Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer, kind of wonderful

Finally catching a breath now that I am sitting at the airport waiting to board the first leg of my trip. I checked in two bags (total of 85 pounds) and with two carry-on’s (I squeezed two laptops into my poor VB case- it is barely closing), I’m pretty sure my luggage weighs more than me.

Yesterday was an errand storm. Before handing off Kasey (in good hands too) I had a gazillion errands to run. I couldn’t sleep Tuesday night because I was stressed about packing and flights! I knew I could do it- I knew exactly what I needed to do- but that stress was constantly in the back of my head. This entire ordeal reminded me of finals: stretches of elevated stress and cortisol level.

And the copious consumption of caffeine (see what I did there?) - also reminiscent of finals. Since I was replacing sleep with caffeine, I wasn’t falling asleep at dinner but a simple math task made me realize just how brain dead I really was. I couldn’t add five numbers in my head. (I forgot to include this in my last post so here we go. Ignore 5 days. Make that zero.)

With our split check situation, my brain just shut down. I could not comprehend what was happening!!! Massive props to our waiter who had to put up with this. (For a delicious meal at a great diner, check out The Union Kitchen on Bellaire. It is the perfect neighborhood restaurant.)

At least I am here! And my summer is finally on. We’re boarding! (I'm here so early that there's another flight to Atlanta before mine.) Everyone keeps telling me that this is the last summer. Next summer I’ll have one month off and the summer after that I’ll spend studying for the boards and… whew! For now, let’s focus on enjoying one day at a time.

But first, I hope I can lift my 40-pound backpack onto the overhead bin...

How are everyone's summer plans shaping up?
When does your summer “begin”?

All in the attitude (or the altitude)

Fact #1. People tend to get more emotional on airplanes- well, they cry more at sad movies. I wonder if it is the altitude that affects us physically or the feeling of vulnerability of being on a plane. Last time I flew to Korea I made a little cocoon in my seat and watched all the sad movies in the world. I even teared up at the ferry scene in The Dark Knight. This time I paid for my own plane tickets = economy seats. Instead, I’m sticking to documentaries and my reading list.

On my Nook I have some H.G. Wells, The Idiot (my ambitious summer read) and to balance it all out My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler. Kathryn also gave me Crazy Love.

Fact #2. I’m leaving Texas! I’ll miss the little towns, riding horses to school (just kidding), the amazing Houston food scene, the accent (all y’all). I don’t know who I’ll listen to once I’m out of this state because even Houston radio personalities speak in perfect Midwestern accents… (myself?) But as a dear friend reminded me, I wanted this: I wanted to go up North for dental school. So something to remember you by, dearest Texas:

Fact #3. I have no plans this summer. Usually I have an entire document typed up and PDF’d for breaks but not this time. I’ll admit it: I’m a little uneasy.

Fortunately my flight is only fourteen hours- not seventeen as I’ve been telling everyone. I think when I first flew into America, our flight took seven teen hours- and that was into Los Angeles (we fly over the Pacific)! The wonders of technology.

Quick “nap” before I head out to the airport. So many thoughts racing through my head (dinner crew- did you see me slow-motion trip that cup this evening?) & I need to catch up on some sleep.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Houston recycle-mania

Leaving in about thirty hours with so many errands still left to do- I’m feeling a little frantic! My brain is scattered. Today I left my work spot for a few minutes & came back to realize I'd covered up my phone with my wallet.

Stress really is exhausting. I've been downing any and all forms of caffeine to keep going. According to the book I’m reading (The Thrive Diet by Brendan Brazier), I’m exacerbating the problem since I’m consuming empty calories without the micronutrients.

But onto my coolest discovery.

Since yesterday was Memorial Day, there was no curbside recycle pick-up. I’ve been piling up cardboard boxes and plastics outside my door with my packing marathon. Turns out, there is a 24/7 drive-up RecycleExpress in West University. It is on 5004 Dincans, off Kirby behind Goode Company Seafood.

This place is Recycling Heaven.


It is inspiring to see people pulling up (sometimes in their gas-guzzling SUV’s but people have vices!) and sorting out their recyclable trash. It is also kind of fun. It's like a drive-through... only in reverse. And you don't get food. But it is open 24/7 so you can come recycle any time you want to.

Here’s a practical tip if you are running errands: map out your errands in clockwise direction. This way you don’t have to wait for right turns. This is how UPS saves millions of gallons of fuel each year.

Studying teeth in the geology department

I worked in the geology department this year. Whenever I tell people this, they think I am studying earthquakes and volcanoes. But geology extends far beyond studying these magnificent natural phenomena. My PI is a geochemist who studies mineral dissolution. How is this related to teeth? Because teeth are minerals (sort of- a stricter definition of minerals requires them to be non-organic) and they dissolve, which is often why we go to the dentist.

I decided to use my birthday present from Naz to good use. These colored pencils even have space for you to write your name.

2012-05-21 22.59.24
Enamel- the outermost layer of teeth- is the hardest substance in your body, scoring 5 on Moh's hardness scale. Enamel is 96% apatite compared to the inner layer dentine which is only 70% apatite. Most of our research is done on enamel, since it is our first line of defense against cavities.

Natural apatite looks very different from teeth. In enamel, the apatite grains form a repeating structure with interlocking keyhole shapes. The proteins help organize the nanocrystals into this unique structure.

