If you follow me on instagram and/or twitter, you may know that just over a month ago, I adopted a sweet little 1 year old cat from the Humane Society. Since then, I’ve been 1) too busy playing with her and 2) too busy preparing for my qualifying exam (mostly #2, but I wish it were more #1) to post about her. Now that my qual is done, I’d like to finally introduce you all to my precious girl, Smeagol!

I know the name probably reminds you of this little fellow from LOTR:

Source: Dugbee | Flickr
Source: Dugbee | Flickr

But no worries, she is nowhere as creepy as Gollum (and luckily not possessed by a magic ring). But she is gray/brown, which fits with the name, and I’ve always wanted to name my pets after characters from middle earth.

2015-03-26 17.51.25

So why am I posting about my cat on a blog about med school and grad school? Well, a little while ago there was a hashtag going around twitter, #academicswithcats. Now that I’m one of them, I wanted to share some of my pictures of how this little cat has changed the way I work.

Working on the computer is a lot harder.

2015-03-08 11.00.49

I can’t edit my writing.

(That’s my qualifying paper).

2015-03-15 13.20.28

I can’t access the papers I’d like to read.

2015-03-23 11.41.01

But it’s totally worth it!

2015-03-30 09.25.59

If you’re looking to get a pet, please consider adoption!


Cribs – MD/PhD Student Edition


Sup y’all! Welcome to the MD/PhD student edition of cribs featuring yours truly! Thought I’d give you a tour of my new apartment here at UIUC so you can get a feel of the place where I will likely spend endless hours studying in the next year.

Cribs 1

The awesome thing about the building is that there are just three apartments on bottom and three on top with our own private entrances. It’s a nice transition between living in a large apartment building with a front desk and hundreds of other tenants and living in a house on my own. Plus, it’s located just a block from one of the hospitals on campus and just a mile from the medical science and associated buildings where I’ll be spending lots of my time.

Cribs 2

Well, let’s enter the apartment. Right away, you meet a staircase leading up to my living room. You can see my flower pictures hung along the stairs and my bike at the top. It’s a pretty fun ordeal to get the bike down the stairs, but even more to hold it up a few stairs while trying to open the door. I’m sure I’ll get better at it in time.

Cribs 4

Now here’s the living room. It has a vaulted ceiling with fan and light in the center. Since I’ve spent the past four years in Minneapolis, I’ve grown accustomed to having a skyline. Unfortunately that is something that Chambana is lacking, so if you notice above the bike, there is a puzzle picture of the New York skyline as my replacement. I also have brought nearly all of the text books that I own as well as many other books to fill my bookshelves. While I have maybe read half of them, they still make me look smart, which is clearly the most important thing. Also, being the mature adult that I am, my pictures mostly require picture frames, but that hasn’t stopped me from letting my obnoxious Minnesotan self be fully expressed on my walls. As my mother says, I will likely make enemies of Illinois fans if I ever have people over. I also have a swell view of some random house’s back yard through my window. Luckily they haven’t been annoying… yet.

Cribs 5

The living room transitions into the kitchen with a big peninsula, which is perfect for spreading out all of my study materials and is a good replacement for a desk. This is a very important area of the apartment since my paddle from marching band and my coffee maker are both located here. I even have a shelving unit dedicated to coffee-related items just below the peninsula. Oh and I have a pantry, which is pretty dang awesome!

Cribs 6

Every girl, even if they intend to spend most of their time in a lab, needs a quality bathroom area. While I was concerned about the lack of counter- and cabinet-space when I moved in, I made up for it with my super awesome shelf. Most importantly, there is a closet with a washer and dryer. Yes that’s right, a WASHER AND DRYER! As someone who has had to pay for laundry the past three years this is one of the glorious things about the whole apartment.

