On virtual poster presentations

May 22, 2020 (& June 6, 2020)

As any true academic, I procrastinated something important until the last minute. Someday, This will refer to grants I write or bigger deadlines I must meet, but for this post, it regards a poster competition.

I entered a virtual poster competition that offers CASH prizes for first ($500) and second($250). This is uncharacteristic for a University- sponsored award; the unrestricted money grants me the freedom to spend money on anything I want… probably something very important like rent, food, utility bills, or 1-2 dozen slap-chops.

I implore you to Wach this TV advertisement for commercial excellence…

The stipulations for the award are as follows: 1) The student had a conference cancelled due to COVID19, 2) The poster can be submitted via PDF and 3) the student presents the poster in a .mp4 recording. It seemed easy enough. I figured that it would take a half-hour of my time – tops. Which was good – because I (thought that I) had two hours until it was due.

However – it took me about twice that length. It’s surprisingly nerve-wracking to record yourself giving an academic presentation. It took a few tries to get it right! Below is a blooper from the first of 7 total trials:

Peak derp-level achieved.

While it’s unfortunate that I didn’t get to travel to California to present my research this year at the Society of Toxicology annual meeting, it’s even more unfortunate that I haven’t yet mastered Zoom recordings…🤷🏻‍♀️

I hope you took note of the aforementioned qualifier phrase, “thought that I had.” I was wrong about the May 22 deadline (when I began this post); the presentation and associated files are actually due today! However, I’m glad I finished it then, because today, I was too busy for a last-minute submission scurry. This afternoon, I headed downtown for a few hours of protest, in support the BLM movement with my Rochester community. 🖤✊

Which ostensibly points out…maybe procrastination isn’t a good M.O. to have…

Anyway, I hope y’all enjoy this post & thank you for reading! Wish me luck with the ACTUAL submission! 🙂😂🤷🏻‍♀️

PhDistance kneads PhDough

May 16, 2020

As y’all may have noticed, I’ve been using the new PhDistance Insta account to post wayyy more about bread than running or getting my PhD… #sorrynotsorry. I can’t help myself!

To keep up with that theme, this post is also about BREAD! In part, I want to throw some punches at that persistent stigma that carbohydrates are “bad.” The Atkins diet is one of many obtuse trends we should have left back in the 90’s. Unfortunately, the restrictive line of thought continues to permeate our culture today, including among runner folk. Admittedly, I too was hesitant to eat bread, convinced that I would balloon up:

How horrifying! (and also unrealistic!)

Fortunately, my outlook has shifted since graduating college. Bread and I are now great friends and do a lot of fun stuff together- mostly baking:

Sourdough, white bread, and biscuit trials!

Bread has also helped keep me entertained during the mandatory stay-at-home orders in NY state due to the COVID19 pandemic. Especially sourdough and documenting my adventures with it:

Checking the dough after 12 hour fermentation
Flouring the table
Kneading the dough- this one is off center- sorry!
Making the ball to place in the Dutch oven
Rise for 3 hours, bake for 1 hour- voila !

This loaf went to my friend, Jacquie, as a “thank you” for being a nurse during the pandemic. NURSES ARE TOUGH AF! 🏥❤️

With all the baking- I’ve gotten the chance to perfect my sourdough recipe, although I have certainly had a lot of failures along the way! And that’s OK- because the process is always fun! 💫🕺🏻

Importantly, I also accept bread as the dietary cornerstone that my body needs for its daily energetic demands. Training for marathons taxes my legs, and being a Ph.D. student taxes my brain. To replenish my mind and body, I maintain a diet that warmly welcomes Bread.

I feel great on my runs, satiated throughout the day, and have seen and felt an innumerable amount of other positive outcomes.

I began this post because I was really excited to share my most recent bread-making adventure with the world (or at least my small band of lovely followers!). Now, I find myself ending it with a somewhat preachy discussion. But then again, why is that so bad? Aren’t there a bunch of old dudes in pastel-colored robes going on and on about “the daily bread?” I’ve had their bread, and was unimpressed.

As it turns out, lots of people are pretty crazy about bread. American distance runner, Shelby Houlihan is known for her killer kick as well as affection for French bread.

The appropriate reward after (out-kicking Jenny Simpson and) winning the 1500m at the USATF Championships🥖

Also- Buzz Aldrin dined on bread and wine on the moon landing. My Ukrainian lab manager confirmed that in Russian, you can literally greet someone by shouting “bread and salt!” Amazing.

