Saturday, August 30, 2008

Review: First year of master's, 2006-2007

Another last-minute decision at the end of the summer led me to move into the apartment complex where my brother Matt had lived since the beginning of the summer. It seemed like a good place and I'd enjoyed it during the times that I visited him that summer, and I had always enjoyed being in Matt's ward in the past, so it seemed like a good idea.

It was. There were two notable things about this move. The first was that there were a lot of people I had known in high school living in the complex. I hadn't really seen many of them for a long time, so it was both very strange and fun to see how they'd changed in the years since graduation.

The second was that this was the first time, aside from Nauvoo, that I moved into an apartment without knowing any of my roommates. For some reason, this did not make me nervous at all, although I felt like it maybe should. But I'm glad I didn't waste time worrying over it, because those girls came to become some of my best friends. I became very good friends with Emily and Jenny right off the bat. This was fortuitous because they both ended up marrying boys in the ward that I went to high school with, and I played a small role in both of them getting to know their respective husbands. Very gratifying for me.

Two of my other roommates were both named Heather. One of them picked up a boyfriend/fiance pretty quickly, but the other Heather became one of my best friends, too.

I also had the great fortune to be in the same biochemistry lab as another boy in the ward and former high school friend, Rob, who was a biochemistry genius. We were lab partners, and I think the fact that we did all our work jointly helped save my neck in that class. Smart people are great to have around.

I spent a lot of time reading research papers and writing a thesis proposal. I took one of the most fascinating classes I'd ever attended, taught by one of the best- and most feared- biology professors about how to teach science in higher education. I also took graduate level stats, which should have done me more good than it did. I did a lot of labwork, some of which worked and some of which did not.

This was the year of the last hurrah and it has a golden tint in my memory. There were good friends in the apartment, great friends in the ward, fun people in the lab, and the hope of a bright future ahead. Part of the beauty was the knowledge that it was so fleeting- so many of the people were graduating and leaving Provo at the end of the year. So I enjoyed it while I could.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Political flame in the lab

Heh. Upon arriving at the lab this morning, I noticed that most of the professors' doors had "Obama '08" stickers on them. I furrowed my brow a little because many of them are die-hard Republicans.
It came clear recently that it was a prank played by an unknown assailant. Dr. C, who is one of the most civic-minded people I know, is going around asking everyone if they put the stickers on the doors. Dr. C is over 6'6", so generally people tell him the truth. He just questioned Dr. U, and when Dr. U denied any involvement, Dr. C looked at him suspiciously and said, "you're the only Democrat I know." And of course when I say suspiciously I mean that there was a good deal of humor intermingled, but Dr. C would definitely like to get this sticker off his door. Poor man. Good thing I finished watching Obama's acceptance speech for the Democratic ticket online before he came through.

Review: Second Senior Year, 2005-2006

and the years go marching on . . .
The summer of 2005, although rather slow, started with a bang when I flew to Africa along with McKell, a fellow lab slave, to work on introducing quinoa into Morocco. We met up with Dr. J and Dr. M once we got over there.

We got off the plane and got through customs and discovered that the Rabat Institute of Agronomy had sent one of their chauffeurs to pick us up and take us from Casablanca to Rabat. The only way I knew this was because he was holding a sign with my name on it. His name was Felali, and he spoke only Arabic. McKell and I trustingly followed him to a van, put in our bags, and began driving. We couldn't even ask him how far we were from our destination or anything because of the complete language barrier. I was exhausted from the long flight and jet lag, but I didn't even come close to falling asleep on that drive. The road contained every kind of vehicle you can think of, from donkey-drawn carts and mopeds to beat-up trucks to nice cars to semis. And everyone was passing everyone else and I thought we were going to get in a head-on collision with large trucks multiple times.

However, we survived the trip and proceeded to spend two excellent weeks in Morocco. Our colleague and guide was a scientist named Oaffae (Waf-ah), who took us to little villages and bustling towns both for sightseeing and researching.

Returning to Utah, where I was still living at home, things slowed down considerably. I think the most exciting thing that happened to me was getting locked in the Gardens at Thanksgiving Point one evening. And getting locked in the growth chamber.

