In my Defense…

Remember back in first year we didn’t know each other yet and we bonded over dinosaurs (and languages apparently…) during the TA training?

Welp, I am about to enter my 6th year of grad school which means that some of my lucky friends in my class are starting to defend their theses and then graduate! Since I’m probably going be talking more and more about defenses as we get more into the season, I thought I would take a minute to give you a run down about how grad school works in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry here at CU. So during our first year, we have this crazy schedule that involves classes, TAing (usually general chemistry or biochemistry), and trying to find a research group to join. We also have a written test about our knowledge of chemistry or biochemistry that we either took every first Saturday of each month until we passed a certain number of them (the Chemists did this) or that we took one epic day the August after our first year (We biochemists did this). Then our second year was full of finishing up our classes, doing research in our labs, and preparing for a scary oral exam where three professors spend two hours asking us about anything in chemistry and biochemistry to make sure we understand enough science to do our projects (the point is to see how you handle not knowing the answer so it’s a pretty awful two hours…). After that, the remaining years of grad school are full of science, going to conferences, (hopefully) writing papers about our findings, fighting with instruments not working/cells not growing/something breaking/procedures not going right after they worked perfectly every other time, making mistakes/figuring them out, etc until finally one day, it is time to write up everything we’ve done in a nice neat little package called a thesis, present our work to our faculty committee, our peers, and our families and then (after the presentation when everyone except our committee members leaves) defend our theses to gain the title of PhD. Whew… It’s a ride. And I’m not even done yet… but someone is…

This picture was taken when we were walking back from lunch one day and there was this crazy prop sale by the theater department…

The first of my friends in my class, P, defended his thesis today! Yayyyyy! P I am so proud of you! I remember back in our first year P and I used to do homework together and talk about graduating like it would happen at some point in the distant future. I also distinctly remember getting confused when I was teaching a lab and I ran downstairs to the lab P was teaching in so I could ask for his help. After our first year, we stayed friends and caught up over lunch almost every week. It was especially fun last year because we were both planning our respective weddings and so we could compare wedding planning notes in addition to catching up with why science infuriated/excited us that week. There was also much soccer and kite flying and other adventures. We even tried to take a kendo class together one semester at the school rec center but found that we both liked trying to stab each other/sword fighting with the shinais (kendo sticks) better. You made grad school more bearable and fun for me, friend and I’m really really going to miss you when you and P make your big move this fall but I am super excited for what happens next for you guys! Congrats friend! :D

Back on the dinosaur theme… this is us not paying attention in one of those TA meetings we had to attend after classes on Fridays during our first year…
Also one time we went cross country skiing at night on the hill behind P’s house even though it was freakishly cold (3 degrees F?) outside…
Even our stuffed animals (Scrarmpl and Munchers) were friends and got to go on adventures!

What are you guys up to this weekend? I think I am going to be sleeping. I know I say that a lot but seriously… this week was REALLY intense…

Epic Summer Plans!

I might be busy this summer but not too busy to tag my labmates’ benches with an ethanol version of my signature shark…

So my summers are usually crazy because I have to split my time between getting my research done and helping out with the SMART program but then there is always something extra that makes my already crazy summer even more epic (ex: last year I wrote that epic grant AND got married). So it’s no surprise that I am already feeling pretty overwhelmed by my summer because I am, yet again, involved in many other activities this summer. Because I think they are all kind of cool I thought I would write about them here for you guys.

    • I Have a Dream
      So the first thing on my list is working for the I Have a Dream foundation. This program has been near and dear to my heart ever since I found out about it upon entering grad school all those years ago. Basically, this national foundation adopts classes of 2nd and 3rd grade students where the majority of the students in the class come from low income families. Every student in that class is promised that if they stay in the IHAD program (and in school) until they graduate from high school, the IHAD foundation will give them a full ride to the college of their choice! Sounds like a sweet deal to me! In the past, I have helped out with workshops (genetics, how your eye works like a pinhole camera, forensics, etc) for the IHAD students within Boulder county but this summer, CU is hosting a conference for middle and high school IHAD students from across the country. They get to come to CU and take workshops and check out a college campus! My friend C and I decided we would run a genetics workshop for them. A few weeks ago, I got an email asking for a brief summary of our workshop. Although C and I had decided that we wanted to do a genetics workshop, we hadn’t actually discussed the details of this workshop. So a few short emails back and forth later, C and I had come up with this:

      In this workshop, we will be discussing genetics and how genetics research affects our daily lives. After an initial discussion of general genetics terminology and how it relates to living organisms, we will be isolating DNA from strawberries using every day materials. To finish the workshop, we’ll discuss implications of and current events related to the field of genetics research. Possible topics of discussion include: genetic testing, genetically modified organisms, gene therapy, personalized medicine, and evolution. Participants are invited to bring all genetics questions and a sense of curiosity and excitement about biology!

