Archive for May, 2010

May 28, 2010

Rite of Passage

I have a wise friend, mentor, and role model, KL. She’s a graduate student at Yale and is fantastic — she’s a fiber lover, was one of my first friends at college, and is my go-to person when my life (seems like it) is going to pieces.

Most recently, of course, this was about my prelim.

I took nearly two weeks off, simply to devote to studying. And before that, I was mostly working half days to study. I’ve eaten my weight in bagels, just so I can sit at my favorite big table at Einstein Bros. across the street and get a bunch done.

Of course, because it is me, I had many crises of confidence. One minute I was fine, the next I was absolutely positive I would fail the exam and be sent packing. I find my identity through my work — whether it is work in the lab or academics or working at a horse stables or spinning wool, I judge my worth based on the scores and praise and affirmation of others. I’m not saying it is a good thing (it isn’t) and I’m working on changing that part of myself, but it’s there.

KL gave me very sage advice, though. “This is a rite of passage. Rites of passage are designed to be scary going in, but when you’re done you get to say ‘that wasn’t so bad!'”

And she was right.
But only after it was completely done.

I got to the genetics library (where I took my prelim with the other genetics students) at 8:30 for the sole reason of turning on the lights that buzzed the least. (Aside: these are serious buzzing lights. High school gym type of buzzing. Maybe start to actually go insane kind of buzzing).

People trickled in, I sat and studied. The test was handed out at 9:30. Half a bagel, a cup of coffee, a liter of water later (thank goodness for nalgenes), and SIX HOURS later, I left barely able to form complete sentences.

You read that correctly. Six hours. The test was so thick they couldn’t staple it. The last person to leave took 7 and a half hours. It was a serious test.

This morning, though, this was in my inbox:

Dear MGG First Years,

Congratulations, everyone passed the written prelim exam (and with room to

Thank goodness!!!

So what that means is I passed.
KL was right — now I can look back and say “it wasn’t so bad!” Well, maybe tomorrow I can say that.

In the meantime, I’m taking a break from science and from school for awhile.

But boy am I glad I passed! 🙂

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May 24, 2010

Aunt Ruth

My mum called with sad news yesterday – my great-aunt Ruth (my mum’s mother’s sister) died. She had been failing for some time, and I am glad that she is out of pain now. All the same, a death is always sad.

As you might imagine, I wasn’t very close with my Aunt Ruth – she is of my grandmother’s generation and lived in California (with the rest of my mum’s family), but I have a few lovely memories of her.

The first I remember clearly, she took my mum and me to White’s Bakery in Hawthorne (I think). Knowing I wouldn’t want coffee, she brought cocoa just for me. And I had my first meringue. Talk about a life-changing experience.

The last time I was in California (which is waaayyy too long ago now), I went with Aunt Ruth (and various other members of my family) to the horse races, the first live thoroughbred races I’d been to. It was a wonderful day.

Besides those memories, it’s amazing how much she impacted just my every day life.
Those of you who know me are familiar with phrases that I think everyone knows, but it turns out it’s just me…all those came from Aunt Ruth. Things like “fine as frog’s hair” for being really, really good (or really really sarcastic), “jump up and down and scratch” for getting excited about something, and, the one people think I’m the most crazy for, “While you’re up, Catherine” which is directed at anyone (not just Catherine who is one of Aunt Ruth’s sisters) for them to hop up and get you something from the other room.

May 23, 2010

Channeling fun times in Syme.

Yesterday, after an hour at the gym and several hours studying on my own and with other first-years in my program for the prelim, I went out with a friend, JB, on a quest to find her some “strappy sandle-y black nicer than flip-flops sandals.” 1 trip to PayLess, 1 to WalMart, and a trip to two different Targets and we have her shoes. I was really hoping to get a pair like them in orange (because who doesn’t need orange flats??), they didn’t have my size. Something to look for.

My big purchase (apart from kitty litter for Patty), was a new box fan. Somehow, none of my fans from Syme managed to make the trip to St. Louis, mostly because my mum has comandeered the smaller ones, and the bigger ones I ended up using for my horses, and, well, that’s just never a good idea to bring back into the house.

But now I am the proud owner of a Galaxy box fan.

Poor Patty can’t decide if she likes it or not. She’s upset that she can’t look out that window any more, but when she finishes fussing about that, she lies on her back in front of the fan enjoying the breeze.
She looks pretty comfy, doesn’t she?

It has made a world of difference in my room. With the jump from mid-50s to 60s weather all the way up to upper-70s to 90s weather, I think it was a good time to get it.

And now to study in my nice, breezy room!

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May 22, 2010

body fibers

Today is The Saturday Before the Prelim. Last Saturday, I was doing other things other than studying thinking “I’ve got about two weeks to study! I can learn anything in that time!” Well, one week is already gone. I’ve only got the ‘about’ left.

With all this studying means a lot of sitting in non-ergonomic positions at the library, coffee shops, my desk, you name it, balancing papers, old prelims, a year’s worth of notes and exams, and my computer, leaning over and under and sideways, pivoting without moving my bum, generally not being nice to my body.

Add that to eating poorly at all hours (which stems from not having much food that I want to eat and not enough time or patience to cook the food I want or go get easier food), not sleeping well, and next to no exercise. Plus the mind games of “what if I don’t pass?” and guilt when I’m NOT studying and low spirits to high spirits depending on what I know when.