Because I haven’t yet made this post obnoxiously long, here are some more random bread facts I found:

  1. Sliced bread was only invented in 1928 and was referred to as the best thing since bagged bread.
  2. Feeding bread to ducks actually causes many health problems for them. – PLEASE DON’T FEED THE DUCKS BREAD 🦆❤️🙅🏻‍♀️🍞
  3. Ben Hawkey, the actor in Game of Thrones who plays Hotpie, opened his own bakery and sells Direwolf shaped bread.
  4. 1% of American’s have celiac disease, and approximately 6% that have gluten sensitivities. My heart goes out to them❤️
  5. When the buttered bread is right side up and dropped from a table, there’s an ~80% it will fall butter side down. This is because an average slice of buttered bread falling will complete a full turn in approx. 8 feet.

All right, not that we’re sufficiently annoyed, I can end this post!

But for real- thanks for reading this post to the end – I appreciate everyone who follows this blog & I hope it brightens your day! 💜I also hope that all who love bread never stop! 🍞💕

“There is not a thing that is more positive than bread.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky

Making the most of it!

April 23, 2020

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

I think this to myself as stare down at my soggy glop of a sour-dough starter. The pleasant aroma of my boyfriend’s starter is very different than the acrid odor of mine. Apparently, you’re supposed to taste the dough to assess it’s fermentation progress, but I’m hesitant to do so. Two sensory experiences are sufficient thank you very much! I think something is wrong with mine…The wild yeast have possibly been out-competed by the ambient bacteria, so I have some lactic acid fermentation going on rather than ethanol.

How did this fate befall my poor starter? Well, in short, I didn’t follow the recipe. Oops.

The America’s Test Kitchen recipe we (are supposed to) follow recommends a 1:1 mixture of whole wheat:bakers flour. I grabbed pizza dough flour instead, and declined to make any sort of mixture. It’s only been 48 hours, and Pizza-Starter is not doing so hot. Friends of ours have said I should name it Swamp-Ass. I think I’ll go with S.A.

Luckily, I have ten more days of “feeding,” S.A, which will allow me to titrate in some of the correct flour each new day. I didn’t want to start over, so I aligned myself with SA and will press on!

Sour dough starter in progress…

My decision to press on with this bread-making endeavor is reminiscent of what I’ve been doing as a graduate student during these strange quarantined times.

Because of COVID19, researchers like me are unable to head back to lab. Consequentially, I cannot repeat an experiment to include more animals (flies!), or set up a small pilot study satisfy a missing element of a current project. I am strapped to any past and current experimental results: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

It’s really important for researchers be transparent with the fact that not all experiments pan out exactly as we wish. During normal times, we have the resources (time, access to lab, etc.) to start again, but now a lot of us must advance what we currently have.

The style of my lab is to do many pilot experiments and “see what sticks.” This is possible because we’re a pretty simple fly lab. My experiments can range in length from 1 week to 1 month after I begin an exposure. This creates an environment where I can test multiple hypotheses to satisfy my curiosity of many avenues. However, the freedom to do so comes at the expense of focus sometimes. Since joining, I have matured a lot by learning to focus.

I’ve also learned to make the most of the tools we have in lab. Our “bread and butter” is something called the Gal4/UAS system, which allows us to restrict experimental manipulations to cell or tissue types of interest. I’ll spare you the details, but basically this is a very useful genetic tool. Although there are many ways one could study muscle development, I basically restrict colors to muscles I’m interested in, observe their growth, and see how a chemical exposure (methylmercury) influences the growth.

The alien-looking creatures below are images of my flies during development. Their heads are facing up. From left to right, they were exposed to increasing amounts of methylmercury, which caused defects during development of their flight muscles, which are glowing bright red.

If you line up 2 million of these guys side by side, it would cover one lap of a 400 meter track.
#funfact

This is a relatively simplistic approach, compared to the strategies other labs employ for similar studies. I don’t let the comparison bother me; instead, I consider how it highlights the creativity of my lab. I’ve grown to really appreciate how far a little creativity can go in research. It’s helped me make progress on my thesis project.

For my most recent committee meeting (which was yesterday!), I presented the progress I’ve made toward my thesis project.

I was super worried about this meeting, but it ended up going well. The committee was pleased with my progress, so I don’t have to meet again until next year- Huzzah! I wonder if this will be an in-person meeting rather than via Zoom?

For the meeting, I reviewed my aims from my written proposal, presented data, and gave a self assessment of my progress. Aim 3 will take longer than anticipated, but that’s MORE THAN OK given the circumstances 🤷🏻‍♀️

Oh yeah- that reminds me. I want to briefly talk about my Zoom-based committee meeting, which was a unique experience. Well, technically every committee meeting I have had is unique, because my first one ever was last year, my second included the qualifying exam… but I digress…)

Thoughts on Zoom-based Committee Meetings:

Pros:

-No need to prepare snacks and coffee

See the source image
Image courtesy of this “Careers” article in Science

-No need to schedule a room

-More efficient – we were done in about 75 minutes. I scheduled 3 hours.

-Screen-share feature on Zoom ensures everyone can make out the data and slides.

