Life thoughts

experiments

There’s this fleeting moment during an experiment, almost every time, where I stop and think I have completely messed up. I spent the past three days preparing to run an RT-qPCR (real time quantitative polymerase chain reaction if you’re interested) to see if our gene of interest is overexpressed in certain heart tissue. After 15 hours of work, today I put my eyes down, made sure I was ready to go, and began working with the tiniest volumes to prepare the final reaction. I manually pipetted into 96 wells twice (so 192 times). I was so focused on not messing up (this was my first time doing qPCR solo and they gave me the big experiment. . .) but that malevolent little thought rushed in once again. About halfway through the entire process I thought, oh no, you’ve messed up. What was the last sample used? Did you put the right primer in? Is the volume correct? Literally, every worst-case scenario entered my mind. In these often-had moments, I question my process, my accuracy, my proactive thinking, even my basic skills. No matter how confident I am, in these moments I lose all confidence and question things I know to be true. This happened to me today, and I’ve been experiencing this long enough to have mechanisms to mess-up-proof my experiments (like labeling everything, being very intentional in where samples are placed, and using my pipette box as a roadmap for where I’ve already been on the plate). Importantly, I catch my mind while immersed in this doubt and assure myself that I haven’t made a mistake, that I have been very cautious and attentive, and that I am doing just fine. If you’ve read this far despite nonsensical lab stuff, thank you. I realized that this self-initiated doubt is not confined to research but is universal in all of life.

How often am I moving right along, doing just fine, everything is working out, and my mind says to me, Oh no. You have really messed up. You’ve made a big mistake. Everything you’re doing is wrong. I’ll admit, very often. We have experiences, trials and errors, that guide us in life. We make decisions based on knowledge and feelings that we have previously experienced (either in hopes to feel or not feel that way in the future). For the most part, I’d say we are not blindly navigating through life without any guidance (like that cherished from friends, mentors, learning from past mistakes, intentional thinking, etc.). We live like skilled researchers, already filled with the knowledge of how to do our task or with the capability to obtain what we need to know to carry on. It is not that we are taking the wrong path or doing the wrong thing. It is that our minds are telling us that we are. Self-initiated doubt is a destroyer. In the middle of my experiments, it causes me to question what I know is right. In the middle of my life, it causes me to question my actions and pursuits. I so often am living my life, completely satisfied and happy, when that deceptive voice urges me to question everything. Unlike my research skills, I’m not as disciplined to channel my confidence and squander the doubts. This parallel became so clear to me today – doubt creeps in everywhere and to everyone (well, to me at least). Instead of worrying about everything I’ve done wrong or may do wrong, I hope to instead take a note from my laboratory self and remember that I’m capable, skillful, and perfectly fine carrying on in the way that makes me happy. While this example is very specific to my experience, I feel like anyone can think of a place they are skillful (on the court or field, in a job, as a mom or dad, in any hobby) where they don’t let doubt affect their ability to do that skill well. My hope is to live my life a little more like that so the nagging worry and unnecessary questioning don’t invade my happiness and peace of my mind. I guess I hope to live like a crazy scientist that trusts her hand, her skills, and her process – because we all deserve the peace of mind that comes from confidence and self-assurance.

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Life thoughts

Google searches

I just Googled “How to know to pursue an MD-PhD.” Then I stopped, stepped back, and laughed at myself. How in the world would a quick Google search give me any kind of reliable, meaningful, and honest information about such a big – and personal – question? It was so absurd that I actually laughed out loud to myself. While a funny example, I took a peek at the other auto-fill suggestions that Google supplied as I was typing: “How to know about my future” or “How to know if you’re in love” or “How to know to trust someone”. I thought about how deep, and complex, those questions are and, consequently, how deeply we yearn for quick and easy answers to them. I’m convinced that we all long for easy answers to hard questions. We desire for someone to tell us what to pursue in life, who to marry, when to make big investments, when to change careers, etc. Maybe you don’t wish for answers and enjoy the waiting game, but most of us would love to have an infinite collection of those answers at our fingertips. They make life simpler, less stressful, and more predictable. They make things easy.

