The beginning of year 2

Classes start again today!

In grad school, it’s too easy to be cynical about classes when the primary commitment is “supposed to be” research. But this semester, I am actually excited for my class schedule, and I think it’ll be a nice balance with my lab work.  I’m taking a few immunology classes:  Immunology of Human Disease, journal club, and seminar; a teaching-oriented seminar called Preparation for the STEM Classroom; and I’m- voluntarily- TAing a section of the first-year graduate student course Foundations of Biomedical Science.  All of that adds up to about 6 hours per week, and it’ll be nice to have a few things to keep my attention and still feel like I’m being a productive scientist.

I feel kind of strange actually feeling excited about classes, and especially when I’m talking about it with other grad school friends since the typical refrain is of annoyance.  But more than in previous semesters of grad school I finally feel settled in, since I’ve been in my thesis lab for almost 3 months now and I feel like I can plan ahead instead of winging it as mucha s I did last year during rotations.  I’m eagerly anticipating this fresh start!

Foodie Friday #3: Casseroles!

Foodie Friday 3 casseroles

Welcome to another edition of Foodie Friday!  This week I’m inspired by back-to-school time to think about quick yet still creative dinners that can be prepared in advance and last a few days.  The first think that comes to my mind that fits all of these criteria is the theme for this week’s Foodie Friday:  casseroles!  Not only are they simple to prepare, but they’re a good way to turn boring leftovers into a new, inspired dish.

  1. The ultimate casseroles, I think, are lasagna and ziti.  Pasta, sauce, cheese- what more do you need?!  For a creative twist on these staple dishes, try using ravioli or tortellini in place of your usual pasta for extra cheesy deliciousness.
  2. I recently made a fantastic taco casserole that I’m excited to share!  I lined the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish with soft tortillas- it took 4 small tortillas to cover the pan.  I sprinkled cheese on that so the filling would stick, then filled the pan with a mixture of pre-cooked taco meat, cooked rice, and canned corn.  (You could also throw in any other veggies you want.)  Then I added more cheese to the top and baked it at 350 degrees just until the cheese was melted.  It’s great fresh but also travels and microwaves well, making it really delicious as leftovers, too.  It tastes just like a taco, but way less messy!
  3. Probably the simplest way to make a casserole is to turn “everything but the kitchen sink” into dinner.  Go through your fridge and find leftovers that you’re just not sure how to turn into a second meal.  Pick a base for your casserole- something starchy and filling is best, such as pasta, rice, or mashed potatoes.  Then mix in your leftovers.  Veggies, meats, and cheeses are all fair game!  To take the flavor to the next step, don’t forget spices.  Salt, pepper, garlic, and onion powder can turn your dish into tasting like leftovers to tasting like something you’ve spent time planning to make!

Now that I’m one person living on my own, I’ve come to appreciate casseroles more now then when my mom used to make them.  They’re a great way to use up a lot of ingredients instead of wasting them, and since they transport and reheat well, I find myself eating them for both lunch and dinner.  Do you have a favorite quick-and-easy dinner idea?  Let me know in the comments! 

New (school) year, new goals


Inspired by a friend who just celebrated a birthday and made a list of goals for her next year, here are my goals for the upcoming academic year:  (I’d do the birthday thing, too, but my birthday is the last week of December which is awfully close to New Year’s…)

