Pen + Paper = Planning Power!

TGIF, y’all! I don’t know about all of you, but work has been pretty busy ever since I got back from the new year. Even though we are down in the factory, I’m catching up on all the things I had been ignoring while on shift! Lots of protocols, data pulls, reports, and staring at the computer for extended amount of hours ._.

I’ve been sooo caught up, I totally didn’t realize that it has been a year since I first visited this part of Virginia to interview for my job! It blows my mind it’s already been 1 year since I started my final quarter in college. WHOOSH.

Anyways, as you can tell by today’s blog post title, I prefer using the old fashioned way when it comes to planning. Whether it be a day planner or my notebook I use at work, I prefer writing on paper first. I am  suuuuuch a lover of lists. It can be so daunting filling up a page so easily with a huge list of tasks or due dates, but once you start accomplishing what you need to, it can be addicting to cross off those items!

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Figure. Here is my planner for 2014! A pretty standard planner setup from Barnes and Nobles, but I like to cross out bills and due dates as I pass them.

Plus, what I love most about using pen and paper is that you are not restricted how you want to make your lists. I think it’s more fun and engaging. Electronic means sometimes limit my creativity because there is usuallya template that can only be manipulated so much. Or if it’s a portable device, you need to use a touch screen to type >_< I am way faster at scribbling notes with a pen than using a confounded touch screen (ask my cell phone).

Also, I am a very visual person. When I list tasks initially, I will associate a items on my to do list with sketches to jog my memory. Also, sometimes it helps me to organize my tasks in a chart. Then, I can put them into buckets that help me figure out how high it ranks on my priorities and how long it will take to accomplish. I also like to make up my own icons 😛

I take about a half hour to an hour every Monday making my lovely lists. Here is what I do:

  1. Brainstorm Cloud or List – Throw everything and anything on here! Just make sure to capture what you want to get done that week or near future so you don’t forget about it. Sometimes I’ll start clumping tasks if they are related to the same report or area (so I don’t run back and forth too much across the site, wasting time).
  2. Leave No  Man  Task Behind – Turn back and search! I look through old lists of yester-week to see what I have not addressed or crossed out. If old tasks are still being relevant or important to do, it makes it to the new week’s list so it doesn’t get forgotten.
  3. List for the Week – I write down all tasks I want to do and throw due dates on them: either Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday.
  4. List for the Day – As each day rolls around, I make daily lists every morning very quickly, pulling from tasks from List for the Week section. I usually dedicate a page per day. It also has my notes and thoughts from the day.

One downside I have with my notebook system is that it’s hard to recall past information, even if I the dates on all my lists.

One notebook system that is similar to my own, but quite a bit more organized and systematic is the THE BULLET JOURNAL. It would solve my recalling issue since it’s designed with an index. I stumbled upon this video on someone’s Facebook earlier this week:

I think electronics are great at saving us paper, carrying less heavy books, or hey eliminating paper diaries and allowing us to blog on the web! But at the very least, I think I will stick to toting around a notebook with me everywhere for my daily thoughts.

Want more reasons to like paper and pen? Go here for an article for “Why pen and paper is still the best productivity tool”

So what’s your stance on the paper versus screen debate?

Variations on a Word: The Synonym

I was writing up my investigation report  today at work, when I decided to pop onto http://thesaurus.com to look for synonyms. It featured this cool article on the evolution of two synonyms: gifts vs. presents.

It got me thinking about a technical writing workshop I attended before Thanksgiving. It was a great course overall, but it emphasized an important point:

  • The great (and sometimes complicated) thing about the English language is that we have multiple words that can mean the same thing, but with slight variations that can change the overall tone of a sentence.

Choosing the appropriate word for a document or situation reminds me of finding the right shaped piece to fit into an empty puzzle spot. It takes some trial and error, but when you find the right one, it can really help you communicate your message in a cohesive and logical way.

Another plus of careful word choice is that you can say a lot without using a ton of words. People like compact and concise sentences that still somehow leave a lot of impact on the reader. Contrary to what we have been taught in school, it is a lot harder to write shorter documents that still drive the same message versus filling up our writing with “fluff” to reach a specific page count.

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Figure.  A cute Language Arts poster I found from http://www.classroomcreative.com that displays the power of synonyms.

So next time you have to write a memo or write your resume, think about your word choices and how you can consolidate your document to be more reader friendly.

I’ll leave you with a quote (also shared from the writing workshop):

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter”

— credited to Mark Twain at the end of a 10 page letter to a friend, though the origin of this quote is disputed.

DPI Research Coop Internship

Wow, this entry is long overdue, but  as they say, save the best for last! I guess I put off writing about my last coop internship because this marks the very last time I will have a coop/internship blog entry! I guess I’m a grown up now 😛

The Drexel Plasma Institute (DPI) is a biotechnology research facility where I was able to live the life of a research student full-time for about 6 months.  I retained part-time status for another 6 months, however, I wrote a small blurb about the differences between being a coop and a work study student here. Despite its name, DPI is affilited with Drexel, but NOT owned by Drexel.