While writing this post I remembered that one of my GRE verbal passages was on the structure of teeth!  Maybe it was a sign though I had no idea at the time.

In case you are curious, my PI's another major research area is biofouling: attachment of bacteria on wet surfaces. This is important to the oil industry, ships, the military, pipes... The U.S. Navy spends over $6 billion a year on this problem.

Monday, May 28, 2012

How to enjoy moving (without being ruined)

How is my packing going? It's going. M picked up a whole bunch of boxes for me (she's been my lifesaver throughout this entire process) and giving me tons of advice that should really be common knowledge for a college graduate. Perhaps more importantly, she listens to my rants and makes sure I’m fed.

If you are packing (or dreading your upcoming move), here's one guideline that's helped me tremendously: visualize your packing progress.
Label your drawers as you empty them out. I started pulling everything out of drawers and bins so that I can see the content out in the open. Somehow visible mess is better than hidden mess. I kept re-opening drawers I'd emptied out so I stuck a post-it on the outside of the empty drawers. Now I remember which ones are empty & more importantly- can see my ongoing progress.

Second, pack anything you see. I know you're supposed to start with the big stuff, but I started with the little apartment decorations- the frames, the pictures, the postcards. This makes the apartment look more packed so that I don't plop on the bed worrying about just how much I have to pack.

Third, make a detailed checklist and cross it off one at a time. "Pack" is a scary project on your to-do list: where do I even start? "Assign toiletries into donate/dump/pack" is a better bite-size task you can complete by Monday.  It's also really satisfying to cross items off with a huge Sharpie.
This is now my packing golden rule: if you haven't used it in a year, you won't use it. Applies to books, clothes, painting supplies, cooking utensils. I think I'm successfully (and efficiently) downsizing. I think... Talk to me again when I'm moved into my Philly apartment.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lifetime of free toothbrushes

I received another correspondence in the mail from school. This one didn't have dog bite marks all over it so that's wonderful and all that but I am more excited about this: If you join the American Student Dental Association, Penn chapter...

Yes to free tutorials, yes to free start-up kits, yes to extra curing light (for composite fillings or for life woes maybe?). But a hugemontacious big YES to free electronic toothbrushes and Whitestrips.

I still have a bag of goodies from my dentist that I shadowed. I think this means I will never run out of toothpaste or toothbrushes ever again in my life. My occupational hazard! Somehow that makes me really giddy.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Celebrate accomplishments: birthday week

This weekend I had a birthday picnic at the crossing of Bellaire and train tracks. Kathryn and Naz organized everything for me, and I mean everything. I just showed up with a bucket of my favorite bagels and we sat by the playground.

I ate this lovely cheesecake tart:
2012-05-20 11.19.40
 It was nice in the shade where we laid out our blankets and had a mini feast. I now have an entire party bites in my fridge and these beautiful flowers on my coffee table.

Fortunately my birthday fell into the intersection of time when many people came back to Houston and others haven’t left yet. I also came home to find these notes from the boys taped to my door- these made my heart melt.
I just want to say how lovely my friends are. Thank you-thank you-thank you. Another birthday, another year with these wonderful people in my life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Interview curveballs: Explain this weakness in your application

There were parts of my application I hoped would be overlooked. One of them was my low organic chemistry grade on the DAT which brought down my Total Science average by two points. This is how outstandingly bad my organic chemistry score was.

I was ten minutes into my first interview when my interviewer asked me: “Can you tell me about your organic chemistry score?”

I paused for a good three seconds. Because I didn’t know myself. And I did not have a good answer, for myself or for my interviewer.

What excuse is there for such a thing? The year I took organic chemistry, I lived off-campus. I took the 6AM lifeguarding shift, often heading straight to the pool after an all-nighter. I had an ER visit. But none of them are legitimate excuses (that’s an oxymoron) for my low score because the DAT science section is just like any other standardized test. It is impossible not to do well when you put in your due time and effort.

(I just really like this ending scene)

A strong applicant should recognize the weak parts of her application and come to peace with them. This is great because if you can explain yourself well, this converts a weakness into a strength- both for your ability to recognize your own weakness and for the lesson you’ve learned from that weakness.

As for me, I took some time to peruse the entirety of my application before my next interview. This is why I feel that interviews are a learning process. I felt more confident and comfortable at subsequent interviews because I was able to stand by every point (weak or strong) on my application.
Now that you are probably starting your application cycle, objectively review your application and pinpoint potential weaknesses before you are put on the spot like I was. You’ll be a better self-aware applicant even if you aren’t asked about it at your interview.
Did you have an unexpected interview question?
Going into the process, do you have weak points in your application you couldn't (or could) explain?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Common questions about the DAT

If you’re just getting acquainted with the dear DAT (Dental Admission Test), here are common questions about the exam. I think Q and A’s are great for when you don’t know what questions to ask.

When are DAT exam dates?
The DAT exam is available most days of the year at the different Prometric locations all over the country. You can sign up on the Prometric website.

How long should I study for the DAT?
I studied about 4 hours a week second half of fall semester then about 6 hours a day for two weeks during winter break. I was able to complete reviewing the content I needed to know, but I definitely could have been more prepared. If I had more time, I would have practiced time management on the PAT section.

