Survival of the Phittest?

Hope you’re not tired of the “Ph” puns cus there are more where that came from (you’re lucky I didn’t write phrom instead of from)!

But in all seriousness, this next post is the first installment of my second blog series (check out my first blog series here and here).

I’m really excited about this new series because it’s all about the insta! I have to admit really like social media, and I’ve been able to tap into some pretty amazing communities that I think have really enriched my day-to-day life and overall well-being. And while, I’ve admittedly probably spent too much time scrolling through pictures of adorable labradoodle, I also think I’ve been able to get a lot productive personal development and even professional support from the use of instagram and other social media platforms. And I’m not alone in this line of thinking, check this out as an example. 

Besides labradoodle puppies, my instagram feed seems to be filled with inspirational fitness accounts and engaging scicommers. And it is in these two areas that I’ve discovered some overlapping life lessons on personal growth that I want to share with you all in 5 part series. Read part 1 below to see what I’ve learned about my own “Phitness”!

Part 1: Phding your Passion

I hear all about this concept ALL OF THE TIME, and it can easily be applied to many areas of life – not just fitness or your professional career. In general, I agree that it’s easier to accomplish a task when you’re passionate about it. I see time and time again amongst instagram fitness accounts how it helps to find your passion for a healthy lifestyle in order to achieve your fitness goals, i.e. half-assing it is only going to make it harder. You can easily guess how this can be applied to your time in your PhD as well. It helps to find a project that you’re passionate about, and in general, it helps to be passionate about science and research.

But I want to take this post to actually focus on a couple things that I think deserve a little more emphasis with regards to finding your passion, 1) being passionate about more than one thing and 2) realizing that your passions may have changed.

I’ve almost always loved science, and I’ve grown to love fitness ( though I seriously never thought I’d say that last phrase). Now I’m not saying I’ve become athletic or anything (so far from it!) and I try my darndest NOT to spend ALL of my time in lab, but these are two things that take up pretty big chunks of my day-to-day. And I do feel that I’ve developed a pretty strong passion for both. At the same time, I genuinely don’t want my life to revolve solely around either of these two things. There are fitness social media accounts out there that make you think the host only eats, breathes and sleeps fitness, but I’ve found tons of accounts promoting BALANCE – you can be passionate about fitness AND have a life! This resonates with me. This is what I’m trying to do in graduate school, and it’s awesome to get motivation for it from areas outside of science too!

Another area I want to touch on is that sometimes, passions change. I’ve seen a lot of fitness bloggers shift from a passion for intense bodybuilding and strict diets for competition physiques to just general clean eating and workout routines centered around general health and well-being. These are very drastic lifestyle changes, but I think it shows it’s ok to change your mind about what you want to dedicate your time and energy on. And if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, it’s kind of obvious how this applies to my own PhD experiences. I started graduate school with a strong passion for cancer research and genuinely thought I’d spend my life as a cancer researcher. Now, an ideal career sounds more like talking about and writing about rare diseases, neurological disorders or even still about cancer and bringing information and awareness about science research to the general public! Still science for sure, which is nice, but my passions have definitely shifted.

So that’s my two cents on two aspects of “finding your passion” that I don’t think often gets enough recognition. I could spend posts on posts discussing the concept of passion and how it plays a role in many aspects of our lives, but maybe that’s a series for another time!

Instead, stay tuned for Part 2 of my Survival of the Phittest series: “Buiding a better me”! I’ll try to get it out in the next couple of weeks, but my end-of-May and early June schedule gets very hectic (I’m attending my 5-year college reunion at the end of the month! How is that happening so soon?!?!?!). So, may I suggest hitting “follow” on my blog to get notified when Part 2 is posted! I’ll also share on my social media accounts of course! So feel free to follow along there if you’d prefer!

I’d love to hear from you on your thoughts and musing about passion! What are you passionate about and how does passion play a role in your life (fitness, science or otherwise)? Share in the comments!!!!

 

Best,

Michelle

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Some reading for your holiday weekend – My Scicomm Round-up!

Hey all!

I just wanted to make a post that compiles my recent science communication, or scicomm, articles! They’re all under 1000 words and make for some fun, quick, and informative reads!

Check them out!

  1. How science, and pigs, could help with the organ donor shortage!
  2. Some sweet science that could help bottle-fed babies have happier, healthier immune systems!
  3. A new way to think about “eating your greens”!
  4. Some interesting flu science that you hopefully don’t actually need to take advantage of anytime soon!

Working on some more scicomm and blog posts for you all soon!

Would love to hear your thoughts – feedback is always appreciated! Comment below!

