A Message to Bio Majors Out There

Yes, that is what this is- the end of an era. It has been a very long journey to complete my bachelors degree: scheduling conflicts, financial difficulties, budget cuts, furlough days, broken relationships, and a very undisciplined student. But I made it! I’m finally part of the Class of 2011!

Unfortunately I get to look forward to another semester of prerequisites and then grad school, so it isn’t really the end of my education. I’m much older than most of my graduating class, by two years at least (which makes a big difference in your twenties, I think), and I have a lot of wisdom to give now that I’m coming to the end of my time as an undergrad. I’ve learned a lot that I will carry on to grad school and I have some tips for those bio majors just starting out:

1. If you plan to go to grad school (which you will if you are a bio major), transferring from a community college to a university is a really good idea, financially. If you’re like me and had to pay your own way through college, finding a way to cut out inflated college expenses is the key to staying out of serious debt and finishing your degree. Community colleges often have bridge programs with nearby universities, and the professors are just as good. Many actually teach at universities part time as well. The classes are smaller and you get more attention from the professor (if you like that-me? Not so much), and the counseling department is there to get you to transfer. Assist.org is also a good reference guide (for those living in California) to make sure you’re taking the right classes and not just wasting your time. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t do it in two years though; it doesn’t matter how long it takes just as long as you finish.

2. Learn how to study EARLY ON. We all think we know how to study in high school. Even if you’re not that smart and just show up to class and pay attention, you can catch enough of the material to slide by. College is not the same, at least not for biology majors. If you don’t have the same class every day you’re not reviewing and refreshing material in your mind. Committing new concepts to memory requires constant exposure. As much as you might hate it (I did and it cost me dearly), review your notes after class and on the days you don’t have that class, ESPECIALLY for subjects like biology, chemistry, physics, and math. A lot of the concepts in these classes are not intuitive and, to be honest, a lot of professors are not good at teaching these subjects so you may have to do a lot of self-teaching. I was a 4.0 student in high school simply because I a) didn’t have a smart phone in class with me all the time and b) have a really good memory. I never learned how to study because I didn’t have to. My first chemistry class was a wake up call for me (it was also my first C) because the professor was horrible, the book was worse, and I didn’t know how to learn something if someone wasn’t explaining it to me. And you can’t use memorization in chemistry to get by. You really have to know what you are doing. Of course, my first C didn’t make me learn how to study either! I honestly didn’t figure it out until after I had transferred to a university and started taking a full load of upper division biology and chemistry courses. I was FORCED to learn how to study because I had no time to do anything but that. In hindsight, putting aside my pride and taking those college workshops that teach you how to study and budget your time would probably have been a good idea. Oh, and less drinking and going out and drug use probably.

3. Take good notes. Get a system for note taking, and actually take written notes. Don’t even bring a laptop to class. I know having all your notes on your computer seems like a good idea, and it definitely could be, but scan the written notes and put them on your computer later (a good time to review them!). There’s something about seeing the PowerPoints, hearing the professor talk, and writing notes down that really makes you pay attention better than typing things out. If you’re like me, you type much faster than you write, so it may hard at first to get used to this. Use it as a challenge, though. The faster you have to write, the more you are going to put the lecture into summaries, which is really part of the learning process and is helping you learn the material. I’ve found this especially important for my cell biology, physiology, and biochemistry classes. You cannot type pathways. It is so beneficial to draw out feedback loops, kinase cascades, or mechanisms while the prof is going over it in class. Drawing as much as you can and then going back and adding more when you review will make you a more organized and successful note taker.

4. Be antisocial. I guess this goes without saying, but I mean it in the most general way possible.You are a bio major and your subject requires a lot of time and dedication to be successful. Bio majors don’t get to think of college as a social time. We can’t cram the day before an exam and get better than a D or C. We can’t go out the weekend before a bunch of assignments are due. We have to study days in advance and we study for hours. Expect to give up your social life during the semester, and if your non-bio major friends don’t understand you need to get new friends. We are the future researchers, doctors, and experts for this country and we have to make sacrifices in our youth to be the best at what we do.

5. Be humble. When you venture into the world of science you realize there is a lot of shit about this planet we don’t understand yet. With biology there are a lot of ethical hurdles to being able to research what you want. I currently do research on human embryonic cells, but those might not even be legal to use in years to come because of politics. And your non-bio major friends (and family) will not understand a lot of the cool stuff you try to share with them because it is too complex or it will cause a heated ethical debate. Don’t be prideful because you feel are above the discussion on ethics (because ethics is a huge part of science). And don’t get haughty because you got an A in genetics and now you think you know everything. YOU DON’T. Even the people that have worked in their field for decades are still learning. That is what our community is about- learning- and doing it in a traceable, repeatable way that other scientists can look at and see if your data and conclusions are bullshit or not. Also, don’t look down on non-bio majors, as hard as it is, just because they don’t heart science. You’ll just look like a dick and  everyone will be anti-science even more than they already are.

