wife, mother, ph.d. student, hot stuff.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

the new baby

On Oct. 7, we took little Yuna home with us. She was just shy of 5 weeks. She is almost 12 weeks old now, and it's amazing how much she has grown in a little over a month. We've taught her to eat solid food, drink from a water bowl (took a long time of her snuffling water up her nose!), and watched her develop from a little wobbly thing into a very active, healthy little girl.

Introducing her to Wirt was a rather hilarious endeavor. After the first tentative sniffs and hisses, Wirt allowed Yuna to wobble over to him... and she promptly attempted to suckle some milk. Which he didn't likes so much! Wirt's immense size also complicates things... he's at least 15 lbs of pure muscle, and if he gets excited, he can be way too rough when playing. But Yuna and Wirt absolutely adore each other now; when they're not tussling on the floor, they're wrapped in each other's arms, grooming each other.

Our cross country trip

We packed our lives up in this crate, which was delivered to our door about 4 days before we drove off. Everything was placed in there, except our computers, 1 suitcase of clothes, the cat, an air mattress, and some blankets. We didn't quite fill it to the very top, but we did come pretty close.

We set off at 8am, with the aforementioned items carefully packed into our Prius. Poor Wirt didn't have a lot of room to move around, and he ended up spending the great majority of the trip sprawled out in between our seats.

The first two days of our journey was pretty boring; we drove pretty much continuously till nightfall to Toledo, then to Sioux Falls. Around noon on the third day, we passed through the Badlands, which were blazing hot and amazing.

We couldn't really walk around much, else poor Wirt would have baked in the black car. At least we were traveling in style!

The scenery remained majestic as we passed into Wyoming. I thought of Laura when I saw this ridge.

The fourth day we spent exploring Yellowstone. By this point, Wirt was pretty used to being let out of the car for short spells on his leash. We took him out for a few minutes to see if he might like the grass, but I think there was too much new stuff to smell, and he hurried back to the car.

I did manage to capture this image of him, which is I think my favorite photo of him ever.

Since the weather was much cooler, we were able to leave Wirt in the car for 30 minute spurts and do some more walking around. Having grown up in the vast suburb that runs from Boston to DC, the sheer immensity of open space was nearly overwhelming. It was breathtaking, and I really hope that someday Robin and I can return with camping gear and really do some exploring.

Of course, there was the obligatory collision course of nature with tourism.

The fifth day, we passed the Grand Tetons into Nevada.

Finally, at around lunchtime of the sixth day, we arrived in Palo Alto. Not bad, for having spent a whole day in Yellowstone.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


well, Robin and I are moved and settled in. Living in CA is so very different from our life in Boston, there are too many things to list.

I've been asked to participate in Stanford Med school's Student Blog project, in which incoming students blog about their transition into Stanford. So I've been doing a little posting there.

Photos from our roadtrip across the USA are forthcoming... still have to photo process.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Today's the beginning of the end. My official last day as a research lab tech at my MGH lab. In less than 2 weeks, Robin and I will head off to Palo Alto in our new Prius, cat in tow.

Many things are on my mind. I'm relieved because I finished making the 4 clones I've been working on for over 2 months. I'm sad because I'm leaving behind labmates that I like, whom I have enjoyed working with, and who have taught me a lot. I'm grateful because I've had an amazing mentor for the past year and a half who has been supportive and just wonderful to learn from.

But most of all, I'm amazed at *how much* I have learned. Yes, I've learned how to do ELISAs, use an RNAi library, stimulate immune cells, lyse cells and run IPs/gels and western blots, assay via FACS, stain and plate cells for microscopy, cut DNA with restriction enzymes, ligate DNA into vectors, transform and grow bacteria, do quantitative PCR, mini/midi/maxiprep DNA, among many other things. But more importantly, I know WHY I did all those things, understand how they work, why I might want to do them, how to vary conditions, etc etc etc. I feel like I have the biological equivalent of a machine shop at my disposal; I can go to any lab, pick a problem, and start dissecting it.

I'm armed and ready. Grad school, here I come.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Gender and Science

I met Prof. Barres at my Stanford interview weekend; he gave a talk about the new Master of Medicine program (which I came very close to applying to, it sounds like a fantastic setup). It also turns out that he is a friend of my current boss. Small world.

In any case, he just had a piece published in Nature that is stirring up some controversy. He has the unique position of understanding what it is like to be a woman as well as a man in science; he used to be a she. (and no, when I met him, I had absolutely no idea of that.)

My rant on why there aren't more women in science only touched the tip of the iceberg. I was thinking along the lines of support for the women who do manage to make it. There's still a long way to go to help those who are capable but never even get that far.

