Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween, Mutant-Fly-Style

My mutant fly costume - a dark-bodied,
curly-winged, wild-type-eyed fruit fly.
I haven't dressed up for Halloween in years. Just haven't felt like it, or had any reason to. But this year, I was invited to two costume parties. I decided I better come up with something. Mind you, I've never been one to buy a costume. Ever since I was a kid, I've always created a costume from bits and pieces of what I already owned, perhaps supplemented by a new prop or two. So while my friends were out buying their get-ups, I racked my brain for something I could piece together.

The answer came during a completely unrelated conversation with my mom. We were talking about my genetics class, specifically what I had been doing in lab lately (fly crosses), and my mom blurted out: "You should be a fruit fly for Halloween!"

At first, I discounted the idea as ridiculous. After all, who's ever heard of anyone being a fruit fly for Halloween? But I gradually realized it was perfect - it encapsulates what I am doing right now, what I love, and it's definitely off beat. Which is exactly what I wanted. Drosophila melanogaster it was.

Fruit flies with the curly wing mutation.
Next it was time to figure out how to put together this costume. My mom lent me a pair of silvery, sparkly antennae, which aren't very fly-like, but are fun. Wild-type (normal) fruit flies have cream-colored bodies, reddish eyes, and near-transparent, oval-shaped wings. I do have red eye shadow, so I was set there. But I don't have a cream dress, and I couldn't find any plain fly-looking wings. So I decided to be a mutant fly. I did base my costume (slightly) on reality. I chose a black dress, to represent dark-bodied fruit flies (which we have indeed studied in our genetics class). The best wings I could find were curvy fairy wings, which corresponds to the curly-winged phenotype of fruit flies (again, we have studied these in class, and they really DO have curly wings). So I was to be a wild-type-eyed, dark-bodied, curly-winged fruit fly. To complete my costume, I wrote out the gene symbols for my genotype on a slip of paper and pinned it to my dress.
A fruit fly with the black body mutation.

I knew most (if not all) of the people I encountered would have no idea what I was, but I was OK with that. I'm quite confident in my nerdiness, and I would have fun just being a fruit fly. My friends, who know how enamored I am with genetics, loved the idea. So it would be a joke between all of us.

Yesterday, I had my night out on the town with my girlfriends. As I expected, no one "got" my costume. That was fine by me. I had found something creative, fun, weird, and scientific to be, and that was all that mattered.

Viva Drosophila!

Friday, October 21, 2011

An Overdue Update On Life, and Other Things

I realized as I went to my blog site this morning that I hadn't posted in more than two months ... unforgivable! Especially given so much that has happened in the last two months. So a warning: this post may be a bit long and rambling. But hopefully it will give you a good picture of where I am right now.

So, in no particular order, here is what's been going on.

1. My living situation
Yes, I am still in my Oak Park apartment. But that was not a given, for a few stressful weeks. A little background: Because I am technically not an undergraduate student, I qualify for very little government loan money. Because I go to an expensive private school, I have a lot of expenses for both tuition and living. That means I have to get most of my money from private (and higher interest) loans. But I wasn't able to get enough from those sources this year, either. We're not talking about a few hundred bucks. No, I was short a LOT. Thousands. And because I no longer have a spouse contributing a salary, not having enough loan money means not having enough money to pay rent. So for a while, I was looking at having to move back in with my mom (and little sister, who also lives with my mom). Now, don't get me wrong - I love my mom dearly. But I also love my space and privacy. I then turned to my extended family. Thankfully, a very generous family member agreed to loan me the money I needed. So I am staying put in my comfy apartment. Hooray!

2. Welcoming a new decade
That's right, I hit the big 3-0 on September 28. While that freaks some people out, I am honestly thrilled to be 30 years old. I look at the next decade as an exciting adventure. I calculated how much longer I will be in school, and I realized I will finish around the time I am 40. So the adventure of schools really IS the entire next decade. Which might sound crazy, but I love school, and this whole process. You might be wondering, how does four years of medical school, plus starting med school in a year and a half (or so) add up to age 40? Well, that brings me to my next announcement ...

3. A new career plan
Mud-phudder. Doctor squared. Double degree. MSTP. These are all different names for an extended schooling program: MD/PhD. That's right, you earn both an MD and a PhD in the same schooling stint. Obviously, you can't do that in four years - it takes seven or eight - which is where I get age 40 as the estimated year of completion. Clearly, to do school for that long takes a lot of dedication. But as you might have noticed, I'm pretty engaged with both research AND clinical medicine, and I have decided that I want to combine the two in a career in academic medicine where I can teach, research, and practice. I am honestly thrilled about this prospect, crazy as it may sound. These MSTPs (medical scientist training programs) are incredibly competitive to get into, which means I need to maintain my excellent grades and get a superb MCAT score (no pressure, right?!). One of the benefits, though, is that your ENTIRE schooling - all seven to eight years, med school + grad school - is completely paid for, plus you get a living stipend for each of those years. That means you don't have to take out any loans. Now, this is not a reason to do this program, given that it puts off earning a living for four years, but it is definitely a benefit and incentive. But if I am to do grad school, that means I need to choose a field to study, right? Which brings me to my next update ...

Fruit fly eye color is one of the things
we have been studying in genetics
lab. This photo shows the normal
fruit fly eye color (bottom left),
brown (bottom right), white (top
right), and scarlet (top left). The
different eye colors are caused
by gene mutations. 
4. School
School is definitely keeping me busy, for sure. I am taking calculus, the infamous organic chemistry, and genetics. Calculus is a breeze for me, given that I took it in high school. So why take it again? Some of the more competitive med schools require a calculus credit, and they don't accept the Advanced Placement credit I earned in high school, even though I got college credit for that (two semesters of college calc credit, to be exact!). It's a stupid rule, but it is what it is. Organic chemistry is a challenge, especially since I am not a very spatial thinker, and much of the course involves rotating molecules in your head. So I use my handy-dandy molecular modeling kit to help me do that. I also work out my problems on a big dry erase board that I have in my office, with different colored markers so that I can easily see the electron and proton movement, product formation, etc. It's dorky for sure, but it really helps. It's all about practice, practice, practice, just like physics was for me last year. That's my strategy, at least. I hope it pays off!
Genetics is my pearl. I love that class. I love learning the concepts, I love working out the practice problems, I even love writing the lab reports. Crazy, I know, but there you have it. It's doubly funny because most of the people I know who are in the class are taking it only because they have to, and they find my passion and interest completely incomprehensible. So I have decided that when I get to graduate school, genetics is the field I want to study. I am not certain what aspect of genetics I will study, but at least I have the general field decided upon.

Well, that's probably enough for now. I do plan to keep up better with my blog as the school year rolls on, so watch for more frequent updates from here on out.