Sunday, April 26, 2015

The great professional divide, Computational Biology and Health Informatics

And then there's data science which is a nice lane in between the two and the area where I plan to "center" myself.

So what's changed after months of saying computational biology is my baby? A large part of the change is that rather than going where I thought I belonged based on my skills, I'm being led by God through the opportunities that have presented themselves. And I don't think it's a coincidence that I have had more "no gos" this past year than I could count where PIs would promise me opportunities, then disappear like a fart in the wind! But in the context of the absolutely fabulous time I've had working with special needs children this Spring semester and the "people/people" that tend to go into these fields, it's no surprise to me now that Biomedical Informatics/Data Science a more "people/people" field, has "won out" over Computational Biology/Data Science. And I couldn't be happier about it!! However, the fallout from this past school year and the challenges associated with finding a PI has left me feeling pretty worn out both mentally and physically. So with that in mind, I think I'm going to take it easy this next school year in terms of trying to make significant progress toward my PhD. I won't stop taking classes and because I love school so much, I don't think I could if I tried. But besides the Psych and Soc classes I need for the MCAT, I don't think I'm going to take more than 2 additional classes toward my PhD next year, one on the fall and one next spring.

What I'm seriously hoping is that I'll never have this internal debate again about where my personal and academic interests are best served now that I thoroughly understand that I'm better off in environments with "people/people", than environments with Scientists who are often far from being "people/people". Thing is, I remember when I had this revelation back in the late 80's where I was reprimanded by my lab manager for reading a genetics book during my lunch break on a gig where I was hired to wash glassware. I still remember her exact words, "we don't pay you to read about what we do, you're paid to clean our glassware". My first thought was "wow, what a royal *itch", and my next immediate thought was as much as I enjoy research, maybe this isn't the environment for me.

Okay, so I've talked about that enough, I think it's safe to say that now that I'm going back to working for/with Clinicians in a hospital affiliated with a major medical school, where I'll be working on clinical research projects, I KNOW I'm going to thrive (though I know it won't be perfect) while being constantly reminded of what my ultimate goal is, a Physician/Scientist career! In the meantime, I'll continue to think about my 2 year plan to matriculating into med school with the idea that right now, it's best for me to take my time and do it right!

Friday, April 24, 2015

New gig, old school!

So I've decided on a research group and it looks like cancer along with other GI diseases are now my primary research focus. I'll also be working at a major medical center with a medical school affiliation, so that means that it's probably a good idea that I never officially left my previous program (and for those who haven't been able to keep up with all the different educational paths I was considering, on paper, I'm technically still a graduate student in Biomedical Informatics at my current university.) And if I'm really being honest, the reason I never resigned from my current school is because I just didn't "feel" compelled to do that for some strange reason as in I didn't want to burn that bridge until I was certain I didn't need to get back across it. Plus, I've attended more than 10 educational institutions for every city I've ever lived in (plus a few more LOL), so I recognized that when you have doubts about your next move, staying put is usually not a bad idea. I also finally had to face the fact that being teed off at one PI at my school isn't really enough reason to leave the department/school. But this new gig also means that my research focus doesn't involve my old PI's research area, so I don't need him (anymore) to complete my goals. And that's the more important issue, I don't need his salty arse and he can't block my path either!! And THAT was my biggest concern when I was focused in his main area.

Movin' on, I'm thinking about taking online courses in sociology and psychology in preparation for the MCAT starting this summer. Maybe I'll take one in the Summer and one in the Fall. I'm also supposed to be taking a course in my program (and given the overlap with the concentrations I was considering, the specific course hasn't changed), but I'm just not sure yet. This Spring semester was ROUGH for a number of reasons, and I could really use a little bit of time off from the rat race. Plus, I'll want to hit the ground running on my new gig and that's going to include some looonnnggg hours this summer. The there's that surgery I need to get a consult about too but that will only slow me down, the beauty of doing a data oriented graduate program AND new gig, is that I can work on it from anywhere at anytime!!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"I'm so proud of you!!"

"I'm so proud of you for sticking to your goals when the average person would just take the opportunity they have now and run with that".

Yesterday, I was talking with a long time friend of mine and I mentioned that I had been asked by yet another Principle to return the next year as a full-time Teacher at a super salary (especially for a small town)! My friend who knows the gut wrenching details of my career efforts for the past 2 years, told me what I've quoted in the post and honestly, it almost made me cry.

