Saturday, September 27, 2008

You know you're immersed in academia if . . .

. . . you take a closer look at a rough draft of your thesis and discover that a third of the pages are just to list the references. Yeesh. No wonder I feel like I've read a lot of scientific literature.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More remembering

It's kind of exciting- looking back, it slowly becomes easier and easier to recognize the Lord's hand in shaping my life. But especially when I take the time to write it down so I can go back and ponder over it. Here's a (slightly edited) sample from last December:

This weekend, I felt like everything that I’ve been dealing with has kind of come to a head and I felt like I’d been punched and kicked until I fell over, and then I was still getting kicked in the stomach and I didn’t have the energy to get up. It was a combination of homework stress, research stress, family stress, dating stress, and stress over the temple- the inevitable feeling I guess, that I’m not living up to my covenants.

I was feeling worse and worse and I decided to call Matt and see if he would have time to give me a blessing that afternoon. He said yes, of course, so I drove down to Springville and spent a precious hour talking to Matt and Tricia. I feel so safe there, it’s amazing. We talked about everything that I’ve been concerned about. It’s nice to know that there’s a home I can go to and just enjoy myself. I love my house, but it’s hard to relax there.

Anyway, Matt also gave me the desired blessing. It was a beautiful blessing; I also remember how deep the love ran in that room right then. There is such power in family relationships if they are structured properly. Matt and Tricia both have such depth to them, such strength and compassion.

Today I’ve felt a little better. A little more in control. And this evening, my FHE group went up to my family’s house to hear a marvelous presentation by Michael Kennedy, the first descendent of Joseph Smith to receive the Melchisedek priesthood. He shared with us some most wonderful stories about his ancestors and also about himself. As he was talking, it was quite evident that the Lord had used him and is continuing to use him as an instrument to bring so many people to a knowledge of the gospel. But it’s not like his life has been easy or fun by any stretch of the imagination. It’s really late or I would take a little more time to type some of it up here. But two things kind of stood out to me.

First, he showed us an 18-minute preview of a movie that the Joseph Smith Family Organization funded about the life of Emma, minutely researched, from what he said. As I sat there and watched little glimpses of what Emma suffered for her faith, I recalled Matt’s counsel in the blessing to seek out examples from church history. What a good example Emma is of that.

Second, while he was telling us stories about how he came to learn about the church and be baptized and go from being a recently baptized member with an astonishingly poor grasp on what the gospel was or even who his ancestor Joseph Smith was to becoming a prominent member in close contact with the First Presidency and the head of the Joseph Smith Family Organization, I felt the presence of the heavens close by. He told us of so many "coincidences” that brought so many things about- amazing little connections that show just how closely the Lord was watching him and talking care of him. The Lord does that for everyone. It’s possible for us to kick against the pricks and make it hard for Him to help us, but he is constantly guiding and directing, or as Dad puts it, “playing chess” with so many lives. And since He has such an eternal perspective, He’ll put us through pain and suffering and subject us to misery if that’s what it takes to get us- and those around us- back to Him. Some girls in my ward have a sign up in their living room that reads, “What price are you willing to pay for eternity?” The Lord is there, and He is mindful of us. But He is mindful of us on a much deeper level than we can comprehend in this life, deeper than we can even be aware of ourselves in our mortality. Thanks to the connecting power of the atonement, we can catch a glimpse of what He feels for us, but just a glimpse.

I think I really needed that today. I'm so glad that sometimes I follow the counsel to write in my journal.

The value of remembering

So many times I've learned such amazing things about life only to promptly forget them when a new wave of challenges start inundating me. This is half the reason I keep a journal- so I can have a written record of what I've done and what it taught me and what I thought about things at the time.