2012-04-04 22.12.24

What do I need to bring to the exam site?
You only need to bring two ID’s: one must have your photograph and both should have your signature. Anything else will be kept in your locker, so don’t bring your lucky pencil. All materials you need for the exam will be provided for you.

Another thing- you cannot take off a piece of clothing once you have it on (security reasons), so wear a jacket you can zip open instead of a sweatshirt.

What should I expect at the exam site?
The Prometric testing centers host other exams in addition to the DAT. When you arrive, there will probably be other people in the computer room already working on their exams. People will be arriving and leaving throughout the exam. If this is distracting, put the headphones on. It may be a good idea to practice exam-taking at a similar environment.

When do I receive my DAT score?
You will be walking out of the testing center with an unofficial copy of your score in hand. After the exam, you will complete a series of survey questions and your score will pop up on the screen. The proctor will print out a copy for you- this is the only hard copy you will receive of your score.

Is my DAT score good enough?
Depends on what school you are applying to. It is best to check out these online resources especially the accepted students’ averages for your school in ADEA’s official guide. For reference, the average DAT score for accepted students has been around 19 for the past few years.

Can I cancel my DAT score?
The only way to “cancel” your score is by not showing up to the DAT testing center. If you don’t feel prepared, you can reschedule the exam with a small penalty. Once you begin your exam, your score will be counted.

Can I retake the DAT?
Yes, 90 days after your last DAT. There is no limit to the number of DAT exams you can take. Schools will see your last 4 DAT scores.

How late can I take the DAT?
Since dental schools use rolling-admissions, it is best to complete your application- including the DAT- as early as possible. Since your DENTPIN is associated with your AADSAS application, dental schools will automatically receive your scores.

If you are planning to re-take the DAT, I would hold off until sending the applications until the scores are available. Schools have no way of knowing if you are planning a re-take (you can’t enter a future date for the DAT). If your second DAT score is sent out after your primary application, schools may review your application without your second (probably improved) score. If you choose to submit your AADSAS application and let your second DAT score follow later, call and let the schools know so they can put a sticky note in your file. This might cause a delay in their reviewing your application.

What happens if I take the DAT more than once?
Each school has its own policy about multiple DAT scores. Some choose the highest score, others use the average. If you are debating whether to re-take the DAT, you should call your schools and ask them about their policies.

Where can I find sample DAT questions?
ADA has a complete full-length practice test both online ($37) and in print ($27). There are quite a few exam prep books you can buy (I used Kaplan and Barron’s). Kaplan and Princeton Review also host in-class and online DAT prep classes if you need a comprehensive study plan.

Ten days until I'm crossing the Pacific

It is slowly heating up in Texas! On Saturday I went to Helen's Park on Stella Link for an art lesson with Amy from Houston Art Lessons (If you are looking for something creative to do this summer, definitely check it out). She provided everything including paper and utensils- I literally just brought myself to the park and spent a sunny hour sketching yellow flowers. Then I got home and slept through an entire episode of HBO's Weight of the Nation.

I had to read a long document today and as soon as I saw that it was 21 pages, I put it on my Nook and made a picnic out of it at my new outdoor work space. This is one of the reasons I love my Nook.

There's a water fountain (background noise), shade, and some occasional dog-walkers to keep me entertained. I know it is getting hot but for this sliver of time, it is cool and nice in the shade. Sunglasses and iced lemonade optional.

Three quarters of the family pie are reunited in Seoul. I picked up an emergency call from Little Brother at the airport Saturday morning. Before I hung up, he asked "Why are you up at 3 in the morning?" Because the phone woke me up! Okay, safe flight- back to Zzzzz.

To everyone graduating or wrapping up your academic year these past few weeks, congratulations! Did you hear about the Gac Filipaj, the Columbia University graduate who earned his credits while working as a janitor?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Finding the good in good-bye

Everything is winding down but there is still quite a bit to do. Now that I’m unemployed I can spend leisurely mornings at Panera. This morning I learned that hell is forgetting to charge your laptop and realizing you don’t have a single pen on you.

2012-05-18 10.31.44Everyone seems to be in transition.

Earlier this week my co-workers threw me a good-bye dinner party. The following day we had a department reception for my lab which is also moving. Thursday night I wore my owl earrings to the Rice young alumni reception (finally) where I again felt “in transition” - just last week at Commencement I had felt so old. And here we were probably the youngest ones present.

I’ve been listening to the song this post title comes from on eternal loop. There is always more than one way to look at something. Although it is sad that people are moving away, this means that we now have friends to visit in different cities.
And this is what I actually wanted the title to be: “Finding the good in goodbye and the hell in hello”. But maybe that’s a little pessimistic. So I mention it here in the actual post hidden in smaller font among other text.
Alex reminded me that it has now been more than a year since we saw each other. With Facebook and company good-bye’s are hardly final but still, there is something to be said for living in the same city or even in the same country. I’ve been blowing off our skype dates all this week. And she will be flying into Texas a day after I leave Houston.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Last day as a full-time employee

I've completed my last official day of work! I finally wrapped up the heap of paperwork and phone calls to close my employee file. My Rice email officially closed yesterday midnight. Much of the actual lab work has been handed over & I'm now calculating, measuring, rendering. Besides the obvious, a couple of my favorite things about this research experience:

1. Having co-workers I have never felt more grown-up than when I muttered the words, “My co-worker…” I was often the only one in the room without a PhD, but I felt more confident presenting my thoughts at meetings because I was "working" on this project: this is my job. Also, research is a much more collaborative learning process than classroom lectures- I came out of meetings with my brain on fire. Granted, most of the time it’s more like blind leading the blind.