I really wanted to move back to an apartment when fall semester rolled around, but I wasn't sure where to go. I put out some tentative feelers and had just about given up hope when my brother Matt fortuitously found out that my old apartment, designed for six, was currently housing two sisters, my friend Jill who was just back from her mission, and her sister Julie, who was a freshman. They were great roommates. We had dinner together three evenings a week and sometimes had a Story Night Thursday, and stayed up late talking and generally had a great time together. I became thoroughly spoiled by having a large basement bedroom and bathroom to myself.

Meanwhile, I started applying to graduate school programs. I focused in on UC Davis, the University of Minnesota, NC State, and BYU. Fall semester went by great. Winter semester gave me a serious case of senioritis.

Lots of other things happened during Winter semester. It was a really challenging time and I must admit I'm really glad it's over. In short order, after being accepted to a few programs, I decided to stay at BYU for graduate work. I recorded what happened at my graduation earlier in the blog, so no need to do it twice. Graduating felt good, but it was a little anticlimactic to come back to campus the next day and keep on plugging away at my research.

No moving home this year, either. I stayed in the same apartment building but for some reason the management had me move to the apartment next door. Since there were two people in my old apartment all summer, I couldn't quite figure out why this had to be, but it did add four new roommates to my roomie count. That was a fun apartment, but we had a lot of boy trauma. And not the silly, flirting kind, but the kind that comes after a couple have been dating for a few months and one of them gets to feeling not-so-good about the relationship. My room roommate and I got it pretty heavily. For a while, I felt like I was walking through quicksand and trying to drag my roommate with me- it was all we could do to keep our heads above the sand.

But, we made it and now my roommate is happily married to her sweetheart and has a beautiful, chubby baby girl. Happy endings do happen. Or rather, happy things happen, and then they lead to even more adventures. For me, the happy thing was moving out of that complex with all its memories at the end of the summer. It was time for another fresh start.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Strides forward for stem cells

Most people are very familiar with the term "stem cell" even if they don't fully understand what it means. Most people also understand that there is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the use of stem cells in research.

Personally, as a biologist with a decent understanding of stem cells, I feel very uncomfortable using embryonic stem cells for research and potentially therapy. When a new, single-cell human embryo is formed by fertilizing an egg with a sperm, all of its genes are ready for action and can be used. This continues up until the embryo consists of eight cells. After the eight-cell stage, different genes start being turned on and turned off in different cells, often irrevocably. This is good, because this is what allows complex creatures, like humans, have different body parts. Your brain cells have the exact same genes in their cells as your liver cells, but only specific genes are expressed in each organ. And once those pathways have been set, they do not turn back around.

That's why so many scientists see the promise of using stem cells- those cells that can be turned into whatever we want. However, to date, the most useful stem cells are those that come from embryos. This consists of creating a human embryo, the beginning of a human life, and then systematically destroying it for the sake of research. I do not claim to know at what stage of embryological development life "begins," but I know that I am not comfortable with the idea of playing around with the formation and destruction of human life.

This is a difficult stance to hold though, when the possibilities of what stem cells can do for many diseases are looked at. Granted, all stem-cell cure based research is still in very experimental stages- I'm not aware of any tests that have actually advanced to human subjects yet, which means that we don't actually know what stem cells will do when they are used to cure human diseases.

I should know by now that it's foolish to get comfortable in any dogma or paradigm in science, though. Remember how once a cell has been turned into a brain cell or a liver cell, it stays that way for life, and can only ever divide to produce cells like itself, with the same genes turned on and off? It turns out that this may not always be the case. It seems that scientists have taken mature cells of one type and turned them into mature cells of a completely different variety by switching which genes are on and which are off- in a mouse (or what we call in vivo), no petri dish (in vitro) or stem cells required. While it's a little early to start sounding the horns, this could be huge. This could eliminate lots of time, money, and controversy by cutting out the need for stem cells.

I strongly recommend reading the linked article. It's written in a fairly easy to understand way (I think) and it's so fascinating! Kids, science and medicine are changing fast. Hold on to your seats.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Dream big- but dream realistically

Anyone who knows me very well knows that I am not a TV watcher. At the end of a hard day, I would much rather come home and plop down with a book than veg out in front of the TV. If I do watch TV, it's usually a social thing, or else I'm working on a sewing project, when I generally put a favorite movie in the DVD player.