Today I reviewed an entry I wrote last summer (2007) when I was dealing with some rather frustrating things, and I was amazed at how well the advice I gave myself still applies:

Meanwhile, I’m still dealing with the same things. I’ve been reading in 1st and 2nd Nephi lately, and Nephi’s experiences are really hitting home with me more than ever before. 1st Nephi 17:13 is one of my favorite scriptures: “I will also be your light in the wilderness . . . ye shall be led towards the promised land, and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.” So much of life is a wilderness experience. But if you can still recognize that God is the light in the wilderness, and that by following Him you are going towards the promised land, even when you can’t see it—even when there’s a desert and an ocean between you and the promised land—and to get there, you have to build a ship, which is something you’ve never done before, if you can realize that you are going towards the promised land, and that the Lord is leading you there, then even though you’re in a wilderness and you have to catch your own food and there’s sand everywhere and the temperature fluctuates a lot and you can’t do anything about it, and your brothers keep trying to sabotage your plans, you know things will be good.
The Lord is the light in the wilderness, whatever that wilderness may be. Whether it is loneliness or unemployment or challenges with school or family problems or dating dearths or financial woes, and even when we cannot see for a long time where that promised land is, as long as we can hold on to the light of the Lord and know that it is by Him that we are led, we will know that we are being led towards that promised land, no matter how far away it it. Every day is one step closer.

I'm glad I took the time to record that thought last year. It sure gave me a boost today.

Time flies like a clock, fruit flies like a banana . . .

How is it possible for time to go so fast and yet so slow at the same time? I think if I spend much longer with so much looming and simlutaneously so little imminent pressure, I might just implode and defy the laws of physics.

Also, I think I need to stop rewriting my future plans. It's starting to take a toll every time I invest myself in a great idea and then keep coming up with new ones. There are so many roads in front of me and I'm still not sure which one I will take. Half the time it's exhilirating and half the time I think I might keel over from the weight of the choices.

Boredom and business, excitement and trepidation- for now, I live a life of extremes.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A little change for the better

After having lived in numerous apartments with sixty different girls, I've concluded that apartments are just like families. Some are great and some are dysfunctional. Last year's apartment was kind of dysfunctional.

I'm happy to report that after moving yet again, three weeks ago, I am now very happily installed in a functional apartment. Not only do I actually see my roommates more than a couple of times a week, we actually do things together. Last night, for example, we all sat around in our back hall and just talked for a good long while. I got to bed much later than I intended, but I didn't realize how hungry I'd become for good friends in my apartment. I'm drinking it up.

A few weeks ago, just to make sure there are no criminals among us, we all took each others' footprints for documentation. Construction paper and blue acrylic paint is very tech-savvy.

This weekend, the adventure was making salsa for the entire ward to partake of at our ward prayer activity. The tomatoes were courtesy of my family. My father, being a great lover of tomatoes, always plants more plants than we can keep up with come fall. So Holly, Kristel, and I piled up to Orem and gathered about two grocery bags full of bright red, orange, and yellow tomatoes, grabbed some other veggies at the store, and proceeded to spend the evening chopping.

I noticed that I was slicing alternating red and yellow tomatoes. Aren't they pretty? And good for food art.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I will make weak things become strong unto them

I just got back from an interviewing workshop held by the BYU Career Center. It's interesting to me that I feel kind of pumped up and energized right now. In fact, when the instructor was talking about how important posture and eye contact and attitude are in an interview, I chuckled to myself when I realized that I was starting to sit up straighter and trying to look like I was paying better attention and like I was excited about what I was hearing. It must be a good sign if I'm getting excited about having interviews.

The best part, though, is just how far I think I've come in this regard. I will never be a businesswoman or an entrepreneur, but as long as I have adequate preparation, I actually kind of enjoy things like interview situations. Also, I love giving presentations, as long as I know the subject material thoroughly (this is why I kind of bombed my presentations in the last biochemistry class I took . . .).

I used to do my best to slip into situations unobserved, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible and hoping especially that people wouldn't get annoyed with me. It all started coming to a head when I was interviewing for graduate schools. With a little help from Becca, I began shifting my attitude from someone who was apologizing for taking up the application committee's time to someone who was an excellent candidate and would grace any program I applied to.

Even more, while I was in Minneapolis, interviewing at the University of Minnesota, things started clicking in my mind. We had a dinner with some faculty members and all the potential students, and as we began the meal, I suddenly realized that I am a completely different person when I am with people I don't know- and I didn't especially like that person. Not that I was rude or condescending or anything, but I was rather quiet and blah, and I didn't think I would come across as very memorable if I acted that way.

