Monday, July 28, 2008

Off To a Bumpy Start

My flight back was easily as ridiculous as the flight to New York. I was exhausted and my bag was missing this time. It's quite a sketchy story, but I stayed with a stranger from the plane in Roanoke last night. I did not have to drive back to Blacksburg at 2am and could see if my bag would arrive on the morning Roanoke flight. The story may not be blog appropriate.

I was completely distraught for most of the day, although going out to get some toothpaste and a phone charger and going to the gym gave me a little piece of mind and made the day more normal. Then as I am watching tv and relaxing, they called to let me know they are on their way with my bag! I thought it could be days, but it was less than 24 hours. Anyway, now I have some items to return, but it feels amazing to have my stuff back.

The last thing I want to do, however, is to get back on a plane in 3 days to Michigan. If I never see an airport again it will be too soon. The thought just makes me nauseous.

Tomorrow will be my last day of work. I am very excited because we are having a party after work, which is very nice of them to organize and should be great fun.

So Summer Part 2 has started with the traveling, and end of work. Looking back I had a pretty fun summer after all, despite the stress at the beginning and a short period of missing Matt in the middle.

Less than 1 month until school starts and while I am enjoying the freedom, I am starting to get excited for all that I will learn this upcoming year. Can you say nerd...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Paradigm Shift

Those that know Michelle Larsen (aka Rapp) know that NY runs in her blood. My VA license plate reads NYANKI as a protest to living in the South. I have never wavered to mention NY in the often-asked question where are you from?

Over the past 7 years I have happily lived outside of Washington DC, until last year when I moved to Blacksburg, which I also love. I have visited NY for work, pleasure, and to see friends and family. Up until recently I thought NYC is not the right place for me now, but maybe one day we will move there. My family has started infiltrating the DC area, which has made DC feel more like home than NY.

I would have to say these weird NY feelings began about 2 summers ago, when I organized a bachlorette party in NY for a best friend. We walked around Times Square and for the first time I felt like it wasn't my home anymore. It had changed too much, and I had changed as well. It hurt. Little did I know it was the start of this identity crisis.

My nephew said the more you are away the less you miss it. For me until 2 years ago the more I was away the more I missed it. This trip, however, was the first time I ever walked in my city and thought,"What the hell is so damn great?" I know as well as any New Yorker what makes the city great, so have my values changed? Have I found other places that offer different opportunities that perhaps mean more to me? Is it my ideas of the excess that turn me off to NY now?

Some answers:
  • I have never like NY summers.
  • I have changed in that I enjoy smiling at people and talking to people I don't know as a courtesy (I never thought I'd say that, but I was in the hotel elevator wanting so badly to say good morning, beautiful day out. I knew I'd get silence and a weird look so I refrained.)
  • I was very tired this trip and staying in midtown with more tourists per square feet than ever, videotaping the revolving door.
  • This is not home anymore, it's just where I grew up.
  • Everything was goddamn expensive!
Matt and I went to the East and West villages with less people and street fairs and time to explore. It was fun for a few minutes, but still not where I would choose to live anymore. We searched for a gallery that when we finally found it was closed on Saturdays. I looked for a great cheap, healthy restaurant on St. Marks that was no longer there.

I hate to think I have changed so much that I don't understand how a city that everyone finds so amazing is lost to me. I feel like traitor to my roots (and my license plate). On an episode of Sex in the City, Carrie has a date with her city. That episode always embodied how I felt about the city, but this entire week I wanted to be somewhere else.

I guess detaching from your hometown could be part of maturing and growing up. It's been a while since I have experieneced such a major paradigm shift. I also never thought in a million years I would feel numb to what was the only place on earth suitable to me for 21 years.

In some ways I am proud that I have lost the NY arrogance and appreciate how many special places there are in this country and the world. I can picture myself living in Portland or San Diego, but as I rode on the train yesterday (my reflection place in high school), I could no longer picture myself living in the big apple.

Pfizer Educational Alliance Conference 2008

The conference was well-run and informative. The presentations on the different drugs were a good review of some things I learned this past year and a good preview of pharmacology to come. I always enjoy meeting students at other schools and this was no exception. In fact, 4 people from this conference will be attending the NIH student conference next week at Michigan State.

I was impressed with the roles of the Specialty Hospital Liaison (SHL) that Pfizer has created. They are committed to an educational, not selling focus. I am excited to organize new events at VT over the next 2 years.

Staying in midtown was rough for me, however, It was convenient to meet up with friends for lunch and after hours, but too many tourists for my liking (more on this thought in the Paradigm shift entry).

