Things I Wish I’d Learned as an Undergraduate

1.  Don’t procrastinate.  It’s never a good plan.  People, myself included, who say they do it because they work better under pressure, are lying.


2.  How do write a grant proposal.  I wrote one as an undergrad and earned the grant, but I think all future scientists should have to take a grant writing class.  I’m going to take one this summer, but I wish it was a skill I already possessed.


3.  How to spend study time effectively.  Facebook, email and movies are not effective ways to spend study time.  The phone might be… if it’s someone I really like to talk to and I occasionally say “I really should be working on…”.


4.  The difference between a research question, hypothesis and objectives for designing a study.  Just for a simple study would have been fine.  Figuring out the subtle differences while trying to write a 5-10k word document that will be ripped apart by my graduate committee is overwhelming.


5.  To consider Ramen noodles to be an appropriate meal 3 times a day.  I’m a food snob and grad students don’t make enough money to be food snobs.


6.  To break a few rules and not freak out about it.


7.  To socialize with my peers.  To get to know people outside my close knit group of friends.  Most of the people that I consider to be friends are people I’ve known at least 10 years.  I’m not good at meeting new people.


8.  Sticking to the plan.  I’m great at making a plan.  I am equally great at changing my plan.


9.  Learning to set reasonable goals.  Figuring out that I’m not going to be wildly rich and famous while writing a thesis proposal about sturgeon is slightly sad.  Sturgeon geneticists aren’t rich and famous… they do get to play outside a lot though!


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Thesis Proposal

My thesis proposal is almost complete.  I’m a little terrified of the idea but mostly, I’m really very excited.  The entire thing was really intimidating to me, but now that it’s almost complete, I can’t believe that I was freaking out about it.  I love science, my research and I have always been a very goal driven person.  I can’t figure out why I was in such a panic.


Honestly, with everything that has happened in the past few months, I feel a lot out of control most of the time.  I’m so lucky to have great friends that are helping me regain that control and find a new self confidence that I didn’t know I had.  It’s a really great feeling.  My focus is finally starting to sharpen again, which is a huge relief.  There are still moments where I can’t seem to think at all, but mostly, questions are running through my head and new ideas are forming.  That is the whole point of science, right?

A stuffed lake sturgeon!  Coolest birthday gift EVER!

A stuffed lake sturgeon! Coolest birthday gift EVER!


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An Overdue Update – Focus

I’m quickly approaching my last month of my second semester of graduate school.  I can’t believe that I’m already two semesters into this craziness.  Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here forever and a lot of the times, I feel “brand new” and I know absolutely nothing.

The past two weeks have been sheer madness in terms of what I’ve gotten done.  I’m quickly finding that motivation to get things done is correlated with the amount of time I have left to get said things completed.  As deadlines float over my head, I’m highly productive.  If only I had found this motivation earlier in the semester, I wouldn’t be in a constant state of panic now, right?  If only I could focus…

The skull of a grad student that never found her focus...

The skull of a grad student that never found her focus…

My focus is totally fried.  I can’t seem to concentrate on anything and yet my mind is constantly full of everything.  It’s a really strange conundrum… has anyone else experienced this?

I have to write a proposal for my thesis and present it to my committee at the end of April and I have no idea where to start.  Does anyone have one that was well received that they’d like to share?  I would never steal your words; I’m searching for some guidance regarding how to organize my thoughts.  I find the whole idea largely intimidating, but I’m sure when I finally quit worrying about it and just sit down to write it that something awesome will come out on paper.


Do people still say that?  “On paper”?  Or am I giving away the fact that I just turned 30?  I often feel like the oldest person that ever existed as I’m watching 18 year olds chattering on their way to and from classes.

I want my proposal to focus on how I want to be defined as a scientist.  That sounds great, right?  The problem comes in that I’m not sure how I want to be defined as a scientist.


I’m pretty sure that my interests are more along the lines of Conservation Genetics, but then I think Molecular Ecology is fascinating and once in awhile, I get really crazy and I start thinking about running away and living in a shack in the woods and growing my own food.  Unfortunately graduate school doesn’t leave enough money to purchase even a low level shack in the woods.

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10 Things I’ve Learned During My First Semester of Graduate School


1.  Self motivation is key.  No one else is going to push you to do your homework, research or studying.  They’re just going to find someone who wants it more and trust me, those people are out there.  Work hard EVERY DAY to be the best you can be.