2. Maps for daydreaming The best thing about working in the Earth Science department is that maps are everywhere. Here's our floor lobby.

3. All my work perks: free printing, free food, free coffee…
Having free printing made me a much more productive person. Maybe something about vertical reading. I often found free food in the department kitchen while wandering around for a brain stretch. Plus all the lectures and talks I was able to attend because I was still part of Rice served as a huge part of my learning experience.

The next time I need to be somewhere it'll be for dental school- I'll be living in Philadelphia! What what. Yesterday at our alumni reception, I was telling people this and hardly believing it myself.

Introduction to the DAT

The Dental Admission Test is administered by the American Dental Association. The DAT is what the GRE is for graduate schools, the MCAT for med schools, the PCAT for pharmacy schools. (This could be the start of some nerdy rap.)

You are required to read this comprehensive DAT Program Guide before you sign up for the exam. Quick facts about the DAT:
  • About five hours long and broken down into the following:

  • Natural Sciences section has three parts: biology, inorganic chemistry and orgnaic chemistry.
  • Conducted year-around at Prometric Test Centers
  • Costs $360 per exam currently (check again- this increases each year) 
  • Scores for each section ranges from 1-30 with 17 being the average. You will get a separate score report for all the sections, in addition to a Total Science average and an Academic Average.
  • Can retake in 90 days
  • No limit to number of re-takes
  • Scores immediately available at the end of the exam. Testing center will print an unofficial hard-copy of your scores before you leave.
You must first register for a DENTPIN which is a unique number identifying you for dental-related exams including the DAT and NBDE. You need this DENTPIN to sign up for the DAT.

Remember to have your scores sent to the dental schools you are applying to. If you send your scores to at least one AADSAS-participating school, all the schools selected on your AADSAS application will automatically receive them.

You don't have to have taken the DAT to complete your AADSAS application, but I think it's best to take the DAT the winter before you apply.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Applying after graduating early: Interview with Enstin

Enstin graduated from Rice in three years and applied to medical schools the summer after graduation. After a gap year, she is starting medical school this fall in Houston. She adores houses, loves baking, and thinks a lot. This makes her a fantastic conversation partner especially when I need to talk out deep thoughts. We’ve explored outdoor parks together and she inspired me to run my first 5k earlier this year.

Enstin spent the entire month of April in Costa Rica and now that she is back, we caught up.

First, did you always plan on graduating a year early?
No- I actually didn’t decide until October of my last year at Rice! I had been thinking about graduating early over the summer because I had completed my graduation requirements, but I didn’t decide until fall semester.
I mostly decided to graduate early because of financial reasons. It made sense to save a year’s worth of tuition if I was done anyway. Also while I was interning over the summer, I realized how much I could learn outside of taking classes. I did not necessarily need to be in college for an additional year.
Tell me more about this summer internship.
The summer before my last year at Rice, I interned directly with psychiatric patients in one of the most well-known hospitals in the New York. I was able to directly observe what I had learned in my psychology classes in a real clinical setting. When I came back to Rice the following fall, the knowledge and new perspectives enhanced my psychology classes as I could more easily connect what I was learning to real-world applications.
I had the chance to see every aspect of inpatient psychiatry patient care through interacting with patients, attending group activities and family meetings, assisting with translation, and working on patient aftercare plans. Through both my internship experience and my interviews with professionals in the science and healthcare fields, this summer in New York became truly one of the highlights of my education.
Tell me about majoring in psychology. Why did you choose to major in a non-science?
I was always more humanities/social sciences oriented. I knew I would have to take many science classes anyway, so it wasn’t necessary to major in the sciences. I like the cognitive and abnormal aspects of psychology, which blend biology with psychology. My psychology major took precedence over my premed status, and despite snickerings from SE’s that my major was easy/fake, it was the right choice for me because psychology was something I was really interested in.
Okay, since you decided to graduate seven months before you did, you naturally had a gap year. How did you feel about having an “empty year” without classes?
While I would have enjoyed an additional year soaking in all that Rice has to offer, in the end it made more sense to graduate. I was also suffering from burnout by the end of Rice and really needed to recuperate before starting school again. I am very glad I decided to take a year off because I would have been very unhappy had I gone straight into med school.
Tell me about some things you've learned in this gap year.
This year has been different from what I had planned: I worked a few different jobs and got to travel more. Searching for employment and working both FT and PT positions helped me to understand the job market and confirm my desire to attend medical school. I also learned a lot about being an adult- driving more extensively, living in an apartment, dealing with different issues. I had free time to pursue some hobbies like running and reading for leisure. I learned some things I did not get to in college- I took a Neuroscience and Law class and Spanish classes in Costa Rica.
What are you looking forward to in med school?
Med school kind of scares me still, not gonna lie. My gap year here (with a car) has definitely helped me realize how much Houston has to offer too. Med school will definitely be a new adventure and a big change from this year of relaxation. I am hoping I will be refreshed and recharged to tackle the craziness. I’m also excited though about finally learning relevant skills and applications after being “premed” for so long.
Interviewing friends like Enstin reminds me of this quote by Woodrow Wilson: "I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow." I hope Enstin will visit me in Philadelphia sometime & we can go running together along the Schuylkill!