Best,

Michelle

Things I study series – Human breast milk sugars

Hey everyone! Guess what?! You guys get the second installment of Things I study series already!!!! This is because I wrote an article for a local online science blog called The Athens Science Observer about breast milk, and this topic happens to also involve glycobiology! So I decided it made sense to go ahead and link it on my blog too!

I’ll start working on a “Things I don’t study” post soon, so you get a better idea of where I’m going with this blog series, but for now, enjoy another example of things a glycobiologist might study! Click below to read:

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Building a Better Bottle: How researchers are trying to sweeten the deal for bottle-fed babies on The Athens Science Observer!

Hope you enjoy!

Best,

Michelle

Thing I study series – Tamiflu

So before I hop into my PhD/fitness series, which I’ve promised y’all for AGES ( it’s in the works for this month!), I wanted to start another blog series because the timing is just too darn relevant.

Today, I’m going to share with you a scicomm post I’ve written about the flu. It’s part of a science communication blog series I’m starting called “Things I study/Things I don’t study”. As you’ve read in this post and heard in this podcast, I am a glycobiologist, which means I study complex carbohydrates. I’ve explained what that means in those previous posts, and there’s a good article written by my friend Stephanie Halmo (she’s in my same PhD program)  about Glycobiology on our local online science blog here, so check those out for reference!

Because I study complex carbohydrates or chains of sugar molecules, also called glycans, I am often mistaken for a nutritionist, food expert, or diabetes expert of some sorts. Understandable misunderstanding, but I wanted to make a series which highlights the kind of research glycobiologists do (some of which involve things you eat or even diabetes, but most of which don’t). For fun, I’ll include some scicomm pieces on interesting research that really has nothing to do with glycobiology – so broadly “Things I study/things I don’t study”! (Note here: “I” means glycobiologists in general, I personally don’t study ALL of these topics!)  Without any further ado:

Things I study – The flu because this year’s flu sucks and it’s only just the beginning apparently:

Not exactly a spoonful of sugar…

You wake up shivering, your head is pounding, you’re super congested, and when you go to cough, you notice the tell-tale symptom – the full-body ache. You have the flu. Now let’s add to this dreadful scenario: maybe you own a small business, and your other employee is on vacation this week or, even worse, what if YOU’RE on vacation this week!? What do you do?! Most people are very aware of the annual flu vaccine, which can help prevent getting sick in the first place. However, many people think that once you have the flu, the only way to treat it is with Netflix-binging (aka rest), fluids and some chicken noodle soup. It turns out, there are a few drugs on the market that can help you feel better more quickly. If you can get to a doctor early enough, then you may have the opportunity to lessen the symptoms and even shorten the length of your illness to get you back to work or back to fun sooner!

What are these drugs and how exactly do they work? They’re antiviral drugs known commercially as Tamiflu and Relenza. They belong to a special class of drugs that inhibit specific enzymes, or proteins, on the flu particle surface from chewing up certain complex sugars on the host’s (aka YOU) cells. To understand this mechanism better, you’ll need a little background knowledge on the study of complex carbohydrates, or glycobiology. You probably hear the words sugars and carbohydrates and think that this involves studying food, and I know we’ve already discussed how chicken noodle soup can be a great comfort during times of illness. However, what I’m referring to is the layer of complex sugars that cover the outside of each and every cell in your body! These sugars are also known as glycans. They’re attached to proteins and fats on your cell’s surface and stick out like the fuzzy layer of yellow fluff on a tennis ball. These glycans are important for things like cell-to-cell communication, cellular recognition, and cell attachment. The flu virus particle has proteins on it that bind to glycans on our cells’ surface. It uses these attachment points to invade the host cell. The flu virus then hijacks your cell’s internal resources to make copies of itself! The copies of the flu virus then need to escape the host cell in order to spread the virus to other cells in our body. However, because they also have the same proteins that stick to the glycans on our cells’ surfaces, the virus gets stuck to the surface of the host cell that they’re emerging from. Think about it like velcro stuck to the tennis ball in the previous analogy! To solve this problem, the virus uses a special enzyme, called a neuraminidase, that chews up the glycan that’s keeping the flu virus attached. This is where the antiviral drugs like Tamiflu or Relenza can step in! Like I said, they’re inhibitors, more specifically, they’re neuraminidase inhibitors! They prevent the flu virus from chewing up the host cell’s glycan that the virus is attached to, which means that flu particle can’t escape and move on to infect other cells! Not only that, because the flu virus is stuck in one place, this also means your body’s immune cells can sweep in and clear all the trapped flu particles!   

