ATL Marathon

March 9, 2020

Exactly a week ago, I returned to Rochester after “America’s Marathon Weekend” in Atlanta. I met up with my friend Bri (plus her college teammates, Bree and Gronke) to spectate the Olympic trials marathon, then run the Publix Atlanta Marathon/Half-marathon the next day. The trials were impressive, inspiring, and an all around solid experience.

Since we had our own race the next day, we wanted to at least try to stay off of our feet while spectating the Trials race. For those less acquainted- to spectate a distance running race is to chase your athlete around the course on foot in order to see them a lot. We sought out a viewing spot that minimized time running/walking around the course (i.e. streets of ATL) but also maximized our view of the athletes. We settled on a corner where we cheered on the athletes on as they passed at miles 2,10, 18 one way and 5, 13, and 21 the other way.

The men’s race
The women’s race

Their course was challenging: while facing a net 1,000 feet of elevation gain (but a net downhill of 17 feet due to the proximity start and finish lines) athletes faced rolling hills as well as multiple loops. At the end of the day, the top three women were Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel, and Sally Kipyego – all underdogs. Aliphine wasn’t seeded in the top three and Molly had never run a marathon before this. In the last two years, Sally had a child, became a U.S. citizen, and dealt with a bout of malaria. Woof. These STRONG ladies will represent the United States at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. (Unfortunately, I worry whether this year’s Games will have a different atmosphere, given the COVID19 epidemic. The WHO has yet to call it a pandemic as of the first publication of this post).

Motivation wall at the Expo – try to find mine!
Hanging out on the sidelines during the Trials
My new favorite snack

Although we tried to stay off our feet on Saturday, we ended up covering over 12 miles. Moving so much was probably unavoidable, since we all flew in Friday night and had to get our racing bibs from the Expo on Saturday afternoon, ran a ~4 mile shakeout to scope out the starting line area, and went to the grocery store twice. Nevertheless, we tried; at one point we Lyfted 0.4 miles to avoid a sizeable uphill effort. Kind of embarrassing, but hey!

The pre-race dinner: We cooked our own meals at the Air B&B and just chilled the night before the race. I cooked Tim’s brussels sprouts recipe everyone, and was v proud that I didn’t burn them or anything. Bri made Linguini and alfredo sauce with chicken for herself, Bree, and Gronke, while I made my own special pasta and red sauce (#Veg).

The last supper
Beautiful Brussels

After dinner, we stretched and talked, and set up our racing outfits for the next day. I learned from Gronke I’m supposed to call my outfit setup “Flat Ashley.”

Race-day! Below I tried to outline the progression of the day; first, by time up to the start of the race, then by mile since I kind of lost track of time for the ~3 hour race.

5:30-7am: Woke up, Bri made everyone coffee (#angel), and I ate breakfast (granola, banana, and almond milk). I drank a lot of water too – which I ended up kind of regretting during the race. More on that later…

6:15am: We all jogged our warmup to the starting line, less than a mile away. Bree and Gronke were running the half, but the half and full marathon start together for this event.

6:45am: Bree started her half-marathon

7am: Gronke starts her half, Bri and I start our full marathons. Side note- Bri was actually supposed to start at 6:45am too (her PR is 3:14! #damn), but she decided to stay back to start with me (my previous PR was 3:18) ❤

7am-10:10am: Runnin’- finished at 3:10-28, which is an average min/mile pace of 7:16.

On the line

Recap of select/noteworthy miles:

Mile 1-4: This is so much fun! These hills aint no THANG.

Mile 5: Bri and I accept and share a solo cup of beer from spectators offering along the course. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Mile 5-10: cruisin’ with Bri and this girl Leanne we befriended.


Mile 11: lost Bri and Leanne, circle back and get Bri.

Mile 12: lose Bri again but keep going this time. I was clicking off consistent 7:18’s (minute/mile pace) and felt like I could keep that up.

Mile 14: Porta potty stop! Remember when I said I drank too much water? Yeah, I was about to pee myself at mile 14, so I stopped for exactly 35 secs #speedypee

Mile 15: Phwew. So relieved, still feeling good. Hills are kind of hard now.