Also how beautiful are these fotografos? Take me to Costa Rica.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How swimming can erode your teeth

Do you have mysterious stains on your teeth despite a rigorous dental hygiene routine? Teeth especially sensitive? After your dentist rules out the usual (tea/coffee habit, acid reflux, eating disorders), she might ask you an unusual question: are you a swimmer?

An ideal pool should have a pH between 7.2 and 7.8. Years of lifeguarding have taught me to call maintenance ASAP when the pH starts dropping, because kids will start crying from stinging eyes.

An improperly maintained pool can ruin your teeth in two ways.

First, a low pH in pool water can cause dental erosion. Dental erosion resulting from patients’ swimming habit was first suggested by Dr. Savad in 1982 : “Enamel erosion… multiple cases with a common cause(?)” That question mark is not a typo.

More recently, a 2011 paper published by researchers at NYU School of Dentistry showcased a 52-year-old male whose daily exercise routine eroded his enamel layer, making them sensitive and unsightly. Another similar case was reported in Journal of Canadian Dental Association about a woman whose teeth ate away after swimming daily for two weeks. This erosion is often irreversible.

Second, another concern for swimmers is "swimmer's calculus". Chemicals in swimming pools interact with minerals in your saliva to leave dark stains on your teeth. In this study, the two subjects who spent more than ten hours a week in the pool had brown spots on their front teeth. This is more easily treatable.

So while infinity edge pools may look tempting and some even look terrifyingly fantastic, you might want to stay away.

On second thought, just bring your own pH strips before hopping in (Image).

The most beautiful thing in the world

Have you ever used the SEM for anything? I had the rare opportunity to use this incredible gift to humanity and wow. We zoomed into the teeth samples (simple turn of the knob) and I got goosebumps. I kept muttering: "This is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." And the person who was running the machine looked at me like I was crazy.

But hello, take a look at this.

If this machine wasn't always booked solid for three weeks, I'd look at anything and everything. Microscopes are so wonderful.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Every beginning: Rice 2012 Commencement

Yesterday was Rice’s 99th Commencement. It thunderstormed throughout the night and we did not know until the morning if the ceremony would be held outside. I don’t know why I was so nervous but with the storm outside I could barely sleep. Fortunately the weather cleared up enough for everyone to gather in our beautiful academic quad. Jules who is back in town for the summer texted me at 7:04AM- “its outside hurrying up and getting ready”.

It was cloudy outside so pictures from my 5-year-old camera look like this:

IMG_0311 (800x444)

Our commencement speaker was Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy. You can watch the video for yourself here (introduction begins at 25:50). My favorite part of the speech was his thought exercise. Picture yourself 50 years from now (“with President Bieber”). You probably have many regrets: not telling people you love them, not spending time with your family, working too hard, and so on. Then imagine that a genie appears and grants you the opportunity to live your life again. Here, this is reality: this is your second chance.

Isn’t this a profoundly different way to look at life?

I feel bittersweet. I caught up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while which is always nice. I’m also proud of my babies for graduating and heading off into the wild but we’re scattering all over the world. “Bye, I’ll see you later… I mean, keep in touch! Good luck with life.”

Here’s our summer family (Lo has been replaced- just kidding):
IMG_0320 (800x534)
I did got one good shot when the sun came out for two minutes. This is minutes before new graduates walked out of the Sallyport. This is one of Rice’s many quirky traditions. If you do so before commencement day, you will never graduate.

On our way home “How’s It Gonna Be” played on the radio. Around graduation season every song starts to sound relevant. For me, this graduation also wrapped up the end of this gap year. So this is really happening: I’m going back to being a student.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Carrying work into the summer

(Couple of thoughts before I hustle out to graduation- also just checked my grade and pulled an A- in Microbiology!)

I have been squeezing my brain out trying to figure out a way to present my data. I plugged in some data points into Excel to see if we could see a pattern. It was total crap. I made a pretty picture out of it anyway (on what occasion would you need fish as your scatterplot background?):

I have less than three weeks until I'm out. I wonder if I'll be able to complete my current project. But I have to tell you: the idea of spilling my work over into the summer is not unpleasant... because I'll have something to do! Somehow I can picture myself working studiously at a coffee shop more so than me relaxing. I think I associate relaxing with laziness. This is probably why I flinch when people tell me to "take it easy".

Three months until dental school! My cross-country move has not hit me yet. Penn admissions committee sent us a letter noting "the next winter you spend will be in Philly"- wow. Also my rowing clubhouse sent out this link about Backwards, a movie about rowing, romance, and Philadelphia. I thought, "Hm, Philadelphia. That's really far. I wonder if their rivers freeze over in the winters. Wait, is that where I am going?".

What is everyone doing this summer?
Does anyone see a pattern in the fish food above?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Practicing delayed gratification with my Nook

The day I wrote about my Kindle dilemma, I headed out to Barnes and Noble for a friend date with E who’d just returned from Costa Rica. I was admiring the Nooks. They are squarer and softer than Kindles and B&N had a Mother’s Day promotion. Soon I was walking out the door with one in my hand.