Some logistics: I started at the end of April 2012 for this unpaid opportunity. Originally, I was assigned to help out in the Bacteria Lab, though by the end of the internship I was about to dabble in many things. This includes:

  1. The Plant Lab where plasma treated water was tested as an effective alternative to fertilizer and pesticide in various species of agriculture. And yes, I did write down on my resume I was the garden whisperer for 200 plants.
  2. The Cell Lab where plasma treated medium was being used in experiments that had to do with cell differentiation and regeneration in little worms.
  3. The Applied Physics Lab where I (if I remember correctly) physical properties of plasma was being studied.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

My motivation:

When I first started, and I was asked why I wanted to work here. I had always seen grad students running about like crazy, going on and on about their experiments progressing or not progressing. Sometimes they would think outloud, which always sounded like jargon to me even studying Biology as an undergrad. I think that once you start to pursue a Masters and/or eventually a PhD, you get so specialized in a specific part of your field that you realize how large and broad an undergrad degree is in comparison. Suffice to say, my response was that I wanted to know if research life was like and if it suited my personality. Devoting an additional 3-7 years to studies is a huge commitment, and I needed to know if I should even entertain the idea.

Not what I was expecting (but it’s all good!):

My manager was quick to tell me that this was not a traditional research lab and therefore it would not be a typical research experience as compared to working with a biology professor at school. DPI identifies more with the engineering departments.The experiments were much more application based than a science lab. It’s an amazing feeling when you get positive results for something that has a potential use already in mind. In some science labs, you learn about a relationship, but don’t know how to translate it to help patients.

What I wanted – Learning about life as a researcher.

If there is one thing I realized, it is that you need to LOVE what you are studying to get that wondrous PhD. I think that desire to study and persevere is driven by want to know WHY. Asking questions and seeking answers fro the sake of knowledge. It sounds a little romantic, but I think there is a little bit of romance in every scientist who is passionate about what the do.

You need to do a lot of experiments and sometimes you need to repeat it a ton of times with only minute changes to see if what you expected to happen is actually true. Just because things theoretically should work doesn’t mean they will do it in real life. Did I mention the importance of statistically sound data? Your results have to also be reproducible and not be a product of chance.

Not so awesome stuff.

As with every job, there are some drawbacks. One (potential) negative is that your PI (primary investigator) can make or break your experience. They can guide you or control how you run your experiments, what you do your experiments on, and how successful your project will be. Also, there is a hard push to pump out as many publications as you can because its a way to gather attention for more funding, however, this can be difficult to do on time constraints while maintaining good and sound data. No funding = no more experiments 😦 Finally, I listed above that reproducibility is important, and it can drive a person crazy repeating experiments indefinitely until getting the results they need or abandoning all that hard work when you realize that your hypothesis is most likely wrong. Also, if you need/want an immediately high paying job, academic research may not be the means.

Other random stuff I wanted to mention.

  • The research focus of this lab, plasma, is pretty neat and cutting edge, stuff. My boss called this particular lab “a big whale in a little pond.” In other words, the plasma field is still small and very new, however, DPI publications have a big impact on the field. I’m so lucky to have gotten both a poster and name on a publication on two different projects!
  • The lab is located in Camden NJ. It is a way scarier place than Philly, believe it or not. I used to be yelled at by prisoners every time I would walk to the train stations.  Yet another tough city down that I can say I survived being in.
  • God, how many times can I mention I love the people who work there? Such a chill place to work. And for the most part everyone is pretty receptive to any creative experiments you want to try out. You just got to prove it’s worth trying. I miss my managers and fellow students so much and felt like I belonged there.

What I owe the most:

Most importantly, this lab showed me how much I love engineers and engineering. I think there is a slight animosity towards the Sciences and Engineering, at least at our school. Engineering students are put on a pedestal and worshiped, which I sort of understand because their studies are hard, but hey other students work hard, too! And arrogant engineering students are the absolute worse! But the engineers I got to work with were SO awesome. I love the way they look at experiments differently than I do. I was more concerned with good technique, the theoretical background of experiments, and what the data meant. However, it’s important to get the damn experiment done first before worry about other stuff, and they knew how to think outside the box to use practical means to get things done.

There is a very “CAN DO” attitude carried by engineers (as my Micro prof once said), which enables them to make a bridge between the theoretical to application in the real world. Working in this lab gave me the balls to try and apply to an engineering job, despite the high chance of rejection. During the interview for said job, I remember saying without thinking (or meaning to sound arrogant) that “I am not intimidated by engineering work. I can do it.” despite my background in the sciences. Thanks DPI for being a key player in developing my confidence and skills I needed to get my current full time pharma job 🙂

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Figure. One of my former DPI coworkers fittingly sent this to me today on Facebook.