I'm more than aware that many times, people end up not in the careers they envisioned for themselves, but in the one that seemed to come of of nowhere. I also blogged a couple days ago about feeling like my career these days is unexceptional which I should clarify to mean my research/lab experiences these past 2 years. The thing is that many times, I think people just get comfortable with the "position from nowhere" based on the income it provides, or maybe they really like their coworkers, or maybe it fits their lifestyle as a working Mother (Working Moms seem to do this FAR more than Working men), or perhaps all of the above. Sometimes when I think about how blessed I am to have been a Teacher before and also have a natural knack for working with kids/students, it makes me wonder (for a picosecond) if I'm doing the right thing career wise. But that's the shortest picosecond in the history of time, a good part of what attracts me to medicine is the constant intellectual stimulation and requirements to keep learning something new. The idea that I could also work with kids is just icing on the cake! And I wouldn't have to give up teaching either since I've had my eye on an academic career for as long as I can remember (though I'm VERY concerned about age discrimination when that time comes).

For now, I've decided to work with kids every two weeks on Friday afternoons when schools seem to need help the most. And I'm hoping my new research group will be okay with that.;)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Me, myself, and I

Today, I'll find out if another surgical procedure is in my future. In fact, I'm waiting for the surgeon to come in right now as I type this. ;)

One thing that's CRYSTAL CLEAR is that ignoring myself as I have since my family relocated to Texas in 2013, was a pretty dumb arse idea. I've got so many appointments set up its both ridiculous AND a damn shame because I should know better. But enough about that, I'd like to share some of my success on my path to being in my best shape ever!!

First. I've lost 5 of the 10 pounds that made me overweight and here's how I've done that. First, I don't eat anything other than a granola bar after 6PM at night. And I've stopped eating doughnuts in the middle of the night too! (I have NO IDEA how THAT became a habit, lol!!). I also only eat two true "meals" a day, a meal consisting of a meat (usually chicken), a starch (usually boiled red potatoes) and LOTS of veggies. My third/last meal is often just a serving of meat and LOTS of veggies. I also stopped adding salt to my food, the exception being that I now only lightly season the baked chicken I eat with garlic salt and a seasoning salt (I prefer the ones from Whole Foods).  Speaking of granola bars, that's my new "go to" snack instead of the chocolate iced cake doughnuts from my favorite bakery. I DO however have one every Friday, 'cause I just gotta have it!! I've never really been a fried foods person so I didn't need to make any drastic changes there. But I did need to add more veges to my spaghetti, replacing some of the low fat hamburger I was getting a tad bit carried away with.

As for exercise, I've started playing tennis 2X/week and I'm running longer on the days I don't play. I continue to park far away in parking lots because I believe that evey little bit helps. And my knees are hurting less and less every day since I've also added some light weight lifting to my fitness regime. In other words, I ain't playing with this get back into great shape kick I'm on because I realize that if I'm serious about attending med school at my age, my body needs to reflect that!!! The fact that I need to get healthy for health reasons is just icing on the "get my butt in gear" cake!! :)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Putting together a plan I can WORK WITH!!!!!

I realized after rereading my last post numerous times that besides sounding incredible sad, it really indicated my need to put together a plan that will meet my need to make progress toward my PhD while also putting matriculation into med school on the near horizon. But most importantly, I need to make and more importantly KEEP a workable time frame for getting me where I need to be.

So with everything I have going on in my life right now most of which I've shared on my blog, I feel like a 2 year timeframe for matriculating in med school will best under my current circumstances. And over the next few weeks, I'll be putting together a schedule with a NO EXCEPTIONS clause to make sure I stay true to my goals and most importantly, true to myself.

Today this list includes:
1) Preparing for/retaking the new MCAT.
2) Getting back into a patient oriented research position.
3) Taking at least one course every semester toward my PhD in Comp Bio.
4) Brushing up on my Spanish speaking skills.
5) Applying to med school.

Speaking of research, it looks like I'll need to choose between the two research groups I've recently met with since I've received very positive feedback from both. And as I've mentioned many times before, I'll be literally praying that I make the best choice given the time I lost toward my PhD (which delayed my med school app too) choosing the wrong research group (and ultimately the wrong school) last summer. That said, I can honestly see now where that "wrong group/school" ended up being a blessing in disguise because I may never have considered what appears to now be a better school, with a better research group, in a MUCH better city!! In other words, everything truly does happen for a reason, so now I've just got get my plan together and WORK IT OUT!!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Casket sharp!!!

