Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The jury is in...

Next year, I will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to begin my doctorate in bioengineering.


It was a really hard decision, and even though all the traveling to so many other schools made for one stressed out and behind-in-all-her-classes me, I'm glad that I did it. It really gave me a chance to see a wide variety of options and many fantastic programs. I was able to meet some incredible professors, hear about intriguing research projects, and gain exposure to that lovely nerdy thing I love called science.

Thanks to all who have supported me along the way...your kind emails, gentle proddings (thanks brother), rides to the bus early in the morning, and amazingly patient attitudes have been a boon to the decision-making process.

If you find yourself on the East Coast (or just want an excuse to visit Boston), please know that you will have a place to stay. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

...no really...now I have to think about making a choice?

My mother does not have fond memories of the agonizing month prior to April 30th, 2004 (the date by which I had to put in my decision for undergrad). Her thought now: "I'm glad I don't have to choose." And this time, the date is April 15th. And I really hope I will have chosen before then.

Many of you are also familiar with my particular brand of indecisiveness, which skitters between general apathy (no, I don't really care if I bake chocolate chip brownies or chocolate brownies) to genuine uncertainty (um, I really don't know what the best way to fix this problem is: let me do additional research, and maybe I’ll feel more comfortable giving you an answer). I am currently much more at the latter end of the spectrum, although I wish that there was more chocolate involved in this decision-making.

Below is the original list of schools, as well as their current status. If anyone feels they have any insight or opinions, by all means let me know. The one thing I wish I would have done during the process of making my decisions for undergrad was have a broader spectrum of opinions from the people who know me best and can help me better understand my own personal rationalizations and thoughts.

-Columbia University: Department of Microbiology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons (interviewed and accepted)

-MIT: Department of Bioengineering (interviewed and accepted)

-University of California at Berkeley: Department of Bioengineering (interviewed and accepted)

-University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC): Department of Microbiology and Immunology; School of Medicine (interviewed and accepted)

-University of Michigan: Department of Microbiology and Immunology; Program in Biomedical Science (interviewed and accepted)

-University of Minnesota: Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology (interviewed; received a graduate fellowship, so I have a pretty high chance of getting in)

-University of Wisconsin at Madison: Department of Molecular and Environmental Toxicology (interview pending if I can find a way to get up there a Thursday later in the semester)

-Yale University: Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS); Immunology (interviewed and rejected; only 3 of 24 interviewed were accepted into the program, so I was axed with many other students)

Friday, March 21, 2008

University of Minnesota

My mom dropped me off at the Applebee’s on Washington Avenue at 7:45 am this past Thursday, and I ate an early breakfast with Dr. Sandy Armstrong, the head of the MICaB program (Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology). She told me a bit more about the program, as well as talking a bit about my fellowship (just a bit more money, and since I’m sponsored by the university, I would have more flexibility in choosing a lab).

My first interview was in the Cancer Center (between MCB and Fairview Hospital) with Dr. Bruce Blazar, a pretty famous hematology/oncology specialist who does bone marrow transplants in pediatric patients and works with stem cells and hematopoesies (hema = blood; poesies = forming/growth/process; so the differentiation of blood cells from stem cells). We talked extensively about the research climate at the U, as well as his time here as a dual MD/PhD. There are quite a few researchers here (especially in this discipline) which have extremely relevant clinical and translational research. When you are an MD doing research here, you do about 20% clinical and 80% research (which ends up being about two afternoons a week).

A fourth-year graduate student from the program then walked me over to the Translational Research Facility (for those of you familiar from the U Campus, this is past the new stadium, aka a LONG walk). Since it was spring break, the shuttles that normally go to TRF were not running. Oops.

My next interview was with Sing-Sing Way, a professor who does work with listeria. We mainly discussed his particular research, as well as scientific progress in general. He’s a fairly new member of MICaB, and also wants to work with vaccines and bringing his research directly into the clinic.

I had another interview in TRF with Dan Kaufman, the head of the stem cell center at the U of M. He’s also originally trained as an MD/PhD and works primarily in hematology and stem cell research.

