I felt very much cooped up this weekend.  There was so much going on around Pittsburgh this weekend- so much- and I enjoyed every minute of the events I went to.  Still, I can’t help but be wishing that I should be elsewhere, doing something more with my time.  It’s a wanderlust that I can’t seem to shake.

Let me preface this by saying that I hate when I feel this way.  I’m doing good work here, and I enjoy doing science and I know that a “nomadic” life is not conducive to also doing research.  Rationally, in order to have a career in science, I know that I need to be settled in one place and take vacations/trips from there.  But then I see people whose entire lives revolve around traveling all over the world, and can’t help but wonder how I could be doing that too.

The truth is that in scientific research, I can’t.  Not for a very very long time, at least, and not unless I become an extremely prolific and famous scientist and get invited to speak at universities throughout the world.  It’s quite a long-shot.

I like experiencing things.  I like exploring.  And as much as there is to do in Pittsburgh- and there is a lot!- I know that there are millions of other places in this world that I have yet to see, and that is what pains me.  Every minute I am here is a minute that I am not somewhere else- and how many minutes have I spent in Pittsburgh, in New Jersey, and not…somewhere different?  So I wonder, continuously, how I can create a well-rounded life for myself, one that incorporates all the things I want out of it.  And I haven’t yet figured that out.

I talked to my father the other day.  We were both watching the Tour de France.  He said that he loves watching the Tour because it feels to him like a mini vacation to France every year.  My reply was that I have the exact opposite feeling.  It makes me upset because I am not there; while the sights are beautiful, I know that I am actually sitting on my couch in front of a television, and not really in France.

Every once in a while, it’s things like that- seeing a country I want to visit featured on TV, or hearing of a friend or acquaintance who is traveling abroad- that trigger my wanderlust and get me thinking “What if…”

Science Sunday #26

Happy Sunday again, everyone!  This week, I chose to highlight an aspect of the scientific funding crisis about which people outside of the intimate scientific community may not be aware.  Not only is the lack of government funding affecting individual researchers at academic institutions:  it is also directly affecting the ability of private research centers to keep their doors open*.

Scripps Research Institute, located in California, is a non-profit research institute that relies mainly on NIH grant money to fund itself.  Competition for NIH grant support is extremely high right now, making it difficult to rely on, and Scripps is estimating a budget deficit of $21-million for this year.  Consequently, Scripps has been looking for a new source of funding to fill that hole.  They had been in talks with the University of Southern California (USC)- but talks fell through earlier in the month after faculty at Scripps rejected the partnership and this week, the CEO of Scripps resigned as a result of the conflict.  So Scripps is now back in the position of needing additional, outside funding in order to stay afloat.

A whole research institute in crisis because of the NIH funding climate.

Scripps has a reputation for being a prolific research center, and I (and I’m sure, the rest of the scientific community) am interested to see how they handle their financial crisis in the midst of the government funding crisis and in the wake of the fall-through from their partnership with USC.

*Article from Chemical & Engineering News, 7.11.14.

A super-foodie weekend: part 1

I love summer weekends in Pittsburgh. There is always so much going on, seemingly to make up for the winter when it is impossible to enjoy going outside. This weekend in particular I have been enjoying a whole slew of foodie events!


Yesterday was the Return to Pizza Dojo, where Bread and Salt Bakery and Pizza Boat competed against each other to see who could sell out of 100 pizzas the fastest. (Pizza Boat won.) However…I got pizza from both competitors and preferred that of Bread and Salt- their crust was chewier and frankly just tasted better, and their choice of topping- yellow tomatoes- was surprising but tasted delicious and sweet and it worked.


The Pizza Dojo was my first stop in a weekend to be filled with Pittsburgh foodie goodness. (I’m on my way now to Pierogi Night versus Tacos.) So, another post will be in order later in the weekend to highlight the rest!

Update 7.27.24:  Links added!

Science Sunday #25

I came across a very moving article this week that I’d like to share for this week’s Science Sunday.  The article is called One Of A Kind:  What do you do if your child has a condition that is new to science?  It was published online ahead of print in The New Yorker on July 21.

The article is about a family with son had an undiagnosed medical condition, and their journey through trying to get him a diagnosis.  The writing of this article was very raw and real, and captured, as best as words on a page can, the parents’ emotions as they struggled through years of trying to find out what was wrong with their son.

Eventually, he was diagnosed with a glycosylation disorder:  but only after his and his parents’ genomes were sequenced, and there was outreach worldwide to identify other patients who had the same mutation.

From a clinical perspective, it gives hope that with enough persistence, other patients who have not yet found a diagnosis will be able to.  From a research perspective, it highlights the importance of collaboration to further human health.  And from a human perspective, stories like this make us grateful for what we have and sympathetic for those around us who are struggling.

It’s worth the read.

