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Millikin University > Millikin University Blogs > Alumni Blogs > The ups and downs of life as a Ph.D. student

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Hello Millikin!
Things have been going so wonderfully since I last posted. I have settled into my new lab and begun developing a project with my adviser. We have decided that I will focus on establishing the connections between mammary stem cells and breast cancer stem cells. This is very exciting because it could eventually incorporate my undergraduate training in organic drug synthesis as I discover drug targets that possess the potential to control overall tumor composition and growth. In fact, we recently submitted for an internal cancer biology training grant. It was a fantastic experience to get to write a grant as a first year graduate student and we have much hope to obtain funding!

A typical day in my lab consists of LOTS of reading, working with various cell lines in the tissue culture hood by growing them and preparing them for many different types of experiments, testing various custom reagents and confirming their viability, and working with the super expensive and complicated microscope. I still cannot seem to make through an entire day without messing something up, but with each mistake I learn and refine my skills.

The members of my lab are all so very helpful and are always willing to answer my "stupid" questions! There is still so very much to learn and understand but I have found the best method to tackle the lab is to take things one day at a time.

I miss you all and hope your summer is rejuvenating you as you prepare to come back for another fantastic school year at MU!

Sincerely,
LB

Another school year checked off of the list! It has certainly been a revolutionary year for me, and I can truly say that life is pretty good. This first year in graduate school was definitely a tough one for me, both personally and academically. I struggled through many personal losses and difficult changes. Challenging coursework found me frustrated and discouraged. My spiritual life also took a few hits. Sounds like a failure of a year huh? I completely disagree.  I’ve learned that grad school is all about reflecting and re-evaluating your perspective…on everything!  From the obvious to the not so obvious, I can honestly say that I have changed in plenty of aspects of my life. Looking back to my graduation from Millikin this time last year, I am not sure that that girl walking across the stage would recognize the woman I am today.  I find the changes in me to be positive ones. Although I will admit, I am not 100% there yet, I understand myself a little better now; everything from how I learn, what I desire for my life, who I was, am, and hope to become, and how important it is for me to actually live my life instead of always planning my next step.

The first year post-grad is a difficult transition for each and every student. Whether you are in the workforce, pursuing higher education, getting married, starting a family, seeking employment, or others, drastic changes can shake you off the path you once had so delicately and calculatedly planned out for yourself. Graduates of 2011, THIS IS NORMAL! As a direct result of the changes that ensue, you will experience fear, disappointment, confusion, discouragement, growing pains, and possibly even regret.  Always remember that nothing in life ever seems to turn out the way you expected! To combat this, you are now armed with life’s most worthy weapon: education. Your mind is now a catalyst for the future!

My advice? Prepare for the growing pains to impact all aspects of your life. Expect to discover that you are not completely prepared for the workforce/marriage/adult life/etc and embrace this as a time of learning. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself changing your mind about your future career goals. Recognize that relationships change and grow and perhaps end after college. And finally, take the time to reflect and re-evaluate, a lot! You cannot learn without looking back and reviewing the ups and downs!

In a way this blog has been my mode of reflection, and I would like to thank my readers for their encouragement and support throughout the last year.

LB

My lesson this week: write down everything your PI tells you to do, and then email it to him later confirming that this was in fact the list of experiments he wanted you to accomplish for the week. For the record, I am not crazy, he is!
    Hello Millikin! I miss you so much. As my blog title denotes, grad school definitely has its downs and I frequently feel nostalgic for undergrad. I went through a lot of personal changes last semester, that resulted from the sacrifices I have to make for the career path I have chosen. I learned that being proactive and focused on my future is not selfish, its what is best for me.  
    As I venture forward into this new semester, I am determined to use this amazing time in my life to be open for growth and change. I learned last semester that fighting these is counterproductive and at times almost destructive to my life's path. There are a lot of distractions along the road that I now know are not worth sacrificing my own self discovery for. 
    Graduate school has this amazing way of forcing you to understand who you are and what you want for your life. That is, if you allow it to change you. The struggle last semester was that I was afraid to admit that I didn't have things all figured out. I thought that is what being a role model was all about; constantly being sure of myself. But I found that I was only fooling myself, to have it all figured out at 23 would be a world record I think! Not to mention a shame. I don't even think my 86 yr old grandmother would be confident in saying that she has a full grasp on the meaning of life. Admitting that I have more to learn and being open to learning is the only way for me to grow and reach my full potential. 
Hope your winter break is restful Millikin. I challenge you to use this fresh semester to allow yourself to be open for change!
Sincerely,
Lauren Bringman
Millikin '10
I began my first rotation through Dr. Clark Wells' lab in the second week of October. I have been paired with a fourth year student named Bill and we have been working on polarity. I can break down my project into three main parts that surround one polarity protein in particular: Angiomotin (aka AMOT). AMOT has demonstrated substantial influence in the development of cancer.
1. The Drug Assay
    In this project we are taking various small molecules, developed by IUSM's pharmacology department to target and bind AMOT, and examining their effects on breast cancer cells.
2. Immunofluorescent imaging of breast cancer cells.
    In this project we are using various antibodies to bind and fluoresce AMOT and other key proteins. This allows us to visualize the location of these proteins in the cell which provides additional information about their functions.
3. Peptide Synthesis  
    In this project we are synthesing a peptide with a very specific amino acid sequence with an AMOT binding domain. Peptides are growing to become more widely examined in research as potential drugs that exhibit favorable properties.