Cribs 7

And finally, the most important room, the room with all of my clothes and where I may be able to catch a few hours of the ever-so-elusive sleep every now and then, my bedroom. I nearly had a freak out when I saw all of the closets in this place. It was so messy when I toured it in May that I didn’t realize that there wasn’t just one closet in the back corner, but that there was another wide closet along the wall and a linen closet, which is SUPER MEGA AWESOME!!! I no longer have to climb to get into bed as I’ve had a loft/top bunk for the past four years and even better yet it’s a queen size bed! I don’t even know what to do with all of that space! In case you were curious, the super cool cow quilt was made by my grandmother so it is a highly sentimental piece rather than just there because I really like cows or something. And of course I must have an Aragorn poster near my bed as I have for… pretty much ever. Now that he’s framed, he shall be with me forever… Okay, ending the Lord of the Rings weirdness, I also put up a white board in the room for studying in case it would help me to write things out. I wasn’t going to put it on the wall, but then I figured having to stand to use it would help me stay awake and focused. 

Well that’s the place! I think it is set up pretty well to help me be a super productive student! After living in dorms and apartments that are just a step up from that for the past four years, I am so fortunate to have my own furniture again and my own space. Surely it would be much more sparse had I not received much of this from my grandparents and I am blessed to have such caring relatives. I am looking forward to spending at least the next year in this apartment and getting the rest of my life settled here in Chambana!

Featured image: Instagram | Hanna Erickson (@MDPhDToBe)

Making the move

This past weekend, I loaded up all of my stuff into a car, truck, and trailer back home in Minnesota and moved it all into my new apartment in Champaign, Illinois, just blocks from campus where I’ll be starting school in just a couple weeks!

I had been working to pack up my things since the beginning of the summer, slowly taking over my parents’ basement as I brought things home from my grandparents’ house and my apartment at school. I was fortunate to be able to get so many things handed down from my grandparents that I didn’t have to buy much for the apartment.

On Friday night, my brother borrowed his mother-in-law’s truck and we picked up a UHaul trailer. It was a much longer process than necessary because it wasn’t at an actual UHaul store and the guy didn’t know how to check out the trailer. Nonetheless, we finally got it an brought it to my parents’ house where I had brought all of my boxes and furniture out to the garage. With the help of my brother, his friend, his wife, my father, and my mother, we had all of my stuff loaded in less than an hour!

Later that night, I picked up my boyfriend, Tim, and brought him back to my parents’ house so that we could get up and leave early the next morning. We got up at 6, went to McDonalds to pick up breakfast for the traveling group, and returned to find that my brother had arrived. My brother drove the truck with trailer and my mom rode with him while Tim rode with me in my car.

A little over eight hours and a few stops later, we arrived at the realtor where I needed to pick up my keys in Champaign, Illinois. While my mom had been pestering me to call and make sure that I could pick up my keys when I got there, I never got around to it, and we faced locked doors to the realtor office. This was bad news since my brother and mother had to leave the next morning to head back home. I frantically called the emergency number for the company and as I was talking to someone the owner opened the door and gave us the key. It was a close scare that will surely never happen again!

We quickly got everything into the apartment from the trailer so that my brother and I could return it. We then went to find the nearest liquor store since beer is an essential part of unpacking, naturally. I was happy to find that liquor stores are open on Sundays here, a nice change from Minnesota. We took a break to go eat and I found that there was many more shops in the area than I had seen when I came to look for apartments earlier this year, another nice find. By the end of the night, nearly everything was unpacked. Just a few boxes remained and pictures needed to be hung up, but that was pretty much it for work that needed to be done!

The next morning, my brother and mom got up at 6 to head back to Minnesota. It was hard to say goodbye, but as my mom had to tell herself, it was as if I lived on the other side of Minneapolis and was just too busy to see them. Surely, the time until I’m home for Thanksgiving will fly by.

Tim stayed with me and we shopped for the few remaining things I needed for the apartment and drove around to explore the city. We went to the mall and I bought my first actual Illinois clothing! The only other shirt I’ve owned is a hate shirt that simply says, “Illinois, do you even have a mascot?” Not that much hate, but a hate shirt nonetheless (they don’t have a mascot anymore because it was an Indian and the NCAA found it inappropriate). We went to the movie theater near the town that night. Although it’s only been a couple days, I already felt like I knew my way around.