After I came home, I let the new Nook sit on my desk for a bit. I wanted to think about my purchase before tearing into the package. I lasted five minutes.

Am I just awful with self-control?

Duckworth and Seligman found that self-discipline was a better estimate of academic performance than IQ. Higher self-discipline was also positively correlated with attendance, hours spent on homework, test scores, and acceptance to competitive high schools in these eighth graders.

(I downloaded a bunch of David Brooks columns. I am also reading The Social Animal which may be the last hardcover I will read in a while.)

2012-05-05 22.01.11

The Nook also has a dictionary function which also makes me reach for my instant marshmallow. Instead of looking at the context and trying to guess the meaning of a word, I can click and have my curiosity resolved immediately. I wonder if this is also a generational thing. I cannot watch my brother on the computer because he’s constantly opening tabs, switching windows, flipping pages… it’s dizzy and insane.

I don’t know if self-control is simply correlated with or causative of all those positive traits, but I’d like to flex my delayed gratification muscles.

But my Nook is fantastic. I’ve downloaded a bunch of columns as PDF’s onto it which is awesomely convenient. I take mine to the gym- I even squeeze in a few pages before my BodyPump class!

Has technology made you accustomed to instant gratification?
How do you use your Nook, Kindle, Kobo, iPads… all those E-reader/tablets?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Letter of recommendation: who and how to ask

It is nearing summer and my friends are starting their application processes. To think that a year ago I completed my undergraduate degree & was anxiously looking onto this gap year… To everyone who is graduating or starting their applications, good luck! Standing on the edge of something can be terrifying but so exciting.

Let’s talk about letters of recommendation. By rule of thumb, you should waive your right to view the letter. Implication is that your letter writers will be honest in whatever they say.

Since I wanted my health professions office to write a committee letter, I met with my letter writers early before spring break. I had gotten to know our health professions advisor pretty well and I had three professors who I thought would be able to write great letters on my behalf.

Your letter writers do not all have to be science professors. Different schools require different letters but one should be a science professor and the rest someone in your major or a mentor.

My three writers all turned out to be science professors: 1) My research mentor of two years: I had also taken a graduate level class with him with a big presentation and writing component  2) A professor I'd TA-ed for: Since this was protein lab, we spent long hours chatting 3) My DC friend: Before he was a friend he was my boss- I actually thought of him last. Since we had long conversations about my career and hopes for the future, I thought he would round out my pool of writers nicely. The dentist I shadowed agreed to write a letter for me as well.

I asked them if they would write me a letter as part of my dental school application. I think this initial approach is the most difficult. Once they said yes (whew!) I set up a longer meeting with my writers. For each of the writers, I prepared a folder containing:

- My resume
- My college transcript
- A draft of my personal statement
- A cover letter

In my “cover letter” I emphasized a few points I wanted each writer to focus on. At this meeting I spoke to them in person about these points (but I wanted them to have it in writing to refer back to). I kept in touch with them throughout the semester and before everyone left for summer break, reminded them of the deadline.

(This post is an excuse for me to pepper in images of my favorite teachers from two amazing movies- Dead Poets Society and An Education)

*You should not delay submitting AADSAS even if your letters are missing. Your application may be deemed incomplete by the committee, but AADSAS still processes them (which takes time in itself). So go ahead and submit your application first. AADSAS will chase your application later.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Stuck in the middle

May 5th is Children's Day in Korea. Parents' Day follows on the 8th shortly after. I "celebrated" Children's Day for longer than I should have since I had a younger brother. In Korea, children receive gifts on this happy day.

This year I realized that I can't celebrate either of those occasions. I'm not a kid, I'm not a mom. This suddenly hit me as strange.

In some ways, graduation too feels strange to me. Watching the current seniors go through all your typical senior events- 100/30 days countdown, senior gala, senior dinners- was it really a year ago that I lived those milestones myself? And the fact that others who graduated with me are wrapping up a third of law school, a quarter of med school, or (hopefully) a fifth of their PhD degree... it is bizarre- I did graduate but I haven't stepped aboard the "next step" train yet.

Have you read Hope for the Flowers? Maybe it is remotely relevant but writing this post has me thinking about these caterpillars:
Last week someone in our lab celebrated her birthday. I wished her a happy one and in turn, she asked me how old I was. "You are so young!", she noted. On the other hand, the kiddos couldn't subtract their age from mine ("I can't do those big numbers yet!").

Here's something surprising the Oldest told me: He told me that he can start driving at 16. I told him that's still a while from now. He shook his head and used his fingers to count up: "No, that's only 1...2....3... eight years from now." Think about that for a second. Does an eight-year-old really register how long eight years is?

Every moment you are the youngest you'll ever be, and the oldest you've ever been.

Don’t brush your teeth after coffee

Teeth undergo constant demineralization and remineralization. When the tooth surface dissolves, the ions in your saliva can restore the dissolved minerals (enamel is 96% apatite). Consuming acid damages teeth by skipping the bacteria step altogether. You are exposing teeth to acid directly through consumption.

For those whose vice is not sweets but acidic drinks (coffee, tea, wine, orange juice) use a straw. However, be careful that you do not swish it around in your mouth or sip through the straw onto your teeth. Researchers from Bristol University Dental School have shown that the increased velocity of these liquids hitting your teeth (if you were using a straw as opposed to sipping it) increases dissolution.