Mile 16: Wow 10 more to go. Lots of hills. Woof. *Miley Cyrus “The Climb” echoes in my mind*

Mile 17-21: Caught up with runners from the first corral (these athletes had a faster entry time). I try hold the pace I’ve been going. I’m passing a lot of people, but it’s hard to keep my pace because the flow of runners is a lot slower at the back of the first corral group than at the lead of the second corral. I picked up a Clif- energy shot packet at mile 17, which I kept in my sock. I know what you’re thinking: “What does she mean, kept in her sock?!” Here is a photo of me mid race, which may help clear that up:

High fashion.

Mile 23: Start to feel like I could hit a wall, so I swallow more Clif energy shot that I’ve kept in my sock-glove. Pause to stretch my calf then keep going. The middle-aged guy I am running with at this point praises me for “adhering to the precautionary principle.” Thanks, dude.

Mile 24-26: I am very ready for this to be over.

Mile 26: SO. CLOSE.

Where is the finish??!

Mile 26.2: Heck yes- done!!

Posing in Centennial Park with our metals

Mile 27: Wahlburger for a well-deserved (vegan patty) burger and margaritas with the girls!


All in all, I felt great during this race. I felt like I was well hydrated, in shape, and so happy to just be out there racing. This is my first marathon back from injury, and I was grateful to just be able to run and be healthy. The course was fairly hilly, but they were rolling. Whenever there’s an uphill, there’s a downhill, eh?! It got pretty hard at mile 23, because there was a sizeable uphill effort and my legs were getting tired. Other than that, I felt strong on this course and ended up with a big PR from the race. I ran 3:10:28, which qualifies me for Boston 2021 and gives me an auto-qualification for NYC marathon in 2021 as well.

How did I prepare for this marathon? I kept it very simple. I ran, stretched, ate well and slept well. In a sense, this training cycle was a bit of an experiment in that I didn’t do workouts and didn’t lift or do anything I didn’t consider enjoyable. I maintained a fairly consistent long-run schedule with Jacquie, which made me look forward to each long run. I especially looked forward to the end of each long run because we go to Timmy Hoes for Ice Capps. My other running buddies in Rochester (s/o to Laura and Erin) helped me rise early to get runs in before work, or motivated me to get the run in after work. I like to think of my runs as just hanging out. TBH, I feel like I have better conversations while running. I’m committed to making running my stress relief as close to 100% fun as I can. I keep pretty busy, which is stressful, so I like to keep running relatively carefree.

Nevertheless, I do keep track of my miles I log. My “system” for keeping short-term track of my runs is to record weekly mileage on the whiteboard in my apartment. Serendipitously, I had been taking photos of each month for a scrapbook I’m planning. So, I actually had a way to retrospectively calculate my mileage, which is below:

Taper and qual exam noted with red arrows.

Long runs too:

Half marathon was Winter-Warrior (see other post). Peak long run was 22 miles. Race day was March 1st.

This training cycle was all about having fun, staying healthy, and listening to my body. One thing to glean from the graphs is the oscillatory profile over time. It reflects low-mileage weeks when I felt tired or was busy, while high-mileage weeks represent times I was able to run longer because I had less on my plate.

I’ve yet to pick a Fall/winter Marathon, but I feel good and want to shoot for one. @Followers, I am taking requests! 😊

Shout out to ATL track club for taking many of these photos!

“I run because it always takes me where I want to go.” – Dean Kamazes

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:


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:


  • 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:


  • 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!
    • It may be fun to keep good record of this in 2020


  • 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
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:


  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


  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.


  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.


  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!


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


  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.

On Mentoring

Sept 1, 2019

I’ve been fortunate to have solid mentors in the time from undergrad-now. This post is brought to you by 1) my gratitude for my mentors along the way and 2) the fact that I’ve gone on a blogging hiatus and felt guilty for my lack of posts.


