Choosing My Major, My Way of Life

I just about shocked everyone when I, as a junior in high school taking excess honors and college credit English and Spanish courses, said that I was going to major in biology. A few people laughed. A few people thought I was crazy. And some thought I’d never make it through.

And now, it’s just over two months until I receive my BS degree in biotechnology and physiology.

Biology wasn’t always easy for me. There were days that I considered quitting. There were days when I literally fell asleep in my textbooks. There were days when I thought I’d never be able to understand the mind-blowing concepts or work independently in a lab. Now, however, I’m technically finished with all of my biology course requirements, and I’m proving to myself a little at a time that I can work independently in a laboratory setting because, well, I am working in one for half of the work week. Don’t get me wrong – there are still days that I come home wondering if I’ll ever be able to “make it big” and leave my mark on science – but I’m realizing that making that bold decision to major in biology was well worth it.

What advice would I give someone who is thinking about going into biology? In short, biology isn’t just a program or a degree – it truly is a way of life. If you’re interested in learning about the inner workings of life, if you choose to study biology, and if you’re anything like me, your life will be made so much fuller by studying biology.

A Love Letter to Chemistry.

On Monday I had the pleasure of turning my hands blue (Okay, this is totally an exaggeration, but still.). Also on Monday, I had the real pleasure of calculating my engineering physics grade after receiving my very first graded physics exam. Then Wednesday I spent 3 hours with the engineering physics tutor, before going to lab and letting my soon-to-be-an-engineering-major lab partner boss me around.

The other night, after I calculated my grade, I called up my Father, and he told me the story that I always like to hear in times like these, the one about him, my age, studying mechanical engineering down at Rolla. He told me once over break, after I got my Quant Grade back (C+…I survived…BAM), how the average GPA for guys there was, well, a C. And how they were pretty much okay with it because the stuff they were studying wasn’t exactly easy. During my phone chat with him a few nights ago, he once again told me about those Rolla days, and even though I was crying about my horrible, atrocious physics grade, I started feeling a lot better. As Father would say, I’ve been punched in the nose a few times this year, getting into these upper-level chemistry and math classes, and next year isn’t going to be any easier (helllllooo P-Chem!). And while for the past two weeks I’ve been really questioning why in the world I thought pursuing a chemistry degree next year would be “fun” or what kind of job I will get with said degree, I think I’m in the right place. I may spill indicator all over the place and turn my hands blue. I may have to get tutored in the hard classes. I may have to deal with being one of two girls in a physics class off campus with a bunch of engineering guys with big egos (For the record, though, my partner couldn’t remember how to say the word “Meniscus.” Take that!). I may have to settle with knowing that I worked my butt off and still got a C.

But I realized, when Dr. Paine-Saunders today handed me my Quant Lab notebook that Dr. Spudich had given her to return to me from last semester after a run-in with her on the Maryville campus, that all of the stupidity that I put up with this week on my way to becoming a real-live chemist (?) is worth it. Yes, holding my good old Quant Notebook in my hands made me remember how much my mind was blown every time by Dr. Spudich’s ability to figure out why one of our instruments was malfunctioning in lab, or every time I left a lecture. I may not have gotten the best grade in Quant by my old standards (and the same will most definitely be said about physics!), but I feel like I’m really learning this stuff and being challenged and inspired in new and exciting ways. And I really think that maybe I want to someday have some random college student write a blog post about me saying, “She was the toughest professor I had, but man, I learned a lot and for that reason, I think chemistry is pretty cool!” I want to inspire people with my knowledge, too. I want to challenge people. I want to be the one who knows how to fix the Mini Gas Chromatographs when they aren’t working. I don’t want to work in a lab in the chemical industry per se, but teaching…maybe that’s what I’ll do! Over the past few weeks, I’ve felt sheer admiration for all of the awesome instructors I’ve met since changing majors, from Dr. Bookstaver who told me to go into chemistry, from all three of my calculus teachers, to Dr. Spudich, to all of my biology teachers like Dr. Paine-Saunders. Having students admire and look up to me, too…that would be totally, totally, cool (I’m talking zero degrees Kelvin here, that’s how cool.)!