However, the one thing that I do watch on TV religiously (besides General Conference), is the Olympics. I love them. I love watching such a wide variety of sports in such a short period of time, I love the stories of dedication and inspiration that accompany them, and I love seeing the personalities of the athletes come out. The MSNBC website has a top-eight events from the Beijing games page that I recommend, especially if you weren't able to watch the games.

One of the main themes of the Olympics seems to be "you can do anything you set your heart on." While I admire the determination of the athletes that achieve their goals, this motto does concern me a little. It is more true today, especially in America, than it probably has been anywhere else in any other time period in history. But I fear sometimes we get way too caught up in the mantra "follow your dreams."

Probably the best way to illustrate this is with an example; a piece of practical advice I heard from an Olympian a few years ago. You may recall, from the 2000 Summer games in Sydney, the astonishing gold medal won by Rulon Gardner, a wrestling rookie from Wyoming (who also happened to be LDS and a graduate of Rick's College). He defeated the formidable Alexander Karelin, the Russian wrestling king who had gone undefeated for thirteen years, and won the gold medal. It was your quintessential Olympic story; the underdog came up and achieved his dreams against all odds.

The following year, Rulon came to my high school to give a motivational speech. He may have been my favorite motivational speaker ever. He didn't resort to sensationalism or crazy stories or emotions. Very much the Wyoming farmboy still, he just told it like it was. Of course, he told us to follow our dreams, but he added something that many people should give more consideration. Follow your dreams, but make those dreams realistic. He pointed out that he had a gold medal, but it was a gold medal in wrestling. He hadn't set out to be a horse jockey. Looking at his stature, that made sense.

Michael Phelps may be the best swimmer in recorded history, but look at his body type. He was custom-made for the pool. To put it bluntly, there are some things that affirmative action will never be able to level out to give everyone the same starting advantage. Michael Phelps would be a terrible gymnast. He's far too tall and lanky. But Nastia Liukin would probably never have made it in the pool.

Also, what too many people forget when they watch the Olympics, or inspirational movies, or the finished product of anything, really, is that to become really good at something takes time. There are people who strike it rich and retire in their twenties, but they are few and far between. Most of us have to work, and work dratted hard, to achieve anything truly worthwhile. Ask Michael Phelps, Rulon Gardner, or Nastia Liukin if those gold medals just dropped into their laps.

Or, for that matter, you could ask me if my master's thesis is writing itself, or ask my brother if starting a software company is cake, or ask my dad if he would have achieved groundbreaking discoveries in computer graphics without years and years of work. But, at the same time, we're all dreaming realistically. I'm putting my efforts into genetics because that's what I'm good at. I would fail miserably if I were the one putting together a software company, because those are not my skills.

Finally, to give you one more thing to ponder, here is how Jenkin Lloyd Jones, quoted by President Gordon B. Hinckley, chose to put it:

“[The fact is] most putts don’t drop. Most beef
is tough. Most children grow up to be just
people. Most successful marriages require
high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs
are more often dull than otherwise. …

“Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays,
sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts,
interspersed only occasionally by beautiful
vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.

“The trick is to thank the Lord for letting
you have the ride”

(“Big Rock Candy Mountains,”
Deseret News, 12 June 1973, A4).

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Review: First Senior Year, 2004-2005

Right after moving out of the DDI, I moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota for the summer. I had acquired a summer job as a field hand in the experimental wheat breeding fields of the University of Minnesota, and I lived with my grandparents, both of whom are lifelong citizens of Minneapolis.

I discovered a couple of things pretty quickly. First, the singles ward in Minneapolis was far and away the best singles ward I had ever attended. I formed more solid friendships in my three months there than I had in any other ward in a comparable length of time. This was especially impressive because our ward was spread out over a large section of the city instead of being compressed into a single apartment complex like I was used to (no pun intended). But within the first week of my arrival, I had friends who called me when things were going on and were willing to come pick me up for activities and for church.

The second thing I discovered was how great my grandmother is. While I was there, I began interviewing her to put together her biography. It was so much fun to listen to stories of her Lutheran, Scandinavian upbringing, with memories of her parents and her sisters and growing up next door to my grandpa. My favorite evenings of the week were the ones where Grandma and I went up to her room and she would relate story after story for my tape recorder.