Scientific researchers studied the flu virus, how it invades our cells, and spreads to other cells to figure out the best way to stop or slow down the spread of the virus. This is how they developed the inhibitors in the antiviral drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza. These drugs aren’t perfect though; they, unfortunately, won’t magically make you feel 100% better. They still rely pretty heavily on your own immune system to help clear the virus, and they work best if taken very early on in your illness, before the virus particles have been given a chance to spread too much. However, scientific evidence has shown that when taken correctly, these drugs can help lessen your flu symptoms and even shorten the duration of your illness by a day or two. So the next time you wake up with those tell-tale aches and chills, and you simply don’t have the time to binge Netflix shows and eat chicken noodle soup, now you know that there could be some other options available for you just a doctor’s visit away!

So yea, some glycobiologist study how to treat the flu! Glycobiology can play a significant role in developing better flu vaccines also, but that’s a story for another “Things I study” post! Hope you enjoyed it! Let me know in the comments if this series is something that intrigues you or if there are any topics that you’d like me to cover!

Best,

Michelle

“Not up on your glycobiology?”

Y’all, I was on a podcast! And while I’m SUPER stoked about it and am super excited to share it with you all, I also want to take a minute to share the experience with you because I. WAS. TERRIFIED. I was so nervous and anxious about it for several reasons, and I’ll get into those more in a bit. But first, I want to share how this all even came to be!

Last October, when I went to ScicommCamp, I met TONS of amazing people! One of whom, was Alie Ward, host of the podcast Ologies, where she interviews different “ologists” about their studies! She’s also a host on a TV show, which is also pretty damn cool! Her podcast is a great example of some fun and engaging scicomm in action! When I introduced myself to her and mentioned that I study glycobiology, she was like “whaaaaaat’s glycobiology?” (very normal questions) and “can I interview you for my podcast?” (NOT a normal question for me)! I said yes without really thinking about it, and next thing I knew, I had less than 48hrs to prepare for my first podcast interview! That is, in addition to participating in all of the phenomenal workshops and discussions that attending SciCommCamp entailed.

So, I didn’t actually do tons of “prep” for my interview. Luckily I’d taken a couple of classes and workshops on how to share my research with the public, and I felt I could explain what glycobiology at least somewhat clearly and effectively. Then I stressed…I stressed about everything from the sound of my voice (it’s AWFUL on recordings) to what would happen if I didn’t make sense or didn’t explain something correctly. I second guessed all of my knowledge and worried about what people would think about what I had to say – both inside and outside of the glycobiology community. Then I was hit with a MAJOR case of Imposter Syndrome. I kept thinking to myself, “how am I qualified to be doing this?!” Many of Alie’s previous episodes featured experts in their fields, with certifications or PhDs! I’m not an expert; I’m just a grad student! All of these thoughts swirled around in my head literally right up to the moment I started speaking into the mic – and honestly for the weeks following the interview too, until I got too busy with lab work to think about it much anymore.

Even once the podcast went live, I still had so many anxieties about it – my voice really is terrible on recordings y’all. But I was so jazzed about the whole thing that those negative thoughts were quickly replaced by excitement! And the feedback so far has been pretty good! I did get some constructive criticism from the hubby. He suggested giving examples of complex carbs that are important for our diets like fiber from plants or human milk sugars in breast milk (I have a scicomm article about this latter topic coming out this semester if you’re curious about what those are!). I definitely think those are useful examples, and overall he really liked it!

I got a lot of other really positive responses as well! Most commenters said they learned something new and enjoyed in info! One listener (Heather K from @heyheyheatherk) even made this ADORABLE graphic based on a quote I said in the podcast! Isn’t it amazing!? I’m hoping to collab with her further to get some cool visuals for you guys up on the blog!

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One person even shared a personal story saying that they know someone with a CDG (congenital disorder of glycosylation) and that they appreciated the research being done to study these disorders! That kind of comment completely drowned out all of my insecurities! THIS is why I want to do scicomm! I want to share research (not even necessarily my OWN research) with the people whom it affects! I want people to know what is being done to help improve their lives and the lives of their loved ones!

So in the end, I’m SO THANKFUL that Alie gave me this amazing experience! One of my biggest concerns was that I wasn’t an “expert” in my field, so I’m really grateful that Alie was willing to look past that and let me have the opportunity to spread my scicomm wings! 