Cons:

-Hard to gage body language. For some committee members, this is very telling.

See the source image
At least no committee member is as challenging as Miranda Priestly!

-More potential for technical difficulties (because now it’s not just you wielding a computer screen, it’s everyone!)

It’d be a lost opportunity to not mention how the theme of this post also applies to running. If my meandering, admittedly digressive flow has caused you to forget what it is, I’m sorry! It’s “making the most of it.” 🙂

In running, there seems to be more opportunity for us to compare ourselves to others than to reflect on how well we’re currently doing. I realized that I facilitate this too, by posting pictures of my runs on my PhDistance Insta account. My intent by posting in general is to provide a window into my life as a runner and graduate student. I want to convey that whatever I’m doing, I’m trying my best.

I like to to reflect on how my runs have progressively felt better, been quicker, or lasted longer over time. In one of the posts, I point out that the pace and distance of my runs differ by day and are very dependent on how my body feels.

My favorite elite runners include Alexi Pappas, Des Linden, and Abby D’Agostino because I like to see them perform on the track or course. But I especially love to follow them because I think they try their best to be good people. I really value Alexi’s insouciant worldview, Des’ grit, and Abby’s compassion. They inspire me to try my best to emulate their character.

From bread-making to running and beyond, it’s important to do your best. I will continue to press on with my sour dough (which today smells like banana rum!?), thesis work, and athletic endeavors. I enjoy posting about these (mis)adventures because it gives me a chance to create something humorous and fun from it. My hope is that making the best of what I’ve got can translate into an enjoyable read for you all 🙂

SHOES

April 17 2020

Running remains a staple hobby during these strange, quarantined times. Many of us are increasing mileage to fill the newfound free time, or returning to it after a brief hiatus. Wherever you’re at, I’m sure you think about the main equipment used for this joyous pastime- our shoes!

There are a lot of options when it comes to what we runners put on our feet. If you’re like me, making decisions on this sort of thing can be ridiculously stressful. With that in mind, I made this post in hopes to provide somewhat of a helpful guide, or at least alleviate some stress of sneaker-shopping! 😊 This is basically a short list of what I think about, including my opinions on shoes.

To figure out what kind of shoe I’m in the market for, I think about these questions:

What type of running are these shoes intended for?

Every day road running? Trail running? Road racing? XC racing? These could all use different shoes!

  1. Road running: for every day runs on the sidewalk, road, cinder path, or whatever. These could be neutral, have a good about of cushion, and some other specs, depending on your responses to the other questions in this post.
  1. Examples: Brooks Ghost, Asics GT2000, New Balance 680v6, Topo Fly-Lyte, Topo Phantom, Nike Pegasus, Mizuno Wave Rider,

Tip #1 – many websites (like Brooks) offer a “shoefinder” feature. Try to find this.

Tip #2 – When I want to try a new shoe, I buy one pair of my current ones, and one pair of my old ones. That way, I’m not stuck if I am disappointed with the newbie.

  1. Trail running: for runs along trails, through dirt, mud, up/down mountains or hills, likely water-proof, probably a subdued, natural looking hue like slate grey or brown. Websites should have a tab that specifies “trail running shoes.”
    1. Examples: Brooks Cascadia, Asics GelVenture, New Balance Women’s 590v4 FuelCore, Topo trail running shoes, Solomon trail running shoes.

  1. Road racing: These shoes include “racing flats,” which tend to be flashy, attractive, sleek, and lightweight. The characteristics of these shoes aim to make us feel fast and confident during a road race. I wouldn’t really want to run in Road Racing flats day to day though; they don’t offer a ton of support.

I used to run road-races in these..

Blue cheetah-print Nike Lunaracers = confidence boost to make me super speedy

XC racing: For running cross-country (XC), I want slim shoes with metal spikes to dig into the earth and help propel myself forward. I would avoid buying these for any other purpose… Although I know people collect them!

What is the furthest distance you plan to run? How far do you run per week?

It’s good to know the furthest distance I intend to run in these shoes, as well as how often my feet will be slamming into the ground. This helps me determine how much cushion I want on them. Most people prefer to be in the middle of two extremes:

Extreme minimalist: Vibram FiveFingers

They look so silly, but I don’t know much about them. I like the idea of running “naturally,” but I wonder if this is just a marketing ploy. Regardless, they’re the most extreme example I could think of!

Extreme “Maximalist”: Hoka Graviota 2

I also think these are silly looking, but a lot of runners really love them, including my PI!

Where on your foot do you land when running?

There are a few ways to determine this one:

Option 1| Look at the wear patterns on old shoes. Follow this guide from Runner’s World Mag https://www.runnersworld.com/gear/a20835825/whats-your-wear-pattern/

Note that the article is from 2007, so a lot of the shoes they recommend may be unavailable and/or more suitable shoes for a given wear pattern may even be available.