So, in a flash, I decided to just act like Maria. It's one of those things that you can hear a hundred times but that you will never believe until a moment like that happens to you. So I was myself. I let my eyes sparkle and I asked the other students questions and I laughed (when appropriate). And it was great. In fact, I think it really saved me on that trip, because a lot of really stressful things happened with regards to my family while I was out there, and giving myself the liberty to be myself eliminated a lot of the stress from my heart.

So, here I am again, poised for more interviews- with the possibility of a lot more next year if I do get a PhD. And sometimes it's daunting and thinking about it is exhausting, but at moments like these, it's just exhilarating. I don't know that the weakness has completely become a strength, but it's a lot stronger than it was.

That bend in the river is getting closer.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Solving mysteries

For Michael:
The plant in the library was a begonia. Probably an eyelash begonia, although I'm a little fuzzy on that point still (no pun intended).
I would also like to take this time to announce that begonias are a much cooler genus of plants than I realized.
Also, since I'm not taking classes this semester, I decided to buy a textbook of my choice, and I chose a very nice book on annual plants. From this book I have already enjoyed a few golden hours of studying plants. The coolest thing I've learned so far is that morning glory and sweet potatoes are in the same genus! How nutso is that?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Coming soon to a harbor near you . . .

Don't forget, September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Start preparing now.

The Adventures of an Accidental Scientist, Part VI: thermometer troubles

In a wet lab doing biology research, controlling temperatures can be the difference between a reaction that works and one that fails- sometimes it's a matter of a few degrees. Because of this, there is generally a decent supply of thermometers in the lab.

The thermometers are in the Celsius scale, which is much more scientific than Fahrenheit and easier to use. (For a humorous and interesting description of how the Fahrenheit system came into existence, you can check out this article). So, I can tell you all kinds of numerical points on the Celsius scale, but I haven't ever found the need to really develop the ability to convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius or vice versa, although I'm getting good at estimating. In Celsius, 37 is body temperature, which is the temperature that a lot of reactions go at (that's the temperature that all the reactions in your body happen at). I'm running a lot of reactions at 15 degrees right now, which is chilly but not really cold. Others take place at 55, which would be very steamy and hot for a temperature.

We generally still use analog thermometers in the lab, although I've seen a few digital ones kicking around. For some reason, I trust them less. The analog thermometers can come with mercury or dyed ethanol in the bulb. The mercury ones are more accurate and last longer, but as you can imagine, are much less safe if they break. When that happens, we have to get a special mercury clean-up kit and carefully track down all the little beads of mercury with a special amalgam sponge that will bind the mercury and make it inert. Cool, but not really fun to do.

A couple of summers ago, there was a rash of broken thermometers. This isn't really a big deal, except that the people breaking these thermometers were failing to report it. For some reason, my karma designated me as the person to be lucky enough to find them all.

The first broken mercury thermometer I found was dangerously close to the sink. That's just what we want, mercury going into the water system. I of course stopped what I was doing and immediately cleaned up the mercury. The second thermometer still makes me shudder a little. I was going to use a small oven in the lab, and I felt compelled to open it before I turned it on. I am eternally grateful that I did, because there was a broken thermometer with a little pool of mercury sitting in the bottom. If I had heated up the oven before opening it, it's quite possible that the mercury would have vaporized. I'm not sure what vaporized mercury will do, but somehow I don't think that inhaling mercury is the best idea I've ever heard.

The third thermometer just broke on the floor. Much less dangerous, but still very annoying. I was getting tired of cleaning up spill.

The most perplexing part of the whole scenario happened after the thermometers broke. Clearly, we were out a few thermometers (why isn't there a good synonym for thermometer?), so someone purchased a few more- and they were all marked in Fahrenheit! This did me no good. After a little while, there was a flurry of small, makeshift signs posted about showing the conversion factor for some of the more commonly used temperatures (aside from body temperature and boiling point, of course. It's rather tricky to try to think up what 65 degrees Celsius is in Fahrenheit on the spot, when time is critical. Ask me how I know).