I made the long trek back to the hospital, and spent a while talking with Dr. Bryce Binstadt, a pediatric rheumatologist who does research with a nifty arthritic mouse model. He is also a new transplant here in Minnesota and lives in Shoreview. He was particularly intrigued with the dickcissel project as well.

Three second year graduate students took me to lunch at Loring Pasta Bar, a swanky and odd restaurant in Dinkytown. The bathrooms are cool, but they look like they were built by aliens who found a bunch of human paraphernalia and tried to put it back together. For instance, you wash your hands under a showerhead, and there are mirrors right next to your face when you are in the stalls. Quite different, but still fun. We talked a lot about life as a graduate student here in Minnesota, as well as the friendliness of the program and professors, and how the quals/prelims system works at U of MN. They had a good time goofing around, and it was really cool to be around students that regardless of their age and where they came from before school, they got along very well. (23, 28, 36; Togo, Connecticut, Puerto Rico).

My final interview of the day was with Dr. Stephen McSorley, a professor originally from Scotland who does work with typhoid and gastroenterology. He commented that his field used to be obscure tropical/third world diseases, but now he is considered the investigator of a bioterrorism lab. Apparently salmonella has been used before as a bioterrorism agent (the last time being a cult in Oregon that contaminated salad bars with the bug…over 750 people ended up in the hospital).

I walked back to the bus stop, and completely serendipitously, I ran into three students from my school on Washington Street. What a small world…gotta love Minnesota!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

My trip to Boston began with the now-familiar 7 am to the bus station-at the airport by 10 am routine…check in, sit around, and wait for my plane. It left only slightly delayed, and we actually made up the time in the air even though we had to circle around Boston for a bit. It was beautiful to come into Boston from the west, travel all the way past the city across the ocean, and then loop south to land at Logan. It really is quite amazing how small everything looks from that bird's eye view. It's almost beyond comprehension, especially when you think about how much is really going on down there within the streets and homes.

A couple of friends picked me up from the airport, and we drove through the winding streets of the Boston suburbs to get out to Needham. One of the odd things about Massachusetts is that it doesn't have the same sort of street gradation as Minnesota does...in St. Paul, the most-traveled streets are larger – two or even three lanes each way perhaps. In Massachusetts, the busiest street could be only one lane each way and through a residential area. There is no correlation between size and traffic level, which is just plain nonsensical.

Upon making it into town, I put my stuff down and had dinner in the cafeteria. Trays are such an abnormal part of the meal, but it did impress me that Sodexho was able to produce such delicious food. Granted, they only have to cook for 300 students, but the quality improves considerably when you lose an order of magnitude.

After helping my friends study biology for awhile (they're engineers) I pretty much fell into bed. I seem to be operating under a peculiar brand of exhaustion right now. I can't wait until finals are over. I need to just sleep for awhile. A long, long, while.

I got up at 5:30, got dressed in my suit, and my friend drove me to Eliot, the Green line station nearest to where he lives in Needham. A two-part train comes every five minutes for the morning commute; it is a well-executed system that must be really nice if you work downtown and want a reliable way to get from home to your job every day. I transferred at Park Street and caught the Red line up to Kendall/MIT and felt very nostalgic exiting the T across the street from my old haunt, Au Bon Pain (this past summer, MIT gave us our food allowance as TechCash, a form of payment that was only useful at certain places, one of them being a Panera-like chain which I ate at, oh, four to five times a week).

I arrived a bit early, and chatted with Doug Lauffenburger, the head of the program, for a little bit. I met him this past summer, and he seems like a great professor who really wants to encourage the growth and development of his students, not just use them for free labor. Dr. Alan Grodzinsky also spoke for some time about the program, but unfortunately (like all of the visits I have been on) it is hard to get a good sense of what exactly the classes are like until you actually talk to students. Apparently, I’d really have to step up my math skills and learn multi-variable calculus and differential equations during the summer, but I think I’d be reviewing concepts this summer no matter what program I will be attending.

All in all, the thing that struck me the most about MIT’s program was that none of the people involved with the program…professors, students, and staff….thought my biology backgrounds was a detriment to my experience and ability to flourish in the bioengineering department. I have felt at almost every school previous to this that I have had to justify my choice of being a biology major at a small liberal arts university. Kind of a shame.