Option 2| Use information from gait analysis programs to determine landing patterns line foot strike, turnover (cadence). The most highly rated programs for this are available for individuals (https://www.coachseye.com/package/individual), but are pretty expensive. To circumvent the cost, you can get a gait analysis done at a gym, a local running store (Well, not currently #COVID19), a physical therapist office if you see one.

What is your budget?

Shoes are an investment. Be prepared to drop some $ on a good pair, but know that it’s worth the cost to avoid discomfort or injury. Once a “staple” shoe has been identified, scour these sites (below) for that shoe. I recommend looking for the second or third newest model of the desired shoe, because these will usually be a lot less expensive without being that different from the “latest and greatest.”

https://www.runningwarehouse.com/

https://www.firsttothefinish.com/

https://www.eastbay.com/

https://www.topoathletic.com/

I run in Topo’s. They’re a low/no drop shoe with a wide toe-box. I like the low drop because it reduces the strain on my calves over many miles, and the wide-toe box helps reduce the frequency of black toenails!

I determine a (rough) budget for the shoes I want based on my weekly mileage (see above) and cost of the shoe I want. For example, I spend about $150-200 on shoes per year because I run 50 miles/week, and each ~$75 pair stays with me through about 800 miles. Each pair is very well-loved… perhaps too well loved.

Generally, people seem to swap out shows after ~400 miles. I’ve been advised to buy shoes more frequently, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I think it depends on the shoe, and the wear on the shoes. My Topo’s can really take a beating:

Three generations of my Topo FliLytes. A) “dorsal” depiction of my shoes, newest on left, oldest on right. Current shoe is indicated. Circles indicate holes, arrows indicate holes with foam (because I don’t untie my shoes after each use! Oops… I’m so bad.) B) “ventral” depiction of my shoes showing wear patterns after the indicated mileage.

All-right, hopefully this was helpful. I realize that there are many people who are more well informed of this topic than me, and I totally welcome their comments below.

P.S. If anyone is interested, I have size 7.5 Blue Topo Magnify’s that I will give away to the first person who is interested 😊 Think of it as a reward for reading all the way to the end of my blog post!!

What matters most during COVID19

March 31, 2020

In the second grade, my classmates and I were once tasked with making lion or lamb masks during arts-and-crafts. The purpose of this was to demonstrate that March in New York state tended to “come in like a lion and go out like a lamb…or vice versa. We were supposed to predict the outcome. I wonder if part of the activity was for us to demonstrate precocious skill in meteorology or something. Where I’m from, seeing snow midway through April is not out of the question.

The lion-and-lamb simile was so profound, that it transcended to my endeavors in higher-education. In college, if I had a bad race or did poorly on a test in the beginning of March, surely, I had to do well at the end of March!

My logic is sound!

I still think about this. For 2020, I predicted that March would come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. I was banking on this because I scheduled a lot of important things at the end of March: An international conference (SOT) in California, my annual seminar to the department, and a committee meeting. I wanted them to all go well. March had to cooperate! But, it didn’t. Darn. March ended up being extremely hectic for me, and the rest of the world. It somehow entered and left like a lion. That’s not supposed to happen! Perhaps the predictive powers are limited to the weather, after all.

In March, we saw increasingly aggressive measures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus infectious disease 2019, “COVID-19.”

The actual virus is called SARS-Cov2. SARS is an acronym for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Although some initial cases were linked to a fish market in Wuhan, China, its origin, intermediate hosts and more of transmission to humans are still largely unknown. Here is my favorite COVID19 info-video: https://ourworldindata.org/kurzgesagt-coronavirus-video

On March 6th, the University advised against travel to conferences. On March 9th: SOT was officially cancelled and by March 13th: all classes, committee meetings, and PhD thesis defenses were told to move to Zoom. On March 15th, Rochester had its first COVID-related death, which hastened the city’s efforts to limit the spread. On March 18th, research labs at the U of R were expected to already be “ramping-down” in preparation for a research lab shutdown. And on March 20th Tim and I began a 14-day quarantine in our apartment, that was advised for people in NY. The virus’ spread was exponential, and the response needed to match.

The response really peaked when I began receiving emails from places like SurveyMonkey or Gap about their response to COVID19 (*eye roll*).

I was decidedly not attending SOT prior to the official statement. Nonetheless, I was relieved that the flagship academic society of my discipline (SOT) was adhering to the precautionary principle. As toxicologists, the precautionary principle is canon. To not practice what we preach would be to undermine what really matters – protecting public health.

While going to conferences, performing experiments, and running marathons all matter for my personal aspirations including my career, protecting public health is #1. While trying to explain an extreme measure (the possibility of shelter-in-place) to a city in Illinois, the governor said, “It’s hard to have a livelihood if you don’t have a life.”