My poor body is rebelling. Today I can barely sit up straight for the muscle stiffness in my back and neck. I’ve been wearing my glasses for days because my eyes refuse to deal with contacts. My bad knee is even starting to ache again.

So what’s a girl to do?

Start taking care of her body, that’s what.

For starters, I’m taking the morning off of studying. I studied hard all day yesterday and am meeting up with other MGG first-years to study this afternoon, and I want to be fresh for it.

I’m going to try really really hard to get to the gym every day this week. (Except Thursday, I’m not quite THAT optimistic.) And I’m going to try to take it easy in there, but I need to get my body moving again.

I used to be quite fit, and, when I was, I felt better, I could do more, and I was happier. But this week, I’m just going to get moving. When I get back from my various adventures in the next few weeks, I’m going to dig out my work-out schedule when I was getting ready for the wilderness trip — I do much better when I have a plan.

Plus, exercise has been found to have positive psychological benefits — that’s right, it means it’ll make me less stressed out, better centered, allow me to channel my Caldwellian spirit. AND studies have shown that studying while exercising doesn’t have the same benefits as the same exercise without. Which also means I’ll have to take a break and let my mind relax.

So here’s to keeping sane and getting back on speaking terms with my body!

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May 21, 2010

Without the map the road is still the road

I’ve been having a hard time keeping perspective the last few days. It seems like if I fail my prelim, everything is over. But it isn’t, not really. The sun has the convenient habit of getting up each morning, the day will go on. If I happen not to be a graduate student at the end of it, that’s ok. I’d be good at doing lots of things.

Andy Wilkinson is a cowboy poet I had the great opportunity to meet, talk with, and listen to several years ago at one of the UHP’s pre-exam pancake slam (I think it was still called the pre-exam somethin’-somethin’ because we didn’t know what we were going to do). One of his songs is “Without the map the road is still the road.” It helps with the whole perspective thing.

If I stop being a grad student, this will have still been a great (though stressful) year where I learned a lot. Besides, I could always be a postal worker, right? Or an upholsterer?
Can’t wait for this all to be over.
I sure hope I can hold on to the perspective.

When you wonder where you’re goin’, where you been and where you are,
Remember that the wise men followed nothin’ but a star.
Across the trackless desert to Bethlehem they rode
Without the map the road is still the road.
Without the map the road is still the road.

Dorothy and the lion and their pals of straw and tin
Had no guidebook of instruction to get out like they got in.
But it didn’t make no nevermind, they hit those bricks of gold,
‘Cause without the map the road is still the road.

Without the map the road is still the road.
Every step is a journey, every journey is a step.
When your heart’s gone to yearnin’ and your soul’s gone for help.
Ink lines ain’t white lines, the routes don’t make the roads,
Without the map the road is still the road.
Without the map the road is still the road.

All you need’s a wide horizon and the ground beneath your feet,
And tomorrow is as certain as the sidewalk and the street.
Shiftin’ sands and yellow bricks and every white lines shows that
Without the map the road is still the road.

Without the map the road is still the road.
Every step is a journey, every journey is a step.
When your heart’s gone to yearnin’ and your soul’s gone for help.
Ink lines ain’t white lines, the routes don’t make the roads,
Without the map the road is still the road.
Without the map the road is still the road.

Without the map the road is still the road.
Without the map the road is still the road.

May 18, 2010

Closing in on year 1.

It’s hard to believe that my first year at WashU is just about over.
And that my prelim is in 9 days. I’m trying very hard not to freak out, but my lack of sleep and lack of appetite seem to be thwarting my efforts. I go through waves of knowing that I know everything I really need to know and then dive into a deep well of not knowing what I’m doing here or how I’ll ever ‘get’ everything in time.

This year in a list:

What I’ve accomplished:
– Molecular Cell Biology –> pass!
– Nucleic Acids and Protein Synthesis –> pass!
– Genomics –> pass!
– Advanced Genetics –> still waiting…
– Journal Club –> pass! (and I had to read and speak German and French in the process)
– submitted an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (though I didn’t get it)
– wrote and submitted a 20 page postdoc grant proposal for a class (no comments back yet)
– two rotation talks in front of my peers and my department head
– accepted into the Lucille Markey Pathway for Human Pathobiology
– completed four rotations
– lost 15 pounds
– started (and had very moderate success with) an indoor garden
– have the Advanced Genetics TAship for the spring
– co-authored two papers under revision

other stuff done:
– brought Patty-cat home with me
– saw some of the sights in St. Louis
– learned perl
– spun up most of the fiber left from the Maine Fiber frolic
– knit a WHOLE hat
– started in on some ‘seminar mittens’
– met with potential PIs to sort out what thesis lab to join
– made some good friends along the way

stuff left to do:
– pass the MGG Prelim in 9 days! (yeek!!!)
– go to NC for a few days and Maine for a week
– pick a thesis lab

next up:
– re-instituting Too Cute Tuesday St. Louis (see
– getting back to spinning (and tackle my fleece)
– seeing more of the sights in St. Louis
– get back hiking and outdoorsing more
– pass the second half of the MGG Qualifying exam in September