Saturday, March 30, 2013

Physics for Barnyard Animals

Another absolutely terrible science joke, courtesy of yours truly ...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Locutus of Borg on Physics

Yes, I took another MCAT break. And yes, I made another terrible physics joke. This time, incorporating one of my favorite shows of all time, Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I watched religiously as a kid. I fully believe Gene Roddenberry would approve.

Laugh at the MCAT? You Bet!

In the midst of studying for the MCAT, I need breaks. I also need to laugh. To accomplish both of these tasks simultaneously, I have had some photo editing fun the last couple of days. Here are my brilliant pieces of art ... I hope they bring a smile to your face, or at least make you groan.

The angry dinosaur in this image is a velociraptor. If you remember from
the movie Jurassic Park, these guys are cunning, smart, and nasty.
Yep. That's me. At least when it comes to attacking the MCAT!

Recently I have been working on MCAT physics - fluids in particular.
I found myself scribbling these lyrics in the margin of my scrap paper
as I was working with Bernoulli's equation ...

Friday, March 22, 2013

I'm Not The Only One

The nontraditional student's journey to medical school can be a lonely one at times. It has been for me, at least, especially after graduating from my post-bac program and delaying my application for a year. This song reminds me that I am "not the only one" going through this journey, not the only one who has faced struggles and dark times. And I will come out on the other side.

I am so thankful for the people around me who remind me of this on a constant basis. You know who you are. Thank you.

"You're Not The Only One" 
(by Joseph Arthur, off the album "Redemption City")

Darkness descends
On everyone

And still you keep past the hyenas
Wearing idiot suits
Past the reformers with holy pursuits

You're not the only one trying to hold on
To a kiss from yesterday
To a moment surrendered
When you were sure there was something more to say

And you're not the only one
With clothes so tattered
The eyes look sideways and then beyond
To thoughts of where you once came from

You're not the only one
Dead still from the beginning
Spinning a tribute to what could be
But you can't get happy through misery
And you're not the only one

You're not the only one
Down streets no shadows ever go
And still you keep moving
Past the shady cameras and artillery whores

You're not the only one
Against breaking skies and fall away floors
You're not the only one
Warped and wasted
With poison bought from yesterday

And you're not the only one
Drunk and holy
Aware of all that's come before
And what would come to stay

You're not the only one
In a slumber of booze and dreams
And even high ideals

But who are you
Still a no one
Still a mark
Still a seed
And who are you
You're not the only one

And who are you
You know you're not the only one
Who are you
You're not the only one

Sunday, March 17, 2013

It's All About the Balls

Female mouse pup -
completely smooth underneath.
I survived Week 1 of my supervisor being on vacation. My excitement for the week: learning how to definitively tell mouse pup females from males. I know what you're probably thinking: boys have a penis, girls don't. How hard could it be? Well, these little pups are so tiny (much smaller than a kiwi, as a point of reference), and probably weigh 10 - 15 grams. Itsy bitsy. The outward anatomy is sometimes hard to distinguish. (And I'm not the only one who has difficulty with this - I was looking at a sick mouse with the animal facility veterinarian on Friday morning, and she thought a male pup was a female at first! So I don't feel so bad.)

Male pup - visible testicles.

I was splitting cages Friday afternoon (separating pups from their parents, males pups in one cage and females in another cage). From the outward genitalia, some were easy to tell, some not so much. Then I realized: the females are completely flat underneath, while if you hold the males long enough and let them squirm a bit, their testicles bulge out. Bingo! Definitive sexing. And my supervisor will be quite happy that I got the right mice in the right cages, because if you don't, the males quickly impregnate the females.

It's the little things, right?!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Library Access: A Lab Job Perk

PubMed is a great resource. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, PubMed is an online resource hosted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the NIH. It has more than 22 million citations to biomedical literature. Some of those citations have links to full text articles. But unfortunately, many of the more prestigious journals charge for their articles (often as much as $30 or $40 per article). Given my current broke status, I can't exactly afford to buy article access. 