The internship itself was an interesting, broadening experience that will prove very valuable if I do end up going into a plant-related field. It was also a lot of hard work. I don't think I've ever been so dirty in my life as I was after I spent two days helping to harvest the experimental plots of wheat- dust and chaff everywhere. I kind of looked like a chimney sweep.

I did take one glorious long weekend from work when Danielle flew out to visit. We rented a car and, saying lots and lots of prayers, we drove to Minneapolis to Nauvoo, about a seven-hour drive. Danielle had somehow achieved a miraculous connection that allowed us to stay in a pink Victorian mansion just down the river from Nauvoo for free. Kim was getting married in the Nauvoo temple and Danielle and I were there both to see her and to see Nauvoo. We walked through the JSB, where we had lived (it was housing youth groups for the summer), and walked around Nauvoo, and made sure that we saw the sun set over the Mississippi, like old times.

When I came home to Utah, instead of setting up in a new apartment, I moved home. It was a very difficult choice to make, but it felt right. My older brother Matt, who had spent the summer in Russia, also moved home. We were both BYU students, so we made the commute from Orem to Provo together almost every day. Although this was challenging, it was also one of the most rewarding things about living at home. I've admired and looked up to Matt my whole life, and now I had about half an hour of built-in conversation time with him every day.

Instead of having a roommate my own age, I now shared a room with Laura, seven years my junior. She was very gracious about letting me move in and proved to be a good roommate. I generally stayed up later than she did with my studies and oftentimes right when I was getting ready for bed, she would be sound enough asleep to start sleeptalking. She offered me lots of unintentional entertainment that way (my favorite night might have been when I heard her say, "Oh . . . no!" followed by a sudden burst of laughter).

I continued to be challenged intensely by my classes and I continued to love it. This was my first year of taking classes with a set of three boys who were all cousins. We ended up in at least one class together each semester for the next two years, and they were about the best study group I've ever had. They pushed me to excel, and I did pretty well, with their help, and they did with mine. We were good enough friends that when I told them I was dating someone, they offered to come fix him for me if he didn't treat me right (then I told them that my then-boyfriend was studying car design and they all got intensely excited. What is it with boys and cars?).

This was also the first year that I had a job as a TA on top of my research job, and I loved it. I already knew I enjoyed teaching, but working as a TA solidified the idea in my mind. I started toying with the idea of becoming a professor someday.

My biggest lesson from this year was that oftentimes we receive revelation and we act on it, and we may not know for a long time why the action was necessary. We may not ever know in this life. But we will be blessed for our obedience regardless.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Smells like science

My adviser, Dr. J, often goes on collecting trips into the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and California, looking for unusual and random varieties of chenopods, our plants of choice. Some of the chenopods can be identified merely by their scent. I am partial to Chenopodium graveolens, which smells very herby, like it would be a good addition to a soup.

In stark contrast to C. graveolens, there is C. watsonii, which reeks like dead fish. The plant itself isn't so bad unless it's dried, but the seed is incredibly smelly.

Dr. J was gone most of last week on a collecting trip and he came in to work yesterday with a whole slew of bags full of seed. When I walked into his office to have a conference, I noticed a slightly funny odor but I didn't think much of it until he pulled out two bags full of watsonii seed and had me smell them. Then I almost gagged, and politely pointed out to him that his office was starting to smell like dead fish. He remedied the situation by turning on a candle melter to chase out the unpleasant fumes.

I don't think it worked. I just got in to the lab this morning, and as I walked past Dr. J's office, I could smell the seeds even through the door. Yuck-o! I tremble to think what this place will smell like by the time Monday rolls around.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Review: Junior Year, 2003-2004

The summer after my sophomore year was pretty significant because it was the first time I had a full-time job working in a research lab. I started working in the genetics lab during the fall semester of sophomore year. With significant encouragement from my sister Becca, I contacted a few professors about the possibility of working with them and writing a proposal for an ORCA grant, a grant designed to support undergrads in research. I took an offer from Dr. J to work in his lab. I didn't really have time to get into the routine before Nauvoo, but when I came back, I found myself working in the lab eight hours a day. At a microscope. That's a lot of time at a microscope. I worked in the lab with one grad student. She was the only other girl. The other student employees were fourteen married men and one single guy. Fortunately, he acquired a girlfriend shortly thereafter, so I didn't get too much teasing about being set up with him.