We couldn't justify throwing away the Fahrenheit thermometers since they were perfectly good, but they still bug me. I think we've almost cycled through them all now and replaced them with (ethanol) Celsius ones, but I now involuntarily glance at the top of a thermometer every time I pick one up to make sure I'm working with the right system.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Review: Second year of master's, 2007-2008

It's official. I can't stay in the same apartment for more than eight months. So Jenny, Heather and I moved to a different apartment in the same ward when summer rolled around. The Halcyon days continued- there was much volleyball and swimming and singing and lounging in the living room with Jenny and James and Heather and assorted boys, attending wedding receptions, and spending lots of good time with Matt. It was the last summer we lived in the same ward. I also returned to Minnesota to interview my grandmother more for her biography. We went camping in the Uintas and played lots of games, and were very sad when Jenny and James moved to Houston. Since they both graduated and both had jobs down there, it made sense, but we still didn't like it.

For the first time, I took summer classes. On top of the classes for my program, which were unfortunately given in three-hour blocks in the afternoon, I decided to relive a childhood dream and I signed up for the beginning gymnastics class on campus. It's amazing to me how much joy I achieved from relearning how to do a front handspring.

As the summer wound down, Heather and I discussed the fact that we wanted a change, but not a huge change. Here, one of the beauties of Provo came into play. We moved to a new apartment in the same complex, but we moved into a new ward. Then, to celebrate, we promptly left and drove down to Cedar City to catch the Shakespearian Festival.

Now, for the first time, I found myself in an apartment full of nice girls whom I never saw and consequently I never really got to know. It was also what we affectionately referred to as the Apartment of Couples. We had four for a long time. This made things rather humorous from my perspective, when they all wanted to occupy the living room at the same time. One of the couples were Heather and Stu, with whom I formed the Triumvirate. Another of the apartment boyfriends was the Elder's Quorum President, who had recently returned to activity in the church and was wont to tell us tales of when he was a bouncer at a bar in California. He looked like he could play the part, too.

On campus, I began my fourth and final year as a TA, working with the Intro to Genetics students. I was in charge of the six other TAs and we worked with three hundred students and both loved them and feared for them by stints. I got my wish and taught a few class periods and loved it. Maybe someday I'll teach my own college courses.

My own classes proved to be the most interesting ones I've ever taken, from some of the best teachers I've ever had. Also, it marked me as a hopeless nerd because I loved reading papers about advanced, cutting edge molecular biology, DNA research, and RNA technology. Just about the most fun I've ever had in class. Aside from gymnastics. I ended up retaking the gymnastics class, too, because I loved it so much. Front handsprings are fun enough on the floor, but then I learned how to do them off the vault. That was much more fun. Until I slipped on the vault and landed on my head. After that, I felt a little more cautious.

There was a great flurry at my parents' house that fall, because after no marriages in the family for seven years, there were two within three months. This was very fun but stressful, so I reacted in the tried-and-true appropriate manner: I fled to Southeast Asia for two weeks.

So actually the plans to go to Asia were in place before either of my brothers (Matt and Tim) got engaged, but the timing was great. I'll have to credit my friend Cim for initiating the idea (she was there for much longer and you can read about her escapades on her own blog). All I can say is that Thailand in December is about the best idea I've ever had.

Back in Provo, things continued as normal. I took a class that reinstated my faith in advanced education and made me re-decide that maybe I do want to get a PhD. After courting for a while, three of my roommates got married. Another summer rolled around with fun activities. People moved in. People moved out. I pretended to graduate. And now I am still here, technically a third-year master's student, I suppose, and really hoping to dump that title as soon as possible. The rest of the adventure? Is still waiting to happen.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Random desires

This afternoon I suddenly developed a strong craving for cheesy, cheesy homemade macaroni and cheese. It was all I could think about while I finished my work, which is odd, because I think I crave mac and cheese about twice a year.

Danielle, I'm choosing to blame you for this. Cheese cravings . . .