So I recently e-mailed my PI at the UIC lab where I work asking whether I could get journal access through UIC (major universities usually provide this type of access to their students and some employees). He told me that all I needed to do was plug my laptop into the UIC network (via a network cable at the lab) and I would automatically get access to everything. 

A few weeks ago, I spent a little downtime getting some of the articles I wanted. When you download an article from some of these publishers' sites, a little window will pop up with "recommended readings" based on what you just looked up. I noticed at some point that not a journal article, but a book chapter, popped up as one of those recommended readings. I hadn't thought about book chapters. But as I did think about it, the idea appealed to me. A book chapter would provide a great deal of background, which is what I am looking for right now. So I wondered, "Could I get the whole book?" The answer: "Yes!" Then my follow-up question: "Are there more available books on my subject?" The answer, again: "Yes!" 

From home, I used the UIC library's Web site to find available eBooks. Then while a gel was running at lab, I downloaded them, chapter by chapter (you can't download the whole book directly). Back at home, I put them on my iPad. 

Granted, I'm not going to read every single page of every single book I downloaded any time soon. But I want to be able to skim them, to decide what I want to read and not read. So getting entire books made sense. 

After I had finished getting my books, I was curious - how much would all of these books have cost had I purchased them? Being the absolutely nerdy person I am, I made an Excel spreadsheet to calculate the cost of buying the hardback book directly from the publisher, the eBook from the publisher, the hardback from, and the eBook from (yes, I actually did this). I was amazed - the hardback books from the publishers would have cost more than $2,000 (eBooks and hardback prices were somewhat less). One more reason to be affiliated with a major research institution, and to be grateful for my lab job!

Here is my lovely spreadsheet:

Saturday, March 2, 2013

MCAT Prep: Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

A couple of days ago, I finished my MCAT biology review book. (I'm using Examkrackers.) Yay! I was so excited. Not that I know everything, but I'm done with my first run-through, have a bazillion online flashcards made (feel free to access any of my sets here) that I can study on the train to and from lab, and was consistently getting most (if not all) the review questions correct. I felt encourged. Energized.

Then I hit a brick wall: physics.

I would read a section in my Examkrackers book, think I understood it, then get half the review questions wrong. And I wasn't even to the tough stuff. I'm talking F=ma, projectile motion, that sort of thing. I was very frustrated, and demoralized. I won't even go into how my Lesson 1 practice exam went. Let's just say it wasn't pretty.

Part of my frustration was that I had done so well in my physics class -- an A both semesters. An A on every exam, for that matter. I worked my a** off for those grades, and I know it wasn't some fluke. I also know I'm not stupid (although I certainly felt that way yesterday).

I also felt frustrated because I didn't know what step to take next. Obviously, reading the Examkrackers lessons over and over wasn't working. So ... what?

This afternoon, I knew I needed to take action. Change tactics. More specifically, see if another review book would be a better fit for me, at least for physics (I found the Examkrackers bio book to be a great resource). Seeing as how I'm flat broke, though, I don't have the cash to go out and buy every MCAT physics book. Then it came to me - I don't have to. I live just outside Chicago, and a whole bunch of suburbs in my area are members of a giant library network. I looked up "MCAT" on the online catalog (my mom always says, "let your fingers do the walking"), and found a ton of resources, including practice tests. I submitted several requests, so we'll see what happens when the books arrive at my local library.

I'll try to post comments here regarding my thoughts about the different books (I've got Princton, Kaplan, and Gold Standard books coming).

In the meantime, I'm putting physics to the side for now. No use in continuing to bash my head against that brick wall. I've got better things to do.

Beautiful Day

In the midst of this MCAT madness, and everything else that has gone on in my life in the last couple of years, it's easy to lose perspective. To get lost in frustration, sometimes even pitch black darkness. But the song "Beautiful Day," by U2, helps remind me that today IS a beautiful day, regardless of what is happening, and that I shouldn't let it get away. I don't see it as a Pollyanna thing, but as a change in mindset. Deciding that I will make the most of the day, of any day. That doesn't mean it will be a perfect day, or even a great day. But it can still be beautiful.