I agree with the governor in that I think what really matters is public health. That includes the health of all the people I care about as well as my own. It also includes hundreds of other humans who step on the line beside me before a marathon, or travel from far and wide to present their research at conferences. Whether we know each other personally doesn’t really matter, but the mutual respect we have for each other does. To care about public health is to respect the lives of other people that share the world with you.

I respect my fellow humans enough to run solo, to stay home, and to avoid expanding my network of contacts that could potentially spread the virus. This is difficult for me because it feels so limiting. When physical interaction is suddenly limited, the change is uncomfortable. The changes we’re experiencing now (the quarantine, isolations, and other precautions) demonstrate how interconnected we normally are. We rely on human interaction on massive scales for our work and play.

On the bright side, I think the changes also demonstrate how adaptive we can be. I’ve been impressed with solutions and creativity that my immediate networks have come up with during all of this.

At the University:

-Gatherings of 5 or more people no longer an option,so we transitioned to Zoom-based meetings

-University students can’t return to campus, so all classes moved online, classes have weekly check-ins for students too.

(shout out to all the responsible University leaders who decided to put health above wealth here… and shame on those who didn’t… *cough* Liberty *cough* *cough*)

-Committee Meetings and PhD thesis defenses became Zoom based

After my Zoom-seminar to my department, Presentation Pants and all💫

– Proctor exams via Zoom

-Took some of my transgenic fly stocks home to manage. I need to care for my lil fly babies ❤

Running community:

-My running buddies and I decided to run 6 feet apart or solo.

-Races that were cancelled morphed into to “virtual races”

-Races (like the Boston Marathon and some fun local races) postponed to the fall

*For those of you who had the Boston Marathon postponed – time to get HELLA fit for Fall!!

Community:

-Bars and restaurants close to dine-in, and pick up, but offer drive-through-based takeout

Still showing our love&support for Swiftwater!

– Group viewing of movies. GSS is hosting “virtual” movie nights once a week, as well as other activities.

@U of R students who read this – we have a free account on Kanopy (the video streaming service) through Miner Library.

Our apartment:

– Finally bought an Wi-fi router

– Set up our work-from-home stations

(i.e. a fuzzy blanket nest with books and coffee mugs within arms’ reach at all times)

-Baked 4 batches of granola, 2 loaves of bread

– Zoom/FaceTime hangouts with our friends

Yes, even Jakob, who lives across the street! #socialdistancing

-We created a third housemate, Cheryl, to blame dirty dishes and small messes on.

-Learned that “What do you Meme” can’t really ever be a two-person game.

– Played blockus a dozen times or so (Tim won every single time…)

I feel that I’ve learned how to be adaptable as both a graduate student researcher and a runner. The impossibility of planning for every potential outcome kind of demands that. Whether I’m managing an injury, planning when to run during a work-day, salvaging an experiment, or getting through this pandemic, learning to roll with the punches is essential.

I know many of you reading this have had your goal-races cancelled at a time when you’re feeling especially fit, and that sucks. It’s not fair, but it is what it is. The best we can all do is keep on keeping on. Reset, set new goals, and take comfort in the fact that if we do the right thing now, we can be back to running sooner. Onward & upward!

@Followers, thanks for reading this, and I hope you’re all staying safe and feeling healthy ❤

Writing pro(gr/c)ess

February 26, 2020

Happy Wednesday! I’ve had a few writing projects other than this blog for a change (i.e. my first paper – more on that later), which have occupied a considerable amount of my time. I aspire to have the writing endurance that I think many PI’s have, but I’m not there yet. Or maybe I’m just giving them too much credit. Nevertheless, I try to write as much as possible. The more practice you get, the better, eh?

This blog is not the same as academic writing, by a long shot. PhDistance is more fun and a much more appropriate space for my off-the-cuff style that I think is my emerging writing voice. By the way, @followers, what do you think is my writing voice? It’s hard for me to tell, since I am both the speaker and the audience in my own head. I probably hear myself differently. Hello?? I digress…

So yes, back on track to academic writing. I’m writing a paper about my favorite protein called, Kon-tiki, and how it mediates methylmercury toxicity in Drosophila muscle development. Seems like a lot to unpack, I know. Let me explain…

First off, methylmercury is an organic form of a naturally occurring metal in our environment. It is exceptionally toxic during development in many species; from humans to invertebrates like the humble fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Drosophila are the “model organism” I rely on to help answer my research questions about developmental toxicity of methylmercury. I use them because they have short life cycles, have a well documented development, and are relatively low maintenance.

The fly is also optically tractable, which is essential for most of my imaging-based experiments. What I do is visualize muscle development in flies that have been exposed to methylmercury, and then try to explain the underlying cause of the pathology I observe. The most striking feature is a muscle detachment from tendon. I think that the fly myotendinous junction is failing during development, such that it detaches and recoils away from the site of attachment, similar to a stretched rubber band that is then cut.