When the surgeon walked in smelling STRONG of Armani cologne and a suit/tie combo like the one to the right of this post, I KNEW this was MY type of Doc, LOL!!! He was of Indian heritage so I was a little surprised at how flamboyantly (or "casket sharp" as the old southern folks say) he was dressed since the ones I've worked with in the past tended to be on the more conservative side of things dress wise. But having completed a lab based post doc following his surgical residency, I had a feeling Dr. Sharp my moniker for him,  would be my type of guy! In fact, minus the surgical residency, I'd say that his career is exactly like the one I envision for myself in many ways, combining clinical duties with clinical research. But he raised some issues that left me wondering if I would be a good fit for the group.

Before I met with the group that consisted of 1 nurse, 1 project manager, and 2 physicians, I was prepared to not follow through with the other research group , because I'm so excited about being in a hospital, working with patients, and working on clinical research projects again even if they heavily involve cancer research. But Dr. Sharp's mentioning that he was having difficulty getting the Docs there to think on more research terms, left me concerned. OTOH, I've long since realized that there will never be a "perfect" place to conduct research, folks just learn to adapt as best they can and make the best of whatever opportunities that present to you. One thing IS clear, I won't be truly happy with my career until I see med school on the near horizon and that brings me to a quote from a very prolific writer, that most people have never heard of:

"If we’re not fine-tuned to the space and energy that we’re occupying, that’s what leads to mediocrity or falling into that “nondescript” category. It’s like driving with your emergency brake on or walking in a pair of ill-fitting shoes; sure, you’re making progress, but it’s unexceptional progress."

Ms. Nancy frequently posts comments on the the Grady Doctor's blog and once had a blog of her own. So after my meeting with Dr. Sharp and reading Ms. Nancy's post, I realize once again, that my career will continue to feel unexceptional until I matriculate in med school. And that's both sad and profound, but a reminder that we owe it to ourselves to pursue our dreams and goals by ANY means necessary!!!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Doctor, Data Scientist or both? So NOT a dilemma for Doc201X!!!!

                                                 * Image by Swami Chandrasekaran

What's a premed currently developing skills in Data Science to do?

Why BOTH of course, LOL!!

Maybe I'm not "chasing my tail" afterall...but then again............

So earlier this week, I met with a research group focused almost completely in Computational Biology (CompBio) and Data Analysis, and I have a second meeting to schedule with them after they take a look at some of my code at a popular website for computer programmers. The research with this group is in Infectious Diseases which is what I've wanted to "switch into" for a while now, and it's also at a different medical school from the other interview I mentioned. But there's no patient contact component, so while I'm going to hear them out (especially since I'll be compensated MUCH better due to the CS flavor of the gig), I'll be praying real hard to make the best decision in the short and long term.

Movin' on, I'm now leaning toward taking the MCAT next year after I get some better feedback on: 1) how the test will be scored and 2) how to prepare for the test. Knowing that it's normalized to fit a bell curve concerns me for a first time exam.

And that brings to me my position of not being in a hurry to start med school even though I think it's VERY risky from an acceptance point of view to apply when you're over age 50 (of course, most people think it's absolutely insane, LOL!!). But then I remind myself that I choose the username Doc201X which in itself is problematic because it didn't force me to mentally stick to a timeframe to matriculate. Of course, I think that's FAR easier to do when the only person you have to worry about is yourself, because having a family can often complicate career decisions. More so, if you let them and I think these past 2 years, I've let my family be more of an excuse for not matriculating than I should have allowed it to be. That said, my thoughts about delaying med school now have to do with the goal I set of having the "Dr" title by the year 201X. And at some point, no matter what my goals are, I feel like I need to force myself to stick with a plan. PERIOD!!!