  1. Carve out a better work-life balance.  To me that’s going to mean efficiently getting done what I need to in lab each day, not procrastinating, and leaving when I’m done instead of staying longer without reason.  I want to have energy and time left for myself each day, whether that’s in the mornings before lab, or in the evenings once I get home.
  2. Motivate myself to do more creative things.  I’ve been in touch with my crafty side recently and I enjoy decorating, so I want to do more of that, especially since I’m staying in the same apartment for at least the next year and probably longer.  I finally feel like I’m settled in, and I want to have fun with the space I have!  I’m also intrigued by the idea of doing a video series tied to my blog (maybe about food, or maybe more broadly about creative things around Pittsburgh).
  3. Budget my time better so that I don’t get stressed out over things I’ve procrastinated on.  I’m taking on a lot this upcoming year:  besides lab and classes and other school stuff, I’m also now running the Squirrel Hill Genealogy Club and taking on more of a role in planning and marketing the writing workshops I’ve been running since last year.  I love it all but it means I need to start being more organized and on top of getting things done in a timely manner.
  4. Stop being lazy.  I know I sound harsh on myself here, but I also know that if I devoted even an additional hour per day to doing something productive, I could accomplish so much more.  I want to get better at ASL, learn Italian, work on genealogy, write more consistently, and go to synagogue every once in a while besides just on holidays.  But as soon as the TV goes on, I’m glued to the couch until it’s time for bed.  I need to break that cycle and pass my time more usefully.
  5. Keep my apartment clean.  This definitely ties in with the “being lazy” item- some things tend to always end up on my I’ll do it tomorrow list.  But it results in piles of dishes and laundry that I just never want to conquer.  I’d love to start a list of household tasks to do each day so that all I have to do doesn’t become overwhelming, and so I can feel accomplished knowing I’ve tackled one (self-assigned) task each day.

There’s nothing quite like trying to revamp your life- but I’ve been frustrated enough lately with the status quo that I know now’s the time to do it.

Anyone want to join in with me and make a list of goals for the new school year?  Write a post like this and share in the comments.  Let’s motivate each other to stay on track!  And use the hashtag #schoolyeargoals on Twitter!

A breath of fresh air.

It’s amazing how refreshing a week away can be- how clarifying for the mind.  After going non-stop since entering grad school last August, I finally took a vacation last week.  My mom decided it would be fun to take a family road trip, so we headed west out through Iowa and South Dakota to Wyoming, and then back east to Pennsylvania/New Jersey through Missouri.

Sisters reunited!

Sisters reunited!

I had a lot of apprehensions before going on this trip- losing time in lab, missing events in Pittsburgh that I’d wanted to go to, and most of all, a week in the car with my entire family (!)- but it turned out to be a really good time.  Of course there’s an adjustment period when you stick 5 people together that haven’t been in such close quarters in years.  It definitely took some work to make this trip work.  Our last family vacation was probably 4 or 5 years ago.  But after- and even while in the process of- overcoming those problems, we were able to have some fun and memorable adventures (like our epic overnight drive through South Dakota that ended with us stopping to sleep at a truck stop at 5 am!) and create some lasting memories.  Now that I’m moved out and one of my sisters is in college, I know these kinds of moments are going to be fewer and farther between, so I’m coming to appreciate them more.

Prairie sisters in the midwest!

Prairie sisters in the midwest!

I also underestimated how nice a break would be.  The first day was tough, and it was a struggle to put out of my mind all the things I would be doing had I been at work and not on vacation.  That lasted about a day or two and then I realized that I don’t know when my next long vacation will be so I should take advantage of this time to relax!  And that was a great mindset to be in, and allowed me to appreciate and enjoy the trip a lot more than if I’d been worrying about Pittsburgh things the entire time.  I came back to campus yesterday refreshed and calmer than I have been in a while- possibly since my very first day at Pitt!

So flat- except for hay bales.

So flat- except for hay bales.

I titled this post “a breath of fresh air” for a few reasons.

  1. I literally got more fresh air on this vacation than I ever have gotten living in New Jersey or Pittsburgh.  We went through so much wilderness and farmland and it was a big shift from city life but it was refreshing.
  2. A change of pace- from lab and science and critical thinking to hopping in a car and letting someone else make all the decisions (where to go, when to eat, how long to drive…) was a breath of fresh air for my brain.
  3. And a second change of pace- from living alone or choosing to spend time with friends, to spending every moment with my entire family, was something that hasn’t happened for an extended time, since 2008, when I went off to college.