I had my first interview with Dr. Harvey Lodish, and instead of interviewing, we talked about patent law. Now, law scares me. And I do not under any circumstances want to be a patent lawyer. But, the work he has done to make science explainable to the layperson is fantastic.

We walked together to the faculty club for lunch, which was a delicious mix of Moroccan cous cous, field greens, breads, and of course, a huge slice of chocolate truffle cake. So good! Each table had two professors and six students, and they asked us a variety of questions during the meal, including the cursory “Why do you do science?” question, at which point another student said, “Well, I want to help people.” Dr. Bevin Engelward, one of the professors, smiled and said, “When I talked about this with my PI my first year of graduate school, he said that if I really wanted to save lives, becoming a lobbyist against smoking would save many, many, more lives than a life in science ever would.” I responded, saying, “That’s all well and good, but it’s all about that balance between what you love and what you do well…being an effective scientist will be worth much more than an ineffective lobbyist.” Bevin absolutely beamed. I don’t think I’ve had someone respond to that statement so well ever in my life. Both of the professors were from cooler climates and had spent time at UCB/UCSF, and both emphatically understood and appreciated my want of seasons and snow (which was nice to hear. I’m glad I’m not crazy to love the change of weather throughout the year).

After lunch, there was a question and answer session with graduate students (sans professors, of course). We talked about the stipend, living in Cambridge, commute time, relationships with classmates, and the life of an MIT graduate student. Apparently, one of the reasons the program works so well is because everyone come in with a different background and specialty ends up helping and cooperating with other students to make up for deficiencies. For example, as a biologist, I would be able to help a straight-up mechanical engineer with cell biology, while she would help me with MatLab and some of the more difficult mathematical concepts. It is a straightforward recognition very early on in graduate school that no one of us will have all the answers, and it is important for us to rely on and cooperate with others to complete a project as efficiently as possible. I think the classes are as much to teach us bioengineering as to teach us collaboration.

During the visit, I was able to catch up with Bryan, a friend who UROPed in Linda Griffith’s lab as an undergraduate (UROP = undergraduate research opportunities program), as well as Nicole Casanovas, a friend from the summer who was also interviewing for the program. She lives in Puerto Rico, and we all joked that we should have a BE-REU reunion in San Jose during some spring break.

I had three additional interviews that afternoon. The first was with Dr. David Schauer, a professor who works with bacterial parthenogenesis of bacteria in the digestive tract. We talked quite a bit about options for research as well as more about life at MIT.

My next interview was with Dr. Leona Samson, a professor in the department of toxicology that does work with DNA damage and repair. She is originally from England, and considers herself a straight biologist that somehow ended up working in systems biology and bioengineering.

My last interview was quite different: I walked into Dr. Bevin Engelward’s office, and she said, “This is going to be a really short interview, because I think you’re a fantastic candidate, you put forth a stupendous application, and I think you should come here. So, I’m going to have you talk with some of my students about current projects in my lab.” So, I talked a bit with two of her students instead. Crazy.

Following the interviews, the students gathered in the lecture room again to hear more about the specific labs of certain professors, and we heard everything from bone tissue regrowth to research on malaria. MIT definitely has a wide variety of research options…

Next on the docket was dinner at John Harvard’s, a bar/pub thing in Harvard Square. It was a very loud place to eat, but we were still able to talk things over with graduate students. We took the #1 bus back to MIT, and most went on to the bars when I got off at 77 Mass Ave and went back into lab to talk with Alexandria (the researcher I worked with this past summer). Since she is leaving to go on to a post-doc, she wanted to have me come into lab and do a few experiments on Monday with Lorenna, the second-year graduate student that is taking over my general project. Due to Massachusetts’s odd liberal but puritan laws, the subway system closes at midnight, so I had to leave MIT around 10:30 to make sure I could get back to Needham on time.

The next day began with breakfast and a poster session with graduate students followed by additional research presentations. I find that I always wish I had much more time to hear about different projects and research. Fifteen minutes just isn’t enough.

