. why should i care? i told him to go for it. from where i sat, behind the shelter of a rock and cuddled up with the dog for warmth, this is what the route to the summit looked like:

well, it doesnt LOOK bad

well, it doesn't LOOK bad

i would have walked up it myself. except for the fact that you couldn’t walk up it. the wind was so bad that it would have involved continued crawling on all fours. and should the wind catch you off balance? well, that’s a 5’000ft drop off to your left. now, this isn’t my picture – i blatantly burgled it from another climber (one who did this hike with no wind, and with crampons and an ice axe). when i was on the mountain, there was more snow – none of this visible rocks business. and the sun was on the snow – melting it.

i’m glad i didn’t summit.

but i was irate when at one point, i had been left behind on the descent. i had effectively gotten myself into a jam, and was going to have to cut steps into the snow in order to cross about 15 ft of unstable snow and loose rock at a 45 degree angle to get to safety on the other side. and the snow shovel? with my partner – now long gone and out of earshot. with every step, packing down the snow and testing it for stability, jamming my frozen hands into the questionably stable snow pack at eye-level, i knew that i was out of my league. i knew that we had no business being on that mountain. i also knew that a supposed “day hike” had effectively turned into the most miserable adventure i’ve yet to be on.

we eventually made it down. and it was rough. once in the trees, the snow became impossible to walk through, and the choices were to either glissade from tree to tree, or just free fall. in a hurry, my partner took the latter, while i took the former. and received a brash chastising for doing so – because it “added time” onto the hike.

we finally got back to town, and i thanked him for an enjoyable hike. i drove away, fuming. and starving. and resolved to no longer go on mountain summits with this individual. ever. again.


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prior to class yesterday, my friend L and i were talking about how a school in massachusetts recently replaced its library books with an interactive digital learning center.  the conversation centered around how reading has always ruled our lives, and how books have always been a source of comfort.  even as children, going to the library was fun and exciting – there were so many options and so many worlds to explore!  i also mentioned that i love libraries because everything is cataloged, organized, and clean.  L asked if that’s when i knew i was a type A personality.


i’ve recently discovered the library on campus.  you see, in my undergraduate university, there were no science books in the library.  there was fiction, political science, art, history, you name it – but no science.  and so i avoided the library at all costs (it was also on the other side of campus from the science building).

i started visiting the campus library this past summer, and was thrilled to find out that new policies have gone into effect, such that graduate students are allowed to keep books for a year.  a whole year!  music to my ears.  since then i’ve amassed mountains of books pertaining to my research, and while i’m not sure if i’ll ever read them all, just knowing they’re there is comforting.  i’ve also taken out guilty pleasure books – books on mountaineering, politics, and fiction – loads of fiction.

i recently went to the library in search of a particular text relating to neurochemistry and molecular neurobiology (nerd alert!) and had trouble finding it.  the librarian found it for me, and as i was going through the check out process, she started telling me how she’s been reading about neuroscience ‘for fun’ since the 1960’s.  we talked about the field, the diseases associated with it, and the opportunities for research.  and then she said to me “thank you.  thank you so much for what you’re doing – your time and effort and dedication is going to make a difference”.

i teared up.  i said thank you.

and i walked out of the library incredibly humbled and eager to get back to the lab.


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the surface or bust!

it’s been a looong, busy couple of weeks.  i’ve been scrambling to catch up in real life, and have, and am now working to get caught up in this cyber-reality.  a lot of you have really interesting things going on in your posts, and i’m itching to get out there and start commenting.  mwahahahaha.

here’s a quick re-cap of my time away, important because it’s potential fodder for future posts:

1) the one ‘nearest and dearest to my heart’ came to town, things fell into place, and we played ‘tourists’ for a week.  it was fantastic, and i’m off to nyc for a week over winter break.  this has been 10 years in the making, and i’m thrilled.  apparently new years eve will involve climbing up a fire escape to watch fireworks from the rooftop.

2) i’m waiting on test results to find out if i have celiac disease.  if i don’t have celiac disease, then i have a relatively severe gluten allergy.  the difference between the two being that celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, and eating gluten will continue to destroy my intestinal lining.  if it’s simply a gluten allergy, i can eat gluten if i want, but will have to suffer the consequences.  as such, i’ve been on a low-gluten diet for the last week, and feel great.  i just need to know how vigilant i need to be regarding gluten consumption.

3) i had my first committee meeting regarding my current research.  and it went extremely well – i have great committee members who get along well when in a room together, and provided critical insights and suggestions that will help push my work forward and get it out of the rut that it’s been in for the last few months.