But we don’t. We don’t have the answers to life’s big decisions – like whether or not to spend 7-8 years in school pursuing an MD-PhD or when to get married or when to change careers. We are sometimes lost, indefinitely, for answers at all. After I did my quick search and realized how silly it was, I thought about how blessed I am to be in a position of such difficult decisions. I am okay with not finding anything that resolved my questioning at the end of that Google search. I’m okay because I understand that we have hard decisions in life because that means we are living it, robustly and consciously. We are not sitting around waiting for life to happen but are instead posed against challenging and thought-provoking questions; if you’re asking when to get married that means you appreciate and are active in the process of finding lifelong love. If you’re worrying about a career change, it means you are thinking about the condition and happiness of your future. I am considering “next step” decisions in my education, and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to consider those options. After my quick-and-easy Google search, I, unsurprisingly, didn’t find anything that answered my question. I found some helpful sites with anecdotal advice or frequently asked questions, but ultimately these hard decisions are answered based on our own considerations, life experiences and goals, and provisions for what we consider to be important and meaningful. Instead of mindlessly searching for answers, on the internet or otherwise, it may be better just to have a conversation with someone – yourself, a friend, a mentor – about why you’re asking that question and what are the considerations that led you there. In life, it is okay to not have answers to these questions just yet. I really believe they are coming and only require patience, grit, and perseverance before they show up in full view. Sometimes, all it takes is a silly search on the internet to remind you that life is far more complex than Google can answer, and that is perfectly okay.

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who you are

Your life experiences unquestionably define who you are and guide where you belong in the world. We are each given unique stories – challenges, triumphs, memories, passions – that aid us in figuring out what type of life we are to live. Since I’ve been in college, I have met people from SO many different walks of life, and it has been one of my favorite aspects of moving out of a small town and into a more culturally and ethnically diverse city. The people I’ve become very close friends with come from all over the world and from every background – Russian, African, Indian, Egyptian, Irish, Ukrainian, American, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, poor, rich, sick, and every quality or descriptor in between. The love I have for each of these people is specific and unique to the friendship that we share, and I’m so glad that I’ve come to know them and their story. Along this journey though, I often found myself asking “Who am I? Where do I come from? What characteristics define me?” and yesterday I again happened upon this internal self-discussion after a conversation I had with a friend in my lab. He very casually told me, “Mary, I can finally hear your Southern accent!” which lead down a rabbit hole of conversation on the lifetime struggle of talking with a “twang” and how “cute” it is (Ha). I told him that sometimes people assume others with a Southern accent are less intelligent, less capable, or have certain ideologies. For this reason, I had become accustomed to avoiding phrases that make me sound more Southern. What I have learned though, through encountering others that embrace and welcome their cultural identity, is that I am Southern and I do have a Southern accent. I was raised in a small town and my identity is comprised of those memories that I created as a child. I had this unnerving feeling when I entered college of not having an identity at all, not belonging to a defined “group” with certain values. I often felt like others were very different from me (because, well, they were and still are in many ways) and didn’t share a lot of the experiences I had while growing up. Instead of shaming away from this I began to cherish my own culture. I shared with people what it was like growing up in a small town in Tennessee (as compared to Chicago or Memphis or New York City). I delighted in the fact that I had (and have) certain challenges different from others and that those things make me, me. This acceptance and confidence has permeated into other aspects of my life. Previously at work, I sought to make myself very . . . uniform. I dressed simply and didn’t feel comfortable sharing the intricacies and details of my personality. This was largely in part because I worked with male supervisors and male colleagues and didn’t want to be perceived as less intelligent or less focused on my career. I’ve learned though, by being surrounded by team members that fully accept and cherish who they are, that who I am doesn’t negate my abilities but encourages them. Speaking of my passions and my childhood memories, wearing the clothes that make me feel confident and feminine, and accepting that I am an empowered, capable female, has strengthened my work ethic and confidence, not taken away from it. Yes, I wear eyeliner and like to do yoga. I didn’t take ten AP classes or go to a private, preparatory high school, but I do have the capability to learn and to succeed just as my peers do and have demonstrated that learning is more important than formal education. This is so important, because I really feel like people who may not fit into certain groups need to be encouraged to come from a position of strength instead of weakness. Don’t let the influence of those around you – their maleness (or femaleness), intelligence, appearance, or success – alter the way that you view yourself. What I have learned since accepting that I have a past that makes me better, not worse, and a future that is as bright as the person next to me, is that people love me and appreciate my work for exactly who I am. They like that I can have a conversation about growing up in a small town and how I like to enjoy myself in Nashville. Just because I wear makeup and have my hair fixed doesn’t mean I don’t get called on during meetings to answer hard questions or given hard tasks to complete. I no longer feel like I have no identity because instead of trying to create one that didn’t exist, I accepted the one I already have. There is great power in knowing who you are, growing in who you are, and loving who you are. Not only is there power, but there is indefinite peace.