We had bag lunches with the faculty after their presentations, followed by lab tours and a campus tour. There is a brand new graduate apartment building called Syn-Pac (Sydney Pacific) that is absolutely gorgeous…I just wish that the kitchen was the size of my bedroom and the bedroom was the size of my kitchen. The stove is so small, and I find myself spoiled by the big kitchen in my house. Apartments are also a viable option, but a great majority of students live in on-campus housing their first year and then go on from there to decide where they would like to live in Cambridge or Boston. I ended up skipping the trolley tour (since I did the same one this summer) and went into lab to prepare protocol for Monday. We me at Asgard for dinner, an Irish pub near Central Square, just in time for the St. Patrick’s Day rush. I really wish they had just given us money to visit a restaurant for Restaurant Week, but alas…slightly bad buffet food instead. That night, quite a few graduate students gathered at the party room at the top of Tack (another one of the graduate student dorms) to enjoy the great views and meeting the prospective students.

It was extremely difficult to look at other schools in a completely unbiased fashion during this process after having such a fantastic experience this past summer at MIT. Even though I don’t understand calculus, have never lived on the East Coast, and went to a small liberal arts school in the middle of Illinois, it seems to be such a good fit. Instead of seeing me as someone who hasn’t studied enough engineering or math, they see me a person who can make substantial contributions to their department. And that is pretty darn cool.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

University of California at Berkeley/San Franciso

I left for O’Hare early Saturday morning courtesy of my lovely roommate Sara, arriving in time to be in Chicago by 9:45 am. I waited around for my flight, and amazingly, my flight left on time at noon. I sat next to these two crazy brothers from Michigan, one who asked me riddles the entire time, getting disappointed that I could figure them out, and the other tried to feed my corny pickup lines. Hilarious. Honestly, it was nice to meet happy people on a flight for once. Airports lately have just been so depressing… Once I arrived in Dallas, I wandered around like a chicken with my head cut off (the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport is a little odd…not bad, but not exactly user-friendly to the confused traveler). I went up to a desk and asked where my gate was since it wasn’t printed on my boarding pass, and the travel agent said my flight had been cancelled. Okay…my next flight left about four hours later, and after summoning my inner confrontational side, I finagled a $10 voucher to get some lunch to tide me over until my 9:30 pm arrival in San Francisco. I worked on homework for awhile, but airports/airplanes are not very biology-homework friendly.

I boarded my flight around 7, and my aunt and uncle picked me up the airport and we drove back to their place in Concord. I ate a slice of cold pizza and fell in bed. About seven years ago, my father, brother, and I stayed with them to visit San Francisco, and I stayed in my cousin’s room. I swear it has not changed a bit. There are still 28 bookshelves (I actually counted this time), a sweet map of Sweden, and a kitty that warms my feet during the night. I woke up to bacon and French toast PLUS a grapefruit off the tree. So good. We talked for awhile in the morning about pretty much everything: cousins, Minnesota, plans, and they made fun of me for applying to the famously-liberal Berkeley. They dropped me off around noon at the Hotel Durant, a hotel right off Telegraph Avenue, a locale still home to many tie-dyed shirts. Myself and one other prospective student then joined three graduate students to hike up Mount Tamalpais north of San Francisco. Many others were supposed to join us, but late flights seemed to be a reoccurring problem.

It was fantastic to spend time with graduate students and get to know them better. Eric is a half-French hilarity with a quick wit and gets free room and board as an RA in the International House, a “dorm” for graduate students and upperclassmen at Berkeley. He wants to spend more time abroad, and was an avid supporter for the Bay Area weather. Zach spent five years teaching high school physics (for those of you that know Mr. Fields, he’d be that kind of teacher: enthusiastic, smart, and every single girl would have a crush on him). He’s married to a manager in the Ghirardelli company, and it was courtesy of his wife that we got some chocolate in our visit packet. Lane just had surgery on his knee, so he was having a bit of a rough time with it, but he was a trouper heading to the top. The van ride to Mount Tam was my first taste of the rolling San Francisco streets: there is really nothing quite them…

The day was incredibly clear, and the drive across the Golden Gate Bridge yielded stunning views on both sides of the bay. We stopped at a convenience store for some food before heading up the mountain: I got this fantastic orzo and lemongrass concoction which tasted beyond delicious. We drove the winding roads past Muir Woods, smelling the eucalyptus as we neared the top. We tried our best to avoid the crazy drivers in their manual sports cars on the way: props definitely go to Eric for the excellent driving skills. The hike took about twenty minutes, and we could see everything: Oakland, Berkeley, downtown, the ocean, Alcatraz, the tips of the redwoods and sequoias of Muir Woods...simply beautiful.