4) i’m turning into a miss smarty-pants.  as in being ‘that kid’ in my classes, bringing up alternative viewpoints, pointing out data discrepancies, and trying to engage people in intelligent discussion.  my professors seem amused at least.  for me it’s a milestone because i’m finally able to start integrating the ‘big picture’ between all my studies and interests – from chemistry and physics to molecular biology and neuroscience.  it feels fantastic.

5) i have been running like a fool, and am at the point where my maintenance runs are 3 miles – which i can run no sweat.  fabulous.  i’ve also dropped 15 pounds, and am fitting into clothes for the first time in three years (yeah, i’ve kept a bunch of them around).  i also bought a bunch of clothes online, ordering size M sweaters and tops – and was beyond thrilled that all items fit and looked good.

6) life is slowly evolving for me, and i haven’t made it out into the mountains due to the snow that’s been falling for the last week.  i’ve got plans and ambitions for the coming months, though.  here’s to seeing them materialize!

also, my new camera arrived, and i love it.  pictures of my hometown tourist days to follow!


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hello? little fish? are you there?



i have been swimming in my own metaphorical puddle of self-involvement.  last thursday i gave a 90 minute lecture on a week’s notice covering topics that i am only lightly familiar with (but received laudatory praise from the prof), and tomorrow the person nearest and dearest to my heart arrives in town – for our first meeting in over 6 years… it’s thrilling and fantastic and oh so incredibly stressful to balance his visit with school and work.

speaking of which, i am apparently to have a “dissertation outline” thoroughly researched, drafted, and placed on the PI’s desk by tuesday at noon.  this would be the same dissertation i’ve been asking for guidance on, and been told “don’t worry – you’ve got time!”.  and i do – a whole three days.  fan-friggin’-tastic.

in exciting news, i finally went out and bought my very own shiny new camera (to replace the one that the despicable post-doc will not return).  i tried to buy local, but after completely selling me on the canon powershot SX20 they then informed me that it would be about two weeks before the camera was in stock.  unfortunately, that would not help me with my impending trip to yellowstone national park, and i had to instead purchase from a big online retailer.  regardless, i am looking forward to breaking this little baby in, and may even start partaking in photo shoot fridays!


i miss you all, and i’m loving keeping up with your blog posts – i will resurface soon, oh so soon, i promise!


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my own metaphorical mountain

mountain of paperworkoh.


i’ve noticed that wordpress has forgotten my password, i haven’t been loved in bloggerific stats profile in quite some time, and i’m starting to hear the crickets chirp.  add that all together, and i suppose i’ve been away for a little while.  where have i been?



and climbing some more.

i have only been in classes for two weeks.  and yet i’m already surrounded by mountains of primary literature, assignments, and the realization that my dissertation work is moving forward at a snail’s pace.  all of this in turn causes me to have little moments where i seize up with dread, a cold fear courses through my body, and my brain starts screaming ‘JUMP SHIP! JUMP SHIP!’  often these episodes happen right before i fall asleep at night, causing me to sleep very little, if at all, until i talk myself down from the impending panic.  most of the time i’m quite successful, giving myself the ‘slow but steady, break it into increments, walk through it step by step’ lecture.  problems only arise when my mind goes blank, and i can’t get through the logical, step-wise process of my dissertation, forgetting where to go from here, sometimes not even knowing where ‘here’ is.

it’s a rapid-fire semester.  there is no “once i get through this, i can breathe a little bit”.  unless you count winter break as my “after this i can breathe” point.  to complicate matters, i have a dear friend coming to visit on the 20th.  it was one of those ‘if you ever want to take a break from your fast-paced east-coast lifestyle, come stay on the farm for a bit!’ conversations.  followed by the booking of a flight.  at least this dear friend is understanding enough to know that they’ll have to entertain themselves 99% of the time.  and my PI has agreed to let me work half-days during that week, as well as give me friday and saturday off.  as an added bonus, i get to actually cook for my guest… none of this ‘pre-cook for a month and freeze it all back’ that i’ve been doing, but real, actual, prepared with love, home cooking.  god, i love to cook.  in fact, when i thought about leaving grad school, i was planning on going to culinary school.

but i digress.

my sanity is being held in place by the fact that i have a climb coming up.  and by climb, i mean hike.  hyalite summit.  the planning (not that there’s much of it) is a welcome respite from the craziness, and i’m looking forward to getting back outside with the dog and up on a summit.


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