Who inspired you to take the path you’re on? What keeps you going when the courses get tough?

Have a spectacular weekend everyone!

-Carly

The Balancing Act

I’ve recently come to the hypothesis that every college student is a circus performer. That is, while in college, one is balancing school, work, friends, family, and extracurricular activities. Up until this year, biology courses have dictated my life, meaning that my schedule was set. I’d go to school during the weekdays, come home to read countless chapters and finish assignments until I fell asleep (either in my books or in my bed – whichever was closer at the time), and spend the weekends catching up and attempting to get ahead.

However, this year is different. I’ve finished all of my required biology courses, so you’d think it’d get easier to balance out my schedule. Wrong! I’m actually finding it harder to do so. I’m working a lot more this year than I ever did before, so that means that most of my free time at school is devoted to tutoring and that I spend half of my weekdays in the lab, where it’s hard (sometimes nearly impossible) to get any studying or reviewing done, even during lunch breaks. I’ve been getting home later in the evenings due to work and classes, so, by the time I get home, it seems pointless to crack a book since I’ll literally just fall asleep as soon as I open it. Therefore, my homework is, once again, pushed off to the weekends.

Do I like this new balancing act? It goes both ways. I love having the opportunities to tutor and work in the lab more, which is something that the past three years didn’t give me a lot of time to do. And I am finding that I have more free time on the weekends to catch up on taped television shows. On the other hand, though, I miss the order and schedule that enveloped my life for the past three years. I’m definitely a scheduler – you should see my planner – so I miss knowing exactly how every day would be. I guess this year is a good experience in spontaneity, though it’s hard figuring out how to spontaneously plan out my days.

Inspiration from a Hot Sauce Packet

I love inspirational quotes. They bring a smile to my face on a dreary day, they make me laugh, and they remind me to keep believing in myself and progressing toward my life goals. Generally, I find inspiration in quotes from movies, books, plays, and musicals. However, I just recently found an inspirational quote located on a rather unconventional medium: a Taco Bell hot sauce packet. The packet said, and I do quote, “If you never do, you’ll never know.” How true these words are! Thinking back over the major decisions I’ve made since high school, I can’t help but reflect upon how these words relate. I liked biology, but I didn’t know if I’d like it as my main, focused study. I was hesitant about contacting the lab where I’m now interning because I didn’t know if I was prepared enough or good enough. I am skeptical of people, so it took me a while to trust in the people whom I now consider to be some of the best friends I’ve ever had. All in all, I’ve had plenty of ups and downs as a biology major, just as anyone else in any other major would have. However, if I wouldn’t have made the choices to go into biology and send the questioning email to my lab and talk to various people, I would’ve never known how rewarding all of those choices currently are. I’m not going to lie – I’m not one to live on the edge. I generally think a while before taking any great risks or making any major decisions, but, in the cases described above and in a few other instances that come to mind, I’m glad that I did what my heart was telling me to do. Who knew that hot sauce packets could be so influential and inspirational?!

You Won’t Be Producing Adipic Acid

Our anatomy professor, Dr. Smith, has been telling Carly and me about all of the crazy things he did in organic chemistry lab for as long as I can remember. One time, he told us that he accidentally lit his lab book on fire.  (But don’t worry, he “only lost about 60 or 70 pages of it,” as he said with a laugh).  Yesterday, he was telling us about how he kept shaking his Grignard reaction flask until it spewed up and covered the ceiling in solution.  After laughing about Dr. Smith’s crazy lab stories, Carly and I were talking about how nothing that interesting ever happens in our labs.  And then, well, last night’s lab happened.