I also got to play paparazzo of Lane and Zach eating sushi at the top of the mountain with San Francisco behind them: apparently it’s going to end up on the BEAST website (BEAST = BioEngineering Association of Students). We hiked back down to the van, and drove back across the bridge to the beach. We chilled at a beachside chalet-type thing with the other prospectives that had arrived a bit later in the day before heading on the beach to play Frisbee. I finally got to meet up with Tim (a friend that I met this summer in Boston), and he convinced me to put my feet in the ocean…at which point the Pacific ate my jeans, soaking me to the knees with a huge gush of water. Excellent. Now soaking wet, Tim and I tried to dry while watching the others play Ultimate Frisbee.

We headed back to Berkeley, checked into the hotel, and I washed the sand out of my jeans before heading out to dinner with the group. We ate at Jupiter, a local establishment not too far from the hotel. I got a chance to talk a bit longer with some graduate students, as well as a current Berkeley bioengineering undergraduate who loves the time she has spent in the Bay area. After dinner, Tim got a call from George, another friend we had met over the summer. We agreed to meet at 7 am the next morning (phew…early!) for coffee before all three of us started our day with interviews.

We went to Caffe Strada right across from campus and ate breakfast outside….on March 3rd. This is a big deal. I walked outside without a jacket on. It felt kind of wrong and spoiled to be in such lovely weather. That said, I think I would miss seasons. A lot. Downtown is usually between 50 and 70 degrees, Berkeley is between 40 and 75, and past that (near Concord, where my aunt and uncle live) gets really hot during the summer. I would miss that temporal grounding in how the years pass. One of the students mentioned that I could just follow sports (basketball, baseball, football, hockey), but I would miss snow and raking leaves and lilac bushes and heat waves…for all that I may grip about being cold (whether in the winter or in air conditioning) it’s something I would miss.

Monday was spent at UCSF (as the program I applied for is a joint program between UCSF and Berkeley) and the beginning was an orientation to the program and talks from many of the students. We started at the Mission Bay Campus, a newly-built addition to the UCSF program on the old shipping yards of San Francisco. There were some really cool projects presented on imaging (with a crazy-powerful 7 Tesla MRI machine), but it’s not really something I’m into: it is a lot of programming, as well as a lot of time only working with computers. There were some interesting projects with gene delivery, as well as improving drug delivery models…it’s hard to give an accurate description of all of the problems they are trying to solve given the breadth of the actual program.

We spent lunch with graduate students as well as faculty members, and spent the afternoon touring and interviewing on campus. I went on the tour first, and I must say, the workout center is fantastic. Voted the best in San Francisco this past year, it has free weights, machines, squash, two pools (one on the roof with a gorgeous view). Research labs are research labs, although these reminded me the most of the facilities at Pfizer (probably due to the fact that they were built recently).

From there, I took the grey shuttle to the Parnassus Campus, home of the UCSF Medical School (one of the best in the nation). A fellow prospective and I fumbled our way through hospital corridors to get to our professor, Dr. Frank Szoka, who does work on drug delivery.

Interestingly enough, I was the only biology major out of 50 students called back to interview, as well as the only one from a purely liberal arts institution. I felt somewhat out of place, and Dr. Szoka called me on it. Because he was talking on a conference call, it ended up that he ran late and three prospective students interviewed at once. He immediately called me out, asking, “So…this biology thing…what makes a biologist want to do bioengineering?” Uh…well, the superficial answer is because it is so COOL but the reasoning behind it is that after this summer, I began to see the relevance of bioengineering as a means to improve our understanding of biology, as well as our solutions to biological problems. I almost wish one place would finally stop focusing on my background as far as school size and degree program and ask me flat out “What do you want to do in graduate school? Why?” That would be great.