This concept is also a runner’s nightmare: this is what happens with Achilles tendon rupture. The Achilles tendon connects the Gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles) to the calcaneus (heel bone), and when it ruptures, the muscle literally recoils away. Last year at this time, I was nursing some Achilles tendinosis. I had to take time off of running and missed Boston, but that was minor compared to a full-on rupture that others have experienced . When I count my blessings, I count each individual fibril of tendon, twice 🤷🏻‍♀️

Achilles’ tendon rupture

This brings us to my friend, kon-tiki, which is a key component of the fly muscle-tendon (myotendinous) junction (or MTJ, academics love acronyms…). A major difference between flies and humans is that the MTJ of the former connects muscle to tendon to exoskeleton, whereas the latter have an “endo”skeleton. Nevertheless, many of the other important things that comprise the MTJ are strikingly similar. My research hypothesizes that the reason that methylmercury causes muscle detachment in the fly is because kon-tiki is affected. I do not necessarily think that this is what happens in humans, but I do think that developing tissues which express the human version of kon-tiki may be extra sensitive to methylmercury toxicity.

The paper I am writing will make this idea “real.” I won’t post any pictures on here – sorry! But I will try to when it is published 😊! The paper is progressing well, but it’s pretty hard, in my opinion. Like I said, academic writing isn’t fun. I still try to make it fun, but then I get these sorts of edits back from Matt:

Welp…

The hardest things for me during the writing process have been 1) not taking edits too personally 2) crafting figures that are aligned properly and 3) sitting down to write. The last one seems silly, but I think sometimes it’s hard to just start.

@academic friends, what were hardest for you?

@runner friends, I apologize for any injury-related PTSD this post may have caused.

Winter Warrior

January 27, 2020

In general, running makes me feel strong. I’m mindful of the fact that my muscles, tendons, and bones move together to perform a task that requires strength and endurance. Sometimes the run requires a little extra strength and endurance… Especially during winter in Rochester:

It gets a bit snowy. Have I mentioned that?!?

It’s January, and winter is in full swing. The very first weekend brought this squall/slush mix of snow, just in time for a half-marathon I raced. The race was put on by one of the local running companies, and was aptly named the “Winter Warrior Half Marathon.”  Despite the cold and wet conditions, I had a fun time! Plus, I got some great swag (this very cool pom-pom hat) and $100 out of it for placing second overall!

Here’s my recap of the race:

The race was at Rochester Tech Park, and the course was a quadruple >3 mile loop around a bunch of buildings. There was a lot of gray, pavement, and puddles. If not for Tim and Jacquie cheering me on, the race would have been as lively as the abandoned K-Mart across the street.

So, this race was mentally very tough. There were long sight-lines, and volunteers who tried to tell me that a “warrior would go through the puddles!!” Maybe, but I, an intellectual, preferred to go ~*around*~ the puddle.

The race was also physically tough. I haven’t pushed myself for a run in a very long time, and it was satisfying to realize I still had it in me. I averaged 7:15min/mile for the first “quarter marathon,” then held a 6:45 pace for the remainder. Tim had ridden his bike to the race and was biking alongside me in chunks to cheer me on. His conception of 13.1 miles astounds me. One can be 3, 8, or 12 miles in, yet be “almost there” in every case.

I joke. He definitely helped me a lot. ❤

Afterwards, my hips felt like they belonged to an elderly person who had accidentally misplaced them inside my body. That was a weird way to say I was stiff. You get it. Anyway, Jacquie ran with me for my cool-down run, after which I was much less stiff, and able to venture over to the post-race party tent for snacks.

The post-race snacks helped a lot too. They fed us Mac-n-cheese and warm broth for electrolyte replenishment Maybe it was the cold, making me desperate for warmth, or maybe it was my constantly dehydrated state of existence (I’m sorry to blame you, dearest coffee…) but that was the BEST post-race food I’ve ever had. Warm broth. Mac and cheese. WOW. Gustatory excellence. The real winner today was the chef who provided this nourishment.

Here are some photos of me and Jacquie cheesin’ after feastin’:

The first-weekend race had a lot of highlights, and was a great way to enter January. The subsequent weeks brought more wintery weather and trying runs. Trudging through the snow is becoming the norm, once again. However, this year, I have some more running buddies who tough it out with me. V grateful for those ladies.

The rest are solo runs, which provide reprieve from lab and introspection time. All in all, running in 2020 is off to a good start. As I sign off, I leave you with this lil poem (#cultured):

In regards to running, life is swell.

But for graduate school, well…

I’m writing a paper.

So it’s kind of been Hell.

