Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What does computational biology and Pediatrics have in common??

Well, read the following article to see:


Lately, I've been getting more than a few questions about how Comptuational Biology relates to a career as a Clinician, so I was thrilled to find an article which pretty much encompasses what I could do with training in both areas. Of course, reading it was the highlight of my day especially as I think more and more about how much I think I'd enjoy being a pediatrician (that's also trained inIM, 😉).

Outside of that, I'm dealing with some moderately serious health issues that have required my immediate attention. So until I get things under control in that regard, I won't be posting much since I refuse to throw ANY of my academic endeavors off my plate. However, it's simply the fact that regularly putting everyone else's needs ahead of your own, eventually catches up with SuperWoman, LOL!!!!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pick one.

                                       * Image from the Times Union blog
At this point in my career, I'm down to just a handful of people who are still encouraging me to go the Physician/Scientist career route. And while I understand the financial concern to a certain extent, I don't think I'll EVER choose one over the other as I'm so well suited to both career choices.

This week, some new research opportunities came into play that I'm giving serious consideration to given my transition back to infectious diseases(ID)/microbiology (micro). One of them would require I be available to go to West Africa to work in a scientist capacity (obviously) in Ebola endemic countries, and the other would require that I work for the Feds ala' biological agents. Of course, this kinda' contrasts with the very great feedback I'm getting from my special needs children work where I'm being strenuously encouraged and now also financially incentivized, to go the medical school route with a strong eye for Peds/Special Needs children. I've also been encouraged to become certified to work with special needs children, something I never saw coming in a million years, LOL!!

So what do I want to do? I like the idea of working in West Africa for a year or so, then starting med school not long after I return. I just need to figure out a tentative plan for how I could do so. The Ebola opportunity (should I secure it), would not only "count" toward my research endeavors in my PhD Comp Bio program, it would obviously look FABULOUS on a med school application too. But I'd really miss "my kids" during that time. :( Honestly, if I were 10 years younger, this might be a "no brainer" (do both) except that 10 years ago I was focused on my family life as a wife, mother, and Researcher. Of course, those are very valid reasons for why 10 years ago would not have been the best time for me because while I was academically "ready", I wasn't anywhere close to being "personally" ready. That's why it's so easy for me to dismiss folks who talk about the fact that with my current goals, it would be at least 15 years before I'm completely "trained". And I easily scoff at that because: 1) The money I'll be paid in a combined program is more than many Americans live on per year for their entire lives. And I'd get paid that amount to do something I thoroughly enjoy, absolutely priceless in my book. 2) The money I'll get paid in the combined program is not much different from what I've made the past 3 years, 3) Making a difference in one's field has absolutely nothing to do with where you are in your training, it's about "going hard" for people everyday. As an example of #3, one of my kids had an asthma attack a couple weeks ago and I was the only staff member that caught it, NO ONE else recognized this child's "coughing" as a sign of an asthma attack (this kid was a known prankster, but I've got xray vision with that, LOL). And this isn't the only "medical experience" I've had since I started working with special needs children last month, I have an innate ability to relate to them medically that simply will not be denied.

I guess I'm just (finally) at the age where I've put aside my fear of taking on unexpected opportunities and worrying about the effect it could have on my family and with their complete blessing, I've decided to go for it and see what happens! So for now, my plan is to finish out this semesters classes while continuing to prepare for taking the MCAT later this summer. But if I get the opportunity in the next 3-5 months to go to West Africa or work with the Feds in biological agents for a little while , I'm seriously going to consider taking it especially since it'll "count" toward  my PhD! I have always said that I wanted to be ABD at the time I matriculate in med school (ABD stands for "all but the dissertation", it means that all the requirements for the PhD have been completed except defending it), and this could be the way to do exactly that. The fact is that life is promised to no one and I think we owe it to ourselves to live every moment of it while we're here! :)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Back to Bugs!!!

                                             *structure of Dengue from Purdue University

So while my research plans are on the back burner as far as my current goals are concerned, they really haven't disappeared too far from my mind as evidenced by the numerous summer and year long fellowships I've applied for, for graduate students in Computational Biology (Comp Bio). The fact is that I just can't "turn my brain off" when it comes to research, so I still regularly read journal articles, but over the past few months, my interests have shifted from cancer back to microbiology/infectious diseases. And given that this is where my research career started when I was an undergrad Micro major( I ended up with a minor in Micro and changed to Chemistry), I guess it's no surprise that I'm back.

The thing is that my research time last year at a top cancer center (and the ongoing disappointment with the realization that folks aren't truly interested in curing cancer due to the billions made in treatment), really struck a personal nerve that was difficult to shake given my family history with cancer. So working there was REALLY mentally tough most days and while I found the science of cancer amazing, the personal toll was difficult. And if I'm really being honest, I find the fact that foreign Scientists have "taken over" the field in the US to the blatant exclusion of other minority groups, utterly disappointing and this has really left a bad taste in my mouth so to speak as it relates to a career in cancer research.