My next two interviews were phone interviews, and the first was with an anesthesiologist, and it only lasted about five minutes: it seemed like he didn’t know what exactly to ask, which was kind of weird. My second was with Dr. Bernard Herman, but he didn’t answer his phone. However, he did send me an email apologizing, and he and I talked for about a half hour on Friday about the research projects I had done. He said that of the thirteen places he has lived during his life, San Francisco is his favorite (although Madison, Wisconsin would have won if there weren’t so many mosquitos).

Dinner that night was at Gordon Beirsch, a brewery on the bay…I had some wine from Sonoma Valley for dinner, along with some really good French fries and gorgonzola cheese (really…you’d think it’d be gross, but they’re delicious!). The next adventure was driving a 15 person van down Lombard street…whoa. We also visited the Coit Tower, which gave us a really pretty view of the night sky and the city. We stopped for a bit at Ghirardelli Square (which is overrated and expensive but still smells of such lovely chocolate). We headed home for the night, enjoying the lights as we traveled back across the bay.

The next day was a crash course in the Berkeley campus and a few interviews. From the hotel to the science buildings, I passed tennis courts, a stream, walked through a wooded area, saw the Campanile Tower, and was introduced to an intense earthquake-safe building.

My first was with a graduate student and three other prospective candidates in a lab that does work with reconfiguring viruses so they orient neural stem cells in vivo. The second interview was with a graduate student and one other prospective about the Shaffer lab (he worked for MIT earlier in his career and does some cool adenovirus work as well as stem cell projects). My final interview was with Dr. Kevin Healy, another tissue engineer who does some really cool work with hydragels and using them as injectable support for tissues in heart disease.

It was quite odd that I had four interviews in person, and none of them were me alone face-to-face with a professor: I was always with another person. It’s not a bad thing, but it was just very different from every other interview I’ve had so far.

The trip back home was a nightmare. I had to leave Berkeley at 11:30, missing the rest of the interviews, lunch, dinner, a graduate student presentation…the works, which was really disappointing, given that Berkeley had many more interesting professors for me in comparison to UCSF. My aunt and uncle dropped me off at the airport, and my flight was delayed one hour. Delayed 2 and half hours. And….cancelled. The plane they booked us on got into Chicago at 10:40 pm, in comparison to the 7:00 pm original time. Unfortunately, that meant that I would miss the last Peoria Charter out of O’Hare, and the next wouldn’t leave until 10:45 am the following day. I waited in line for an hour and a half to have the ticket agent tell me she could do nothing since Chicago was my terminal destination, so I sat stewing in frustration at the thought of spending a night in O’Hare baggage claim. When the ticket agent called for volunteers to take another flight, I jumped at it…since I won’t be getting home until tomorrow, I might as well get $300 out of the deal. I was transferred to a United flight, and I was able to book a train ticket so I could arrive in Bloomington by 11 am instead of 1:30 pm the following day. My flight on United was delayed for about an hour, but amazingly, the plane was only half full, so I got an entire row to myself. I worked on homework most of the time, eating a pretty bad airport quality salad for dinner, and we arrived in Chicago at 1:00 am. I went to baggage claim, and…surprise, surprise. My obnoxious purple suitcase was not there. I went to United’s baggage service, and realized that I didn’t have the claim check number (it had been on the back of my boarding pass that the American ticket agent had taken away when she rebooked my flight). So, the people at United took the description and flight number, and (since they couldn’t look up American Airlines claim check) sent me to the American terminal. I arrived about 10 minutes after the baggage claim worker left, and trudged up to ticketing to find an employee from American. No dice. I half slept and worked on homework until 5 am, when someone finally showed up, pretty much saving my life and finding my suitcase. I rushed to the blue line, rode an hour to get downtown, walked to Union Station, and finally got on the train back to Bloomington. Just in time to go to class….