Why Gen Y Yuppies Are Unhappy

First off who is Generation Y? This article defines it as the generation born between the late-1970s to mid-1990s. I was born in 1990 on the dot, so I fall in this category and find this bit of info pretty relevant. 

I had to post this link, despite the somewhat somber connotation the title gives off. It gives some interesting views (and sarcastically funny stick figures) on why post-college-graduation or young adult life may feel like its taking a larger toll on your mental health and happiness. If you are just starting off, like me, on the long and arduous path to full-fledged careerhood, just understand this:

The struggle is real. We are all experiencing it. Don’t feel like you are the loneliest, unlucky person out there. So stop comparing yourself to your peers. It will do you no good, man.

Happy Sunday from a reasonably happy (at the moment) yuppy 🙂

ARTICLE: http://www.waitbutwhy.com/2013/09/why-generation-y-yuppies-are-unhappy.html

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Figure. Image is from “wait but why” article on “Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy.” Lucy is our example Gen Y girl.

How to Make A Research Poster

As I mentioned earlier, my abstract got approved for my school’s Research Day! I attended last week and had my poster scrutinized by 2 judges. I didn’t win anything cool, and to be honest my poster was probs a lot weaker than others, but I’m really glad I got to participate.

ResearchDay2013

For one, the experience was really good because I have never done anything academic research related before, and it was great to present it to a university-wide event. Secondly, I got a lot of good criticism on how the the poster presentation and future experiments better, like how the data could have been displayed to emphasize that the significance of the results as compared to what is known already. Thirdly, I got to go and check out other research posters by students in different departments, as well as pop in and show some support for friends and fellow lab mates 🙂

Here’s me being a dork in front of my poster. Sadly, I didn’t feel too good that day, but made it through for a couple hours.

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Figure. Me looking derpy in front of my research poster at my university’s Research Day. I was right front and center of the presentations wearing a bunny printed shirt for good luck. haha.

So what exactly is on a research poster? Well this is what I put on mine:

  • Title
  • Authors & Coauthors (aka students, advisors/ profs)
  • Logo of affiliates/departments involved
  • Introduction or Abstract
  • Background Research
  • Purpose/Aim
  • Experimental Setup
  • Procedures
  • Results (really wished I could have thrown photos on here, too)
  • Conclusions
  • Future Experiments
  • References

I got my poster printed for free by the Biomed Dept., and they provided us with this cool video on constructing your own poster via PowerPoint. You can then convert the final product into a PDF so no matter if a Mac or PC or whatever else opens your doc, it won’t mess with the formatting.

Good luck 🙂

My Year in Review (so far)

Well, its been about one week since I got home, so I think its time for a personal update! I must say, 2013 has had some amazing things for me in store academically and career-wise already, though stress and other personal issues have taken a big toll on me. Thus is life though, ups & downs. Some highlights I’d like the share since I have fallen off the face of the planet:

1) My laptop has been broken since December. I stupidly spilled coffee on it one morning before a phone interview while stressing out about the call and thinking about the pending doom of a project due that same day. I had gotten a USB keyboard whose life was short lived when it started to fizz and smoke one night while doing homework. Then I ran out to my local university Radio Shack (couldn’t wait for Amazon to ship!), and I got this cute Logitech wireless one. It’s still been a pain in the ass and a half lugging it around campus though along with books and having to explain to people why I have an extra keyboard. At least it survived til the end of term. Hopefully my computer does not clonk out any time too soon. I can’t afford another one for a while ;_;

wireless keyboard

Figure 1. My cutesy Logitech wireless keyboard! And stop judging my desktop background. It’s entitled “SUPERnova” from Threadless.

2) I will be presenting a poster at my university’s Research Day! It’s always been my dream as a freshmen to participate, and when I didn’t get a chance to do join in academic research because of my coop program, I thought it was hopeless. I was wrong because my former coop employee (DPI) is awesome! The data I compiled from working on one of their lab projects was enough to get my abstract approved for my poster presentation! The poster is a collaboration with another student from the University of Maryland, and it is about plasma treated water with the addition of propylene glycol and its antimicrobial effects.

ResearchDay2013

Figure 2. I love how colorful the Research Day logo is!

3) I was coauthored on a real scientific publication! Another debt to DPI! With some hard work and lots of guidance from my former lab managers & supervisor, I’m lucky to have my name squeezed onto there. I’m still in awe! Never thought as an undergrad I would have my name in anywhere else, but “special acknowledgements” haha. Look for my name in an issue of Applied Physics (free to read if you have university access!). The article is about the use of water treated with the Glid-Arc plasmatron, and its benefits to plant biology and growth.