My first mentor of college was probably my “Big sister” on my college cross country team, Rayanne. My first year, she helped me navigate my new home at Geneseo, and ensured that I always had help with school, especially math. She is now pursuing her PhD in Math, and also trains for marathons! (ANOTHER PHDISTANCE GAL!!) Her encouragement was the most memorable thing though; she always pumped me up for competition with pre-race good-luck wishes, cards, and snacks. I still have every card she’s ever given me, because I’m a hoarder🤷🏻‍♀️

Me and Rayanne doing fun things. Left: hiking in ADK. Right: bein’ cute at a Christmas party in college


My first academic mentor was probably Dr. Jim Olson. Prior to meeting him, I literally had no idea what the heck I wanted to do after college, and the “after college” part of life was only two years away. I would have a degree in Biochemistry, but no plan other than that. I made good grades in school, and loved science. Like any good liberal-arts student, I also felt a strong conviction to save the environment. I thought that I wanted to go into environmental research, but I had a horrible summer experience that really soured my view on that. I thought about going into food science, but a family friend warned me that I would be testing the consistency of pizza cheese for the rest of my life (**NOW that this is ridiculous, but at the time I was really intimidated!). Altogether, I felt a bit misguided with the available undergraduate research at my college, and hesitant about a science career in general. Nevertheless, I sent out cold emails to professors at the University of Buffalo (UB). I picked UB because if I was going to try lab research, I would prefer it be close to home.  I used search terms like “biochemistry” and “environment” and ended up finding Dr. Olson, who studied neurotoxic pesticides.

He told me to apply to UB’s summer research program, and he’d be my mentor. So, I spent a summer with Olson’s toxicology lab in Buffalo through one of those “Summer research experience” programs that typically have alphabet-soup acronyms (e.g. SURF, REU, CLIMB). The work itself was monotonous- I did the same thing every day. But I was really into the “big picture” of the research, and made sure I did it well. Olson is a really supportive PI, and I loved working in his lab. I befriended one of his Master’s students, Sam. (She’s now a PhD student in his lab! Yay Sam!). Sam and I went to the Society of Toxicology meeting that spring together to present research done in Olson’s lab.

I’m writing a lot, I realize… But it’s hard not to! I feel like that experience had given me so much. I’ll focus on the key points… OK. Because of one great mentor, I had the opportunity to 1) learn about the field of toxicology and 2) go to my first academic conference. There, I met students from the U of R (a few of them have since become good friends!), and learned that they were one of the best programs in the country for toxicology. I knew I could see myself in that program, studying toxicology in Rochester. I was worried that I was too inexperienced to consider applying to their program, but Dr. Olson encouraged me to apply, and said he’d write me a letter of rec.

Me, Sam, and Jim!


Fast forward, I got accepted into the program, and before I even moved to Rochester, my to-be student mentor, Kelly was helping me figure out housing, health insurance, setting up research rotations, and what “taxes” are & why it’s bad if I don’t do them… (For those of you that are unfamiliar, a rotation is a short ~10 week research “taste” students do to determine if they are a good fit for a potential lab of interest). My toxicology training program has a mentoring tradition where the third-year students (which now include me – more on that later) help incoming first year students navigate their first year in graduate school. From what I’ve experienced, a really solid mentor will keep the conversation going past that. This post is partially inspired from that experience. My graduate student mentor ended up being Kelly! She’s kept me updated on program requirements, encouraged me to join extracurricular programs that have since given me a lot of joy to be part of (GSS!), helped me navigate professional settings, choose a lab, and been a good friend to me. BTW she actually just defended her doctoral thesis to earn her PhD at the end of July (HECK YES KELLY!!), and started a job in mid-August. #goddess

As I enter my third year, she won’t be in Rochester, but she’s still in my corner ❤

Here are cute pics of us doing fun things 💜


My thesis advisor, Matt, is also a solid mentor. We are a fruit-fly lab (Drosophila melanogaster, if you fancy, or are trying to sound fancy), as well as a toxicology lab. I previously knew next to nothing about either of these things, so there has been quite a bit to learn to get my “lab legs.” Luckily, Matt is really patient, and fun to work for. This has made me want to work hard in lab. But, what makes him great is how he acts when I don’t want to work hard because I’m feeling burnt out. He’s really good at reinvigorating me about the research when I’m feeling down, and maintains a positive attitude all of the time. One time I gave a pretty lousy (in my opinion) practice talk, and thought he’d be disappointed in me. Instead, he said I did fine, that I’d be ready in a few days, and we went on a run and talked about anything except science. I think he’s very good at helping me maintain a work-life balance… (psst- Check out my previous post about how key this is in graduate school!)