Last night in lab, we were producing adipic acid from cyclohexanone while using potassium permanganate as the solvent.  (Sounds fun, right?!)  Carly and I were following the procedure step-by-step, just as we were instructed to do.  For some reason, neither of our reaction flasks heated up to 30 degrees Celsius; however, as we were told, we continued with the procedure and put our flasks on our hotplates.  The temperature rose to 75, and then Carly took hers off the hotplate.  I was a little wary to take mine off, but I did.  I set it down, stepped back, and then the solution started bubbling and rising.  Carly and I were literally cowarding in the corner of the lab, fearing an explosion or something.  Then, the solution bubbled out over the flask, covering the glass and surrounding table in a brown, gooey mess.  About five to ten seconds later – I kid you not – Carly’s solution did the exact same thing.

I could not stop laughing about what I had just seen.  And I imagine that everyone else in lab who had seen the incident couldn’t stop laughing either.  It took forever to clean up, and there are still some brown stains in our flasks.  (I promise we’ll clean them better next week…) 

But don’t worry.  If you ever take organic chem 2 at Fontbonne University – which I know is at the very top of your bucket list – you won’t be producing adipic acid by using cyclohexanone and potassium permanganate.  As soon as that incident occurred, Professor Ritter said that she’d never do that lab again.  So I’m sorry Carly and I had to take all of the fun away from you.  But I’m not going to lie – we had a great time doing so. 

Saying Goodbye

This past Monday was Dr. Dana Homsi’s last day at Fontbonne. Dr. Homsi was our lab technician; that meant that he did numerous jobs for us, including prepping the labs for our experiments, cleaning up the labs after we had had our fun, and explaining the intriguingly-complex concepts of chemistry, organic chemistry, calculus, and, well, everything in between to all of us biology students.

Dr. Homsi wasn’t just a great lab technician; he was also a great person and friend of mine. Not only did he teach me some really cool lab techniques, but he also always had a fascinating story to tell. I’ll always be grateful to Dr. Homsi for all he did for me.

Saying goodbye is always a difficult task, especially when the person to whom you’re saying goodbye has had a major impact on your life. I think that I can speak for a lot of bio majors when I say that Dr. Homsi definitely impacted us in the most positive of ways.

Thank you, Dr. Homsi, for sharing your time and talents with us, and good luck with all of your future life endeavors. And I’d like to extend a hearty welcome to Mrs. Shannon Rapp, our new laboratory technician. I look forward to getting to know you!

How Have Sphingolipids Changed Your Life?

Another week of school down. And boy, it was quite a week! Yesterday, I had my third anatomy test of the semester; I’m thinking (and hoping!) that it went relatively well. And next week will be quite a week, too, with an anatomy lab practical on Wednesday and my first organic chemistry test on Thursday.

“Is that the life of a biology major?” you may ask me. Well, yes and no. This year, I’m in 200- and 300-level biology and chemistry classes. So, that does mean that I have a few more tests than I did last year. However, I think I’m definitely beginning to enjoy biology and the biological world more and more as I continue to get down to the “nitty gritty” of it all.

Take, for instance, sphingolipids. Before the semester began, I would have had no idea what these cool little guys could do. Now, I describe them, give you their moleculer structure, and list off a few of their functions. The same goes for anatomical structures. Before this semester, I never would’ve guessed that there were so many distinct muscles and bones in the body because I really didn’t even know about all of the specific functions that those organs provide. Now that I’m into the study of anatomy and physiology, however, I’m much more appreciative of the human body.

Sure, all of the studying gets tough at times. There are times that I wonder, “Why am I doing this?!” But, I’ve been working on a lab project for General Biology I with Dr. Homsi and my friend and lab partner, Dillon. It’s so cool to get into the lab and finally put all of the things I’ve learned about cis- and trans- isomers and sphingolipids and anatomical structure together (that is, if they all fit together in a certain experiment…).

So, how have sphingolipids changed my life? In short, they’ve made my life more challenging, exciting, and fulfilling. And they’ve made me appreciate the simplicity of General Biology I a whole lot more!!!