      I am pretty excited about this workshop now! It should be a blast! I hope our students are as excited as we are…

    • Go Women in Science!
      A while ago, I headed up to main campus to take a survey our library was putting on for how people in our new building were using the library resources in our day to day research. One of the women conducting the survey was impressed with my ability to talk about my project to nonscientists and she asked me if I’d be willing to speak at a conference for science librarians she was putting on this summer. On Thursday, I will be on a panel with two other women discussing our research and what it’s like being a woman in science. I have to come up with a 5 minute little talk about my personal experiences and my research and then we will be answering questions from the audience. As such, I have spent this past weekend thinking back about my own and my friends’ experiences as scientists… I am nervous but also really excited!
    • REUnion
      So for you nonscientists out there, all of us science majors have to do some form of independent research project, especially if we are planning on going to grad school after undergrad. Some schools even require you to perform independent research as one of the requirements for obtaining your degree (I had to perform at least a semester of independent research and write a thesis in order to receive a BS degree – I spent a year studying yeast (the kind that makes your bread and beer delicious) proteins. It was a huge fail in that I got NO results but that’s how it goes sometimes…). Anyway, if you are planning to go to graduate school, the more research experience you have on your resume, the better. So at the end of my sophomore year of college, while most of my friends were excited about going home for the summer, I packed up all my stuff, went home for a few days, and then went to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO for my first taste of independent summer research (this was called a “Research Education for Undergraduates or REU program – it’s similar to the SMART program though it is smaller and specific for every department). Although I came down with mono the first week I was there (sad days…), I still managed to have a lot of fun and totally fall in love with doing science independently from the lab classes I had to take at school. A few years later, my sister followed suit and headed to CSU for her own research experience. Now we have both been invited to be on the panel of current graduate students who give advice and wisdom to this year’s summer class of undergraduates. So come late July, my sister and I will have a mini family reunion and also get to hang out with the undergrads in the same program that inspired both of us to continue on to graduate school. How cool is that?! Btw wee, I am loving how our science is helping us see each other every year. :)

Whew! Epicness! At least I am learning super multitasking skills during my PhD… What are you up to this summer? Anything epic going on? Vacations, etc? Also how was your weekend? Talk to me!!

Birthdays, Anniversaries, and other fun

This pinecone and its friends are the reason why I have crazy allergies right now… but I still like this pic. :)

My apologies for the short post but this week is crazy for me. I’ve got to squish 5 days worth of labwork into 3 because then Cobalt and I are heading to see his family for his mom’s 60th bday! Yay! Happy birthday to my MIL!

In other news, this weekend was nice. Cobalt and I made ricotta pancakes on Saturday. They were fluffy and delicious. See the pic below for tastiness (yeah yeah… they look like “normal” pancakes but they are way fluffier and tastier than them). We also tended to our little garden (the plantys are getting so big!!!), invented our own version of lavender lemonade (yummmmm), and went out for some tasty Italian food on Saturday night with some friends.

Tasty pancake… why did we eat all of them?! :(
These mixed peppers are probably ecstatic that it’s finally decided to be over 90 degrees here. The rest of us are not so sure we like it…

On Sunday, Cobalt and I, along with some other graduate students, took some of the students in the summer program I work for on a hike near Boulder. It is really fun to take people who don’t know the area at all on a hike because they are so excited to see everything – reminds what a cool place we live in. After the hike, we took our exhausted students out to lunch at The Buff, another staple of Boulder (hint: it was on Man Vs. Food). In the evening I went swimming with two of my friends from my grad program (we all started grad school together many many years ago… craziness) and we practiced some French. It was quite a lovely way to end the weekend.

Speaking of French, look forward to more France posts coming your way next week! Something you will definitely see next week: why Cobalt and I now have a fondness for Starbucks (hint: it’s not because of their coffee or any of their products)!