As I mentioned a bit ago, I’m now a third-year graduate student. This means I have to Qual soon (September 20! EEP!!), but also that I’m now a mentor. Basically, I aspire to be like my mentors so far; I want to spread positivity, encourage opportunity, be a good friend, and be a stabilizing influence.


June 30, 2019

So the last time I posted, I was injured and unsure if I could race the Boston Marathon. Today, I ran the most I’ve run since that fateful long-run in the middle of March (10 miles! Whoop whoop! 10 VERY DIFFICULT miles with frequent stops, but HEY still happy!) So, on this momentous occasion, I’m finally posting about the Boston Marathon. I didn’t get the opportunity to race, but I did get to participate in the experience.

The experience:  Where to even BEGIN?! Maybe chronologically? Sure. I covered a lot of ground in three days. Below is a map of where I went, that I really need to make a better version of later.

So, would you hire me as a cartographer? Yes or Yes?

DAY 1: I flew in to Boston-Logan, and hopped aboard a shuttle to the T-station. This was my first time riding the infamous T, which is the rail system in the city of Boston that connects everything. I took Blue à Green, and picked up my Bib at the convention center(which in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have done…) Then I got back on Green tried to get as far NW as possible, because my Air B&B was in Watertown. I got off at Boston College and Uber-ed the rest of the way. The Air B&B was an “art-house” situated on the banks of the Charles River. The house was really cool and was appropriately named. It also had a very friendly Siberian Husky. If you’re wondering, yes, the dog was indeed a very good boy.

 DAY 2: I ran the next day along the river, and unfortunately it inflamed my Achilles a bit. It hurt but I popped some ibuprofen and pretended it was OK. I Took an Uber to Cambridge, because I wanted to explore. It was so classically North-east: People walking their Setters or Spaniels, Lacrosse practices, students walking around in corduroy pants, argyle socks peeking out from LL Bean loafers, etc… You get the idea. Oh, and these too:

Image result for wicked smaaht
It’s kinda cute, but STILL.

I left around 12 to go Brighton, where I was meeting my friend Ali for lunch. (Follow her @irunscience!!) I ended up having to walk a little over a mile to meet up with her, and my Achilles hurt on that walk, I have to admit. More ibuprofen! After lunch, I walked (another mile) back to the T, took Green à Blue à airport shuttle to go get my mom, who flew in at 3pm. Mom and I went to our hotel on Copley Place, which was right near the finish-line, to check in, then went to Little Italy in the North end for dinner at Antico Forno:

Mom outside of the restaurant

The Italian food was AMAZING! So delicious. At this point, I told her I was going to race still, but I think I knew the impossibility of it, considering I had two glasses of wine… I joke, but this was a really tough mind-set for me. When we got back to the hotel, I called Tim and told him I was unsure if I should race, but ultimately said I would get up and see how it went. I set my alarm for 6am.

DAY 3: Race day for many, but not for me. I got up to run one mile warm up to the shuttle towards Hopkintown, but never got on. After one measly mile (plus a day of walking around + ignoring pain for days + cold + stubbornness) I knew I wasn’t going to Hopkintown. I called Tim and told him I wasn’t going to race, then did a very stupid thing… I ran 5 more miles, even though it hurt. I can’t really explain why I thought this was a good idea. I think that I was so upset I wanted to at least run 6 of the 26.2 I was supposed to run that day. Whatever my reason, I was went from injured to SUPER INJURED later that day. We’re talking pain walking and going down stairs. Damnit. I was really upset. On top of the heartbreak of not being able to run my goal race, I now couldn’t even walk. I was in such a negative head space too. I kept thinking of all the winter runs: in the dark, through the Rochester snow storms, monotonous back-and-forth runs on the scant plowed roads. I was so mad because I put up with all of that for nothing. I toughed it out for nothing. (Important note: while I did “tough-it-out” I was not stretching, was not doing strength, and was letting a lot of important little things slip by the wayside. These are JUST as important as being tough as a runner! Stay heathy fellow runners, do the little stuff!)