After consuming acidic drinks, rinse your mouth with tap water and wait thirty minutes. Jaeggi and Lussi found that immediately brushing your teeth after acidic drinks may erode your sensitive softened teeth, suggesting that it may be better to wait 30 minutes to an hour for your saliva to restore your enamel.

It is like what Sun Tzu said: Know your enemy. If your enemy is sugary sweets, brush your teeth- no problem. If your enemy is acidic drinks, drink water or chew sugar-free gum to increase saliva flow. Give your teeth a chance to build themselves up.

This advice may sound counter-intuitive but this makes sense once you know the difference in sugar vs. acid’s attack mechanisms. (ama-)Zing!

Monday, May 7, 2012

How your sweet tooth can ruin your real teeth

I definitely have a sweet tooth: I carry packets of sweetener in my purse. Ever since I’ve started cooking for myself this year, I have been eating more sweets. I wonder if this is related to my sudden increase in cavities. At my last dentist visit, I had three cavities filled. I only had two cavities during my entire four years at Rice where I had a meal plan.

Let’s talk: sweets and how they can ruin your teeth. First of all, close that FoodPornDaily tab. Researchers at Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry have shown that viewing pictures of food triggers a physiological response signaling hunger.

Teeth can dissolve through two ways. First, when you consume sugar the bacteria in your oral flora break those down to produce acid. This causes dental caries. Second is enamel erosion when you consume low pH foods (orange juice, carbonated sodas, wine) and those acids directly attack teeth surfaces. Clinically there is a distinction between the two since the causes are different.

De Graf and Zandstra found that children are less sensitive to sweetness than adolescents and adults. This explains why kids can flood their ice cream cups with sprinkles. This is unfortunate because children are also less likely to brush their teeth regularly.

In the first case, if you are not planning on giving up your sweet tooth anytime soon, what can you do? First, consume your sweets at meal time. Then brush your teeth using tap water which probably contains fluoride. The frequency of sugar consumption is just as important as (or perhaps more than) amount of sugar consumed.

I ate this for dinner yesterday. Courtesy of Caitlin the cheesecake goddess:
2012-05-06 19.20.21
Use sweetener when possible. Bugs do not recognize sweetener, so they will not metabolize it to produce lactic acid. However there are still questions about whether sweetener is safe, so you don’t get a free ticket.

Eat these foods that may have an anti-cariogenic effect: milk, cheese, peanuts, sugar-free gum (xylitol), fibrous foods. Most important thing is to floss every day & brush your teeth at least twice a day. If you want to see some visual images to that will encourage better dental hygiene… give me a call. I clutch my poor teeth looking at awful images at work.

Fun fact: Infants are not born with oral flora. Parents (by kissing them or feeding them bird-style) infect their babies around 26 months.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Learning to live consciously (lesson in writing exams)

Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to go."
Alice: “It doesn’t much matter where.”
Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go!”

Live consciously. Act deliberately.

I never stopped to think about this advice much until my TA-ing experience this year. Because of course, we live consciously! And act deliberately! We are not puppets or brainless drones. It's like telling me to keep breathing.

But I realized many times we do things without thinking about the purpose. I TA-ed for ESCI 101 which is a big intro class maxed at 150 students (at Rice, this is extreme. Only my introductory bio + biochemistry classes were this big).

When we wrote assignments and exams, we had to stop and think about the purpose. Because we were going to spend time making them. Because students were going to spend time completing them.

If you know the purpose of your actions, you can better assess the outcomes. Because if our goal was to make sure students learned some facts we wouldn't mind if everyone made A's. Because we met our purpose. This would have been failure if what we wanted was a nice bell curve.

My friend Tiffany who is now living in Wisconsin told me this which really stuck with me. She said, "I don't want to wake up and go through life with knee-jerk reactions."

I think that even if your motive is not as noble, you should be aware of reasons for your actions. Case in point:
Live actively. Don't just write in an active voice!

Have you received advice that hit you much later?
How do you live consciously? Act deliberately?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

To Kindle or not to Kindle

(May 10th update: I went ahead and bought a Nook instead!)

I’m torn. My birthday wish list included a Kindle, but I am not so sure if I am ready to make the transition. There are so many pros to reading physical books.

For one, borrowing and lending books can be a bonding experience. Once I borrowed Baltasar and Blimunda from a crush who had the wonderful habit of writing on his books. He had underlined phrases, circled words, scribbled notes on the margin. It was like I was listening to his real-time commentary.

Plus, a paper book physically exists. With mass and all. Would reading Crime and Punishment be the same if you didn’t tow around the three-pounds, the emotions of guilt and paranoia weighing down on your shoulders? And books can carry memories. If a five-year-old practices writing his name on a page or a goat nibbles on a chapter (or if your favorite author signs your book), these are memory nuggets that stay on physically in the books.

Noyes and Garland in their 2005 paper found that students prefer to learn from paper books over computers, and believe they will learn better from books. The authors suggest this may be because children have access to books earlier on in their life and view computers as a tool for playing instead of learning. But in fact, numerous studies with E-readers have shown that there is no significant difference in reading speed and comprehension. There is more eye fatigue with electronic screens but you can control the font size on E-readers.