The next day I had my first meeting with my graduate department to sign my stipend agreement. Unfortunately it hadn’t been sent to the department yet but I did get my picture taken for the graduate school records! Later in the afternoon, I met with the professor that I’m most interested in having as a thesis advisor. His lab is a large chemistry lab focused on development of small molecules as anticancer drugs. I got some papers from him to read and I’ll let him know in a couple days if I for sure want to rotate with him. Now, I just need to line up 5 more professors as potential thesis advisors that a committee will choose from to pick my 3 rotation labs.

The rest of Monday and Tuesday, Tim and I just enjoyed spending time together. He had been waiting for the package with my Xfinity internet starter kit on Monday while I was out but we apparently missed it because my doorbell doesn’t work and surely the delivery man tried that and with no answer just left a note. After some struggle with an unfriendly UPS employee at the customer service center, we got the package via will call. Unfortunately it didn’t have a modem, so we still had to find a Comcast customer service center to get that Tuesday morning. We later walked around campus so he and I could get a better feel of the place and get out of the apartment a little bit. I dropped him off at the airport later in the afternoon and finally had to say goodbye. It was rough, but we’ll see each other later in September in Madison, so at least we have something kind of soon to look forward to!

Now I’m all alone here in Chambana, but I have plenty to do to keep me occupied. I need to contact more professors and hopefully meet with them. I need to get my I-Card, my student ID. I need to get other things set up like car insurance and car registration. And grad school orientation starts this Friday! Looking forward to what’s to come!

Featured image: Hanna Erickson

Biographical sketch

I was raised in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota by a father who is an imaging engineer in the radiation oncology department of the University of Minnesota Medical Center (UMMC) and a mother who stayed at home with me until I began elementary school when she became a self-employed house cleaner. They raised me to value knowledge and enhanced my early interest in science by buying me science kits and a microscope when I was nine, which helped solidify my life-long interest in the subject. In addition, my grandmother gave me her piano and began paying for my piano lessons when I was eight years old, sparking an interest in performing music that lasts until this day. I was fortunate to grow up with such a strong support system to encourage my love of learning, science, and music.

As a thirteen-year-old, I had become interested in becoming a doctor because of my parents’ praise of my scientific abilities and their belief that I would excel as a doctor. Following up on this desire, I joined the junior volunteer program at the UMMC in the summer after my freshman year of high school to gain a better understanding of medicine. Through this program, I learned of the motivation required of doctors, and I began to question my intentions to pursue such a career. I lacked confidence in my own desire because my parents had played such a large role in my experiences in medicine up to that point in my life; therefore, I made an important decision to explore other careers to find one that I was sincerely interested in investing my life’s work.

For the rest of high school, I was set on becoming a pharmacist and began preparing myself for such a career. I job shadowed a pharmacist in tenth grade who told me of the importance of chemistry for the job so I immediately signed up to take AP chemistry the following year. A combination of my interest in the course, encouragement from my teacher, its relevance to my career goals, and influence of my older brother who was majoring in chemistry cemented my decision to major in chemistry in college.

I began my freshman year at the University of Minnesota still wanting to become a pharmacist, but that did not last long. During this year, I was exposed to academic research and changed my career plans because I believed that I could impact a greater population by searching for novel information that could lead to improved treatment of disease. This caused my educational goals to shift to pursuing a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry or pharmacology and my undergraduate education to focus on complimenting my chemistry major with biology and biochemistry minors to gain a thorough understanding of the science underlying human life and disease, which would prepare me for whatever health-related career I pursued.

