Tuesday, February 28, 2012

dental musings over no-coffee.

Here's an occupational hazard for you. Ever since I began working on this acid dissolution study, I have been drinking significantly less coffee. How can I sip on coffee when I can see exactly what that pH 4 solution is doing to my poor apatite crystals?

On my way back from the airport, I had an interesting conversation with the driver. When I told him I was applying to dental schools, he commented "Your husband must be really proud." I thought this comment was fascinating- would he have said the same to a man? After I laughed and corrected him ("No husband yet, but I am proud of myself.") he reminded me to "never forget about us folks" & to give back to the community.

There is an article today in the Chicago Tribune ("More Americans seek dental treatment at the ER") discussing the lack of preventative dental care for rural and low-income families leading to dental treatments in the emergency room. A common grievance for dentists is patients who don't return after initial assessments. But on the flip side is that these people who are not getting the dental care they need. They are choosing instead to "toughen it out" until small cavities become 3AM emergencies.

Hopefully before "tooth hurty." For everyone. Picture
I am slowly realizing that my career can help resolve inequality issues I find so disheartening. In a way, a dentist is more like a painter or a musician: you learn the skills to do things. Over the next four years, I hope to learn these practical skills that can help others- and actually do so. I just happen to have a supportive family; how fortunate am I to be selfishly studying for another four years? Staying grateful and happy about everything I have. Philadelphia, get ready.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

TED: Schulz talks regret.

An hour until babysitting and this is exactly what I needed: Kathryn Schulz whose other talk I adored so much discusses regret.
17 minutes. "Don't regret regret".
Schulz discusses regret as it applies to different components of life, quoting the Roese and Summerville paper I found so fascinating. Here's the bottom line: I had focused more on minimizing regret by using the emotion as a preventative measure (will I feel regret in the future?). But listen:
Because the inability to experience regret is actually one of the diagnostic characteristics of sociopaths. It's also, by the way, a characteristic of certain kinds of brain damage... So if, in fact, you want to live a life free of regret, there is an option open to you. It's called a lobotomy. But if you want to be fully functional and fully human and fully humane, I think you need to learn to live, not without regret, but with it.
She discusses three ways to deal with regret once you feel you've made a dumb decision:
And the first of these is to take some comfort in its universality. If you Google regret and tattoo, you will get 11.5 million hits. 
The second way that we can help make our peace with regret is to laugh at ourselves. All of us who've experienced regret that contains real pain and real grief understand that humor and even black humor plays a crucial role in helping us survive. It connects the poles of our lives back together, the positive and the negative, and it sends a little current of life back into us.
I love that last line.
The third way that I think we can help make our peace with regret is through the passage of time...
But what may be a really important lesson to learn(in a "hate the game, not the player"-esque fashion):
Here's the thing, if we have goals and dreams, and we want to do our best, and if we love people and we don't want to hurt them or lose them, we should feel pain when things go wrong. The point isn't to live without any regrets. The point is to not hate ourselves for having them.
This brings us back to remembering to forgive yourself and move on after a mistake, even though the experience pains us. I have basically Ctrl+C/V'd the entire transcript here, so go ahead and listen to it. If you are a twenty-something on major career crossroads, it will speak to you.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

the fourth dimension.

Everyone in my department is off to Chile or Southern California on a field trip while I am going to be here, reading papers during Rice's spring break. But if we could really stop time, this might be what it is like: a week of this empty campus and empty instruments (you mean there are actually time slots open last minute?), some time to think and wander while everyone else has hit pause. So let's discuss time:

H.G. Well's "The Time Machine":

'You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence. They taught you that? Neither has a mathematical plane. These things are mere abstractions.'
`That is all right,' said the Psychologist.
`Nor, having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real existence.'
`There I object,' said Filby. `Of course a solid body may exist. All real things--'
`So most people think. But wait a moment. Can an instantaneous cube exist?' 
`any real body must have extension in four directions: it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and--Duration. But through a natural infirmity of the flesh, which I will explain to you in a moment, we incline to overlook this fact. There are really four dimensions, three which we call the three planes of Space, and a fourth, Time. There is, however, a tendency to draw an unreal distinction between the former three dimensions and the latter, because it happens that our consciousness moves intermittently in one direction along the latter from the beginning to the end of our lives.'

Children's cartoon abandon all concepts of time and space; it is just ridiculous. And yet the kids accept it blindly; even I used to watch these without muttering "what!" every minute. Our idea of time and space get boxed-in definitions as we grow up and it becomes difficult to imagine that time is just another dimension.

Adventure Time, typical cartoon ignoring all laws of physics Picture
Go read "Slaughterhouse-Five" if you want to play around with the idea of time as another dimension which is just as easily pliable as the three spatial dimensions. Tralfamadorians view time as a page on an already-written book, where events exist at certain times in a continuum viewable at certain pages- or time (naturally they are fatalists).

A little plug here for the best recipe ever: peanut butter and jelly with brie. A friend made me try it at lunch one day and brie adds another dimension of chewy savoriness to the already delicious combo.
Heading out to a productive Saturday...
Also, it has been exactly a year since my gorgeous girlfriends and I headed to the Bahamas for a senior cruise vacation. Seeing a snapshot of me at time 2/25/2011 on 2/25/2012: what about me has changed since then?
Lo and my embarrassing karaoke moment- now all laughs.