Mom tried to console me, but it didn’t really work. So, I watched the race in the lobby, and I met a few other runners in there who also were sitting this year out due to injury. I felt less alone. I also realized that I was very young as a marathon runner, and was told my best years are about a decade off. I felt less hopeless. After about an hour, I transitioned to the sidelines to watch in-person. There, I saw some of the most inspiring feats of human endurance, determination, sportsmanship, and grace. From the elites, to the wheelchair division, to my friends and old teammates competing, I was inspired by all of it. In retrospect, I’m thrilled that I got to experience the Boston Marathon this way. This wasn’t the vantage point that I originally envisioned, but that was OK. Next time, however, I plan to be healthy, strong, and ready to RACE!!

My vantage point of the Boston Marathon

DAY 4: Mom and I had fun in Boston together and took a Duck Tour. It’s a tour led by a themed guide (a conDUCKtor). The tours go over the historical sights of Boston, and also plunge into the Charles River because they’re land-sea vehicles. NEAT! Check it out:

Ducks & ConDUCKtors®

Mom and me outside of the Duck

As I write this now, I am healed and back to running pain-free. The experience of recovery is a story in itself, and worth recording, so I’ll recount it in another post because TBH this is already pretty hefty. So, for anyone else who 1) is also struggling through an Achilles tendon injury or 2) Just curious about how I went from not being able to walk down stairs to training again, check it out. Spoiler: it involves a lot of Physical Therapy from Jillian who is a freaking MAGICIAN.

Myotendinous Junk-tion

Bad news, friends: I’m injured 😦

During long run last Sunday, I was experiencing SUPER tight calves and a bit of pain, but decided to run through it. And so I did, for 18 miles.

Big mistake. In hindsight, maybe stopping a few times to knead out a huge knot in my soleus was as a sign to stop the run. Maybe needing to hail an Uber rather than jog home from the trail that day was another sign.

I need to pay more attention to signs.

So, this week I have not run one step. I’ve scheduled a doctor’s appointment to image my tendon, and seen a PT, Jillian. As a marathon runner herself, Jillian totally gets it. She understands how freaking badly I just want to run.

Plus, she seems knowledgeable. Which is good, considering her profession. She assessed my tendon situation, deciphering the following clues like a regular Sherlock Holmes:

Clue #1: wear-marks on my shoes localized towards the soles & outside edge of my right foot. On the other hand (or should I say foot..?) Left marks spread evenly across the forefoot.

The scuffs on these are subtle because these shoes have about 200 miles on them, most of which was during the winter months of running on snow. Note the asymmetrical marks on the left and right foot:

Clue #2: dorsi-flexion of my right foot is 5 degrees less than my left.

Clue #3: While trying to maintain balance for a single right-leg squat, I shake and my foot rolls to balance on the outside.

Clue #4: I have very tight calves.

Conclusion: she thinks I under-pronate on one foot when I run. Also known as supination.

The way my foot strikes the ground repeatedly after hundreds of miles, takes a toll. It makes my inside leg muscles weak, and puts strain on my muscles and eventually my tendon over time. At the same time, having tight calves alone puts excess strain on my tendon.

She gave me a stretching regimen and suggested that we do a gait analysis on my next appointment on Monday; which will be my first run since last Sunday’s long run.

I’ve been committed to the stationary bike this whole week. It’s not as terrible as one would think. Since I’ve been watching PBS newshour while I pedal, I’m reminded that there are things in the world much worse than the stationary bike.