How I feel presenting my manuscript ideas to my advisor:

Academic prose is much different than poetry, unfortunately. (Because I have a clear talent with the latter, obviously…) Most of my PI’s edits have been slashes through my creative use of adjectives. Next post will follow up on THAT misadventure.

New Year, New Post

January 5th, 2020

Happy new year, my friends!

This past year was pretty intense for both running and graduate school. The challenges of 2019 have made me a tougher version of myself: the Meyer’s Briggs personality test still comes up with ENTP, but now I start each morning with a bowl of nails for breakfast.

For this post, I’m going to reflect on the previous year, then introduce my running and academic goals for 2020, and will finally close with my resolutions. One of those resolutions is to be more structured/organized – so, behold this aptly structured intro you are about to finish. …BUT, can I finish without rambling, or resorting to my natural “stream of consciousness” writing style? Probably not- old habits die hard! However, I will make a conscious effort this new year to make small improvements in my organization and consistency.

All right- here we go with that recap of last-year’s grad-school and running-related memories:

Grad-school:

  • Our lab moved up two floors
  • Graduate students in Rand lab moved offices – I’m still GRIEVING for the loss of our prior PERFECT office :,(
  • Started volunteering with Ronald McDonald House Charities
  • Attended Society of Toxicology (SOT) Annual meeting in Baltimore, MD in March
    • Ran the 5k there – became injured shortly afterwards 😦
  • Annual Toxicology Training Program retreat in May
    • I won two awards!
    • Preview: This year, I’m co-chairing the retreat this year ~
  • June – August = QUAL PREP:
    • Essentially, I just worked on troubleshooting a staining protocol and writing my qualifying document all month…
      • Run, write, sleep, repeat!
  • THE QUAL – woof.
    • Passed, progressed to PhD candidacy, and earned a Master’s in Toxicology. Huzzah!
    • See previous post for a meticulous* breakdown the stats on this endeavor
    • Received so many beautiful “Congrats” cards from friends and family ❤ thank you SO MUCH again!!
Me, working. Ten points to whoever can guess what I’m carrying !
  • Co-authored a publication “Drosophotoxicology”
    • DOI: 10.3389/fgene.2019.00666
  • I planned a super fun Pedal Tour for the tox students in September:

Running-related:

  • Started training for the Boston Marathon
  • Attempted many new recipes from the America’s Test Kitchen subscription
  • Graduate school is a busy time; It’s too easy in graduate school to skip meals and skimp on nutrients. However, it’s to maintain the high energy levels that work in lab (and training for freakin’ marathons!) demand, it’s crucial to be properly fueled! Tim and I start and end each day with a balanced breakfast, full of food we enjoy.
  • Started Physical Therapy at Clinton Crossings
    • If you ever need PT, I can’t recommend Jillian Santer enough! She is a marathoner herself; which made her experienced, understanding, and exactly what I needed.
  • Flew to Boston to Race the Marathon… Unable to due to injury
    • If you want, see previous post for more details – In Boston, I saw incredible feats of human endurance, raw humanity, and grit that will remain with me for a long time.
  • Made some new running buddies – Erin and Laura!
  • TOTAL MILES RAN: 458
    • It may be fun to keep good record of this in 2020

Other:

  • Tim and I moved in to a new apartment
    • It’s adorable and we love it.
  • Enjoyed a visit from Spencer and Lyndsey in October
    • Tim’s best friend, whose wedding we attended last December.
  • Jacquie graduated from Nursing school in December
    • I’M SO PROUD OF HER ❤
Taken on our first night in the new apartment. Remember what I just said about nutrition being important? Wine and chips are also important.
Tim and Spencer playing XCOM
Apple picking!
New York State’s newly minted nurse Jacquie (the real one!) and me celebrating NYE!

2019 was big year; It was tough on me as both a student and as a runner. It’s healthy to reflect on the past, and use what I learned to plan for a better year ahead. As I look towards goals such as races and papers that are already coming down the pike in 2020, I know I can handle the challenges so long as I stay patient and focused -and maybe even improve my organization skills a bit!

My goals are tiered, which is a goal-setting skill I learned in college from Coach Dan Moore. It’s helpful to break them down into at least three self-explanatory tiers:

BARE MINIMUM:

  1. Finish first draft of Kon-Tiki paper
  2. Race a half marathon
  3. Race a marathon
  4. Run in one new state
  5. Blog at least once a month
  6. Find a good therapist
  7. Attend SOT conference in Anaheim
  8. Finish planning the Tox Retreat

REASONABLE:

  1. Submit first-author publication
  2. Run in three new states
  3. Serve on an SOT specialty section student representative
  4. Receive mostly positive feedback from students after the Tox Retreat – meaning it went well.
  5. Begin RNA Seq experiment with Matt and Jakob
  6. Blog at least once a week
  7. Plan the Graduate Student Society Annual Brew Tour
  8. Graph my weekly mileage to share in detailed post about my training
  9. Improve my public speaking
    1. I was recently told that we should be grateful for every opportunity to public speak, because we get better over time. I was told this in a YouTube video entitled “A Day in the Life of a Julliard Music School Student” circa 1am, while drunk… which brings us to the last “reasonable” goal:
  10. Get 8 hours of sleep each night.