2.  If there is toilet paper on the holder and no visible mold, your apartment is clean.


3.  Some days suck.  When you take out the bad things on your spouse because they are legally bound to you and everyone you want to yell at you can destroy your career, make sure you remember to apologize and do something special for them.  If you’re lucky like me and are married to a graduate student, hopefully you can trade off and not have a bad day on the same day.


4.  Poor takes on a new meaning in grad school.  Let’s go back to the toilet paper example… if you have some on the holder AND another roll in the cupboard, you’re rich.


5.  Have great friends.  Both in and out of your program.  No matter how busy you are, remind them regularly that you love them and that they help you remain sane.


6.  Caffeine is essential.  And liquor/wine once in awhile.  If you figure out a way to get through grad school without at least one of these items, write a book and you’ll make millions, I promise.


7.  Figure out how to talk in front of people.  Tell everyone you meet what you do.  You never know when you might meet someone with $400,000 who thinks your idea is brilliant.


8.  Make time for the things you love.  I’m serious.  Actually create a schedule for your time, even things like checking email and sleep.  Make sure you include writing time EVERY DAY and at least a little bit of time as often as possible to do something that makes you smile.  You’ll never make it if you don’t.  All work and no play makes Jack GO CRAZY!


9.  Your brain holds so much more information than you ever knew possible.


10.  People assume you’re going to fail until you prove yourself… Repeatedly.


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Watch this video.  It’s less than an hour of your time.  If you don’t have time, go ahead and read my thoughts on the presentation and share yours!  I’d love to hear what you think.

A little bit of stress is good… it makes you practice and do the things you need to do.  A lot of stress makes you freak out and cram and nothing is retained or practical.  Constant stress not only makes you freak out and kills retention, but it actually makes you sick.  I think I do this sometimes and end up with migraines.
Why is the work to life ratio satisfaction so challenging?  Why do we require perfection of ourselves?  We have to learn to overcome stresses that we put on ourselves and unreasonable stresses from others.
Stress changes… and the ratio also needs to change… family obligations are more difficult during certain times and grad school obligations are more difficult during certain times… learning to be flexible is key!  It’s okay that these things change and it’s okay to put family before work/school when there are plans, emergencies… life happens!
Strategize to approach the stress… don’t hit the point of totally frazzled!  Learn to define personal satisfaction… everyone’s is different.  Hobbies and interests reinforce the value of work and work can be satisfying… SHOULD be satisfying!  Tension of multitasking is stressful but approachable with a good plan.  Learning to match my personal priorities with my goals and ethics and plans.  Setting goals!
80th birthday tribute:  What will others say about my life… what do I hope they’ll say?  What do I want to be remembered for?
Who do I talk to when I’m feeling “off”?  There is a HUGE amount of importance in creating a strong support group with a variety of people that have different strengths to offer you… spouse, professors, peers, social forums, doctors, therapists etc…
Be honest about what I need and learn how to be honest about limitations.  Ask for what you need.  Don’t be afraid… we all need help.  Writing really helps me think about this.  Not only is it important to ask for what you need… it’s okay that I’m not super woman.  The people that I idolize and look up to have imperfects and needs too!  Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed to say “that’s too much”.  Say “with this resource, I can be really successful at that task” or “I can do this better if you can give me an extra day or two”.  Learning how to present myself will help not only me, but the people that consider me part of their support group.  “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”.  I worry too much about asking for what I need.  This is something I need to work on.
I make a weekly schedule.  It always gets changed, but at least I have a skeleton.  Color coding is something I do too.  I hadn’t thought about the percentages though… I need to find some service projects.  I find them rewarding, but I need to make them a priority.  I really like the idea of sharing it with my peers/husband to help me stay accountable to the schedule.  I often find myself wondering what happened to all of my time.  I need to include things like email, breaks, etc… it’s okay if I take time for blogging, facebook, etc… but I need to hold myself accountable for that time too so that it doesn’t overwhelm me.  Outlets are important.  I like the idea of TOP 5 things for both work and home (ie grocery store, study for an exam, etc).  Then Prioritize!  Include things like bill paying, scheduling, football game, travel, etc.
I never tell anyone “no”.  Ever.  I really need to work on this.  Especially to thing that don’t align with my priorities.  I loved the diagram:  Does it align with my skills?  Does it interest me?  What do I get out of it? (it’s okay to want a reward of some sort).