What I also find highly ironic is that most people don't start blogging about med school until after they've decided to matriculate and I'd guess that if one looked at the blog "drop out" rate among nontraditional premeds, it's probably pretty high owing to the fact that most folks never do matriculate into med school. Then there's that ugly reality about dealing with humans that became crystal clear to me by the message a reader (anesthesiologist?) left me regarding why I hadn't matriculated yet. Just plain mean spiritied and uncalled for since by blogging I open myself up to ridicule by coward idiots who by nature of leaving anonymous and discouraging messages on my blog, probably wouldn't dare put details of their likely sorry assed life on display for critique/criticisms by strangers. But I digress, the point is that this path is difficult for any nontrad student owing to a large part of deciding on a "best time" when other people are depending on you and your support system is not so great. So regularly ignoring stupidity and discouragement, simply becomes passe' and par for the course for a future Scientist/Physician like me especially when there are so many wonderful opportunities at medical schools on the horizon!!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A day in the life of a Bioinformatician

                                                     * Image from

This doesn't exactly describe the life of a person in the field of Bioinformatics/Data Science/Computational Biology, but it's pretty darn close to what I hope my career will look like 20 years from now. Me, relaxing in Caribbean waters (where I'll have a second home), consulting with Clinicians all over the world on their data heavy research projects.


And in case anyone is wondering why the combo "Bioinformatics/Data Science/Computational Biology", it's because there's so much overlap in the core curriculums of these 3 programs (you specialize with your electives) that I list them as one. So while I've been crystal clear this is my "area" research wise, my dissertation advisor/research project will dictate which one of the 3, I end up focusing on. ;)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Team SJGR's newest member, Doc201X!!!!

                                              * my new running shoes

Due in large part to the medical issues I'm dealing with, I finally decided to join the Grady Doctor's Team SJGR. For the uninformed, SJGR stands for "Shit Just Got Real" and was created ~ 6 months after her beloved sister died suddenly a few years ago from cardiac disease in her mid 40's.

And while I'm still not ready to "go public" with everything I'm dealing with medically, I am willing to share most of the things I'm doing to get myself as healthy as I can be. First stop was to loose the 10 lbs I had gained since I moved to Texas that left me overweight for the first time in my entire life. Second, was to start running again even though I have bad knees. Thing is that my knees don't hurt any more than they did before I started running, so go figure on that one. But running is the absolute best way I know of to get my body back looking the way I prefer it look(vanity intended), plus there are obvious health benefits too. The third thing I've done is to limit my salt intake which I never thought was a problem until my blood pressure started telling me otherwise. The last and most important change I made, was to stop making every one else's needs a priority over my own all the time!! And almost 4 weeks in ( I waited to mention it until it became a habit), I'm feeling MUCH better and still sticking to the plan, although there are a few more medical "mountains" I need to climb in the future.

I just finally had to accept (with my Doc's help) that I'm at an age where if I'm not careful, my life could end a lot sooner than I want it to. And that would be a damn shame because "killing yourself with your fork" is the dumbest thing EVER, besides the fact that I  have career goals left to achieve (hello MD/PhD)!!! Plus, you can't outrun your DNA but so long, so I've developed new habits to ensure that don't I end up like so many of my relatives, either dead from a massive stroke in my 50's or even worse IMHO, significantly disabled for the rest of my life. HELLZNAWZ!!! Plus, I now have this amazing 40 something actress as my motivation:

Yep gimmie X months, and I'll be there with Jada Pinkett Smith....... where "X" equals who da' hell knows, LOL!!!

In other news, my classes are going great and I've started to pick up more on the MCAT front. But now I'm a little concerned that I may or may not be preparing for the MCAT in the best way given that it's a new exam. OTOH, there aren't but so many ways to ask questions about identifying aldehydes and ketones. The change to emphasizing Biochemistry will most certainly work in my favor due to my extensive background in Biochem, as will my overall improvement in test taking in general, so I'll keep plugging away and hope for the best!

On the gig front, I have a second meeting with a new research group next week, a group that has a significant amount of direct patient contact as well as work in data analysis. Needless to say, I'm super happy that I decided to take an advanced course in statistical analysis/R programming this semester since I'll be using it quite extensively should this be a good match. The position is at a hospital's medical school in the department of Internal Medicine, so it could be a good short term (PhD) and long term (MD) match!!! And in the biggest irony of ALL, I'd be back to a cancer research project, making me the only person I know that "chases their own damn tail" as much I do and making this recent post VERY unnecessary!! URGH, ROTFL!!!!!!

So what happend to my "End of the Road"  position on research? Well I stopped "robo-emailing" prospective PI's about my research interests for one and excluded projects with a bench research component too. Instead, I cherry picked opportunities that would be good for me and get me closer to my goals which meant that: 1) The gig would come with patient contact, 2) Have an affiliation with a medical school, 3) Use my strong interest in applying what I'm learning in CompBio to clinical research as opposed to bench research, and 4) Potentially count toward my dissertation project. And this opportunity meets all 4 goals.;)