Monday, February 20, 2012

philadelphia along chestnut

I am back from a wonderful weekend in Philadelphia! I stayed with my friend from our Chicago ASB three years ago, and since she is studying at Wharton, she hosted me for this long weekend (I'm gonna call her Smarty K).

The weather was uncharacteristically mild (40's and 50's). It was drizzling a bit when I flew in Thursday night, but by Friday morning the skies had cleared into a beautiful day. I attended my interview Friday where I chatted with current dental students who are so accomplished and yet down-to-earth. The dental building was nice, but in particular, the entrance to the library right outside the main clinic was breathtaking- central staircase with a chandelier hanging from a high ceiling.
There are so many churches scattered around University City. This one was right across from the International House of Philadelphia.
Since my friend Smarty K assured me that this University City neighborhood is safe, I strolled around the huge Penn campus and its surroundings. Unlike Rice, the Penn buildings are scattered in the city with streets running across buildings and quads, so it is sometimes difficult to tell if a building belongs to Penn.
There are two central streets: Walnut and Chestnut which are both one-way streets. Since the streets are numbered systematically going up from East to West, it was easy to navigate the city. I walked across the river to downtown for a little shopping and hopped on the bus where I met two Dalton guys who shared my opinion on the ramp down to the new Penn stadium (dangerous but give me some wheels!).
Greek row houses
We also spent a day exploring the historic side of Philadelphia including Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and Carpenter's Hall. I got to walk along the very places I had read about in history class! Maybe because today was President's Day, the lines were unusually long.
Living in the pages of U.S. history
We also checked out Reading Terminal Market where we grabbed the most delicious Italian sandwich and finished the meal with apple dumplings from the Dutch House (tastes better than apple pie).
Inside Reading Terminal Market
City Hall
Schuylkill river 
My friend’s friends felt so much older, so much more grown up, sophisticated and intelligent. They were in serious relationships, hosting dinner parties, discussing classical music and hopping over to cities for weekend trips. Philadelphia is only an hour away from NYC and two from DC.

In addition, I got to check out the Philadelphia Orchestra and the swing dancing scene. Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 was fun (but not overwhelming) to listen to, and I thought the pianist would fall off his seat quite a few times! Smarty K and I also went swing dancing Friday and people had traveled from Maryland and Delaware to enjoy an evening of belboa! The instructor was teaching in NYC next week, so did everyone want to gather up and take the train together?

Great weekend meeting great people, all thanks to Smarty K. My fortune cookie had predicted weeks ago that I "would be the guest to a gracious host" and the following week I was invited to interview at University of Pennsylvania.

Monday, February 13, 2012

something about love.

A friend M and I chatted about "The Little Prince" by Antoine Saint de Exupery since he was reading "Wind, Sand and Stars".  He'd found the book accidentally in the library: "I looked up at the stacks for a study break and decided to read pick this up", he explained.

Komo- my aunt- has always been an avid reader. Whenever we visited our grandma's house, she would pick out mathematical puzzle books, travel memoirs, and children's stories for me to read. I remember several of these that I grew up reading, many of which felt different as I read them years later. I'd dismissed "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein as boring until I read it much later and couldn't believe how different it felt.

"The Little Prince" is one of those. M reminded me how sad it was that the rose could never love him, while I recalled how I thought the prince was a brat. I remember transitioning from thinking that he was so very adventurous (when I was younger) to thinking he was rude (about his age) to reading deeper into his encounters and interactions. Here on earth the fox convinces the prince to tame him, to bring meaning into his daily life:
The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back to the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wheat in the wind...
Love may be familiarity, forming associations that make you smile when you are reminded of something you love. And I am so glad to have so many people I love in my life, even if we are all over the globe. Happy Valentine's day.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

women in leadership.

I attended the 12th Annual Women in Leadership Conference at the Jones Business School this Friday. I was inspired by the strong women who were navigating these paths not only for themselves but for the women after them. In addition to the speakers and panelists, I met many empowered women who gave me advice and encouragement to lead a balanced, worthwhile and happy life. Couple of practical tips that resonated with me:

1. Negotiate your pay on your first job and every job that follows. (Women's pay gap widens from 6.5k at entry to 31k at executive levels.)
2. Find good sponsors at several steps above you. And become a sponsor for someone else.
From Martha Feeback of Catalyst
A rainy Friday
3. Take lateral moves if there are no promotion opportunities available.
4. If you can't participate in an event at the moment, tell them to ask again next week. (In male-dominated industries, sometimes you don't want to show your vulnerable side when/if asked to join in on golf, shooting, hunting.)
From Joan T. Eischen, author of Energy and the City

5. "The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens." Home is anywhere you go.
6.  Don't limit yourself. Look around. Remember this quote by Robert Browning: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp. Or what's a heaven for?"
7. Remember that regardless of your chosen career, the world needs public service.
8. You are not alone in your endeavors. Consider the "unseen hands". Believe in the power of prayer.
From Ambassador Cynthia Shepard Perry

Love this notepad: better than "Keep Calm and Eat Cupcakes"
This conference came at a perfect time in my life when I was able to take these advice to heart. This and a ridiculously funny department banquet, and an evening discussing languages and literature back in the college dorm.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

schizophrenia-parasite connection.