This was the first year that I really plunged hard-core into my science classes. With several biology and chemistry classes, it was the first time that I had to not only schedule every half hour of the day in order to accomplish everything that needed to be done, but schedule every half hour with mind-challenging studying and learning, both in the lab and for class. It was my baptism by fire into the world of genetics and molecular biology and I ate it up.

In my apartment, I learned a lot more about leadership and friendship. We had an incredibly random assortment of girls, from the 18-year-old freshman whose friend bailed out on her so she was living off-campus by herself, to the UVSC super senior who had depression and was very socially inept, to the 27-year old fresh RM who was going to BYU for the nursing program and was dealing with the recent death of her father, to my sweet, sweet room roommate Karen, one of my best friends, to the token engaged girl who also studied ballet (who also happened to be the same Ashleigh who spent nights in the Nest the previous year). Then there was me. My nickname in the apartment was "Mom." I've had a lot of experience pulling reluctant kids together, so it wasn't too much of a stretch. With a little work (okay, a lot), we all became friends (some a little more tentative than others). I learned a lot about patience and encouragement on top of everything I learned about DNA and proteins.

Then, things changed abruptly at the semester again. One of my best friends from Nauvoo, Danielle, asked me to move in to the house where she was living with some friends, including Jenny and Kim, two other girls from Nauvoo. It was a hard decision to make. I knew I would love living in Danielle's house. But I also knew that I could do a lot of good if I continued living where I was. In the end, the best conclusion I could come to was that neither decision was necessarily the right choice, but my attitude about my decision would determine whether or not it was a good choice.

So, I moved to the DDI, and proceeded to have a wonderful semester. Danielle was a good friend before I lived with her, and by the time I moved out a the end of May, she was even better. In fact, we were good enough friends that she came out to visit me that summer in Minnesota.

In moving, I acquired two engaged roommates instead of the standard one. I suppose I've been pretty lucky though, because of all my engaged roommates, only one or two have had fiances that I wasn't friends with. In this case, both Kim and Jenny, other friends from Nauvoo, became affianced and we all had a grand time together with their men, especially since Kim and her fiance chose to celebrate their engagement by cooking a steak dinner for all of us.

I also learned a lot about relaxing and having fun and being myself. I finally signed up for the music minor that I'd been debating for three years. I loved the DDI so much that I stayed on an extra month before leaving for my internship that summer. That was the month of no sleep. Danielle and I stayed up late (Danielle's most common expression o' nights was "I hate bed!") and there were many mornings when the only thing that gave me enough self-discipline to get up was the knowledge that Danielle had class, and about half the time she needed some encouragement to get out of bed.

Danielle was studying piano performance at BYU and I had taken a few years of voice lessons, so many an evening was spent at the piano in the living room with Danielle playing and me singing, mostly songs from musicals. Danielle's favorite was "Show Me" from My Fair Lady because playing such a fast song gave her a rush.

I remember walking home from campus every day that last month and seeing all the beautiful flowering plants and smelling the spring air and knowing that fun times awaited me at home and saying a silent prayer of thanks for that one beautiful, happy month. I was nervous and excited for what lay ahead, and I was so very grateful for the memories that lined my heart as I left.

A little English snarkiness

Okay, time for a confession. Misuse of punctuation and spelling errors tend to be rather large pet peeves for me. Especially in papers I am grading and in a context of something that's supposed to be professional. So, occasionally when I am bored, I peruse blogs such as The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, Apostophism, etc. Just as a disclaimer, these sites are not necessarily run by people with low tolerance for crudeness. They are pretty clean in general, but you definitely run the risk of coming across vulgar language if you choose to read the blogs.

Today an old entry on English Fail made me laugh out loud. Look at the second comment down, and think back five and a half years.

Edit: This and this also really tickled my funny bone. I cannot vouch for the cleanliness of the comments.