So now I’m back, and appreciating this vacation even more now that it’s over and I’m back in the midst of real life.  (Just don’t let my mom hear that- I still don’t know if I can do a family trip every year! ;-) )  But this year, it was actually a good decision.

A year! (a retrospective)

This month marks one whole year that I’ve been living in Pittsburgh. I can hardly believe it! A year ago today is when I drove from NJ to Pittsburgh with all of my furniture and officially “moved in”.

As anyone who is a grad student knows, the first year- of adjusting to a new city, trying to balance classes and lab, and remaining sane in the process- can be tumultuous. But looking back over everything I am pleased with all that I’ve learned and accomplished. Classes weren’t necessarily fun, but I believe they’ve prepared me well. And I’ve learned, especially, that things are not always as bad as their reputation (take that, Foundations!)

From a personal perspective I can say that I’ve grown a lot living on my own. I’ve been able to think about things that weren’t important when I was living at home but are for my future as an adult: what I believe, how I act, and really what I want to do with my life.

So in retrospect (though, honestly, as it was happening, too), I’ve had a good year. And I’m happy that I can say that and look forward to many (but not too many ;-) ) more here in Pittsburgh.

More Pittsburgh fun

A highlight of some fun events I’ve been to around Pittsburgh the past few weeks- foodie, and (surprisingly), not!

Pierogi Night.jpgI briefly mentioned this in my last post, but last week I went to Pierogi Night, which is a monthly popup restaurant that serves pierogis and another food.  This month was Pierogi Night vs Tacos, and it was delicious!  For just $10 I got this beautiful takeout box full of 5 pierogis and 2 tacos; the other option was $10 for an all-you-can-eat buffet of these items.  My favorite thing in the box was potato, grilled scallion, sauteed corn, and dill pierogis.  I can’t wait for this month’s event!


Flea Market.jpgThis is the non-foodie event I mentioned- the Neighborhood Flea!  This was the first Neighborhood Flea event and it took place in the Strip District at the end of July.  Admittedly it was not a flea market like I’m used to- one where people go with loads of old, generally useless stuff and set up tables filled with these mismatched items.  This event featured vintage sellers, many of whom also run local stores that sell these same items on a daily basis.  However, no complaints here now that I know what to expect.  I actually found some cute paper flowers that are now decorating the entry to my apartment!


Oh My Grill 1.jpgAnd last but certainly not least, I finally made it to try Oh My Grill, a grilled cheese food truck, this past weekend at Weather Permitting.  Oh My Grill is one of the few food trucks in Pittsburgh that I had left to try, and boy was it worth it.  I got “The Usual” which is filled with buffalo chicken and served with a buffalo dipping sauce.  SO good!  I always burn one side of the sandwich when I make grilled cheese for myself so it was particularly pleasant to eat a properly cooked one ;-)  They will definitely be getting my business again.

A hiatus for Science Sunday

You may have noticed that I did not post a Science Sunday this weekend.  That was intentional.  I feel like a better use of my time, and your time, is for me to share articles, among other things, when I come across something I feel so inclined to share, instead of feeling like I am required to share a science article every Sunday.  I want blogging to be all about fun, and not about deadlines or work- that’s what school is for, after all!- and so I will be putting Science Sunday on an infinite hold, for now.

Foodie Friday #2: Apples!

Foodie Friday #2 -apples

It’s been a few weeks since I introduced Foodie Friday. It’s back again, and this week’s topic is apples! Apples are traditionally an autumn fruit, but I’ve been seeing them at farmer’s markets here in Pittsburgh the past couple of weeks and that got me to thinking about what to do with them. I’ve especially been brainstorming ideas on how to use apples in recipes that don’t require using the oven (summer heat still being a problem).

I’m sure that when I first said “apples,” your mind jumped to apple pie. But here are some other suggestions for how to use this versatile fruit!

Continue reading


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.