Did you guys have great weekends?! Tell me about them. I know some of my friends celebrated their 1 year wedding anniversaries.. Hooray! Congrats! Also, let me know if you’ve thought of anything you’re dying to know about France, or my current life in Boulder, whatever. Finally, don’t forget to wish my MIL a happy bday! :)

We will now pause our discussion of the Paris trip for a celebration

because the epic government grant I applied for last year has been selected for funding!!!

We’ve named this picture “Cobalt catches a wild Potassium…” Also, I have no idea why I am wearing glasses in this picture. I do not normally wear them.

I am so excited! Receiving this grant means that the government will pay for the majority of my tuition, fees, stipend, health care, etc and that I will receive research funds which will allow me to supplement my research and attend research conferences (such as one this fall in Heidelberg, Germany that I already submitted an abstract for… eeee exciting!). Not only that, but with scientific funding being such a problem right now (seriously… it’s like super crisis panic mode around campus) me being able to have my own funding really helps out our whole lab’s funding situation.

Funny story. Gmail apparently thought that my grant funding announcement was spam so I didn’t find out that I received the grant until my boss emailed me from France at 2 am congratulating me. I was very confused upon seeing her response the next morning. “Why did she find out about my grant and I didn’t?! How did I not get that email when it clearly says “Dear Potassium” and not “Dear Potassium’s boss”?!?!?! Hrm…. Then when I finally found my version of the email in my spam folder and told Gmail to put it into my Inbox, it threw a fit telling me that this email was clearly a scam even though the sender was the woman who I have been in contact with about the status of my grant since February… Thank you Gmail for being so concerned but I think this one’s okay…

Since we’re on the topic of exciting/cool things, something else exciting for me was that I got to listen to my blog friend Jenn give her epic talk at a conference yesterday via readytalk.com. It was really cool to hear firsthand about the research project she’s mentioned on and off on her blog! Technology is awesome… Anyway, what’s going on with you guys? Any neat weekend plans? Let’s talk because I’m too excited about my grant to actually get work done right now… :-/

May showers bring…

The Mona Lisa is concerned about seeing Cobalt and me in person in the coming weeks… I would be too… We’re kind of a crazy pair..

You guys… I can count the number of days until I go to Paris on one hand! I am simultaneously jumping for joy and freaking out (it’s kind of awkward to explain). I have been constantly obsessing over one detail or another all while trying to get through my normal life here in Boulder. It’s been an intense week – both with the planning for the trip and just with everything going on with life. I thought today I’d basically give a little photo summary of some of the things that have happened this week.

First of all, the trip. Cobalt and I picked up some euros for me to take with me next week and set up a travel bank account through our bank here for easy access to more cash at any ATM anywhere. I learned something about euros too. Did you know that they get bigger in size in proportion to their amount? Seriously, the guy at the bank showed us the 5 euro note and it is so tiny compared to the bigger bills (and our dollar bills). They’re all so shiny too.

In addition to doing some money things this week, Cobalt and I bought Paris Museum Passes. I’ll give a full review when I get back but I think these guys are going to be awesome. They grant us admission to over 60 museums and landmarks in Paris (including the Louvre and Notre Dame, etc) so we won’t have to wait in line for tickets (apparently this is a thing…). Also, they’re good for four days so that means we can go in and out of places like the Louvre as many times as we want during those four days. I am really excited! The passes arrived yesterday so they’re featured on the top of my blog post today! Next up – we need to plan out what museums/attractions we want to go to and then figure out which attractions should go on the same day…

And now a lab thing. You may recall me mentioning about a month ago that my labmate K did his PhD defense and now has his PhD. Normally after you defend, you get to walk during commencement and be hooded (you get this crazy hood attached to your robes – seriously, google PhD graduation) by your advisor. Well our advisor came all the way back from France for K’s defense but she couldn’t get back for commencement this week. My friend/labmate G and I took matters into our own hands and we held a “commencement” for K yesterday. We asked Cobalt to announce him (Cobalt has this amazing radio announcer voice), we got him a king’s crown and a feather boa to act as his graduation cap and hood, we asked our boss to record a little video so that she could be there in spirit, we got him a stuffed neuron with a graduation cap as a present/”diploma,” we invited all our labmates, and then we all threw confetti and had a little party at the end. I think K appreciated our crazy efforts to make him feel special for commencement. Yay! Congrats again, K! :)

The confetti turned out to be quite a hit. Every time we cleaned it off the floor, someone else would throw it at K…

In the midst of all of this, Colorado has decided that the phrase is actually “May showers bring June flowers…” At least it’s not snowing anymore, right? :-/

Sometimes I just get caught by how beautiful the Flatirons are… They’ve been especially amazing with all the rain/fog we’ve been having lately.