Over the next two years, I continued to prepare myself for graduate school and a career in medical research by working in a genetic engineering lab for a year before taking a position in a medicinal chemistry and carcinogenesis lab in the cancer center. As an undergraduate research assistant in the cancer center, I was exposed to research ranging from basic chemistry and biology to translational application of such research. This helped me learn about cancer, how it affects a person’s body, and how it affects a person’s life. By understanding how my work was applicable toward human lives, I became much more interested in the human side of cancer and felt an urge to become a doctor but I was too attracted to research to give it up. As I was researching graduate programs in the spring of my junior year of college, I discovered the Medical Scientist Training Program that would allow me to pursue both my clinical and research aspirations to become a physician-scientist. Knowing that there is a realistic way to combine my career aspirations, I realized that I am driven not by an interest in research or clinical work individually but by a passion for doing everything that I can to contribute to curing cancer.

At the University of Minnesota, I feel that I have taken full advantage of the opportunities available at the university. In the marching band and pep bands in the past four years, I have learned valuable life skills regarding teamwork and motivation as I give back to the university that I love by being an enthusiastic ambassador for the school’s tradition and pride. Further, I devote my time and energy as a leader in the athletic bands organization to teach and inspire my fellow band members so that they can best share their love of this school with others as well. In addition, I did even more for this band and this school as the President of the university’s chapter of Tau Beta Sigma, a national honorary band sorority. A major part of my efforts in these roles is to inspire others to gain confidence in their own abilities and to use this confidence to push themselves to excel.

Beyond the scope of my leadership roles, my involvement has helped me gain a better understanding of my inspiration and the vision I hold for my future career as well as a greater confidence in my abilities. As an undergraduate research assistant, I have learned to be an independent researcher, gained experience with grant writing, and learned how to present my research both in oral and written formats. I also gained experience with teaching as a teaching assistant for an online biochemistry course. Most importantly, I remain involved in the intravenous infusion suite of the masonic cancer center so that I am able to have a direct impact on cancer patients each week; having such interactions inspires me to do everything that I can for these people. All in all, these activities have solidified my determination to become a physician scientist and I look forward to pursuing such a career path at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Featured image: Hanna Erickson

My last summer

Since I graduated from college this May and start more school this August, this truly is my last summer. For in August, I begin an eight-year program where I will spend my summers doing research, working in clinics, and studying. I will have left the world of the student who pays for schooling, and enter a grown-up world where my education is truly my job.

So what to do with the last summer free from most responsibility and worries of my life? Surely, I must make the most of it.

First, I wanted to something crazy, something totally out of the ordinary for me, something that wasn’t research or clinical, something that put me more in touch with humanity. As I thought of jobs that could fit this description, I thought of barista. Making coffee and interacting with customers is a great way to make small talk and meet a lot of people. Although I had worked as a barista before, it isn’t like any job or activity I had done in the past 3 years and so it was out of the ordinary for who I have become. Alas, a very short interview with Starbucks killed that dream as their training takes nearly as long as I would be able to work there.

Next, I gave up on it not being research related as I found an internship that was available at a local pharmaceutical company. I thought that it would be good to get experience in a non-academic research environment so that I know what I’m missing out in academia. I updated my resume and wrote a cover letter, things that I had not really had to do since my previous jobs at my university were much easier to get and perhaps required only a CV. Alas, I was not who they were looking for.

I was at a loss. I did not want to get a job as a cashier at Target or some other place though that is where I would likely be able to find a job for such a short time. I did the cashier thing for nearly 4 years of my life and enough is enough. But by a rather unfortunate circumstance, I found a way to spend my summer that is much more out of the ordinary and meaningful than anything else I could have chosen to do.

And so, here I am. It’s a Friday night in June, the rain is pouring outside, the wind is howling, the power is out, and I sit in the nearly empty house that was once my grandparents’, alone, listening to the sound of the storm, and reading through letters my grandfather received from his friends while he served in World War II. I have spent much of my summer here, cleaning, organizing, throwing things away, donating some to good will, and doling out what I can to the rest of my family, and I couldn’t imagine a better summer.

This was a creepy, classic, spider-infested basement room after I cleaned it out.
This was a creepy, classic, spider-infested basement room after I cleaned it out.