"Own me, to control me
Come closer, come closer."
I finally figured out where this line is from! Such a catchy song, bring it back to the radio. This particular line came to me in class this Tuesday while listening to a group's presentation.

But first, I want to gush about the idea of college courses. You sign up to learn about whatever topic interests you, and professors put in their blood and sweat into teaching you the material and testing you to make sure you've actually learned something. What an idea.

Last Tuesday during our presentations one group talked about microbiology & behavior. It is amazing to hear about how bacteria can "hijack" an insect and manipulate it to optimize its own survival. The bacteria use the poor bug just enough to keep it alive then kills it when it is most convenient & beneficial to do so. This idea is fascinating to me, and just like the last time I heard about this on the radio, I probably made this face:
Picture Source
But this really blew my mind: scientists have found that there is a mild correlation between schizophrenia and a infection of microbial parasite called Toxoplasma gondii which is transmitted to humans mainly through cat feces. In rats, Toxoplasma infection causes the rats to "develop an actual attraction to the pheromones" in cat urine, making them more likely to be eaten by a cat. The Stanley Medical Research Institute hosts a variety of research on this schizophrenia-Toxoplasma correlation; T. gondii infection may cause changes in personality (a "really" maybe), lower cognitive function, and a poor reaction time. Specifically for schizophrenia, T. gondii has been shown to produce excess dopamine, which suggests a mode of mechanism for this infection causing schizophrenia. A 2011 study of 45,609 mothers suggested that a high level of T. gondii-specific antibodies correlates to a higher probability of being diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Is this real life? Source
Remind me to never get a cat.

Friday, February 10, 2012

conveying excitement: the radio voice.

Something I think about frequently is science education for the public. Is science anyone's hobby? "Oh, I am a science-lover/collector," the way civil war buffs, modern poetry lovers, Baroque music fans are?

I'll admit that the Lawrence M. Krauss books are better at putting me to sleep than teaching me about the fifth dimension, but why is science so sterile? So unsexy? Clinical trials, neuroscience, and cancer research are fascinating, but don't forget about the basic sciences.

An obvious sad fact is that there are limited resources in this world. Orders and priorities have to be set, and often times human-relevant topics place at the top. Many research proposals bring their experiments into a human-relevant application context (human pathogens, energy source, natural disasters) even if far-fetched and unlikely.

My co-worker noted that it's critical to focus on what is important rather than what is useful or interesting. I didn't think there was much of a distinction until he mentioned that there is an over-representation of paleontology in many science journals, simply because it is considered cool.

But if you apply this logic to the other disciplines, we do lots of "useless" things. The arts. Poetry. History. Science is simply not that interesting to those who are not studying it in the first place. A fundamental change in perception of science and scientists may be the answer here.
Red = Wolbachia in fruit fly Picture
And I found a solution of sorts in class Tuesday. The two guys who presented our group's research blew me out of the water with their enthusiasm. It was like listening to talk show radio. If you ever listen to Marketplace Morning Report, guests often talk about economics and finance like there is nothing quite so fascinating in this world. Tune this in for a non-English speaker and she may think he's talking about his latest sports car or something.

I am not sure if those two truly found the stuff fascinating or were simply kick-ass presenters, but... do people give standing ovations to class presentations? Our findings on Wolbachia transformed into something fascinating: they can make insects more pesticide-resistant!!! When they die, the adult worm cells apoptose too!!!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Shirt by Jane Kenyon

The shirt touches his neck
and smooths over his back.
It slides down his sides.
It even goes down below his belt—
down into his pants.
Lucky shirt.
My literary friend sent me a couple of poems including this one by Jane Kenyon: "The first one is, I think, relevant to your feelings." (I love the way she phrased this sentence.) An ordinary object becoming an ingenious metaphor portraying a sense of longing. My first reaction was to laugh. Then I decided that I should give up writing since I would never write anything as subtle and beautiful.

Friday, February 3, 2012

lab meetings= laughter sessions

Heard at our lab meeting this afternoon:
"That sounds like a Dr. Seuss line."
"Wait, were we actually serious about that?"
"Do we want real data or a real... drawing?"
Bookshelf- thank you T!
In mosi news, I have a bookshelf thanks to T who is moving away to start her job, so I have stacked my science textbooks for easy reference. As happy as I am about my latest furniture, I am sad to see her go.

My friend B sent me this article Top 10 Worst Things About Working in a Lab:

#7. Sometimes experiments fail for a reason. Sometimes experiments fail for no reason. Or sometimes when you finally make it work, you learn that someone else has published a paper with much better established techniques.
#2. You have to dress like a scientist. You can try to look schmexy with those brand-new sharp lab goggles but it really doesn't work. 

Here's my Friday night with the most handsome boys in town-
Building caves and racing cars on Friday night