So I've decided to brush the dust off my government clearance to return to a field (applying Comp Bio methods, of course) where US citizenship is required. And with the recent Ebola outbreak, now is a great time to jump on the micro bandwagon. Now for clarity, this isn't about my unwillingness to compete with foreigners who often bring their (culturally nepotistic)"A" game to research endeavors. Now in my 40's, my academic game is tighter than it's EVER been (though folks from mysoginistic cultures haven't responded to that 'ish all that well. And ya'll KNOW who I'm talking about). This is about the fact that as a US citizen, I should have first dibs on jobs I'm qualified for in MY country ( they should follow the American Medical Association (AMA) for an example of how to protect your turf!!) In fact, the work place visa scenario has not only greatly depressed Scientist incomes, it's significantly decreased opportunities for US born Scientists (thanks Mr. Facebook with your "we need more tech people" bs!!!). All that said, almost all of the Comp Bio fellowships I've applied for have a very deliberate "micro" flavor to them and I also decided to pick up a short course in epidemics and disease outbreaks to get back into the micro mood, lol!!!

Moving on to the MCAT, I haven't done much since I needed to refresh my programming skills as required for all but one upcoming fellowship opportunity. But all that work will be done by mid-May, so I'll still have time to get fully prepared for the MCAT. I'm just sooooo happy I spread my prep time out so that I could make these unexpected and unplanned changes to my study schedule and readjust. Now, it looks like the majority of my prep time will occur between mid-May to mid-July which leaves me plenty of time to be ready by my July 27th test date!!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Working with special people.

                                 * image from the website smartappsforspecialneeds.com

When I was given options as to the types of assignments I wanted, I purposely volunteered to work with special needs children, though I had never done so in my entire life. But then I've felt for a while now that this phase of my life is ALL about new people and new experiences, especially those that involve working with people (and especially kids).

Of course, I knew taking on such assignments would mean reliving my own "experience" with the idea of raising a special needs kid, when 4 weeks and 21 days into my pregnancy, I was told that my now freshman Engineering major daughter, was going to be born with Down's Syndrome. My doctor also told me that I had less than 2 weeks to consider terminating the pregnancy.

Now obviously my regular readers know that  I do not have a special needs kid, she actually tested to be gifted and talented at ~ age 6. However that week while my husband, sister/cousin, and I talked about what we would do, I knew my life would never be the same, and all these years later, I still get emotional everytime I tell the story to someone.

And that was what I did again recently when I met the teacher I will be working with once/week for the next 4 weeks, when she asked me my experience with special needs kids, I emotionally told her my own story. Then I proceeded to have one of the best days I've ever had working with people!!!

After just one day, I'm beyond throughly impressed with how far we've come as a society when it comes to educating those with mental development issues. Not only are these kids allowed to have similar educational experiences to kids without development issues, those with higher level skills are also trained for jobs after high school graduation. Absolutely amazing!!

So of course, this experience has me thinking more about Peds and practice that deals specifically with special needs kids. Again, all VERY premature conjecture, but fun just the same!!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The blessing in failing.

I've "borrowed" this blog title from Kirk Franklin, a modern day gospel musician and you can click here if you want to read his take on this subject.

The thing is that I've been VERY well acquainted with "failure" since we relocated to Texas almost 2 years ago, from the job whose funding vanished just before we came, to being laid off twice once for basically having asthma, to my inability to "connect" with a research group for longer than 3 months. But when I reflect on all this (and I've been doing a LOT of this lately), I realize that my resolve to finish medical school probably wouldn't be as strong had I not had those "failures". And I place failure in quotation marks because I really don't see what's happened to me as failure at all. I do see it as I time in my life where I "swam through a sea of bull****, lol!!! And while I haven't mentally moved far enough away from it all to see it as a 100% positive experience yet (yeah, I'm still salty about the research experience last summer), I am beginning to see the blessing in it all. For example, I have a much stronger appreciation for all the blessings I do have in my life like my regular interaction with young children and those with special needs. Yep, it just brings up all those warm, fuzzy feelings I have about the field of pediatrics, in combo with IM of course!!! My stay in small town America has also reinforced my surprising desire to work in a rural community as opposed to an urban one. Health issues among urban minorities is something to observe, but I had NO IDEA the issues minorities in rural communities deal with. WOW!! JUST WOW!!! At any rate, I'm also reminded of the broken promise to myself to refresh my Spanish since the plan these days is to stay in Texas indefinitely. But I'm also quite aware that just like Texas showed up on my radar out of no where, there could be another set of blessings disguised as failures in my future too, so I'll stay open to it all, while continuing to enjoy the ride!!!