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Figure 3. Yes, I am that silly undergraduate student who screenshots their name on an article so they can show their parents. Shoot me, I am happy!

4) I have successfully made two types of pie recently, one of which on Pi Day (3/14)! The first is a retake of the Caramel Apple pie recipe that caused all the fire alarms in the land of Philadelphia to go off. The second is Caramel Pumpkin Pecan pie.

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Figure 4.1. Unbaked Apple pie with lattice crust. So pretty!
Figure 4.2. Baked Apple pie with caramel encrusted crust. Kind of ruined the pattern in my opinion 😦
Figure 4.3. Baked Pumpkin Pecan Caramel pie. Took forever for it to stop jiggling! haha.

5) I am finally finished with my undergrad! Graduated a bit earlier than anticipated, taking about 4.5 years with 3 full time internships, a ton of volunteering, and part time jobs to boot 🙂 I could rant on about the blood, sweat, tears, and lack of a normal college life I had to get this degree, but I will leave it at “I am content” now that its mine and extremely appreciative for the learning experience, knowledge, and people I have been fortunate to meet. I am still waiting for my diploma and my actual walking ceremony is not until June, however.

6) I actually scored a job already! I have been a bit hush-hush about it because I am still in shock. After passing the phone screen in December (SO WORTH sacrificing my laptop as an offering; see bullet #1), I was offered a job back in the end of January with Merck & Co. down in Virginia as an Associate Specialist Engineering. I’m really humbled that anyone thought I was a good fit, especially in such a big and reputable company. I took a two day trip in the earlier part of the term to interview in Virginia, leaving Philly and school behind for a bit. I had met with about 10 people throughout the day, representing different teams within the department. It was intense, but I’m glad I made an impression on someone/some people!

7) Things still to come…! So right after I finished exams last week, I have been (re)learning how to drive. I need to pass the road test, which I will be taking on in about 2 weeks (eek!). Then, another wisdom tooth extraction, apartment hunting, car bargaining, and then the big move! Not to mention squeezing in seeing people I may never see again/for a very long time in both Philly and NYC 😦

So much for a break, but this is real life! I feel like everything is happening in a blur.I legit just finished taking exams less than 7 days ago.  I’m anxious, nervous, and excited to see where it takes me. I would be lying if i said the life transition doesn’t scare the crap out of me (and I like to take risks). It’s sad that I have got to leave behind friends and family and places so familiar and dear to me. I had always thought that I could come home to NY for a bit to relax and catch up with people I love, and then eventually find a job. Even hanging around Philly seemed like a cool idea, especially if my roomies were willing to hang around with me. Perhaps if I stayed long enough I would have caved in and applied straight to grad school.

But if there was ever at time to be daring, here it is. I have spent so much time planning for the real world that I am almost confused as to what to do now that “the big time” is here! Adventure is out there, and I’m lucky to have this opportunity, though it seems scary and lonely right now. Time to grow up and get a pair of real ovaries! For now, I’m taking it one day at a time until I leave for my new job.

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Figure. Screen shot image of Winnie the Pooh movie  from Disney’s Facebook page. Their caption was “It’s always good to have a plan.” So true!

A Dangerous Cocktail: Grapefruit & Medication

So, I am sort of on a end of school kick right now. I finished my last final on Friday, which was in Pharmacology. In fact, it was my last undergraduate final, ever. Before basking in an ever glorious, extended “spring break” and temporarily forgetting everything I have studied so hard to know, I wanted to share a quick blurb that may be useful for people who take medication, whether it be over the counter or prescription.

Context. Early in the term in Pharmacology class, my professor told us a story that when she was sick in college, she decided to take some cold medicine. Also, for some odd reason, she had a huge craving for grapefruit juice. She felt even worse in a few hours despite her efforts and eventually concluded it was the grapefruit juice to blame!

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But, why you ask? Grapefruit juice is commonly put in the warning labels as “food to avoid” for many medications. The citrus fruit actually inhibits a very important enzyme in your liver, Cytochrome P450 (CYP 450).

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Figure. Cytochrome p450 oxidase structure from Wiki

CYP 450 is primarily responsible for “first pass metabolism,” breaking down  substances that enter your body orally. This, of course, includes medicine that you consume.  By stopping this metabolizing enzyme from working, you decrease your body’s ability to biotransform the medicine from an active substance into an inactive one. While this may initially sound ideal to blast the sick away with higher concentrations of meds, this is not the case! You are putting yourself at risk for toxic levels of this medicine in your blood stream, which can have dangerous and even deadly implications.

Lesson of the day? Make sure to read your drug inserts before consuming your medicine! It may seem tedious and unnecessary, but the information on there is important and there for a reason!

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Edit: I don’t usually talk about my grades, but just found out from my prof I got a 99% on the Pharm final! Totally makes up for my dumbass failing the first half of the term. Hooray ;__;!