The bike is also pretty nice because I have free use of my hands! I can multitask. Specifically I can take REAL notes (well, digital notes, but these are better than mental notes in that I will actually remember them). I’ve been noting things to address and prep for my committee meeting.

If you’ve noticed the super cool countdown widget on this page, it is 5 days from now 🙃!

All but one member of committee has seen my seminar, and is familiar with my aims and project. Oh, coincidentally, that seminar was about the myotendinous junction. So HA. Life is weird.

The marathon is 15 days away. Let’s hope my efforts on the stationary bike pay off for both.

SOT 2019


This past week, toxicologists from around the world flocked to Baltimore, Maryland for the 58th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting. The flock included professionals in risk assessment, government, academia, and trainees like me. It was a great experience overall, but it left me EXHAUSTED by the end.

To give you an idea of how dang busy it was, I offer you all a recap of the week:


Jakob and I flew in a day early to help out with the Undergraduate Program as “Peer Mentors” on Sunday morning (7:30am!). We went out to dinner with friends at Maisey’s shortly after landing in Baltimore.


I woke up early to get some miles in before the undergraduate program. There, I met some very bright and impressive young students! They seemed to enjoy the program overall. However, I could see that shortening it could be a major improvement, as a few of them were falling asleep in their laps at the end. Later, I ran again to finish out the daily mileage, and rewarded myself for a busy morning/afternoon by getting dinner with Jakob, Tim, and Connor. After that, we all transitioned to student-post doc mixer, and finally hung out in our hotel.


Had an early wake-up call to get miles in before a busy poster-full day! In between, I attended some decent talks on the BBB. I have no pictures of the BBB, but here are are some friends and their A++ posters:

TUESDAY- Early day again to run the “past-president’s 5k.” It ended up being closer to a 6k due to some questionable course markers and a very confused lead biker. I raced with one of our Emeritus professors, Gunter who is 82! He’s one very impressive human! Also, I made a new runner-PhD friend from Michigan, we took on the speedy peeps in the front.

Tim was at the finish for me. ☺️ …because someone had to hold all the water bottles, bananas, and Kind Bars i scooped up at the end 💁🏻‍♀️

I ❤️ free stuff.

Here’s me in front of the Orioles stadium, where the race ended.

We went back to get dressed, and headed to the conference center for Jakob’s poster. He did great!

A candid Jakob teaches us about NRF2, muscle development, and methylmercury!

After Jakob’s poster, we went to lunch. Introduced Dr.olson and Sam to my Rochester friends. Dinner & A-PLUS margaritas at LaCalle after IVAM specialty section reception.

And finally the U of R reception. Open bar = OH NO or OH YES, depending on the picture of myself that I see after the fact. I started requesting “specialty mimosas” after two drinks. They didn’t have champagne, but Michelle (the bartender) and I made it work. I realized our alumni are SO FUN. I was left inspired and feeling proud of Rochester’s Toxicology program for fostering such intelligent, successful, and cool people.

WEDNESDAY- My poster in the AM, surprised by how many people came by!

ta da!💫

Visitors included my mentor at UB, Dr.Olson. He told me to call him Jim now, because I’m a colleague… which is SO STRANGE.

Me to myself: Maybe I’ll just avoid directly addressing him??🙃

Me back to myself: wtf no ur a grown woman getting her PhD. stfu and send Jim a follow up email!!

Here is me, Sam, and… Jim:

Lisa Prince also graced me with her presence! I presented my poster to her, took the following pic with her and Jakob, then scurried off to lunch to catch up.

Scooted around to other posters after. In the PM, we had the Neurotoxicology specialty section reception, dinner with friends at a chapel-esque Irish bar:

The Irish keep God and beer REAL close!

THURSDAY- homeward bound!!

So there you have it- a full week! Oh and let’s not forget my runs; which were by these picturesque scenes:

The sunrises make getting up v worth it.

Thanks for the memories, Baltimore!

Next year’s SOT is in Anaheim, CA! The best opportunity to visit Disneyland! And yeah, also for academic enrichment, obviously… yup.