Breath Out

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A few weeks after I was accepted to Wentworth, I found myself at a holiday party speaking with a man I did not know. He asked me what I did, and I happily told him that although I currently worked a retail job, I had just been accepted to Wentworth Institute of Technology as a Biomedical Engineer. That man laughed right in my face and told Dylan not to quit his day job.

My first night at Wentworth, I was the very first to move into my dorm. I was far from home, lonely, and a little scared. I cried so many times that first semester. Sometimes from homesickness, and quite a few times from the frustration of how incredibly difficult my classes were and how scared I was of simply not being cut out to be an engineer.

A few weeks ago I was talking to one of my professors about how it felt to be almost done, and I said that getting my degree felt like crawling through a tunnel, but that each semester the tunnel got smaller and smaller, until at the very end I felt like I was squeezing and struggling to just finish this damn thing.

I’ve been so focused on just finishing one more assignment, studying for one more exam, passing one more class. It feels like I’ve spent three years holding my breath, hoping and wishing for everything to come out okay.

And now… I breath. Let the next journey begin.

Thank you 

My First Science Conference

From April 21st-26th I was in Chicago attending the ASBMB 2017 Annual Meeting. Last October I took part in the northeast region ASBMB undergrad poster competition, which you can read about here.

The biggest reason I was there was to take part in the undergraduate poster competition. Of the 20-30k attendees, only around 250 were undergraduates, according to the undergrad orientation I went to. The poster competition was very similar to the one at Northeastern, just on a much larger scale. I didn’t win any prizes or honorable mentions, but I felt good about the presentations I gave to my judges. The experience of presenting among peers that have in-depth science backgrounds was very illuminating.

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ASBMB Annual Meeting 2017, Undergrad Poster Competition. “Rdl Expression Impacts Circadian Rhythm and Locomotion in Drosophila melanogaster.”

I also attended scientific lectures, and although some of the concepts were hard to understand, I came away with a lot of ideas for my own experiments to run this summer, which I’m very excited about. Particularly, I continue to be alarmed by the number of studies which only use male cells, male mice, and male humans to draw broad conclusions about the human condition.


At Wentworth I feel much more of a scientist compared to a lot of my classmates, since the school is mainly engineering. But at this conference I was reminded that although I’ve been conducting independent research and will graduate with a minor in biology, ultimately I am an engineer who happens to have a little more experience and interest in science than most of those I’ve met. This is humbling, but not a bad thing, I think. Since I’ve been home I’ve been reflecting on what my strengths are, what it is about research that I like, and how I can fit into the bigger picture of scientific research, biomedical engineering and healthcare in general.

I’m still not entirely sure what I’ll be doing this time next year, but I think this conference has helped put my experience in perspective, and I’m very glad I was able to attend.

Dear Accelerate: Thank You!

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Wentworth Annual Awards 2017

A few weeks ago at the Wentworth Annual Awards I was recognized as a graduating senior who successfully participated at Accelerate, WIT’s center for innovation & entrepreneurship on campus. I joked that I was just there to eat dinner and receive a participation trophy, but the truth is that my time at Accelerate has been incredibly important to my development not only as someone interested in entrepreneurship, but also as a scientist and engineer, and being recognized for the work I’ve done there means a lot to me.

In spring of 2015 I was in my second semester at Wentworth, and taking Introduction to Engineering Design. I was working on a project with the goal of aiding victims of stroke during rehabilitation, and my professor suggested I take the project to Accelerate. I pitched on behalf of my team, and secured us $1,000 in funding to build a prototype.

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Accelerate Spring 2015 Pitch Round

The project ended up being put on hold, and ultimately I decided to part ways with my team (another experience that taught me a lot, but a story for another day!). I didn’t feel like I was done with Accelerate, and Accelerate wasn’t done with me either: in Fall 2015 I came back to coach student teams. I helped guide students through our Startup Challenge, giving them feedback on their ideas, showing them how to research competition, and sharpening their public speaking and communication skills.

In Spring of 2016 I left to complete my first co-op at MGH (something I’ve written about a few times), and then applied to do my second co-op at Accelerate that summer. My application was quickly accepted (thanks again Greg, if you’re reading this: everyone at Accelerate misses you!), and I spent the summer helping run the Startup Challenge, mentoring teams, and assisting with our Social Innovation Lab. I also had the opportunity to run a new program, Women Who Accelerate, that I created with help from Emily Levy of Mighty Well. Women Who Accelerate was a series of events throughout the summer that invited women (and those who support women) to the Accelerate space to discuss the unique challenges facing women in entrepreneurship, and come up with strategies of how to be successful and support each other.

In Fall 2016 I transitioned back to student coach, where I’ve continued to offer whatever support I can to our teams, and help bring in the new generation of freshmen to Accelerate.

It’s been a jam-packed few years here at Accelerate! What I thought was going to just be a small project ended up turning into a solid work-study job and a co-op, and along the way I’ve learned:

  • Successful event planning requires more than just several gallons of ice cream.
  • Having a hard experience with my own project team was heartbreaking, but gave me valuable insight to help mediate other teams.
  • You can always use more practice with public speaking.
  • Most meetings could be replaced with a good email.
  • …but most students won’t read your email anyway 😉
  • Always keep a few business cards in your pocket.
  • Industry professionals are usually open to answering questions or helping you out, if you ask politely.
  • Always say please, and ALWAYS say thank you!
  • You can’t get what you want if you aren’t willing to ask for it.

So, to Accelerate, I say a heartfelt thank you. It’s been an amazing time here, and I’m excited to see what we can do together in my final summer at Wentworth.

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ASBMB Poster Presentation

This past weekend I had my first ever poster presentation at the Northeast regional meeting of ASBMB!