6. Stay interested. As I stated in my last point, there is a lot in this world even the experts don’t understand. What we are learning in EVERY class is fascinating. I know it’s hard to look at organic chemistry in that light, or genetics, or stats, but everything you learn is important. That’s part of what makes majoring in bio so hard and also so wonderful. We aren’t learning about dead guys or abstract ideas or the way the country works (or doesn’t work), we are learning about how the world around us work and what makes life so, lively. It is beautiful and complex and frightening all at once. It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking about our own futures with grad school, midterms, internships, research, finals, letters of rec, etc., but we seldom stop and enjoy what it is we are learning about. It can’t hurt to stay in awe of our subject of study, and if it can make us love organic chemistry? Nahh, but you get the idea.

I hope the bio majors out there can find some use of my advice. Until then,good luck on finals and happy studying! This time next week I’ll be a college grad. :-)

-JS

Save Money, Buy an Electric Blanket

I’m not the typical Southern California girl: I don’t surf, I don’t care for the beach, and I don’t particularly like being in the sun at all. Though what I do enjoy about living here is the year-round mild weather. It stays around 70 degrees most days and you rarely need to wear anything heavier than a hoodie or a cardigan. Unfortunately, the weather I’ve gotten used to all these years has me very ill-adapted to any extreme and sudden change in the temperature. Lately it’s gone from heat wave to thunderstorms to windy, dry, and cold in a matter of days. It might be lame because it’s only 50 degrees outside, but I am COLD.

I live alone, in an old building with no working heater. My windows don’t close completely and cold air leaks in easily. When it’s windy my curtains will actually move from the blowing wind. I know people tell you to save on heating costs by drinking tea and just wearing more clothes, but honestly, you can only wear so many clothes. When I was practically wearing a pea coat and gloves to bed I realized I needed to find a new solution. And I’m sure you can guess what it was.

Electric blankets are relatively cheap- around $40. And unlike the ancestral fire hazards of  previous decades, they are very safe to use. You can even wash these new models. My electric bill has barely budged and I am no longer at risk for frostbite in my own home. This one at Target is on sale right now too.

Have a warm and frugal winter fellow weather wimps.

-JS

Are Weddings Obsolete?

I’m getting to be at that age where all my friends are getting married. Not that I’m even of marrying or childbearing maturity myself, my friends are just a lot older than me. But attending all these weddings has got me wondering: Are weddings obsolete?

We live in 2010. Women’s liberation. Democracy. Equality for all. Does the traditional wedding symbology seem a little out of place to anyone else, particularly when everyone seems to think lower salaries for women is something the complain about (which it definitely is). We women are a juxtaposition in every aspect. We want to be treated equally to men in the workplace, in education, and in social settings. We want to be financially independent, yet we are daddy’s girls and want to marry men with a secure, and reasonably comfortable income. We want to be handy and  autonomous, yet most of us don’t even own a power drill or know how to unclog a toilet. We want to be thought of as strong and powerful, yet we shriek for a man to kill a spider. How can we be both independent and depdendent? How can we want to choose our mate, sometimes without familial approval and then be presented by our fathers and “given away” at the altar? Somehow this seems out of place to me.

I think its great that more and more of the white collar workforce is becoming female, and that a great many women are graduating from universities, and have the ability to have careers and families. But while we are moving forward in most every aspect, why do we want our weddings, some say the biggest event in our lives, to be so antiquated?