Meeting the other SHL veterinarians and hearing their career paths was, yet another eye opener to the many opportunities available to veterinarians. It was fun to gain insight on the different opportunities Pfizer has for veterinarians. They made it clear they have an interest in us after we graduate. While an enormous company, the organization and people had me questioning how evil corporate pharmaceutical companies actually are. Of course this was probably a major objective of the meeting.

As for a Pfizer career I will continue to keep an open mind, and use their educational resources to bring great programs to my school. As usual, I look to leave a legacy at VMRCVM, and I hope I figure out just what that legacy is over the next 2 years, but I believe my role as a Pfizer student rep has a part in this goal.

Bad Day to Travel: July 23, 2008

July 23 was bad day to travel on the east coast. You have to love the thunderstorms in the summer. On my way to Roanoke airport I saw a car with a NY license plate and thought to myself, I wish I could get a ride with them. I hate flying these days, who doesn't? What I did not know was how much more I would hate flying a few hours later.

I got to the airport very early and killed time reading tabloids and finishing a book. As my plane was suppose to board a flight to Philly got grounded and all the passengers came back to the terminal. I thought to myself glad that isn't my plane...10 minutes later my flight to NY was cancelled.

I was rerouted to Charlotte. My new flight was to take off at 8 and arrive at 10pm, not quite 6:30 but not horrible. The flight to Charlotte had horrible turbulence. After arriving in Charlotte I quickly realized every flight to NY was delayed and my flight was now leaving at 9:40pm. I had about 5 hours to kill. The airport was noisy, crowded and I was miserable. As the evening progressed the gate changed 3 times. The sign at the gate read, flight doors will close 10 minutes prior to 9:50 departure. At 9:25pm no announcement had been made. By 10pm the flight had boarded and what do you know, the ground stop had been put back in place at LGA. Update to follow at 11pm.

At this point I just wanted to leave and try again tomorrow (most other flights had been cancelled already), but I was in Charlotte so that was not an option. At 11pm they announce an alternate route to fly west of the storm. But this requires more fuel and the plane is too heavy (well why even tell us?!). At 12 am as I am walking off the plane to stretch and see where my bag might be, the pilot says we have clearance. We take off sometime between 12 and 12:20 I fall asleep, jolted awake by horrific turbulence and the person next to me, also named Michelle, and I grab hands. We do eventually land in LGA around 1:45, and miraculously my bag is there and my hotel room still available. The concierge asks, would you like a wake up call. I think to myself that's in 4 hours, and decline the offer.

The next day I am only 1 hour late to the conference and find out someone was rerouted 4 times, my counterpart from NC State never made it, and there is a girl with sweats on because her luggage is lost. So other than sleep deprivation, there is comfort in solidarity.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Last Summer Weekend in Blacksburg Was a Blast!

After my last full week of research, a very fun weekend was well-deserved!

Saturday kicked off with the highly-anticipated Frank Beamer Ladies Football Clinic. It was quite a scene. Football players and coaches were treated like movie stars, women of all ages fawned over the great bodies of the players. The attendees were the biggest hokie fans I have ever seen. Almost everyone was decked out in VT gear from head to toe, yet everyone was shopping in the bookstore during breaks, despite the additional and plentiful giveaways of the event itself (2 free t-shirts, visor, car flag, books, etc).

It was quite the VT football experience. The clinic included:
  • Defensive and offensive demos by female volunteers and players
  • Watching films just like the players and coaches do.
  • Learning about the coaching and training schedule.
  • The lowdown scoop on the recruiting process.
  • A Q&A session with Coach Beamer himself.
  • An excellent strip tease from Tyrod Taylor, #17, and Sean Glennon
  • And many, many autograph opportunities.
Directly from the clinic we headed to Salem for an Avalanche game on a beautiful night. It was great fun people watching for jorts.

Sunday we finished painting the bathroom then headed to the New River Junction for some tubing. It was a great day for tubing and very relaxing.

Matt and I then headed directly to see Batman. The best Batman movie ever and possibly the best movie of the year. It did not disappoint at all.

This week is the much anticipated Pfizer Animal Health Conference for student representatives. I hope it will be fun and informative. I will also be seeing a good high school friend that I have not seen in years.

Here's to a fun, non-humid summer in Blacksburg that ended with a bang (and football players in their boxers...)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The End of the Line and My Rope

I found a note card the other day with a terrific quote: "When you think you've reached the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on tight." This is a great vet school motto, and today I had to go with it.