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thoughts on a beach

There are fewer things I want more than to become a physician — truly, when I survey my life for my heart’s deepest desires this worthy role sits at the fundamental core. But then I ask myself, why do I want to be a physician? I have always thought it not only wise but necessary to question every little thing. I was once infatuated with philosophy and while I don’t read it as often as I used to, the inquisitive and questioning nature it taught me never left my mind. So I ask myself – why do I want to be a physician? The answer is complex yet innately obvious to me. There is no short, one-lined answer for my reasons but instead a summation of all my unique life experiences that have lead me to this decision. I have explored other career options that align with my passions: I’ve thought of becoming a professor and teaching chemistry; I’ve considered going to graduate school and being a lifelong researcher; I’ve discussed working in industry as a chemist; I’ve toyed with the idea of being a science writer and journalist. I love teaching others and guiding people to discovering knowledge about themselves through learning difficult ideas and concepts. I think learning is one of God’s greatest gifts to man – I truly believe there is nothing that cannot be learned given enough hard work and time. I am amazed by the human body, the biological systems that work harmoniously within, and the chemistry that, literally, composes all of life and the physical universe. I love reading literature because I get to live through the stories of so many different people, experience their culture and hear their thoughts. I like doing science because it teaches me how to think creatively about the problems that are causing disease and illness. Research brings together the basic science of biology and biochemistry and allows me to do the thinking, the dirty work, and hopefully, discover the solution to a patient problem. But in my searching for the vocation I want to commit my life to, each of the prospective alternatives fell short in a specific and important way. For most, I could not help people in their most vulnerable state. I was missing the intimate and trusting physician-patient relationship that I was attracted to in the beginning. Medicine brings together all of the things I have found myself passionate about for such a long time: passions true to my being, woven into who I am and who I will want to be for the rest of my life. For me, becoming a physician has nothing to do with prestige, honor, or pay. No one in my family is a physician and I’m not being pressured down this career. It has everything to do with using the skills I’ve been blessed with to do the things I love to help others live a healthier life free of disease. I don’t just want to be a physician; I want to be an advocate, an encourager, a teacher, a confidant, a scientist, and a calming, present voice amidst the stormiest times of my patients’ lives. I want to inform and educate others about science and health and learn from those around me in every way I can. I want to write and read and maintain who I am in the long nights and ceremonious mistakes that a life of practicing medicine promises. I want to some day be a wife and a doctor and execute both in the best manner possible. These are the things I envision and hope for my future. So when I feel like my pathway becomes blurred by the constant lull within me to be better, do better, and achieve more I step back and ask myself – to remind myself – why I want to do this. I am journeying this path in life, not for anyone else, but to satiate my unquenchable desire for knowledge and service, challenges and relationships, through triumph and defeat – and that alone makes this pathway my own. I will not lose myself in the circuitous trap of comparison but will instead find myself lying with peace on this beach, reading legendary Nabokov, and dreaming of my future as an endless learner, a trusted confidant, and, ultimately, a healer. 

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travels

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to describe the experiences I had when I was away. People talk about traveling, and the impact it has on your life, and you don’t believe them until you actually have that transformation yourself. You grow up in the comfort of your own country with people that mostly look like you and act like you. For my personal childhood, these people were pretty homogenous to me – in appearance and ideology. When I went to college I realized how much I appreciated learning from other cultures and from people that think differently than myself; I adored meeting those people and developed an appreciation for our differences. This December, I seriously sat down with my dad and asked if I could travel abroad for a Maymester. Going out of the country, admittedly, scared me. After some convincing and coercing, I was given blessings to go to Ireland and England. I would be studying public health of three countries and was ecstatic to learn of an area of healthcare I was less familiar with. The spring semester came with its challenges of exams, family life, a new research job, and college in general but before long I had finished my second year of college and was packing to travel across the pond. I can admit that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into – and that is part of the beauty of it all.