Let’s start with the biggest concern: the dress. Why white? Now, I’m sure most of the brides walking around in white gowns are kidding themselves. There is a very small percentage of brides that can claim the state of chastity on their wedding day. Yet why do we still wear white? Is it that we think this a new life and it’s a kind of baptismal purity symbol? If I’m not mistaken, a lot of women move in with their boyfriends before they are married, and when they decide to get married they think nothing will really be that different, other than we will be “officially committed”. How is this a new life then if nothing changes? Apparently, a signed legal document means we shouldn’t wear whore-house red to our weddings, or I’m-in-mourning black because it would insult the groom, who wants a pure and spotless bride to embark and a new yet not-really-that-new-because-we-live-together-so-nothings-really-changing-except-her-name journey. Hm. So why else would we wear white if it’s not for the groom? For ourselves? Right. Because I want to wear a ridiculously overpriced gown I will use once and not be able to eat or drink any of my favorite things like red wine or Mexican food for fear of spills and then I’m going to have to dance carefully as not to rip or muss the perfect folds of fabric. I wouldn’t want my pictures to make me look like the lush of a lass that I am or anything. What is with this illusion of perfection that we feel we have to have as brides? Everyone knows you were shit-faced and vomit-covered last weekend at your bachelorette party. We all saw the Facebook pictures, and we all loved them. So don’t put  that fun party girl into hiding just because youre wearing a pretty white frock.

I completely understand that religion and propriety might come into play here. I would be mortified if my strict Protestant grandmother watched me walk down the aisle in red and black lace with a cocktail in my hand and a vibrator in the other. I’m not saying be lewd. I’m merely wondering at the importance we’ve placed on these symbols and how it compares to our actual ideology as a society of equal opportunity females.

I recently attended a wedding of a very good girl friend, and was thinking about the concept of the groom waiting at the altar for his bride. I understand the symbolism is that you come into the ceremony as separate people and leave united as one, but why can’t you start in the “together” mindset at the beginning, especially since you already live in the same house anyway. And why does your dad have to “give you” to this other man? We all have careers, or career aspirations, and most of us don’t even live with our parents anymore, or our dads are deadbeat abandoneers that shouldn’t be at our weddings anyway. Why can’t you walk alone…  or is that too forward thinking of me? Modern Western weddings are not arranged anymore. Women choose their husbands, hoping for the approval of their families, but that is not always the case. I know for sure my dad hated a few of my ex-boyfriends but still would have graciously given me to them to avoid my humiliation. But that doesn’t mean he has to falsely declare his support by walking with me down to the man that I’ll probably divorce before I’m 40.

I probably sound like a bitter single woman, just jealous of all the good fortune that has come across my friends in the past few years. To be honest, I am a little. I want to wear a pretty dress and have everyone take pictures of me and say nice things to me and give me gifts and dance all night with all my loved ones while we drink champagne and wine… and then it ends there. I just want the party, but not the ceremony or the proverbial afterparty with a man that I haven’t decided is man enough for me or not. The man hasn’t quite come into that particular picture yet, though some of you may be wondering, and it is difficult to think of anything past graduation when you’re in school. Besides that, I’m way too selfish to be married at this time in my life. And even when the man and the timing is right, the literary-ite in me thinks deeply of symbols and their significance. I don’t want to do anything for the wrong reasons, and if that means my dress will be lime green, and I walk down the aisle alone, then so be it. If that means I get married in a living room and go to happy hour for my reception and those things have meaning to me, then I will be happier because I didn’t give in to all the tradition for the sake of tradition while the meanings were lost on everyone, including myself.

What tradition I will leave alone are the vows. Vows are personal, and they have different meanings for every couple based on their past and their future. My only wish is that we would be more traditional in this sense, because so many take the vows as just a few mandatory lines you recite, when it is the most meaningful part of the whole shebang. How did we become so backwards in our thinking, where the white dress is more important than the promise of fidelity and commitment?

I worry about our society sometimes. We are far more frivolous than we delude ourselves into thinking.

-JS

Un-injunct

I was listening to the gubernatorial debate as I was parked in front of my house and tweeting irritably about our dismal future with either Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman as governor. It was a rough day of classes and hearing the lame responses to debate questions didn’t help smooth it out. I finally stopped listening in disgust, walked up my three flights of stairs, booted up my PC, and opened my news homepage to see an uplifting announcement:

The injunction on federally funded stem-cell research has been lifted, and, drum roll…. its a permanent lift.

Even though California is going down the shit hole, I guess there are still good things in this world.

-JS

Stem Cell Halt

I was so excited by President Obamas reinstatement of federally funded stem cell research last year that, in a fit of passion, I almost threw myself into research full time to take advantage of the success. I know that research is not my destiny now, but the milestone in the blurring boundaries between science and politics gave me reassurance that maybe the guys running our country aren’t idiots after all. That is, until I read the news today: Court Halts Stem Cell Expansion.

WTF, seriously.

Do the courts want to push our country further and further behind Europe and Asian in science? Because they are sure doing a hell of a good job what with virtually eliminating caps on campaign fund raising and now this.

I’m too upset to do justice to this post now but I’ll add some thoughts in a few days when more on this court “halt” comes out.

-JS