Why do misspelled signs make me giggle?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Review: Sophomore Year, 2002-2003

Once again, excitement was this in the air as I made the lengthy move from Orem to Provo. This time around, I was living with three high school friends and two girls I didn't know. Rachel and Pica were back for more and Allison joined us, along with Karen and Heather.

And we had fun. So much fun. We flirted and had boy trauma of all kinds (okay, let me qualify that- my roommates flirted and had boy trauma. I still wasn't quite sure how to actually flirt). Allison became our next engaged girl pretty promptly, engaging herself to our FHE brother (it can work, kids! Just stick at it!).

We spent good time together. We had meals together and invited people over for dinner and had roommate bonding time. Pica and I built a massive fort in our living room and we watched a movie it.

Rachel had spent the summer in Belgium and to celebrate her return and her birthday, I figured out how to make a LoveSac, which thing she had been known to covet and which we affectionately referrred to as the "puff pillow." Rachel and I shared a great downstairs bedroom with a spiral staricase and our own bathroom, and we arranged our room so there was a cozy little corner to put the puff pillow, along with assorted other pillows (non-puffy) and blankets in. We called it the Nest and it was a coveted place for studying. Our friend Ashleigh spent many a night sleeping in the Nest.

Alas, the fun and games came to an end for me when I abruptly decided, rather last-minute, to go live in Nauvoo, Illinois for Winter semester. So I vacated our apartment and packed everything I thought I might need for the next four months into some rather large suitcases and flew to Nauvoo with 99 other students, none of whom I knew at the time.

I then proceeded to have what was unconditionally the best semester of my college experience. All three of my roommates were freshmen, making me the wise, sage older roommate. It turned out that they were Orem girls, too, and we knew a lot of the same people.

I loved the people in Nauvoo and I loved the place itself. I have always had a fascination with the history of my church, and Nauvoo plays a very significant role in that history. I walked over those streets many, many times. I sat on the banks of the Mississippi river and watched the sun set, I learned story after story about the people who lived in Nauvoo, I sang in the choir and crocheted until yarn came out of my ears and attended the temple, right across the street from the building where we lived, and held American History review sessions and made wonderful friends.

At the end, we all piled into buses and drove across the country to Pennsylvania and New York and Ohio to see the other places that we had learned so much about. This year, I was very sad to move home.

Beauracracy and the entertainment it brings . . . as long as you're not the one trying to deal with it

Okay, I can't help myself. Sometimes all the levels of committees and officials and such just crack me up completely. Today specifically, it was this article about the trouble that will come your way if you wind up on the government terrorist watch list, especially if you want to fly anywhere.

It's eve worse if you happen to have a common name and someone who unfortuantely shares your name is on the list, because then you are, too. It's even worse if you have a common name and someone who shares your name is on the list and you happen to be an airline pilot, certified to carry loaded weapons on to planes. That's the premise for the article. But sadly, this hassled pilot is not the only person to share the name of this suspicious character. Another innocent man bears the same name. Here I give you my favorite segment of the article:

It turns out that three people named "James Robinson" found their names on the list in early 2005.

Besides the airline pilot, there's the James Robinson who served as U.S. attorney in Detroit, Michigan, and as an assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration; and James Robinson of California, who loves tennis, swimming and flying to the East Coast to see his grandmother.

He's 8.

The third-grader has been on the watch list since he was 5 years old. Asked whether he is a terrorist, he said, "I don't know."

I suppose that there are a great many third-grade boys who are holy terrors, but that hardly seems like enough justification to put them on the terror watch list.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Review: Freshman year, 2001-2002

I started college as an excited and anxious teenager. The night before I moved out (all the way from Orem to Provo- the next town over), I tucked my youngest brother in bed (he was six), and he wrapped his arms around my neck and told me I didn't have to move out. Oy, that rent my heart.

Coming out of high school, I felt like it was time for a fresh start. My four years of high school were plagued with five semi-major surgeries, requiring lots of out-of-school recuperation time, along with acute tendonitis in both wrists, and topped off by a case of chronic fatigue syndrome that took me out of a lot of school my last semester of my senior year. But I was feeling much better and hoping for good things by the time September rolled around.

I lived off-campus with my high school friend Rachel and four other girls who I didn't know prior to moving out. I got introduced to BYU's dating culture firsthand pretty fast by my roommate Esther, who was engaged a month into the semester and married over Christmas break. This was great for me because my other high school friend, Pica, moved it.