*ETA* apologies to those who cannot get a free copy of the article. A summary of it can be found here

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sophie, March 1998 - May 16, 2006

It started with a notice on the computer server I used for email, a notice that kittens were old enough to find a home. My best friend's girlfriend wanted to see them, so that afternoon, we went and visited the litter of 7. I picked up the tiny white fluffball, who promptly fell asleep in my lap. I was smitten. 2 days later, Sophie came home in Robin's shirt pocket.

Today, she rode the T tucked into my jacket, to the vet where we had to put her to sleep. The sun came out for our venture out of the house, and most of the way there, she poked her head out and watched the world around her. As we left the vet empty handed, the heavens poured down around us. Cliche, but it made me feel better.

She was my first pet. She was the first creature to utterly depend on me for sustenance, for affection. Even though all her short life, Robin and I have basically lived together, she has always been *my* kitty.

She used to sleep nestled beneath my armpit, just as I nestled in Robin's. She used to drink out of my water glass if I wasn't careful about putting it away. Sophie the bug hunter would chirrup in excitement as she exterminated flies, spiders, ants. She even ate corn off the cob, putting her paws on the cob just so. She was SO fluffy, with hair as soft as a bunny's, with tufts of fur sprouting between her toes. She always had trouble with hardwood floors, as her furry paws would just slide all over them. And her blue eyes were just amazing. It was her blue eyes that first drew me to her, and they were gorgeous till the very end.

Sophie was always there to comfort me when I was sick, when I was lonely. She was my princess, and I was so proud of her sweetness, her gentleness.

When Robin and I came to the decision that she was too sick to go on, I cried for hours, I wondered if I should have never adopted her in the first place because the thought of losing her so suddenly was more than I could take. But now I think of all the joy she has given me (and I hope I have been a good mommy for her) and I realize it was worth it. I have kept her tummy full, her body warm, and her days filled with snuggles. I hope that cat heaven has an overabundance of all these things for her.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Trees are bursting into colors, and every evening the T is swamped with Red Sox fans. In the mornings, Wirt perches on the windowsill and watches the birds. Robin and I open the office window in the evenings.

The seasons are changing, and it makes me that much more conscious of our cross country move (tentatively slated for August). I will miss the esplanade, the cross-river view of the Boston skyline, the ease with which I can navigate the city without a car, the thrill of walking through Harvard and MIT (yes, it still makes me tingle), and I'll even miss Red Sox nation. Boston has been a good home these 5 years.

Now that we're planning to leave, I have all sorts of things I want to do. I want to take advantage of Haymarket for the last few months. I want to visit the MFA for a day. We still haven't been to a Boston Pops concert at the Hatch Shell. and I don't think Robin has been to a Red Sox game. I wonder if the MIT boathouse still has my card, and if I could get away with sailing on the river one more time.

Monday, April 03, 2006


We're going back to CA.... Stanford, here I come.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

almost over (will edit as news comes in)

-Harvard Immunology
-Stanford Immunology
-Johns Hopkins Immunology

interviewed, waitlisted:

interviewed, still waiting on response:

interviewed, but rejected:
-UW Immunology
-Harvard Sys Bio

-Johns Hopkins BME
-Georgetown Microbiology/Immunology

I'm a tad confused about the pattern of being turned down by bioengineering programs, but accepted to immunology. This mechanical engineer is feeling quite loved by the biology community as opposed to the biomedical engineers. Who knew? I'm not complaining, though. At Stanford/Harvard/Hopkins, I'd still have access to the computational courses in other programs, and do my thesis in the area that I'd apply these things to. That said, MIT BE is a more complete package, having immunology faculty as well as the coursework in one bundle.

Overall, I'm thrilled with my options. Now comes the hard part; deciding.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

the weaker sex...

Looks like Larry Summers is finally resigning. I can't say I'm surprised. He sure made a mess of things PR wise. But whether you think he was right or he was wrong, one very good thing has come out of this situation; the academic community is working even harder to make things better for women in science.

Given that I've been actively working towards going to grad school for more than a year, and that I am 26, I've given a lot of thought to the whole "women in science" issue. It is my impression that most incoming grad students are no more than a year or two out of college, and not married. Therefore, having been out of college for 5 years, out of grad school for 3, and married for almost 3, my focus is a bit different from the typical incoming grad student. I'm beginning to wonder if maybe that is part of the problem.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but by far the majority of science students finish their ph.d. in their late 20's. By then, the biological clock is ticking pretty strongly (forgive the cliche). Additionally, one becomes more aware of any sexual bias in the field, since graduate studies revolve around the lab instead of in classes. Combine those two factors, and the harsh road that leads to tenure, and it's no wonder that women like Amber Post are opting to turn away from academia. Why should we subject ourselves to being ignored by our peers because of our sex, to wrangling for maternity leave and feeling societal pressure to be primary caretakers of our children, in addition to the normal grind of being in academia? It's much simpler to opt out. Even my own mother, who has always wanted me to succeed in science, told me last year that "one ph.d. in a family is good enough" and advised me to take the easy route.