It is overwhelming to think of how to write about my experiences. I couldn’t possibly try to start from the beginning to the end, and I’m kicking myself for not keeping a journal going throughout my journey abroad. Truthfully though, I was going pretty much nonstop and would cherish the few hours of sleep I would get each night. I didn’t find time to write. When I think about what I learned on this trip, so much comes to mind. I’ve decided to just write of my experiences as I think of them – so my first one is below!

I feel very deeply that my experiences abroad will make me a better future doctor. Public health is concerned with the health of the masses – not the privileged, or the wealthy, or the exceptional, but of every man and every woman that is deserving of health. A public health perspective is not focused on individual treatment but on ensuring health opportunity for every person. This means that the woman in poverty with a newborn child is just as deserving of health as the wealthy businessman with a nice sportscar. On the first three days of our trip, I learned about the public health infrastructure in the United States, Tennessee, and Nashville. The Commissioner of Health for Tennessee spoke with passion about healthcare for all, not just in the states, but globally. He spoke of not just improving health but health equity. I learned of government programs that aim to improve the health of vulnerable populations – women with children, the impoverished, elderly people, people in rural populations. I observed with excitement the earnest desire that our public health professionals have to alleviate disease and illness and ensure health for all people. I walked the streets of Nashville with a nonprofit organization and talked to people living in homelessness – people I had often passed. I learned of how homeless people are even more susceptible to mental and physical disease than those that have a place to rest their heads. My heart became more compassionate, more understanding, and more heartbroken for the lack of systems we have to care for people that need it most. I thought of how homeless people were stigmatized and criminalized. What I realized most was my own attitude towards them. People – despite color, wealth, social status, illness, or any other factors – are just people at their core. They share the same anatomy, the same biochemistry happening inside their bodies, the same capacity for illness, the same emotional vulnerabilities. People are people, and sometimes as a society, we don’t treat them that way. People are stigmatized for mental illnesses, HIV/AIDS or other STIs, disabilities, and a menagerie of other diseases. In my own country, I noted these discrepancies. As I traveled overseas, I had lectures on public health in the UK and in Ireland. The same problems exist elsewhere, but I do feel these countries have developed more inclusive health systems. Without getting into the (complicated) details of the healthcare systems across the pond, the UK has a single-payer system that is funded through tax dollars and offers coverage to all citizens. The UK also ranks #1 among healthcare delivery, accessibility, quality, and timeliness; unfortunately, they rank second-to-last in health outcomes (second only to the United States). So, of course, the UK has its problems in improving the health of populations but at least has developed a sophisticated and inclusive (for the most part) healthcare system. Ireland has a much more convoluted healthcare system that has a public component where all citizens get a medical card they use to get public healthcare, and a private component where paying citizens can get private insurance and faster healthcare services. Interestingly, the public healthcare services are more desired than the private because of more extensive expertise in the public hospitals. Nonetheless, all of this healthcare talk is really exciting to me and something I want to be more involved in but probably boring for everyone else… The culmination of my experiences abroad lead me to realize that whether or not you believe healthcare is a right or a privilege – you have to believe that health is a right. Every person is entitled to living a healthy, happy life, free of disease and illness, free of disability, and free of pain. The unfortunate truth is that many people don’t live lives that way now and may never live that way. In my future practice as a doctor, I hope to work to ensure my patients have the best medical care with their optimized health always in my mind. I will value my patients as people with equality and integrity – no matter their race, background, income, homelessness, religious belief, or language barriers. I learned much more on my trip (like where the best pubs are in Ireland and where to get the best Americano in London) but of course this was the important, overarching theme that I wanted to write about first. I will forever be thankful for my travels abroad and hope to write of (perhaps more exciting?) experiences soon!