So, if you have the time, I’ve linked the podcast so you can give it a listen! If you’ve already listened, THANK YOU! And in case you were curious, I DID finally watch Extraordinary Measures! I had a girl’s night with some of my labmates, and we watched it whilst eating copious amounts of carbs of course! I thought it was pretty good actually, but maybe I’m biased! (and yes, I realize I quoted the movie incorrectly in the podcast, lol!)

Stay tuned for my “Phitness series” coming up, as well as some links to some scicomm articles I’ve gotten published around the web, and maybe an update on how TAing is going so far!

 

Best,

Michelle

 

[Champagne] glass, half full.

I’m alive! Sorry for the radio (internet?) silence. Life just caught up with me, and the blog had to take a major back seat. Rather than stress out about it, I decided to accept it and just jot down all my ideas for lots of exciting new posts in the New Year. Oh yea, HAPPY ALMOST NEW YEAR!  This past year really flew by!  Feel free to keep an eye on my “What I’m up to” tab over on the left, where I occasionally jot down cool scicomm activities that I’m doing! And keep reading below to see why I’ve been too busy for blogging lately –

So what have I been up to during the last half of 2017?

  • I WENT TO SUMMER CAMP (SciCommCamp)! This really deserves its own post, but for now, suffice it to say, IT WAS AMAZING!!!! No, it wasn’t during the summer technically, and it was only a long weekend. However, it was so invigorating and inspiring! I met SO many cool people that had so many interesting jobs! I think that was my greatest takeaway, learning about the different types of jobs that involve science communication! It’s really inspired me to dig deep and figure out what I want out of my future career because there are so many options! Like I said, I’ll try to come back to this with a full post next year, and I definitely am going to try to go back again in 2018!
  • I found out I’ll be TAing next semester. My lab is between grants and is a little tight on funding. Therefore, I’ve been asked to be a Teaching Assistant, or TA, for an undergraduate introduction to biology course this Spring. By doing so, the university will pay for my tuition and stipend rather than having that money come out of my boss’s grants. Some graduate programs require that all students TA at some point during their schooling, but mine doesn’t so this will be the first time I’m teaching. I’m VERY nervous about this! I still feel like my confidence is shot ever since my qualifying exams (over TWO years ago now!), so the first thing that came to mind was, “I”m not even qualified to be teaching this stuff!!!” But, truth is, I AM! I’m in my FIFTH YEAR of graduate school (yikes), and have been seriously studying biology for almost a DECADE (double yikes)! I can do this, and it’ll be a great experience for me!!! The only downside is that teaching can be a total timesuck, and this is particularly an issue for this upcoming year because of the next two items on my list –>
  • I hit a pretty big set-back on my experiments for my thesis project. It’s a lot to explain (and also probably deserves it’s own post soon), but long-story-short, through no real fault of my own actually, we will have to re-do part of my project. This part took almost a year to get done in the first place and a couple more months to figure out the fact that it needed to be redone. Luckily, this time around, it should only take 3-4 months to redo, and another lab is helping me, so it’s not taking time away from my completing other experiments.
  • This setback is a bigger issue because I had a meeting with both of my bosses in November, and what came out of that meeting really blew my mind. I’m hesitant about sharing this with you all because if it doesn’t come to fruition, I’ll feel dumb. However, I’ve already shared with you guys the fact that I failed my qualifying exams, so really I feel pretty comfortable being open with you all. My PIs (the professors who run the labs that I’m shared between) feel that I can be ready to graduate by August, or at the latest, December of 2018! This is LESS THAN A YEAR AWAY! I’m shocked really, especially in light of the recent events of having to TA (timesuck) and redo part of my project (another timesuck). But they think it’ll work itself out and that I’ll be ready to go! I’m a little anxious about it all, but also really excited! Before all of the timesuck-y realizations, I was mentally preparing myself for a December 2018-May 2019 graduation date, so not too far off really and still a possibility considering how busy this Spring will be. But I guess it’s time to buckle down and get S*** done!

 

In light of all of this, and how hard it’s been for me to stay on top of my blog in general, I’m only going to really shoot to post about once-a-month. I’d love to do more when I can, but really this is already ambitious in light of my track record. I’ll post on Instagram and Twitter when posts are up! Look forward to a New Year’s series on Fitness and Graduate school similarities, as well as some book reviews, scicomm posts, and, of course, updates on TAing and trying to finish this PhD! Stay tuned!

And again, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Best,

Michelle

Summer in hindsight

The weather hasn’t been cooperating with my trying to embrace the first weeks of Fall (temperatures are still in the 80’s here in Georgia), but the lingering summer temps leave me in the mood to reflect on this past summer.