I'm not saying that a woman in her young 20's doesn't realize such a dilemma exists. But I don't think one can really comprehend it until one has reached the point where one can actually start planning for a family. Which I have. Don't get me wrong; I'm not implying that I am some font of wisdom. It's just that there are some things you can't comprehend till it happens. A couple I know lost their child halfway through pregnancy. I certainly feel some amount of empathy for them; I want to have a family, and I can imagine what a horrible blow this must be. But I dare not say I KNOW how they feel.

So I imagine that the majority of women start their ph.d.'s without really thinking hard about the issue until they're almost done. By then, it's too late; they're bitter about being treated differently, they're unused to thinking about the family vs career dilemma which till then was only a phantom of the future, and there isn't a sufficient setup to accomodate women starting families and careers simultaneously. And so most women finish their ph.d's, and leave.

Unlike other science grad students in their late 20's, I *haven't* started my ph.d. yet. And so coupled with the disadvantages (being limited to certain cities because of Robin's job possibilities, having to readjust to student life), is the advantage of some additional foresight. We know we want to start a family before I'm 30. We know we want to find a community that is friendly towards people like us. I know to be keeping an eye out for universities that have safety nets for its women grad students, which are cognizant of the choices we have to be making.

I couldn't help but notice that Amber Post is at Princeton... I have heard that the environment at Princeton can be old-school, misogynistic. Would she have chosen to attend if she'd started at age 25? I'm not saying that all women who want to go into science should wait till they are older to start their degrees. However, I think that this situation does behoove those who ARE older, those who are already in academic positions, to think a bit more about where they choose to work, such that we can begin to foster better communities for women in science. In that manner, places which aren't as friendly are either forced to change, or fade away.

Monday, January 30, 2006

the trickle becomes a flood

This morning, I received a phone call from a Harvard Immunology professor to congratulate me on my acceptance to their program. And this afternoon, I spoke to a Johns Hopkins Immunology professor about interviewing at their campus.

That makes 6 interviews, 1 recruitment weekend, and 1 rejection thus far. 4 more programs to hear from.

I had my first interview last Friday at Harvard Systems Biology. It's a very new program (they have their first students in their first year right now) with many young professors from a large variety of backgrounds. A lot of exciting work is being done there, and the atmosphere is very collaborative and open. I really enjoyed the day.

I have a feeling this decision is going to be very hard to make. True, I applied to a LOT of programs, but I thought pretty hard about each and every one. They all have their strong points, and I'm genuinely excited about every single interview.

I'm still pinching myself to find out if this is all some crazy dream. A mechanical engineer being accepted to Harvard Immunology???? Holy Crapola.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

update on interviews

I've got 2 more interviews.... UW Immunology and Stanford Immunology! Now I've got all cities covered. It's going to be a crazy month and a half coming up.....

Friday, January 13, 2006

And the news comes trickling in....

It's only been about a month since my first grad school application deadlines, not even 2 weeks since the later ones, and I'm already hearing back from some schools.

Out of 12 programs (yes, I applied to 12 programs, at 8 different schools), I've heard from 4. In chronological order:

1) UCSF flat out rejected me. To be honest, I wasn't surprised... one page of the application asked for all my letter grades from undergraduate in biology, chemistry, psychology, and other things I either did poorly in, or didn't even take. It can't be good when you declare you got a C- in the sole bio class you took in undergrad. My friends reassured me that my 93 percentile score on the Bio GRE should make up for it, but the page just looked TERRIBLE.

2) University of Washington (Molecular/Cellular Biology) was first to call for interviews. I'm heading to Seattle on Feb 8-11, then hanging out with college friends for a day before coming home.

3) This morning, Harvard Systems Biology contacted me for an interview. Lucky them, they don't have to transport or house me anywhere since I'm already in the Boston area. I'll be going out to dinner with other interviewees Jan 26, then having interviews on Jan 27 before the departmental evening party.

4) Minutes ago, I got a call from George Washington University (Microbiology/Immunology). I'm heading down to DC on Feb 16-18.

There are still 8 programs to hear from (one whose app deadline is Feb 1!), but already I've got interviews in 3 out of 4 cities that I was shooting for. Stanford, won't you call me too? You're my only hope in the Bay Area now that UCSF shot me down!

Of course, I still have to do well in the interview process before I actually am accepted, but it's really wonderful to know that I am indeed competitive in the field, even though I'm making a full switch from mechanical engineering. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunities that have come my way, and I am doing my best to take full advantage of them.