Helpful webinar for MD/PhD applicants

Hi everyone!!! Miss me? It’s been a while, but I’m hoping to get back to this blog with a life update when I get a grant proposal out in a few weeks. In the mean time, I wanted to share an opportunity coming up from a group I’m involved in, American Physician Scientist Association. 

This Thursday, July 27, APSA will be having an interactive session featuring two MSTP (MD/PhD program) directors, Skip Brass and Kerry O’Banion at 6PM Eastern. They will be providing helpful information for those applying this year or next year!

Here’s how to access:

Ins and Outs of Physician Scientist Training Applications

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.

You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (646) 749-3122

Access Code: 321-494-285

A year in the life

The new year is often a time of reflection on the previous year and planning for the year to come. As I look back on 2013, it seems to be a lot of endings and new beginnings. Sure there was some bad, but there was also good – life is more exciting with both extremes after all. Here’s some of my experiences from the past year:

Got rejected from many MD/PhD programs

Played volleyball for the first time in an intramural league

Saw my beloved Gophers play an outdoor hockey game in Chicago and visited the city for the first time

Became seriously interested in writing/blogging

Lost my grandmother to cancer

Moved my grandfather out of the house he’d lived in for 58 years

Got accepted to a MD/PhD program

Played in my last pep band gig

Planned a dance (amazingly stressful)

Handed off my undergraduate leadership responsibilities

Completed my UROP research project


Quit caffeine

Got my first apartment on my own

Cleaned out an entire house

Digitized ~2,500 pictures of my family

Traced my family geneology back to 1090 A.D.

Went swing dancing for the first time

Celebrated 7 years as a hospital volunteer

Dressed up as Cinderella and visited kids at the hospital

Moved my undergrad lab to a new building

Moved by myself to a new state

Started my MD/PhD program

Began drinking coffee again

Made lots of new friends

Started biking regularly

Became a football fan

Ate sushi for the first time

Went to my first scientific meeting

Went home for homecoming

Began shadowing an oncologist


Got a keyboard and began to play piano again

Surprised my family by turning some writing my grandmother unsuccessfully tried to publish into a self-published book.

Started planning my graduate research project!

Hope 2014 is just as exciting!!!

An ex-marine’s perspective on life

My grandfather, an ex-marine, told me a story today. He said that back in World War II when he was stationed in Hawaii, good friends that he’d spend all of his days with would go up in the air to log experience hours in planes, and sometimes an accident would happen and in a matter of minutes they were gone. Then, of course, all of the men would drink that night to honor their memory.

Marines 15

Well, one day, my grandfather was walking with his parachute over his shoulder along side the pilot to the plane when one of the other men ran up to him saying that they were switched out so that the other guy could get the four hours that he needed. Twenty minutes later, the plane crashed and that guy was gone.

You sure bet my grandfather drank a lot to honor his memory that night.

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

Today, my grandfather had to leave the home that he’s had for almost sixty years just three weeks after losing his wife of 64 years who gave him 3 daughters, 7 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren. It broke my heart. But he said, “I got 64 more years than many of those other guys. I got a family.”

He said that after the men came back from the war, they couldn’t appreciate problems facing society. Everything seemed so trivial to the deaths they saw in the service. They knew that they had close calls themselves and it was something that they never forgot.

We may have never experienced such death, but it is important to remember and honor the lives of any who have lost theirs by appreciating the time that we have.

I hope this is something that I never forget.

“I’m Sorry For Your Loss”

This past Sunday, we celebrated the life of my grandmother who recently passed away 7 months after being diagnosed with cancer.

I like to tell myself that I knew from the day that she was diagnosed that we would have to face this day, to say goodbye, sooner than I had hoped. It is my way of coping, to remind myself that on the bright side, we knew it was coming so we were able to at least say our goodbyes.

At our open house for her (as she said “there will be no funerals for members of this house!” – referring to her and my grandfather), I had family friends and distant relatives tell me, “I’m sorry for your loss” – I had always known of the phrase as common but never thought much of it.

Suddenly I found it absurd.

This isn’t just my loss – they knew her too – it is their loss as well. It is the world’s loss. Even as an elderly woman, she was involved in a cribbage club, a caregiver’s group, a book club, a bowling league, and kept in touch with other good friends in addition to loving her family. No matter how well any of us knew her, she made an impact on all of our lives and now, she is gone.