It was a really enjoyable experience to be able to speak to so many people about my research, and while I’ve certainly come away with some thoughts on how I can improve for next time, overall it felt like my work was well received.

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In particular, I have a really fantastic, HUGE, graph in the middle of the poster (you can kind of see if in the photo above) that shows the transition from day to night and how activity drops really suddenly with the Rdl deficient flies. I was shocked when I looked at the data, because what is showed was that at 8:15pm, the Rdl deficient flies went from 20-30 beam breaks per 5 minutes to zero. The kicker? Sunset that day occurred at 8:13pm!

I’m happy I get to continue this research but, as always, it’s frustrating to not have as much time in the lab as I would like. The semester seemed like such a long time to get things done, but now it’s October 18th!

What can I say- time flies like an arrow, and fruit flies like a banana 😉

Impostor Syndrome

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How was your summer? Good? Mine flew by, and every week or so I thought to myself “hmm, I really ought to sit down and right about how things are going!”, and yet here I am: it’s September 9th and my last entry was in May. Maybe I should make it my goal to just write once per season, since that seems to be the most frequent I can manage.

It’s the end of the first week of classes for the fall semester here at WIT, and so far I feel like I’ve more-or-less got the academic beast under control. I figured the way to beat my impostor syndrome was to be very, very prepared at all times in all my classes and dive headfirst into reading and getting work done early. To that end, I made a point on the first day of classes to sit down after my lecture and read through the first section of the textbook, and get a head start on the homework. The result was that in the second lecture I was already familiar with the material and could answer questions. Great right!?

Right. Here’s where my ridiculous f***ing impostor syndrome kicks in. Despite answering a number of questions correctly in the lecture, instead of feeling happy and proud of myself for actually volunteering an answer, that grimy little voice in the back of my head whispered “it doesn’t count, you read ahead in the textbook. you don’t actually know anything and you aren’t smart.”

Objectively I can sit back, think through that logic and realize it makes zero sense because the whole point of classes and textbooks is that yes, you DO read before lecture to learn the material so that IN the lecture you can fill in the gaps and get hands-on examples from your professor. How else would you gain the knowledge!? It doesn’t just spring magically into your brain!

This is so frustrating. I’ve been attending undergrad at one institution or another for nearly a decade, and even when I find myself doing well in a course I still can’t believe that I actually have a decent level of intelligence. I so badly want to be able to enjoy my little victories, but it’s still so hard.

F***cking impostor syndrome >:[

Flies!

I had a very neat and tidy plan for how to finish my degree, and then suddenly my school released the course offerings for the summer and I realized pretty darn quick that they were offering zero courses I needed. I love my school and all but it’s a bit frustrating. I had to pivot quickly and decided to do another co-op for the summer semester and then return to classes in the fall.

In the interest of trying to remain optimistic, I only let myself cry for about 20 minutes, and then got to work creating a Plan B to get excited about.

I knew that I wanted to work at Accelerate, having gone through the program with a team (and gotten funded!) and then been a work study student for them. The only catch was that the position was listed at only 32 hours a week instead of full time. Again… optimism… I emailed one of my favorite professors about being a research assistant for her in order to fill the rest of my time.

So that’s the story of how I’m doing research into Drosophila, colloquially known as the fruit fly.

The main question driving the research is “How does Rdl impact locomotion as a result of photoreception?”

uh……..?

In other words – why the heck does this specific mutant fly become completely paralyzed when it’s placed in darkness!?

I won’t be going into the specific details of findings here, but I wanted to share some snippets from my lab notebook:

What I did my first day of research!

Date: May 17th, 2016. Time: 1pm-2:30pm

Where: Ira Allen Biology Labs

What: Learned how to differentiate between male and female mature flies. 100% accurately sorted flies.
Observed larvae in sucrose food solution.
Learned how to make food.
Learned how to anesthetize flies.
Discussed what we would be researching this summer -> certain fly mutations are completely paralyzed in darkness. We will be exploring this phenomenon.

I’m really enjoying working in the lab. Being able to devote a longer span of time to an experiment or line of research is very exciting for me!

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Finishing at MGH

Wow – I really had planned to write more while actually at MGH, but things just picked up and started going fast.

Before the co-op started I had to write a description of my job, here’s what I wrote:

Under supervision, providing engineering and technical services to hospital staff. This can include testing and repair of medical technology or computer systems within clinical or research areas. Documentation of implementation and testing of medical technology and computer systems. Educating medical and technical staff on operation of technology.

I think I was pretty accurate in that description. Some of the things I did at MGH included:

Configuring EKG machines to suit the needs of clinicians.
Configuring & troubleshooting anesthesia machines in preparation of software upgrades.
Observing a heart-lung machine being used over the course of a by-pass graft surgery.
Completing an MRI safety course.
Using an Argon Beam Coagulator in the MGH biomed workshop, and observing its use during surgery.
Updating drug databases for drug dispensing and safety machines.
Providing day-to-day user support for systems that network devices together in the operating rooms, pre/post anesthesia units, and other clinical areas.
Testing medical device integration across all preoperative areas.
Training staff to use new software and devices.
Preventative maintenance on conscious monitoring devices to adhere to FDA guidelines.

I’ve struggled with Impostor Syndrome pretty much the entire time. Why did I get hired for this co-op over the 30-40 people that applied? Did I do a good job? Was my work well done? Was I actually contributing to the hospital and being an asset to my team?

I’ve been reassured by my friends and colleagues that yes, I did deserve to be there, I was doing a good job, etc etc, but Impostor Syndrome is such a nasty little voice in the back of my head telling me that I’m not good enough and that it’s egotistical and naive to think that I am.

I took two weeks off between internships, and will now be working at Wentworth Accelerate Innovation+Entrepreneurship Center until August, then back to classes in September.