Lyrics to "Beautiful Day," by U2:

The heart is a bloom, shoots up through stony ground
But there's no room, no space to rent in this town
You're out of luck and the reason that you had to care,
The traffic is stuck and you're not moving anywhere.
You thought you'd found a friend to take you out of this place
Someone you could lend a hand in return for grace

It's a beautiful day, the sky falls
And you feel like it's a beautiful day
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away

You're on the road but you've got no destination
You're in the mud, in the maze of her imagination
You love this town even if it doesn't ring true
You've been all over and it's been all over you

It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away

Touch me, take me to that other place
Teach me, I know I'm not a hopeless case

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colours came out
It was a beautiful day
A beautiful day
Don't let it get away

Touch me, take me to that other place
Reach me, I know I'm not a hopeless case

What you don't have you don't need it now
What you don't know you can feel it somehow
What you don't have you don't need it now
You don't need it now, you don't need it now
Beautiful day

Friday, March 1, 2013

Let It Burn

One thing I learned from my ex-husband was how to make a good music mix. So when "Ticket To Ride" popped into my head (see my previous post), I decided to make an MCAT inspirational mix. I would like to share those songs on my blog, in the hopes that they might inspire others.

The next song on my playlist, after "Ticket To Ride," is "The Fire," by The Roots:

The music is catchy as heck, and the lyrics are phenomenal. The chorus alone makes this song an amazing inspiration:

There's something in your heart
and it's in your eyes
It's the fire, inside you
Let it burn
You don't say good luck
You say don't give up
It's the fire, inside you
Let it burn

It's all about keeping that fire burning, not giving up, achieving your goals, even in the face of hardship. That's a good perspective to keep in mind when facing something as daunting as the MCAT, or anything else for that matter.

Here are the rest of the lyrics, for those who are interested:

"The Fire"
(feat. John Legend)

[John Legend]
Ohhhh, the fire, the fire
Ohhhh, the fire, the fire

[Chorus: John Legend]
There's something in your heart
and it's in your eyes
It's the fire, inside you
Let it burn
You don't say good luck
You say don't give up
It's the fire, inside you
Let it burn

[Black Thought]
Yeah, and if I'm ever at the crossroads
and start feeling mixed signals like Morse code
My soul start to grow colder than the North Pole
I try to focus on the hole of where the torch goes
In the tradition of these legendary sports pros
As far as I can see, I've made it to the threshold
Lord knows I've waited for this a lifetime
And I'm an icon when I let my light shine
Shine bright as an example of a champion
Taking the advantage, never copping out or cancelling
Burn like a chariot, learn how to carry it
Maverick, always above and beyond average
Fuel to the flame that I train with and travel with
Something in my eyes say I'm so close to having the prize
I realise I'm supposed to reach for the skies
Never let somebody try to tell you otherwise


[Black Thought]
One love, one game, one desire
One flame, one bonfire, let it burn higher
I never show signs of fatigue or turn tired
cause I'm the definition of tragedy turned triumph
It's David and Goliath, I made it to the eye of
the storm, feeling torn like they fed me to the lions
Before my time start to wind down like the Mayans
I show 'em how I got the grind down like a science
It sounds like a riot on hush, it's so quiet
The only thing I hear is my heart, I'm inspired
by the challenge that I find myself standing eye to eye with
Then move like a wise warrior and not a coward
You can't escape the history that you was meant to make
That's why the highest victory is what I'm meant to take
You came to celebrate, I came to cerebrate
I hate losing, I refuse to make the same mistake

[John Legend]
Ohhhh, the fire, the fire
Ohhhh, the fire, the fire


[John Legend]
Ohhhh, the fire inside you
The fire inside you
The fire inside you
The fire inside you