I learned a lot about dealing with difficult in-apartment situations from one roommate, who cooked a lot but never cleaned the kitchen, invited several guys over and spent time with them on what my other roommates came to refer to as our make-out couch, and generally had problems obeying the honor code. I learned a lot about setting a good example when it seems like all your efforts are going unheeded. I learned a lot about patience when I had an unfortunate relapse of chronic fatigue during my second semester and I was required to drop some of my classes so I could once again spend more time sleeping.

I learned a lot from my classes, and switched my major from Landscape and Urban Horticulture to Plant Biology. This meant a big change from more artistic classes to a lot more science classes. I'm so glad I did. I had a lot of fun with Rachel. We lived in the downstairs basement bedroom of our apartment and laughed ourselves silly many nights. I taught flute lessons to three girls in Orem, one of them being my little sister Laura. I got to welcome my big brother Matt home from his mission. I got to revel in the fact that the winter Olympics were in Salt Lake, just down the freeway. I had fun and learned a lot. But I was glad to move home for the summer.


I was having a conversation with Josh, my favorite linguist, in which we discussed words that end with -diction. The word benediction came up, and from there, somehow we come to ponder the word "benaddiction." Are there addictions that could be beneficial?

We concluded that there are, in fact, benaddictions. Some of them would be as follows:
1- Being addicted to doing one's best.
2- Paying one's tithing
3- Serving others
4- Getting enough sleep every night
5- Eating healthily

Please note that if any of these benaddictions become obsessions, they are no longer healthy addictions. But there is one benaddiction that will keep all others in check if applied: being moderate (in one's lifestyle, not necessarily politically, that is).


This is a day full of strange emotions. I will be walking in my graduation ceremony in about an hour and a half. It's got a bit of irony, because I won't actually be defending my thesis for several more weeks, but at least I know I'll be able to.

I'm spending a lot of time thinking back to just over two years ago when I received my bachelor's degree. I sat at commencement with my roommate, Jill, and my brother, Matt. Since I graduated from the College of Biology with a minor in music, I was invited to audition to perform at convocation, and they selected me as one of two musical numbers (of course, I have no idea how much competition there was- maybe only two people auditioned). I managed to pick up a nasty cold on Monday of that week. Convocation was on Friday. On Thursday, I was coughing so hard that my lungs felt raw. This was a problem because I was performing a vocal solo. I'm still not completely sure how I got through that solo, except that the priesthood blessing I was given on Thursday morning helped a lot. Matt, bless his heart, walked with my college instead of his own so he could be my accompanist. You can relive the moment here.

This time around feels so different. For one thing, I'm not deathly ill, and for another, I'm not actually done with all the requirements to graduate. For another, so many of my good friends are slowly slipping away- and if they're all leaving, I'd just as soon leave too, and not be hanging around Provo for any longer. I've been here for a long time. This is how I've spent this graduation so far:

Yep, that's my hood on my head. And that's my friend McKay standing next to me. I hung out with him and David, my other good friend who graduated today. The whole day was rather unusual and entertaining. McKay was trying to frantically finish his honors thesis when he realized that he had less than an hour to walk home from campus, get dressed for graduation, and get back to the Marriott Center for commencement. So, slightly frantically, he called me, who just happened to be at my apartment getting ready for commencement. I went over to McKay's apartment, where his roommate Josh helped me out getting together an outfit and a cap and gown for McKay. He didn't have a tassel, so Josh got his and lent it to the cause. It was the wrong year and color, but we tried to ignore that fact.

Upon arriving on campus, and while waiting for McKay to change, Josh and I looked at my graduation attire and Josh noted that it was odd that there was both a hood and a cap for a master's graduation outfit. So, just to prove that it could be used as a hood, I put the hood on my head. Thanks to Josh for capturing the moment of me in my hood and McKay in his borrowed tassel.

Meanwhile, David was finishing his last final- in his graduation robe. We all finally met up for commencement and a merry time was had by all.