Thursday, March 6, 2008

University of Illinois at Chicago

In retrospect, I’m glad that I have 8 am classes every day this semester: it makes getting up at 5:30 am for these graduate school visits much easier. My friend Kristen drove me to the train station quite early, and I spent about three hours on the train into Chicago. I have a hard time doing anything but sleeping or talking on trains: the rocking motion tends to lull me into a happy contentment. We ended up arriving late as per usual: Amtrak really takes second priority to all of the freight trains going in and out of Union Station. It is fairly easy to take the El to UIC/Halstead, but due to time constraints, I took a cab. In all of the traveling I have done, I have decided that I really do not like cabs…they are just so jerky, alternating between extremely fast and crawling along slowly. I ride in cars so rarely now anyway that I find I prefer just walking: I can’t wait to live somewhere where I can walk anywhere I need to go.

My first meeting was with Dr. Alan MacLachlan, the director of graduate studies, regarding the basics of the GEMS program (an umbrella program that stands for Graduate Education in Medical Sciences). The first semester is taking three required core classes for GEMS, plus your first rotation. Second semester is finishing up two additional rotations, as well as taking two courses and a research ethics class. The stipend for next year is $24,000, and the university does not provide subsidized housing…the suggestion when I asked about where to live was check things out on Apartments.com. Most people use the El or Metra to commute, and not very many live directly in the city (although UIC is trying to push for a more residential campus).

My first interview was with Dr. David Ucker, a gentleman who specializes in viruses: he had several very specific questions regarding my work this summer with adenoviruses, and I felt rather motivated to take a virology course afterwards…really, viruses are quite marvelous: they have coevolved with our immune systems, and offer some extremely elegant prospects for drug delivery and other mechanisms that could be protective or beneficial within the body.

The second professor I was supposed to interview with didn’t show, but he’s not the first: it made the administrative person feel awful, but these things do happen.

The third professor I interviewed with was Dr. Bellur Prabhakar: he is the head of the Immunology program here, and did his best job to sell UIC as the place I wanted to be. In a time of diminished federal funding, 19 of 20 principal investigators at UIC have NIH funding, which is actually quite significant. He was pretty heavy emphasizing how excellent UIC’s program is, and while I agree, there is a caveat: many many programs are great…but are they the right fit? That’s the real issue at hand. Georgia Tech is a great school, but the area and weather just aren’t for me: I wouldn’t be happy.

The next professor I interviewed with was Dr. Nancy Freitag, one of the nicest professors I have met on my visits to these schools. Within ten seconds, I knew I would love to work for her…and that is saying something. She was attentive, non-patronizing, and seemed really interested in what I had worked on. She works with mechanisms of entry of Listeria, one of those odd

I ate lunch with Michelle, the coordinator of the visits, along with Dr. McLachlan and another professor…we chatted about the other schools I had applied to, as well as my thoughts on where I would like to go next year: they seemed a little confused about the seeming random nature in which I applied to graduate schools (looking back at it, I think I did my best, but I see how they could arrive at that conclusion).

In some ways, I wish I would have been able to interview on a weekend where I could meet additional graduate students, because one only gives you their particular slice of life at any given school. The one that I was able to talk with for a little while was nice, but he is but one of many in the program, and it would be nice to temper his thoughts with other opinions.

I took a cab back to Oglivie station, meeting a close friend for the walk over to Union Station: I have loved being able to catch up with friends on these grad school visits, if only for a little while.

The train was, again, late, but Sarah was able to do errands and come back to get me from the train station and get me back to campus by 8 pm that night.

Also, by popular request:

The “Help-Bridget-get-to-her-grad-school-interviews Brownies” (I’m not sure where exactly my aunt found the original recipe, but it’s fantastic!)

Make a pan of 13x9 brownies as per normal (the family sized version; you can do two boxes if you want really thick brownies).

Seven minutes before completed, start melting 1 cup each of chocolate, butterscotch, and peanut butter chips (either in the microwave or in the double broiler; you are supposed to use 1 cup of peanut butter, but I only had the natural oil kind and thought it wouldn’t be sweet enough).

Five minutes before baking time is completed, take out the oven and sprinkle with mini marshmallows: continue baking for the recommended time.

Mix the melted chocolate/butterscotch/peanut butter chips with 2 cups of some sort of cereal (the original recipe was rice krispies, but I have also used rice chex, and I’m sure you could use your own personal favorite as well).

Spoon the cereal and melted chips onto the marshmallows as soon as the brownie comes out of the oven, and mix them with the marshmallows. Allow to cool, and cover.