I started my summer with expectations that I think a lot of other graduate students will find familiar – lofty goals of making great strides with my research. In addition to this, I also had lots of goals for my scicomm and writing practices – blog posts, scicomm articles, book reviews. Ah yes! Summer! No classes! No seminars, lab meeting, journal clubs. SO. MUCH. TIME.

And now, as the first days of fall are upon us, I’m left thinking…WHERE DID ALL THE TIME GO?! And questioning, what do I have to show for it?

I don’t think I’m alone in these sentiments. I recently read an article from Chronicles of Higher Ed that discusses the idea that open, unstructured time during the summer can actually have a negative impact on academics’ mental health. I definitely can understand where they’re coming from with this concept. Every summer since I started graduate school (and that’s definitely starting to add up), the same thought has crossed my mind – summer, time to get sh** done! I honestly don’t know if I get more done over the summer than any other time of the year, and I don’t know why I keep putting so much pressure on myself to get more work done. It just leaves me stressed and anxious at the start of the year.

I can admit, once again, that I didn’t accomplish all of my goals I set out for myself this summer. Some of them weren’t very SMART goals (see this old post to see what that means) and some of them were plenty smart, I just spent my time doing other things. I actually had a great summer, in retrospect. And I think I need to take a moment to focus on those things:

  1. Lab: No, I didn’t manage to get through the big experiments I wanted to accomplish this summer that would’ve surely catapulted my thesis project closer to completion. But I did set up a couple of cool collaborations that can pan out into publications, and I did make some progress on smaller aspects of my project that in reality were no easy feat. It’s important to take time to recognize the things I do manage to accomplish in lab, rather than always focusing on the seemingly ever-growing experiment To-Do list.
  2. Scicomm: No I didn’t publish weekly blog posts and write numerous articles, but I did take some time to read some interesting scicomm books. Check out my new “What I’m reading section” ← linked! I plan on doing some write-ups and reviews on some of them, so definitely check back for those! Reading is one of my favorite pastimes, so I’m glad I managed to do some over the summer. I’ll keep the “what I’m reading” section very current, along with my “What I’m listening to” and “What I’m up to right now” sections. These will help me keep you all up-to-date even when I don’t have extra time to write full blog posts.  I also volunteered in my community! This is something I had told myself I’d do more of in graduate school, but I haven’t really made the time to do so. Not sure if it counts as summer since the school year had already started, but I went to my local elementary school and watched the eclipse with 5th graders! It was such an awesome experience to share my enthusiasm for science with them. The kids were genuinely excited to hear that I went to their school (many years ago) and that they too can be scientists at UGA one day! Like I mentioned earlier, check out my “What I’m up to right now” page to see what other scicomm activities I’m participating in!
  3. Life: in all things not lab or scicomm related, it’s hard to really gauge what I did or didn’t “accomplish” exactly. I didn’t take the time to travel as much as I would’ve liked, but I did make time to chill with friends and enjoy being with my family some. I can’t say it was a perfectly balanced summer, but I tried to focus on some self-care when it was needed – read about my self-care suggestions here

All in all, I shouldn’t complain, and I should learn from all of this. I should try and remember next year to set reasonable goals and not be disappointed if the summer doesn’t pan out as expected. I also need to remember to take the time to focus on what I have managed to accomplish, and how those get me closer to achieving my goals.

Speaking of summer though, I do get to fulfill a childhood dream of mine – I’M GOING TO SUMMER CAMP!!!! Well not exactly, I’m actually going to SCICOMM CAMP! I was very fortunate to have been selected to receive a scholarship to attend. I honestly can hardly believe that I was selected, as it was somewhat competitive, and I still consider myself very new and inexperienced in the world of scicomm. I’m so grateful and super stoked that I get to go! I struggled a bit with my mentors and department to get support (financial and otherwise) to help with the costs that the scholarship doesn’t cover, which is definitely a bummer. Essentially, there’s less support for professional development travel that doesn’t directly involve me sharing my thesis project (ie through a poster presentation or something). However this may be a discussion (or rant) for another day and ultimately it worked out in the end, so next week, I’ll be going to LA for the first time and attending SciCommCamp! I’ll tweet about my experience while I’m there (@mtdookwah) and write up a whole post on it soon!
Up next, I’ll have my first multi-post series about what I’ve learned from the fitness industry that can help me have a better outlook in my PhD journey! Also, expect some recaps and reviews of scicomm books and scicomm seminars (also a recap of ScicommCamp)! Lastly, later this semester I’ll be posting some science communication articles that I’ve been working on for other scicomm blog outlets! I’m really excited to share those with you all!

 

Best,

Michelle