It's really amazing to me to look over my life since I started college and see just how much I've changed and learned- and forgotten- and it's kind of exciting to realize that I have a whole lifetime to keep doing just that. In fact, I'm going to briefly chronicle each of the seven years I've spent in higher education and what they've taught me. Should be exciting.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Murphy's Law in the Lab

It's rather quiet here in the dungeon. It's final exams on campus and it's summer term, and those two combined means that there are a mere handful of students roaming the darkened corridors of the basement of the Widstoe. I sit at the computer, compiling my data and working on my thesis and the presentation for my defense, always aware in the back of my mind of the row of plantlets in the next room, which I very much need to grow quickly so I can use them to get the rest of my research done. I am terrified that they will shrivel up and die.

To fill the stark stillness in the lab, broken only by the hum of various pieces of machinery and occasionally by the sound of footsteps, and sometimes obnoxious smells, I turn on some music. It helps a lot.

There are two other people in the lab, being very quiet. I turn off the music in order to turn on a short Google video. At this precise moment, a professor and a student come into the lab far enough to be rather close to my computer and begin talking in very loud voices. What are the odds? I turn off the video and write this post while I wait for them to leave so I can actually hear the audio.

Sometimes solitude can make one go slightly crazy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A watched pot never boils . . .

. . . but does a watched plant ever grow?

More nostalgia

We had a great family reunion this last weekend for my mom's family. Reunions were fun when I was a kid because there were lots of cousins to play with and lots of neat aunts and uncles and always lots of fun games to play and crafts and such. Now reunions are neat because I can sit and talk with those same aunts and uncles, who are very good at witty banter. I also really enjoy picking out aspects of everyones' personalities and seeing where the similarities are. I've picked out several personality traits that kind of run through the whole family in varying degrees.

One trait that's fun to observe is the desire to have things organized, coupled with enjoying numbers and number games. This is a characteristic that isn't really prevalent in that many family members, but it's notable because it was one of my grandpa's defining characteristics. He loved for things to be organized and he loved numbers. He wrote a fifty chapter biography (it had to be exactly fifty chapters- such a nice, even number), and one whole chapter was dedicated to his lifelong love of numbers and an explanation of why every number is interesting. It's such a strong trait in his personality that we laugh whenever anyone else expresses these characteristics. I happened across this comic today and started laughing because it's exactly something my grandpa would have done.

One of the best parts of this reunion was the gathering of the older, temple attending members of the family to the Provo temple on Friday afternoon to do a temple session. We filled up the first two rows in the ordinance room entirely. It reminded me again of the strength there is in family relationships and of the power we carry to influence each others' lives- for good or ill. It also reminded me of just how jubilant I will be when the resurrection takes place and we'll all be able to greet each other with our newly perfected bodies and realize that the greatest family reunion will have started- and never needs to end. In that way, the weekend was both nostalgic and anticipatory, I suppose. And that's about the best you could ask for from a gathering of friends.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Oh, thou bodice-ripper

Maybe sometime if I get a spare minute I'll compose my thoughts on why I strongly dislike the Twilight series. Until then, my friend Amanda has done a pretty good job of covering some of my objections. I agree with everything she wrote in this post. Well put, Amanda.

The paradox of time

Why is it that the more good things happen that should be savored and enjoyed in their deliciousness, the less time there seems to be in order to do so?

I feel like I'm on a raft in a huge river. Not too long ago, the river was barely moving and there were times that I feared I was permanently stuck on sandbars or rocks, or that the river just no longer had a current, and I was stuck unless I could manage to paddle enough with my hands to get further downstream.

Now, the current has picked up significantly. In fact, I can hear the roar of rapids up ahead- maybe just around the next bend. I can tell they are going to be some big rapids- some of the largest I've ever faced in my life. And I know they won't last for super long, but these rapids are especially intense because I'm not sure where I'll be when the whitewater calms back down. The river is going to split in several places and it will be my task to steer my little raft towards the branch that seems to me to be the best. But meanwhile, the rapids will still be going on. I'm so excited- I've waited for these rapids for a long time- but man, am I nervous.

Also, in the spirit of Josh's blog post from July 17th, after some data analysis and a little work in photoshop to combine pictures, this is seriously one of the prettiest things I've ever created. This is what I stare at through my microscope for hours at a time- but seldom does it ever look this nice. Oh, it makes me happy!