Miraculous Microorganisms

For those of you who read my first blog of the semester, you know that I’m currently taking Microbiology. I’m not going to lie; I wasn’t going to take this course until next spring. However, when an unforseen schedule conflict arose, I decided to take it now.

At first, I was a bit hesitant about taking 3 science courses at the same time along with calculus. I wasn’t all that familiar with the idea of microbiology, and I was worried because it is a sophomore/junior level class. However, after my first few lectures and my first real lab this past week, I’m really excited about this course.

During lab, we looked at slides of bacteria and human blood cells. It was so awesome. Dr. Thomasson, our professor, walked around and answered any and all questions that we had. He seemed so excited to be helping us with all of our discoveries.

So now, I have to admit that the class I took just to “get it out of the way” is my favorite class. Isn’t it funny how things work out???

Words of Wisdom from an Unlikely Class

Due to the snow day, I have only had one lecture and one lab with my new General Chemistry professor, Dr. DeLaet. However, he gave us some words of wisdom during lab that I would like to share with all of you.

Dr. DeLaet passed out papers and told us to read them. This seemed seemingly impossible, for the “words” (if you could even call them that) looked like the long, lengthwise lines of a bar code. We all gave him a puzzled look, but he insisted that we would figure out the phrase if we tried hard enough.

Eventually, we figured out that we could read the words by placing the paper on the lab stand, crouching down so that our eyes were even with the stand, and then reading the overly-long words horizontally. The phrase, ironically, was “Look At It From A Different Angle.”

I thought this exercise was so cool. I know that most people cringe at the thought of chemistry and never want to be within a mile of the chem lab, but I think these words ring true for everyone as we start the new semester. They remind us that paradigms are everywhere and that we should look past those paradigms by viewing life from a different perspective. Whenever things get challenging, we should take a short breather and then try it in a different way.

Initially, I thought that Dr. DeLaet was just fooling with us. And now, despite the fact that we have only had two class periods with him, I think that he’s a silent genius.

Dude – Gum Is Good!!!

Yesterday was my last day of Dr. Andreoff’s Biology 112 course. I’m really going to miss it. Dr. A was an awesome teacher – he always inserted jokes, funny YouTube videos, and cartoons into our lectures. I really looked forward to going to that class.

What’s more, the labs were always amazing. I was in the 8 a.m. lab, but Dr. A always made it worth getting up early for. There were only five people including me in the lab, so we got to know each other and Dr. A really well. I’ll never forget the time when my lab partner, Katie, dropped one of the glass microscopes slides and then immediately yelled “LAB SAFETY!” at the top of her lungs as the slide and its contents broke and dispersed all over the floor. I’ll also never forget our crime scene investigation lab. Jonothan, Andre, and I were a lab team, and we thought that we were supposed to add 20 microliters of allele ladder to each of our DNA samples. We couldn’t figure out how we were supposed to add a total of 80 microliters to the samples when there were barely 20 microliters in the entire container.  We told Dr. A that we needed more allele ladder, and he kept giving it to us until he realized that we were doing something wrong. The three of us laughed when Dr. A told us that were not supposed to add the allele ladder to each of the samples; we were just supposed to use the allele ladder as a reference marker on the agarose gel during electrophoresis. (Needless to say, we had to pretty much trash our samples and borrow the other team’s samples during that experiment!)

But I think the most memorable moment from Bio 112 was when we were all sitting there waiting to check the results of an experiment. Since we had so long to wait before we checked on our samples, we were talking about the most random things. For some reason, we started talking about gum. I said that I had only had two pieces of gum in my entire life; everyone was astounded, but then we all pursued another topic. Five minutes later, Andre, our straight-from-sunny-California classmate, sat up tall and said in his laid-back Californian tone, “Dude – gum is good!” We just about died laughing.

So, it’s pretty obvious that I’ll really miss Bio 112. Dr. A was an amazing professor, and my classmates from lab were so fun to work with. We definitely had our fair share of stress, confusion, and small – yet funny – lab moments, but overall this class was great. Now it’s off to Bio 114…