The opposite of what I’d think:

I’ve been talking to my PI recently about going to a conference in September.  Seeing as I just started in the lab at the beginning of June, and that I’m taking over someone’s project, I don’t have a ton of my own data yet.  But, this conference is one that I am extremely interested in going to.  It’s a graduate student-only immunology conference called IGSIC, and I’ll have the opportunity to network with my immunology peers from all over the world.

It’s set now that I will be going to the conference.  The most recent discussion I had with my PI was whether I should submit for a poster, or for an oral presentation.

I went into the conversation thinking that although I feel comfortable talking about the project, I don’t know that I really will have enough of my own data by September to warrant giving an oral presentation.  A poster, on the other hand, is a bit more conducive to showing preliminary data.

Surprisingly, my PI took exactly the opposite point of view!  From his perspective, an oral presentation is more risky when you have more new data and are closer to publishing a paper, because you’ll want to avoid having too much data “leaked” in advance.  He felt that I would be okay applying for an oral presentation because I don’t have a lot of data over what the lab has already published on this project.

Though I’m happy that I got the green light to apply to give a talk, I was a bit surprised by his take on the situation!  I always think of posters as being more preliminary data, and talks being more for cohesive, later-stage projects.  I’m particularly wondering how other labs handle posters vs talks at conferences, and what the rationale is behind the decision.  Obviously I am doing whatever my PI decides, but I am curious about opinions on this topic in general.

Food Trucks in Pittsburgh!

Last Friday, I published an article on the NYC Food Truck Association blog entitled “Food Trucks in Pittsburgh?  Why, Yes!”  I had a fantastic time working to get this article published, so please go check it out– and support the food trucks mentioned!  Pittsburgh’s food trucks are not well-known, but they deserve to be!

If you’re in New York City, the NYC FTA is a great resource for finding out where you can locate your favorite food truck.  If you’re in Pittsburgh, check out PGH Trux on Twitter.

Science Sunday #24

This week:  Vials of Smallpox Found in F.D.A. Storage Room!  It’s crazy that a disease that is supposed to have been eradicated over 3 decades ago was kept unaccounted for since 1954.  A more recent article later in the week confirmed that these stocks of virus are indeed able to grow, indicating that they may be infectious.  Luckily, the CDC has agreed to destroy the virus after this testing is done.  Between this and the anthrax scare earlier in the year, I think it’s time for the NIH to take a closer look at their policies, to ensure that there is no longer the danger of exposure to these diseases- to their employees, or to the public.

Foodie Friday!

Foodie Friday berries


Welcome to the very first Foodie Friday on Isn’t That Grad!  This week, I’m featuring berries.

By day I’m a scientist but at night I love to bake- it’s a great stress reliever and also a fun way to bring people together, so it’s a win-win for me! Cooking has always come naturally to me, but over the years I’ve realized that’s not the case with everyone. Often when I share food with friends I get comments like “that’s so clever” or “how did you think of that flavor combination?” I realized that I have knowledge about cooking that I can share with everyone else– and now, I’m going to do just that, every other Friday!

My cooking point of view is (to take from a common workplace term) transferrable skills. If you know what tastes good together and how to handle ingredients, you can go and put together any dish containing those ingredients! Recipes become less important if you understand the food.  That’s what I’m here to teach you.

Continue reading

Five and a half things I learned this weekend.

1.  The first drive-in gas station in the world was in Pittsburgh!

2.  Enrico Biscotti in the Strip does sell nut-free biscotti!

3.  Downtown Pittsburgh after the 4th of July fireworks is an awful time to try and get on a bus.

3a.  There are plenty of other places with good views of the fireworks, including in Schenley Park.

4.  The cooking demos at the Bloomfield Saturday Market are a great way to try (free) food from local restaurants and chefs.

5.  When your parents visit you for the first time, you will take/be in an inordinate number of pictures at every location you stop at during the entire weekend ;-) (and you’ll be okay with it).

Science Sunday #23

This week in science news:  Stem Cell Research Papers Are Retracted.  This has been a huge debate in the science world for the past few months, ever since the original papers describing a method of making stem cells using an acid bath were published.  Almost immediately, there were questions of the integrity of the papers. After a lot of debate, including many many articles drawing the public’s attention to the case, the papers were finally withdrawn this week.

What I think is important in this case is two things:

1. That cases like this are not the rule in science, they are the exception. Full retractions of papers are rare and I hate that often it is these negative articles that persist in the public media. More common is either corrections (often of a figure or a legend) or partial retractions of a paper. Which brings me to my next point,

2. Cases like this spiral out of control when the media sensationalizes scientific discoveries before they have the opportunity to be vetted by the scientific community. I imagine that these papers would have been retracted anyway, but it would have happened without bring such drawn out, negative publicity to the research world.

I hope this saga will inform more scientists to work and publish with integrity and with a sense of responsibility to the community they represent.

I’m also curious as to what other scientists think about this and similar cases of whole papers being retracted. Do you notice the effect of the negativity they bring to science? Is it more noticeable of an effect if you’re working in the same field as the paper?