Especially with all the stuff I'll be carrying around for dental school, this may be the practical solution. Plus, I carry a bundle of articles in my backpack and E-readers now support PDF documents. Instead of shuffling around a bunch of stapled papers, I could pull out my E-reader and make use of moments in between appointments.

beauty_and_the_beast_libraryThis can’t happen with E-books. Picture

But if I were to ask “What if everyone switched over to E-books?”, the answer is that I’d be really sad. Sometimes the best reads come from browsing someone’s book shelf. Where is the future of bookstores and libraries?

Do you have an e-reader?
How do you feel about the e-reader trend?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Pre-dental school birthday wish list

I have the hardest time thinking up presents for the men in my family. I sent my brother a surprise gift when he was starting his freshman year. A few days later he called me to ask if I had really just sent him Apples to Apples.

Here is my birthday wish list this year. Since I am starting dental school in the fall, I focused on items that would be useful for a D1.

1. Kindle
I resisted the idea of a Kindle because I don't usually purchase books. Then I found out that public libraries also have E-books they "rent out". Also there are some really cute Kindle cases out there, like this monogrammed one from karion designs on Etsy:

2. Running shoes (complete with a gait test)
3. Tickets to Turn off the Dark in NYC: For the perfect weekend getaway. U2! Flying spiders! New York! (Also this is #1 on my list of "25 before 25")
4. This cashmere zip-front hoodie from J. Crew
Whenever Lo or I showed up to the library with a hoodie, we knew it was business time. These were truly desperate 4AM moments on the fourth floor of Fondren: hoodie on, focus on. Think of this as an upgraded, softer and happier version of our “Misery Hoodies”. (Lo's wrapping up her first year of law school today!)

5. Staedtler Ergosoft Colored Pencils I love the soft grip and the unique triangular shape. Sometimes highlighters make squeaky noises.
6. Mulberry BayswaterThe irresponsible item on my wish list.

I love its simple structured shape and the beautiful leather- not a fan of the ostrich ones. Instant polish. Looks good with scrubs. It is big enough to fit notebooks and maybe a textbook...Dad?

I could also use noise-cancelling headphones (Hi little brother), Philosophy shampoo-shower gel-bubble baths (so convenient plus they smell amazing), groceries store gift certificates and magazine subscriptions.

A girl can dream. This was especially fun (or cruel?) since I'm on my No Spend Month. Happy almost-birthday to me!

What is on your wish list for the fall?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Habits to shake off before your interviews

In high school, one of my closest friends had an upcoming interview with the mayor of Tampa. It was going to be filmed and broadcast on television. Weeks prior to the interview, she asked everyone to "beep" every time she said "like". It got annoying pretty fast.

To this day, she is the most eloquent speaker I know. I think it also has to do with another characteristic of hers shown in this story: she actively sought to recognize and fix her flaws.

In public speaking, I learned that how you speak is just as crucial as what you say. Easy small changes to make you sound as intelligent as you really are at the interviews:

1. Stop raising your voice at the end.
This is how I tend to speak! In high school, a college representative asked me if I was from California. I took this as a bad sign thinking I sounded like your typical valley girl.
2. Pause instead of using space fillers like “um”, “like”, “you know”.
3. Talk slower.You can get your point across effectively while slowing down. Listen to Diane Rehm. When I get nervous, I speak faster and mumble up my words. So take your time and say things you mean instead of rambling until you find yourself asking “where am I going with this point?”

Has anyone else recognized an annoying speech habit and could not focus on anything else the person was saying? This is why I could not watch those Orange County reality shows (watch this instead).

You can try recording yourself and listening to how you speak. I used to leave video posts on my friends’ Facebook walls and whenever I watched them again I was fascinated by how different I sounded.

If you do, you can also note the pronouns you use which provides insightful information on: your compatibility with others, self-consciousness, confidence, sociability among others. (Check out Dr. J. Pennebaker’s Online Research Consortium- take a few surveys to find out about yourself and contribute to the growing database. I just spent half an hour writing short stories to be analyzed.)

Start now so that you incorporate these speaking habits naturally. Speaking clearly and eloquently is important not just for your upcoming interviews.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Regular teeth-brushing may not help your heart

Couple of weeks ago, someone told me that dental caries are linked to cardiovascular health. “In fact”, he said, “bacteria causing gum disease can travel through the bloodstream and reach your heart.”

I made this face. So fitting because I love this painting and a copy of this just sold hours ago at an auction for around $120 million:

I found a couple of magazine articles noting that advanced dental caries can cause cardiovascular problems. I made a mental note to take care of my teeth for more reasons than one.

Couple of days later, I heard this story on the radio: Flossing is good for the gums but doesn’t help the heart. Turns out, while theoretically dental bacteria can get into the bloodstream and causing plaque buildup, there is no evidence that gum diseases cause cardiovascular problems. This paper published in Circulation notes that while gum diseases are associated with cardiovascular problems, there is not a cause-and-effect relationship, at least from a thorough survey of current literature.

I don’t think this takes away from the importance of taking care of your teeth. By the point bacteria get in your bloodstream to reach your heart, you probably have serious painful gum issues already.

But this finding places an emphasis on another important aspect of your health: your heart. Going to the dentist regularly does not- in itself alone- guarantee a robust heart. Exercise, eat well, monitor your weight.

And of course, brush your teeth (with toothpaste containing fluoride) and floss regularly as part of your healthy routine.