Tag Archives: science
I have a confessions to make: I almost quit my research internship in Vienna the summer after my sophomore year. I was about a month into it, and there were many reasons I wasn’t happy with the job. One particular Saturday morning (yes, I had to work weekends – one of the reasons), a co-worker took over the lab where I was supposed to work in without looking at the sign-up sheet. At the moment, it was just the last straw for me, and I broke down, took off, crying the whole way on the tram back to my dorm. Back in my room, I cried and cried. I hit my pillow in anger and frustration. I was so upset that I took out my contract and saw that that day was the last day I could quit. And I seriously considered it.
I opened up a Word document and wrote down all the reasons why I hated my internship and wanted to quit.
It had a shocking 20 items and took up the whole page. As I stared at it, tears still running down my face, I wondered what more reason I needed to leave this job. But I was always the indecisive one, so I hesitated. And when I calmed down a little more, I called my parents and Yufei and told them that I wanted to quit. I was pretty sure that none of them thought I was serious, that I was just having a bad day and would move on. So then I did what I always do when I’m uncertain: I researched the topic online. And the overwhelming opinion was that you shouldn’t quit an internship, especially in the middle of it. At this point, I was starting to doubt myself. The practical questions started to pop up: what would I do for the rest of the summer? Would I have to leave Vienna and go home? What would the other interns think of me? What about the travel plans Yufei and I already made for after my internship? Who’s going to finish my project? And so on and so forth.
In the end, I got so tired that I just went to bed. So I didn’t end up quitting, and I’m so glad I didn’t. And here’s why:
- Things did get better at work
- My final project presentation went great and I won a prize at the symposium
- I got to have some awesome experiences travelling in Europe
- My PI ended up writing me recommendation letters for future internships
- Even though my project ended up being pretty successful, I’ve come to realize that research really, really isn’t the thing for me
- And most importantly, the experience taught me that I have the ability to overcome anything. I still have the file “Why I hate my internship and want to quit” on my computer, and all of those things on it still hold true. But now I know that if I got through such a difficult and miserable time, I can get through anything.
I’m not trying to tell you to never quit. Heck, giving up is probably harder than holding on. But there are some takeaways from my story:
1. Never make big decisions when you’re extremely emotional. I’m so glad I didn’t let my emotions get the best of me and make a rash decision to quit. Take some time to calm down and regain your ability to think rationally before making the decision.
2. Think through the consequences of quitting. And not just the consequences you would face, but also how it would affect others. Not only in the present time, but also down the road. Think about the things you could be losing if you quit.
3. Talk it out and write it out. Talking with my loved ones and writing that list really allowed me to vent a lot of my anger. Your friends and family might offer a fresh perspective on things too.
These lessons about quitting apply no matter if you’re thinking about quitting a job, leaving a relationship, giving up on a career path, or changing a major. So think carefully before you decide to give up on something, especially something big, even if it doesn’t seem big at the time. But of course, if after careful consideration, you come to the conclusion that it really is time to move on, then at least you can be assured that you’ve thought it through and made the right choice.
So, this was pretty much my final presentation for my internship. Yeah, I drew comic panels as slides :)
1. Being a doctor can mean many different things
Throughout the summer, I shadowed many different doctors in different specialties and settings. And I realized that even though they all have the title of MD, what they do every day can be vastly different.
2. Surgery is really awesome
During my internship I observed 2 kidney transplant surgeries, a laparoscopic nephrectomy, and a coronary artery bypass surgery, and all of them were so cool to watch! I still find it amazing that we have the ability to do all these things to fix our bodies.
3. And so is tissue recovery
I had the opportunity to go on a tissue recovery case and I was so glad that I got to see it. I was completely eye opening! They recovered the heart, the aortic bifuracation vessels, the bones in the arms, the bones and tendons in the legs, and the costal cartilages. Awesome anatomy lesson!
4. Kids make everything more fun
I also shadowed 2 pediatricians at a private practice and a pediatric nephrologist at the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, and let me tell you, it’s a totally different environment. Much more relaxed and fun!
5. The human mind is fascinating
As a Neuroscience and Behavior major, 2 of the medical specialties I was interested in were Neurology and Psychiatry. And as I expected, I saw a lot of interesting cases. For example, I saw a lady who had conversion disorder, which means that she has neurological symptoms (slurred speech, paralysis) without any neurological cause – super interesting.
6. Dentistry is actually really cool
So as I’ve mentioned before, I spent quite a lot of time shadowing a dentist during my internship. Before now, I’d never really considered dentistry as a career option for me, but as I was browsing through the VUMC directory looking for things I was interested in, I came across dentistry and thought, hey, why not? Dr. Rezk, the dentist I shadowed, and the rest of her team, turned out to be so wonderful and informative that now I’m actually starting to look into possibly becoming a dentist!