Shifting my mindset:  if something is stressing me out, I often put it off.  I’m glad to know I’m not the only one… writing a paper, studying, paying bills, etc… I need to work on activities that help me shift my mindset.

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A Brief Lit. Review of Lifestock Pathogen Resistance via Molecular Genetics

There are three main ways to look at the genetics of parasite immunology studies:  animal breeding, gene expression and comparative studies between resistance and susceptibility.  In regards to Dr. Bowdridge’s, research some of the main challenges arise due largely to the fact that there are only these three ways of looking at the genetics, and that while it is widely accepted that parasite resistance has roots in both genetic and immunological mediation, the exact mechanistic details are unknown in most situations.


Constantly, there is pressure on scientists and livestock breeders to create a “better” product, livestock that produce more product (meat, milk, etc…), healthier animals (less loss and less chance of passing infections, parasites and overall, save money for the consumer (2).  This becomes largely the task of geneticists, as gene expression leads to the expression or repression of gene products, proteins and ultimately things such as pathogen resistance (2).  Selective breeding has become possible, due to molecular genetics, in some animals (2,5).

Genetic variation within and between unique species of sheep was first described in the mid-1930s, and parasite resistance has remained a top priority since (3,5).  Perhaps most important to farmers and consumers alike is finding the maximum efficiency of wool production, which includes healthy pathogen free sheep (3).  Even as early as the 1990s, cost lead researchers to turn to genetics for methods of controlling pathogens; genetic selection provided and continues to provide many of these answers (3).

When one starts looking into genetics and livestock, it is found that economics is largely a motivator of the research being performed (5).  Selection can be assessed via a number of methods, including:  estimating breeding values, data on phenotypic performance, and the use of pedigree charts to trace phenotypic inheritance and make assumptions regarding genotypes of individuals (5).  A significant contributor to this research involves SNPs or single nucleotide polymorphisms, which is giving rise to new ways of predicting breeding values entirely based on genomic selection (5).  Using quantitative trait loci (QTL) coupled with genetic expression has given researchers a glimpse into the pathways associated with genetic resistance and gastrointestinal parasites (4).  This systems genetics approach located 14 pathways directly associated with pathogen resistance, and more than 30 genes including MHCII genes and has the potential towards the discovery of other substantially and economically important genetic traits (4).

Dr. Bowdridge is concentrating largely on antibody levels in one of his most recent papers involving immune response.  He shows that most often, antibody levels that are produced as a response to parasite infection via gastro-intestinal nematodes are higher in resistant breeds of Haemonchus contortus that the susceptible breeds (1).  This higher level of antibodies are transferred from mother to offspring via colostrum and milk, offering their offspring higher levels of passive immunity than those breeds that do not produce the higher levels of the antibody, with parasite specific IgA production levels remaining unchanged between resistant and nonresistant sheep breeds (1).  Obviously, all of the interaction and reaction is regulated by the turning on and off of genes within the genome.



  1. Bowdridge, S et al.  “Hair-type sheep generate an accelerated and longer-lived humoral immune response to Haemonchus contortus infection.”  Vet Parasitology.  2009 Sep 1;196(1-2):172-8. doi: 10.1016/j.vetpar.2013.01.008.
  2. Hunt, Peter , James Kijas, and Aaron Ingham. “Understanding Parasitic Infection in Sheep to Design More Efficient Animal Selection Strategies.” Veterinary journal (London, England: 1997) 31 July 2013 : 143–52.
  3. Brown, E et al. “Detecting Genes for Variation in Parasite Burden and Immunological Traits in a Wild Population: Testing the Candidate Gene Approach.” Molecular ecology 31 Jan. 1996 : 757–73.
  4. Sayre, B , and G Harris. “Systems Genetics Approach Reveals Candidate Genes for Parasite Resistance from Quantitative Trait Loci Studies in Agricultural Species.” Animal genetics 31 Mar. 2012 : 190–8.
  5. MICHAEL E. GODDARD, BEN J. HAYES and THEO H. E. MEUWISSEN (2010). Genomic selection in livestock populations. Genetics Research, 92, pp 413-421. doi:10.1017/S0016672310000613.
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48 Minutes

Take 48 minutes and watch this special about your genes and epistatic interaction.  I promise it is worth the time.  It makes epigenetics make some sense even for those who have zero genetics background and yet as a genetics grad student, I found value.

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