REACH:

  1. Run under 3:30:00 in the Atlanta Marathon
  2. Run under 3:20:00 in a marathon this year
  3. PR in the half-marathon (current PR = 1:27:53)
  4. Run each of the “4 seasons” half-marathons in Rochester.
  5. Run Under 19 min in 5k
  6. Finish the “Dorsopholog”
    1. Basically, it’s an atlas of images I’ve been making for my lab- another writing project to finish!
  7. Finish RNA Seq experiment
  8. Publish in a journal that I read.

Finally, I will cap this post off with some traditional New Year’s resolutions. As a continual project, resolutions are different than goals. My resolutions are new standards I want to hold myself to, or old habits I used to maintain but have since gotten a bit behind on.

Resolutions:

  1. Maintain a consistent lab notebook organization
  2. Journal my thoughts at least twice a week
  3. Adhere to a consistent weekly mileage, long-run, and workout schedule

Dang- that’s a lot! But I’ve got an entire year to do it. 2020 will be the year of writing and running. Which reminds me, I definitely need to be writing that manuscript right now, rather than blogging…ah heck.

Wish me luck!

­________________________________________________

* Indicates that I’m being sarcastic; as we all know, the best jokes require explanation*.

“Acknowledge all your small victories; they will eventually add up to something great.” – Kara Goucher, American distance runner

Major life update — I passed my qual!

10/8/19

At a certain point in the educational trajectory for graduate students, they officially become a candidate in pursuit a doctoral degree in their field. The process in not standardized across institutions or graduate programs, and as a result the main component of this transition point can be known as “the qualifying examination”, “the comprehensive examination”, or others as well as their shortened versions (e.g. “Comps,” “Quals,” “the Qual”, etcetera). In my toxicology training program, passing “The Qual” entails writing a condensed research proposal in the form of a grant (I’ve heard it compared to an NIH F31), a brief presentation before your thesis advisory committee, and an oral examination. The latter portion is, as one would imagine, the most stressful, but succeeding makes it well worth it. Succeeding means earning a snazzy Master’s degree in Toxicology #nbd

On September 20th, I successfully passed my qual (woot!). I mean, I was wearing my Presentation Pants (1), so of course it went well. Instead of writing about what happened, I’m going to provide some stats that will paint the picture just as well, because, hey- why not? It’s more fun to do it this way ~*~*

Duration of exam: 2 hours

Graduate student to committee member ratio: 1:4

Volume of coffee consumed/committee member: 2 cups

# of times kicked out of room: 2

Time spent on presentation: 20 minutes

Volume of sweat sweated:  approx. 4 gallons. #athletic

Lower estimate, # of times I took town and re-tied my ponytail during exam: 10 #nervoustick

# of scones consumed per person per hour: 2 (shout out to Tim and his accidental purchase of an America’s Test Kitchen subscription)

# of times PBS news hour displayed on my screen before my committee: 1

# of gummy-bear-squiggles drawn on the whiteboard: 2.5

Sound-proofing quality of the room:negligible.

Time elapsed between my Qual and Tim’s: 2 hours

Distance ran after exam: 7 SUPER BLISSFUL miles.

Average time spent in the Env. Med Conference room per committee member:  2.66 hours (Ten points to anyone who determines how this is possible!!)

Revisions to document requested: 0 (!!)

Confidence in my project moving forward (scale 1-10): 10 #ayy

In summary, I’m feeling pretty great. My committee (which has the expertise of toxicologists, geneticists, and a muscle development specialist) was happy with the project proposal, and thinks I can do it. And, importantly, I think I can do it. Sure, there are definitely times where I worry that my project is trash, but these feeling subside when I think rationally. Passing my qual has given me an extra boost of confidence to drive me forward and should prevent those negative thoughts from taking root.

Now, all I have to do is… all of the experiments I just proposed.

 “Headed to the moon, not now, but soon” – Alexi Pappas

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  1. Presentation Pants (n): Ashley’s favorite off-white Calvin Klein pants that she has worn to every important presentation in graduate school.
  2. Third-Person omniscient (n): The point of view that Ashley sometimes switches to when she forgets this is her personal blog and is written in first-person.
  3. #nbd: no big deal. What the kids are sayin’ these days in regard to something really super awesome and exciting that is downplayed ironically to convey composure.
  4. Deadpan (n): A type of humor delivered with an impassive, expressionless, matter-of-fact presentation.