I am so excited to be working in the lab! I finally feel like I am doing what I came here to do!
I miss you Millikin,
Lauren
Ok, so I made it through my first round of exams last week, and now I have to begin preparing for round 2! AHHH! The good news is, they really are not too bad if you are prepared. I have found that studying a little bit everyday has been the best mode of attack.

One thing I know is-I am so glad I went to Millikin where the majority of the tests I had were short answer/essay. The students that only had scantron/multiple choice tests are struggling with questions that require you to diagram and explain complex processes-rather than choose an answer that has a 25% chance of being right. The two modes of test taking are completely different, and also require you to study completely differently. If you are considering graduate school in the field of science-be prepared to study in such a way that allows you to understand concepts in full detail. Also, I constantly have to remind myself to think like a graduate student-I am not going to be asked to regurgitate the process of mitosis anymore. Something that is more likely to be asked of me is "Describe how misregulation of the cell cycle can lead to disease; what is the significance of phosphorylation and ubiquitination in cell cycle regulation and what are some opportunities for research in this area?" Questions that require you to incorporate multiple concepts into a single answer are pretty common. I find that drawing out the concepts/processes in my notebook from memory is the best way for me to understand them. This way-I actually train my brain to visualize what is going on-making it much easier to describe during a stressful situation like an exam.

If there are any of you that are considering graduate school in the medical sciences-please feel free to contact me with any questions! I certainly remember the feeling of being lost at sea when searching
schools, programs, etc. I may have some "I wish I would have known that when I was applying" pearls of wisdoms that could save you some time!

Sincerely,
Lauren Bringman
lbringma@umail.iu.edu

P.S. Millikin Homecoming is a godsend! I cannot wait to catch up with everyone-and get a break from the grind! See you there!
Hey everone! Here is my first attempt at posting a video! 
Hello everyone!
Well I have made it through my first two weeks of grad school-wow that was fast! I now believe that the title of my blog is absolutely perfect-I have definitely felt the ups and the downs-and I am sure there is much more to come.
The Downs
Alright, bad news first.
  • I have to get up at like 5:30am to be able to leave my apartment early enough to beat Indy traffic and actually get a decent parking spot. From there I walk a solid fifteen minutes to the library where I study until my first class at 9. I have turned this into a positive though because by 8am the library is buzzing with students and there are never any computers. I get there by 7 and have some peace and quiet to study and prepare for class.
  • Another thing is that the social scene in grad school is far less of a priority for the students; I am finding it difficult to make friends as quickly as I did at Millikin. So I literally study, go to class, and then go home to my lonely apartment and study :(
The Ups
Yay!
  • So one thing that I love is that I am learning SO MUCH! When I am being paid to study, and I don't have to worry about anything else but studying, I find that it is so much easier to absorb class material! At Millikin I was always running around trying to pack so many tasks into a small amount of time-my mind was quite weary. Now I get plenty of sleep and  my mind is always ready for learning so I retain so much more than I ever thought I could.
  • I have the choice of any lab (that has funding) to work for. In October I will begin my first lab rotation which is a chance to "try out" a lab-see what the advisor is like, the other grad students and postdocs, and see if I like the research. I will do three total rotations before I choose a lab to join in May.
  • I have the choice of super cool classes next semester. The classes reflect the very specific interests of the medical science community-and so they are much more specified than anything that was offered at Millikin, with good reason.
  • I will be totally finished with my course work by May of next year, which means after that I just work in the lab each day. I am hoping to find a research advisor that allows me some flexibility in my work schedule, while still pushes me to get results.

So far, I am making it! Thanks for the support!
LB

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