I only have 1 more real time-PCR to run and of course I have had to run it at least 3 times. Last night I tried to save a plate, and the seal broke. Today my data looked great, and then poof the file corrupted never to be open again. My student mentor is going to re-do it for me tomorrow, since "I am at the end of my rope." My student mentor is also at the end of her rope. She has spent the entire summer firming up her data, with the same experiment in triplicate week after week. While her trend is consistent, the amount of induction has varied to the point where half of her story may not be true. Since she is going to run my plate over tomorrow (hopefully successfully), I offered to help her organize her data using my special Microsoft Excel skills. We hope she can see 3 data sets that are close enough to go with. She is under extra pressure because our PI is leaving for a trip next week and wants this published by the end of the summer. Ahh life as a PhD student.

The good news is that there is a light that I can see and my poster is coming along nicely. I present my data on Friday to the lab and hope to complete my poster early next week before I party it up in my hometown of NYC on Pfizer's dime!

Monday, July 7, 2008

My First Catch

While very rainy, the 4th of July weekend was still fun. Matt and I did not embark on an adventurous bike ride this holiday (as we have the past 2 years). We opted to float down (up) the New River. Unfortunately, as Matt purchased a bathing suit, the rain started falling. Instead, we hung with friends as they brewed homemade strawberry wheat beer. Later that afternoon, the skies cleared and we headed to a nearby pond to fish. I used a rubber worm, which apparently never works, and caught my first fish. I had been fishing several times before unsuccessfully. This was a great little bass catch! I was excited and ready to fish for a while longer. The skies had a different plan though, and it began raining (again). After fishing and getting drenched, we enjoyed the American tradition of BBQ and fireworks. The Blacksburg fireworks were fun. Everyone there enjoyed the Landsharks Jimmy Buffet tribute band, which made for a great people watching opportunity.

Saturday we went to 1 year old birthday party in Charlotte for Matt's oldest friend. We also took some time to check out the Central and Noda neighborhoods with good shops and restaurants. I got a great black clutch and fell in love with a pricey Ann Sui dress.

Sunday was the moment I had been waiting for all summer: Wine Down the Music Trail Festival. It was fun, but would have been an all out blast. Alas, the rain struck again. Thankfully, the tasting tents sheltered us and the sun peeked for a few minutes. But once the skies opened the second time, it was a torrential downpour. The bands couldn't play, the grass started flooding, and all the drunk people sandwiched in the tent just stopped being fun. So we bought a few bottles of wine and headed out. The vibe was excellent and I hope to go next year, with better weather.

The highlight of the weekend was certainly my first catch, but a fun 4th nonetheless. I have 2 more full weeks of work and I am a little discouraged at my statistical state. I hope this week things can sort themselves out for my poster's sake. I'll just keep working hard and hope for the best. I know many other students may be in worse shape with no trend or data. It is difficult to accomplish such great feats in 6 weeks, so I am cutting myself some slack.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

One Tough Week For One Tough Girl

I worked extremely hard this week. Working virtually non-stop Monday from 6am-7pm and from 8-6 Tuesday through Thursday. I hit some experimental snags: RNA purities are still not consistently great, I ran out of stimulant in the middle of stimulating cells, and I realized, with the help of my PI, that the primer I was using for my most important gene has been a dud for the past few weeks . I was glad, however, that he thinks it's the primer and not me! In addition, my PhD student was out of the office the past 2 days, so I was wholly on my own to work hard, but not necessarily all that well. Today I sorted through my data trying to get it ready for my poster graphs. I still have many inconsistencies, such as the standard deviations aren't all that impressive. But, I haven't put it into graphs yet to look at the overall trend. The idea was to see which samples I should run again next week. After next week I am just going to use what data I have to work on my poster the following week. I will still have to run a handful of real-time PCRs again once my new primer comes in next week, so I really don't have much time left to keep repeating, unfortunately.

I do not know how people endure such frustration over 4-6 years. Ironically, I am almost relieved that this will end and I can go back to vet school. I will admit it has its' positive days when an experiment goes right, or a new trend is found. The worst part is repeating perpetually to get good consistent data, 3 separate times, for publication purposes. My mentor was hoping I would get there, but I am not so sure any longer.

Do not misinterpret! I am glad I had this experience. I have learned a tremendous amount about science, lab work, what goes into achieving a PhD, lab techniques, and important immunology related to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. I do believe, however, that my interest lies on the clinical side of things. Unless there is a career opportunity that requires a PhD that I just have to go after, I think this may be one path I avoid, at least for a while.

I am not sure biological research is my strong suit. Of course, I still have just under a month to change my mind.