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finish line

You’ve got people in your corner. You may not know who they are yet, or maybe you do, but they are there. There are people out there that want to see you succeed as bad as you do. They support you, encourage you, market you to other professionals, love you in your flaws. They see your worth, even if you don’t. They recognize your talent, even when you don’t. Something about you inspires them, and you feed off their success and hunger for life. You have people that are your cheerleader. They rejoice with you when you do great things and they fall hard with you when you don’t. They are acutely aware of your life goals and dreams, and they can see what lights your eyes up and sets your heart ablaze mid-conversation. They tell you that they know what you were made for. They are happy for you. They are there for you. They are rooting for you. It may be your mom, teacher, co-worker, best friend, mentor, stranger, boss, dad, roommate, or just a passing face – but somehow they know you and believe in you. People are rooting for you. They don’t wish to see you fail, wish to see you find trouble, but are instead genuinely happy for you! These are true friends. Real friends that you find strength in. Friends that you reciprocate this feeling of pride, excitement, and overwhelming love for. Forget yourself and remember the people that are rooting for you. Those people will be the first people you hug whenever you cross the finish line.

-Me, to myself, when self doubt infiltrates my thoughts on the beautiful things God has given me.

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Structured chaos

Life is busy. We are running around, chasing dreams that have us hooked like the bait on a hook, and life unravels its tightly woven, clean lines. I have found that peace and stillness lies within delighting each moment that leaves you feeling frazzled AND those that leave you feeling gratified. This is the busiest semester I have had at Belmont: everyday, I am waking early to study, running to class, popping into meetings, driving to the lab, spending hours doing research, then driving back late at night and finding I haven’t eaten in a while or gone to the gym for the day. So I take the time to eat, work out if I can, and talk with my roommates. Then I finish up studying/homework and find myself in bed usually past midnight and honestly wanting to watch some Netflix. There are some days that literally every half hour of my day is planned and inscribed in my planner. There are days were I have to be six different places within a few hours. This is not unique to me. My friends and classmates are equally as busy, running around doing their amazing things and chasing their dreams. We are all working so hard, always keeping in mind that elusive goal that we are chasing so fervently. It is one of the beautiful things about college, being surrounded by like-minded and motivated individuals. It is encouraging to see your friends doing awesome activities, getting accepted into awesome internships, and just all around being awesome. We are each carving our own unique pathway towards being who we want to become. I have two thoughts on this.

One. Remember that it is indeed your own pathway. Just because the person next to you is the President of twelve different clubs while running a nonprofit organization on the side doesn’t mean that you have to be that same person. The world works in harmony when there are many different types of people living their lives in uniquely different ways. While many of those I spend time around everyday have similar goals, I try to remember that we are all unique people and that individuality shouldn’t be compromised for the sake of achieving your dreams. If you have to forsake who you really are just to “make it”, I would reconsider what you are chasing after all. I find truth in cliches, and certainly “comparison is the thief of joy” is true to the end. Comparison is inevitable, but I have found that my happiness abounds whenever I remember that I don’t have to be like anyone else but who I am; I only have to be true to myself and my God. I admit that the courage to follow this is sometimes little, but I find it and hold onto it and hope that my life is incredibly robust because I am living out my dream not the dream of those around me. In short, don’t be afraid to take chances and be yourself when it seems the world (and our country) are increasingly trying to normalize the loss of individuality.

Two. Don’t let your to-do list run the roost! I am pointing this message directly at myself now because this is probably my biggest struggle. I make to-do lists every. single. day. Usually, I complete them and feel a grand sense of personal satisfaction. My lists keep me on track, organized, motivated, and determined. But when I step back and look at how completely structured my life is I remember that it’s really not supposed to be that way. Structure and routine are the fundamentals of my existence (or at least my mental health) but they evade the time for writing and reading and going out with friends and watching an episode of Netflix or going for a walk or visiting a new store or etc. etc. etc. So I am going to challenge myself to be more conscious of my to-do list and what it is potentially preventing me from experiencing that I need to experience (sometimes Netflix is simply not justifiable, but other things are). It is going to be beautiful this weekend and I have a laundry list of things on schedule. I am going to try to find the time to take it slow, to think, breathe, and meditate on the good things in my life that I am blessed to have and be able to do.

So I wish a very blessed Saturday for you all. Spend it doing what you love and don’t be ashamed of what that may be (full disclosure: I’ll be doing organic chemistry, possibly visiting TJ Maxx HomeGoods, and grabbing dinner with my friends or family). Enjoy it!

 

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