This past April, my grandmother passed away from cancer leaving my nearly ninety year old grandfather without a caretaker. He moved in with my aunt leaving their home where my grandparents’ had lived for 58 years without tenants. This is where I come in. It is now my job, along with my mother, to clean out this house so full of memories so that new tenants can call this place home. It is where my mother grew up and it is where I spent much of my childhood as well including spending a summer living with my grandparents’ after my freshman year of college. It is a place that will be hard to say good-bye to.

I have taken advantage of this opportunity to learn as much as possible about my family. I’ve learned about my grandfather’s time as a marine in World War II and his time as a professor of forestry at the University of Minnesota. I’ve learned about how my grandparents met as a blind date and fell in love at first sight. I’ve learned of the summer they lived in a 50-foot tall fire lookout tower in Idaho and I hope to get the story my grandmother wrote about the experience published. It is in learning about their past that I am more amazed at the people they grew up to be.

My grandparents in 1946 - one month after they started dating.
My grandparents in 1946 – one month after they started dating.

Even more, I’ve gone beyond my grandparents’ time to learn about those who came before them. Through the hundred of pictures I’ve scanned and the stories my grandmother has written, I’ve learned about my great-grandparents, great- great-grandparents and beyond. Through my grandparents’ records, I was able to put 320 people on our family tree. Joining ancestry.com got me to over 1,000. I learned that my great- great- great-grandfather immigrated from Ireland and was a member of the Stone Masons. I learned that I come from two lines of knights of England (Strickland and Ketchum/Knyvett). I learned that the first couple to get married in America who came in the Mayflower, John Alden and Priscilla Mulline, are my 10th great grandparents. I learned that Benjamin Rush who was a doctor and signed the declaration of independence is my 5th great grand uncle. I’ve learned that I’m mostly English with some Norweigan, Irish, Scottish, Swedish, and German in my blood and now know when most of those ancestors came to America.

2013-06-04 15.23.36
My great- great-grandmother’s wedding shoes and an old bible.

I’ve also found relics of the past. I’ve found bibles from the 1800s with the names, births, and deaths of my ancestors recorded, wedding shoes that were my great- great-grandmother’s, a dresser scarf that was hand stitched by my great- great- grandmother, war pins from the Civil War and World War II, crystal lamp bases of my great-grandmother’s, and the plates my great-grandparents received as wedding gifts. Seeing these things, touching these things, is like reaching out and touching my ancestors. I’m holding something that they once held, something that was once new and special to them, and it has been passed on so that I have the fortune to have it too.

It is amazing how much history you can find in a single house.

So how does this relate to my goals for the summer?

Is it crazy? Well, I have been able to obsess over this project for the past month, so it lets me get crazy about it.

Is it something totally out of the ordinary for me? Well, I’m absolutely terrified of spiders and even more about house centipedes and I hate dirty basements, which is just what I’ve had to clean out this summer. My mother says that if we’re supposed to do something every day that scares us that she and I are good for many years.

Does it put me more in touch with humanity? I’ve learned who my ancestors are. I’ve touched things they’ve touched. I’ve learned where I come from, what role my family has played in society. I’ve learned more about how I fit in this world. Yes, I’d say I’m more in touch with humanity.

It’s not always pretty, it’s a lot of work, but I’m enjoying every minute of it, and as I’ve said, I cannot imagine a better summer. My search for a way to spend my summer was not at all a loss nonetheless, for the day I interviewed with Starbucks, I had to stop by my grandparents’ house to get their car to drive to the interview. That was the last time I saw my grandmother in a coherent state before I saw her on her last day with us. Clearly failures can be blessings in disguise. Being able to clear out her house and learn about he family is helping give me closure to say goodbye to my grandma and goodbye to the house where she and my grandfather lived. It’s saying goodbye to the life I know and it’s preparing me to move 8 hours away from home, to live completely by myself in a new state. It’s preparing me to truly live on my own.

My grandparent's house.
My grandparent’s house.

I challenge you to think of how you would spend your last summer.

Featured image: Hanna Erickson