“Productivity is very non-linear” : a mantra I try to remember when I feel like I’m not getting enough done.

Indeed, I often find myself doing a lot in bursts, punctuated by comparatively average productivity. These troughs of average-ness can make me feel unproductive and inadequate at times. From what I can tell, this is a common sentiment amongst grad students, runners, and others like me who identify with both categories.

I think both cases are the result of an Overton-Window effect, perpetuated and worsened by non-linear productivity. The productive times are so great, that they make the average ones pale in comparison. Average no longer seems good enough, now that you have knowledge that higher productivity is attainable. However, average is more manageable, long term.

It’s not a marathon, not a sprint!!

Knowing that I can be more productive and fit more into my day doesn’t mean I should. My dad always says,”you can’t fit ten pounds of s#!t in a nine pound bag!”

This is what happens when I try to do it anyways:

He’s right. The shift in the Window is right. And trying to do too much too quickly is frequently wrong.

Non-linear productivity isn’t inherently bad- it’s great sometimes! It’s just important to remember that it can inflate anxiety. Here are some things I’ve been doing recently to deal with this:

1) Go for a walk to refresh when I’ve been reading too long and/or feel spun.

2) When a productive day in lab just isn’t going to happen, take time to do things around the house.

3)… or just literally do NOTHING. That’s ok too. Sometimes. Meditation is gr8.

4) Call your mom.

5) Doodle

6) Write your goals down. If you can’t work towards them today, have them visible for tomorrow.


“Behind the Scenes”


My labmate, Jakob, and I are part of an NIH-funded professional development program at U of R, called URBEST (like many things in academia, it’s an acronym for something). The program provides trainees with a very diverse set of activities to build skills and enhance professionalism. Past examples include LinkedIn photo-ops, resume advice, art-therapy sessions, and today’s activity; enhancing social media presence.

Today, Creative Marketing Program Manager, Rebecca Crocker, shared her advice and expertise on building a positive social media presence. I went because 1) attendance earns you “points” that eventually help secure a URBEST-sponsored internship and 2) I wanted to learn if having a blog, like PhDistance, can help me professionally.

Basically, I learned that my blog can help me professionally! Woohoo! However, to see benefits, a blog, like all social media, requires a lot of work. CareerBuilder estimates that ~70% of employers from industry check social media of potential hires. Therefore, I think it’s worth the work. Essentially, the efforts go towards building a “personal brand.” I gathered that this just means I have to be myself; share my authentic thoughts and experiences via social media. As for how to do this, Rebecca shared some great tips, ten of which I’ll now extend to you:

  1. Readers spend their valuable time reading your content – make it worthwhile and equally valuable in return.
  2. Update LinkedIn every 2 months
  3. Print collateral consistently (e.g. business cards matching website theme)
  4. Black and white photos = wildly underrated
  5. Most people do headshots for profile pics, therefore go with a professional full body shot to stand out
  6. Blue is the safest color choice, associated with being dependable
  7. Helvetica is the best social media font
  8. has the best business cards
  9. 4-1-1 rule: you should retweet/share 4 posts from others for every 1 original post from you — after all, it is social media.

The 10th : People love “behind the scenes” content. (And now, ~300 words into this post, we will get into the main point!). People are inherently curious about the lives of others- perhaps a reason social media can be so addicting! I hoped to make my blog about the behind the scenes work towards my marathon training (55 days until Boston- OMG!!), as well as lab-life on the daily. However, much of my content has been about not running, not going to lab, and eating food with Tim…

I don’t think these posts have provided the promised content (tip #1!), and have yet to show enough “behind the scenes” of training in either the PhD or the Distance realm of my life. So, to make up for lost time, here are my favorite “behind the scenes” from lab:

Jakob finding a hairy-man sticker in his PB; me working and also struggling to leave work(below); Jakob and me at the fly bench; Matt Rand PI-ing/teaching fly genetics; a typical example of quirky fly names for genes, “hoi-palloi”; Tim biking to work

…And training:

My reaction when people tell me it’s too cold to run outside; my skin turning red because it’s too cold outside, and pictures of it being way too cold outside in Rochester.

Enjoy! 😊

P.s. If you’re currently a grad student at U of R, thinkingabout trying out URBEST, I recommend it! It’s free, fun, and run by Tracy Baaswho is awesome, and always sends two emails.

My run today…


It didn’t happen, which happens! I’ve been running 5 days/week; high volume days with lots of recovery, including today. I like this schedule.

It was a normal day at work, nothing too stressful. I analyzed results, wrote, and started working on a presentation for next Wednesday’s Gene-Environment Interactions (GxE) class. It’ll be about how a particular element of our genetic makeup influences brain development to cause autism. The “environment-interaction” part will come from how this is influenced by air pollution.

I’m pretty into it so far. There’s a good amount of novelty because I don’t study any of those three things-autism, RNA biology, and air pollution-on a daily basis. Tbh, air pollution is terrifying. In short, It’s bad for our lungs, hearts and brains. While it doesn’t seem to discriminate between young and old, the age ranges are affected in different ways. :/ I implore you to check it out at the WHO website:

Anyway, it should be a good conversation. Grad school is great sometimes because a “presentation” can really just be a conversation. This is especially true because my 7-person class is made up of my friends, and a talkative PI.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.”

-Charles M Schulz

As promised, Vegan beet burgers!


Yesterday’s run was 8.5 miles around the city. I tried to get a high-ish mileage day outside in before the ~*PoLaR vORtEx*~ came , which consequently made today’s run around nothing- because it was on the TREADMILL. UGH.

The former run was great, but made for a longer day in lab. Luckily, I had Tuesday-dinner with Tim to look forward to at the end of the day.