How are you guys doing? Anything fun planned for the weekend? I’m going to France next week and I’m probably going to be super busy/jetlagged so the post schedule is going to get a little crazy. Is there anything you’re dying to hear about (Paris trip planning or otherwise… I know I haven’t talked a lot about our plans for the trip so please feel free to ask away!) before I go?

Green chiles are delicious

Attempting to make chile rellanos last week. This was our first one and it is a little messy but it was still delicious… Don’t judge that cheesey fried chile goodness until you try it!

So it’s green chile season here in the southwest (I know Colorado isn’t very southwestern but you can still buy fresh Hatch green chiles here so it gets to be part of the southwest for the sake of this post) and all the stores are selling fresh Hatch green chiles (some of them will even roast the chiles for you!). Cobalt and I are ridiculously green chile starved most of the year so this month or so when green chiles come to Colorado is pretty special to us. We pretty much eat green chiles for the whole month. Anyway, the point of this paragraph is that we tried making chile rellanos on the other night and they turned out pretty tasty. Yay!

Speaking of the southwest, Cobalt and I ventured down to New Mexico this weekend for a baby shower for a good friend and to see his family (and friends who didn’t get to come to our wedding). It was a very short trip but it was nice none the less. My new mother in law and I spent a good few hours watching a bunch of Friends episodes. Awesome. :)

Finally, today marks the official first day of my fifth year of grad school. Whew… We’re gettin’ up there! Still all that remains is for me to get some results to write my thesis about (and maybe publish some papers along the way… you know how these things go…). Everyone please think some awesome thoughts that my research works out so I can be starting to wrap things up by the end of this year! Yay science… :-/

Anyone have an epic weekend? Does anyone love green chiles as much as we do? Is there a food that’s special to the place you grew up in/a place you’ve lived?

Grad school and why it’s freaking me out


So… as some of you know, right now I am in the middle of applying for this HUGE government grant for my research in grad school. This grant would be awesome to receive. Not only would it make me look prestigious, but would pay my stipend/health care/tuition/fees/etc (things my boss and/or I currently pay), give me money to get a new computer (which I desperately need….), and give me money to accompany my boss on her trip to the Pasteur institute (huuuuge bacteria research facility!!!) in Paris, France. She’s going on sabbatical but I could go for a little bit… Not only have I been dreaming of going to Paris my whole life but how cool would it be to have done some of my PhD in France?! Anyway, there are probably other reasons why this grant is good but the big point of this post is that it is also eating my soul alive and I don’t want to get married without a soul… That sounds bad.

Anyway, so this is a government grant – meaning there is a LOT of paperwork to fill out and a lot of things for me to write. I have so much writing to do on top of wedding planning that it is totally stressing me out. Plus my boss is on vacation so she is limited with the amount of feedback she can give me. The grant itself is due on August 8th, which is 4 days after our wedding… The grants office at the school requires you submit the grant at least 4 days before the deadline so they can make sure you filled it out correctly. Since I will be getting married 4 days before the deadline, my boss has vetoed me taking the grant to CA to finish it. She said that you (hopefully) only get married once so she wants me to enjoy it. It’s really nice of her to give me 2 weeks off… but also really scary because of everything I have left to do before next week! I want to submit it a full 4 days before I leave so that I will at least be in the same state if there are any problems but we’ll see if that actually happens…… :(

It’s just such bad timing… but I don’t want to wait for the next round of grants because I would really like a new computer and because I want to go to France… Ugh… back to the grindstone for me! How about you? Was there ever a time when stuff just got piled on top of you during an already stressful time?!

Picture: The poor dining room table has been converted to a desk because our upstairs is too hot during the day. Anyway, here is a picture of Potassium working on her grant surrounded by grant stuff and wedding stuff. At least she has some sharks (Gustav and Alfred) and Cobalt’s record collection to keep her company…

On an unrelated note, it’s Friday the 13th! Woooooooo…. any scary ghost stories?