Even as a close family member, I shared her with three great-grandchildren, six other grandchildren, her three daughters, her husband, and her cat. While I felt exceptionally close compared to the other grandchildren – living with her for a summer, calling 2-3 times a week at least – I can appreciate everyone else’s love for her as well. If anyone truly deserves to hear “I’m sorry for your loss” it is my grandfather who spent the past 64 years with her and whom she took care of in her final years.

We all lost a great woman and no one should have to tell another “I’m sorry for your loss.” Rather, it is “I’m sorry for our loss” or if it must be specified in any circumstance, “I’m sorry about your grandmother/grandfather/uncle/aunt/mom/dad/sibling/dog/etc.”

From my experience, the possession associated with “I’m sorry for your loss” is not felt as deserved as a family member grieving. Perhaps this denial of possession is to spread the grief and sadness, but I’d like to think of it as wishing to spread the joy of having known such a wonderful person to not think of it as the negative of losing the person, but the gain of having known them.

It is small things like this that we must acknowledge when looking at the world, choosing how to think, and deciding what to say. It’s the difference between a loss and a gain. It’s the difference between keeping something to yourself or sharing it with the world. It’s the difference in perspective.

I may not be religious, but I am spiritual

I grew up without organized religion, feeling left out at times such as when my friends would go to youth group together without me or when I’d have dinner with a friend’s family and they would pray before eating. I would try to go to church with my friends every now and then, but it never felt like the place for me; I was much too skeptical of the stories and was offended by how they talked poorly about those who had other religious beliefs or those who at least questioned their religious beliefs. Nonetheless, I did appreciate the desire to help others that religion instills as I have always favored altruism. I was told frequently that some day, I will “find God” and I scoffed at the remark, preferring to attribute my views to my own experiences and understanding.

What these views are exactly has been difficult to describe. For a while I said I was atheist, but after discovering the term, I realized that really I was more agnostic. This was yet too apathetic of a term and after watching David Eagleman’s Possibilian talk, I began to use his active exploration of the possibilities to describe how I saw the world. This is still the best explanation I can form for my beliefs, but these beliefs relate to a much larger topic that no one religion can contain.

Throughout the years, I have continued to be a philanthropist and have become a leader focusing on inspiring others and connecting to the greater world. It is this connection to others and the desire to inspire them that helped me “find God” in my own way. I am not here to advocate for or attack any religion at all but rather to argue that while we have our own religions, there is a greater unifier. My way of “finding God” was to become more aware of myself in the context of the greater world, more aware of what I already believed and who I am as a person, and to appreciate fully not just the belief systems of various religions but the basis of their religions, which is to give meaning to the question: “Why?”

“Why?” Such a short, simple word is yet an endless question to resolve. We begin to try to answer it at a young age when we pester our elders asking “Why?” about everything such as “Why is the sky blue?” “Why don’t dogs talk?” and “Why is snow cold?” As we become older, we become less outwardly obnoxious about it, taking the search for answers into our own hands. We wonder, “Why does one otherwise healthy person get cancer and a relatively unhealthy person does not?” “Why does this person not want to date me?” “Why do people do such hateful and harmful things to others?” and ultimately, “Why do we exist?” All in all, we ask “Why?” to search for meaning in our lives.

This search for meaning can be seen as the source of all of our spirituality. If you’ve feared death, felt sad at the loss of another, or felt love for another, you’re spiritual. If you’ve pondered your purpose in this life, you’re spiritual. If you’ve felt the desire to help improve the lives of others, you’re spiritual. All of these show at least some appreciation that has come from the search for meaning. The belief systems we follow are just ways that we try to answer the same question: “Why?”

As a scientist, I am no less spiritual than any other. Far too often, I see this clash between science and religion, and it pains me to see such narrow minded beliefs. I too ask “Why?” I seek to answer the same questions. I seek to find meaning in the world just as much as any other. I feel compassion toward my fellow man. I believe in the greater good. If anything, being a scientist makes me more spiritual because it lets me actively search for these answers that we all seek.

No matter how each of us rationalizes our existence whether belonging to a certain religion or not, we have a common goal to search for meaning in our lives though we may not consciously realize it. It is this that unites us regardless of which story we believe is true. Understanding this greater unity makes me wonder “Why are so many in the world so closed minded?” “Why are religion and science viewed as distinct entities?” and “Why do we focus so much on the small things that separate us rather than the greater things that unite us?”