Last night, we experimented with a recipe for some vegan-friendly patties. The recipe hails from America’s Test Kitchen, which Tim bought a trial subscription for. Neither of us are vegan, but like the idea of it. I like the creativity that goes into replicating certain tastes- like burger meat!

Nevertheless, we were curious, and feeling adventurous.





They resembled ground-turkey patties. And, surprisingly, they didn’t taste like beet at all! LMK if you want the recipe. It’s a lot of fun, and worth a go!💫

Weekend rewind


Coming off the weekend, I feel pretty relaxed and ready to start the week ahead, which is probably because I barely did work! This post is going to be about these fun non-lab things I did 💁🏻‍♀️ :


Trying to stay true to my last post, I left lab at 5pm so that I could run get to Game-Of-Thrones-Night (GOT) ON TIME! GOT night is hosted at my friend, Ashley’s, where we’ve been sequentially going through the series as a prelude to the new season premier. It starts at 7pm, but because I’m the WORST, I usually arrive fashionably late.” LOL ok it’s actually more like apologetically, but with wine. Without the usual sheepish Malbec-hand-off to Ashley, I shared more time with everyone, which was just really nice.


Tim and I spent the morning scrap-booking, and then kept going into the afternoon a bit.

I left around 1:30, intending to run, quickly finish an RNA extraction in lab, and do some reading. BUT I actually just binge-watched more GOT. Whoops. I can’t say, “this was a poor decision in retrospect,” because I knew exactly what I was doing. I watched two episodes from 2pm-4pm, knowing full well that my parents were to arrive at 5:30pm, and I still had to run.

Luckily, they’re like me, and late often. I was able to get a quick 4 miles in, shower, and let Tim into my house before they even got off the 390. Phwew.

The visit was to check out my new house, because I just moved. After they felt assured that I was safe, and didn’t live near hooligans, we moved on to dinner. We had a reservation at Ox and Stone, where we shared good conversation and some super yummy latin-american food.

When my parents left, I felt the real repercussions of my GOT-addiction. I still had to go extract RNA, which really sucked. As much as I love my fruit-flies, I was not very happy to see them at 10pm on a Saturday night.


The run is done! Wheee!

As always, my Sunday Long-run gave me the big reset I really needed. After 18 miles, my body is tired, but my mind is relieved, recovered, and ready for the week ahead. Stay tuned for a vegan beet-burger recipe Tim and I are experimenting with on Tuesday…

The work-run-life balance.


The last few days have been BUSY. I’ve been constantly zipping around lab running what feels like a decathlon of experiments. With such a heavy load during the day, I crave an actual run as my reprieve.

On Tuesdays, I actually have two ways to de-stress: running, and dinner with my boyfriend, Tim. Each Tuesday, Tim and I make a meal together. Sometimes, we do grilled-cheese using FaNcY cheese from the Wegman’s “cheese cave.” Bougie.Gruyere grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup

However, yesterday, I didn’t have time to run and prep dinner, so I had to choose. I picked dinner, and was initially pretty disappointed with myself for that decision. I could have gotten up earlier. I could have taken my lunch break to run. I could have run twice, but shorter to make the most of free time during the day. Why couldn’t I manage my time better? Was I not taking running seriously??

Yeah, I could have done any of those. But I didn’t. And, I realize that’s not necessarily bad. I manage my time just fine, and I take running as seriously as needed at this point in my life.

Reflecting on it, I realize I need not be disappointed, and I shouldn’t feel such intense pressure to accomplish everything on my to-do list. It’s important to enjoy the time spent with people I love, in this case, Tim. It really does no good to consider the other things I could have done with that time, because this just robs me of my happiness. We cook together because it makes us happy, and it seems silly to compromise this.

I’m writing this post is because I saw a common thread between my work-life balance and my run-life balance: the balance is off! I stress out a lot if I miss a run or something gets delayed in lab. But, I don’t stress as much if I am late to hangout with people I care about. I think I need to reset my balance. As great as running and racing is, it’s a lot less fun to cross the finish line, and have no one there, rooting for you. Similarly, lab would be less fun with no one to joke around with or take coffee breaks with.

So, I’m glad I made the most of that time and made the delicious meal below. It helped me consider how I balance parts of my life, and what makes me happiest at the end of the day. At the end of yesterday, it was this:

Mini-portabella mushrooms stuffed with spinach risotto.

“Good thing i didn’t accomplish all my goals yet because then what would I do tomorrow?” ~ Alexi Pappas, distance runner

PhDistance | WELCOME

Hi! My name is Ash, and I’m a marathon runner and toxicologist with a Ph.D. A toxicologist is someone who studies the potentially adverse health effects of chemicals.

I started this blog in graduate school to reflect on my experiences and have a space to practice my writing and science communication skills.

I attended the University of Rochester for their toxicology training program, which is housed within the Department of Environmental Medicine. I completed my thesis under the supervision of Dr. Matthew Rand. My thesis work used a fruit fly model to learn about methylmercury toxicity during muscle development. I learned so much and had an overall great experience, but I’m really happy to be done!

When I wasn’t in lab, I was literally running around Rochester. The weather was pretty wild there, given the city’s proximity to the Great Lakes. But, it was usually fun to be out there!

…and other times, it was not:

If it looks like I’m crying, it’s because I am.

During graduate school, I ran 5 marathons and 3 half marathons (see the Races tab). There were injuries, personal records, as well as other highs and lows along the way, and I’m grateful for it all.

I’m currently training for Boston, as you can see by the countdown to the left.

Running continues to keep me sane, provides a “reset” when I feel spun from work, and has led to wonderful friendships. It also gives me those infamous post-run endorphin spikes.

I will continue to recount my post-grad adventures on this blog as I chase after my athletic and career goals.

 Subscribe (email) and follow this blog to keep up as I run towards my goals and away from my problems!