7. I’m really lucky to be healthy
After seeing so many patients who have to take 12 different medicines day, come into the hospital because of a rejection, etc, I’m starting to appreciate what a gift it really is just to be healthy. This experience has really shown me how health really is the most fundamentally important thing in your quality of life and this has inspired me to really take care of my body.
8. There is a real sense of community in medicine
I was so happy to see that everyone I met was so nice and helpful, even though I’m just an undergrad. All of the doctors, residents, fellows, and medical students I met really welcomed me with open arms and genuinely wanted to make this a good experience for me.
9. I have a lot of options than I had thought
So before this summer, I’ve been feeling kind of bleh and constricted about a career in anything science-y. Since I’ve decided that I didn’t want to do research, I felt like my only other option was to be a doctor. But this internship exposed me to many other options that I never even considered – or knew existed. I think it was the most valuable thing I got out of the internship – the feeling that I do have choices and the renewed confidence in a career in healthcare!
Finished the third week of my internship at Vanderbilt Medical Center and it’s been awesome so far! This has been such a huge change from doing research for the past 2 summers, mostly because there has been very little real work, since I’ve been just doing shadowing. But it’s been very valuable experience and I’ve gotten to see a lot of cool stuff!
So I continued shadowing in Nephrology at the Vanderbilt Hospital, and also at the Veteran Affairs Hospital next door. I watched a kidney biopsy, shadowed some more in Neurology consult, and sat in on a bunch of meetings. I also started shadowing in psychiatry consults, where you see a lot of angry people, depressed people, crazy people, etc. So that’s been fun.
then this past Wednesday, I shadowed Dr. Susan Langone, the wife of the Dr. Langone at Vanderbilt. She works as a pediatrician in private practice, it was a very different experience. I was there for the clinic visits of a 2-month-old, a 6-month-old, a 2-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a 10-year old – a good range! Overall the environment is just a lot happier and relaxed and fun, and there aren’t any really serious illnesses since it’s an outpatient clinic. And Dr. Langone was hopping around and being pretty active in trying to assess the kids’ physical development and such. And the kids were all so cute!
In more exciting news, I observed a couple of kidney transplants in the OR! The first one was such a strange and surreal experience. First of all, I was shocked at myself for being so totally okay and non-reactive during the surgery (especially considering my fellow intern Ian chickened out on it that morning). Maybe I’ve got what it takes to be a surgeon, ha. Secondly, it’s still so incredible to me that modern medicine has advanced to the point where we can take an organ from one human being (dead or alive) and put it into another. As I stared at the kidney sitting in a bucket of ice, it was odd to imagine it being inside someone’s body just minutes ago, someone who was probably still on an operating table just next door. And it was even stranger to see the surgeon staple the wound close on the recipient’s abdomen, and seeing her lying there, with her blood already flowing through a new kidney. And what made it even more surreal was that I saw the patient in person in her pre-op clinic visit, as well as after her transplant in the hospital. And on top of everything else, it was actually the much publicized kidney-found-via-celebrity-Tweet transplant… Anyway… yes, I’m still in awe at the whole thing.
The second one I observed was this week, and I got to see some of the nephrectomy surgery (it was all laparoscopic) for removing the kidney from the donor as well. And I actually got to scrub in for the transplant, so I was right up there at the operating table with the surgeon and his assistants! It was so cool seeing everything up close, and I even got to touch the kidney and feel the pulse in the iliac artery and hold stuff for the surgeon. Hoping to see more different surgeries soon!
I also began shadowing a dentist, Dr. Rezk, at the dental clinic at Vanderbilt last week. It has been going super over there as well; Dr. Rezk and her team are some of the friendliest people ever. She told me that she was reluctant at first to take me on, since she’s had some not so great experiences with students shadowing her before (how do you even be bad at shadowing someone? You don’t even do anything!). But then she said that since I was a girl and I was Asian (she’s Asian too, it’s just that her husband’s Egyptian) she thought she’d give me a chance, and she tole me after the first day that I was a great shadower (again, how can you possibly be bad?). Anyway, so I’ve been really enjoying shadowing her, she’s great at what she does, and she’s so, so friendly to her patients, and she genuinely seems to enjoy her job. And she’s been great about telling me what it’s like to work as a dentist and actually really recommended it for me. I’m really glad that I found her and that she let me shadow her, and it’s been making me consider dentistry more and more seriously. We’ll see how that goes for the rest of the summer!
That’s Philadelphia, in case you didn’t know. Yufei and I took a short weekend trip there last week! It was a very successful trip and I really liked the city a lot, very different from NYC in many ways. Here are some photos!
Being a total nerd about all things biology/medicine, I was super excited to find out about the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
They have a completely fascinating collection of medical oddities, anatomical and pathological specimens, wax models, and antique medical equipment. No photos were allowed inside but trust me – it was amazing! And Yufei bought me this awesome pen from the gift store:
Then we walked all the way across town to visit the US Mint – where your coins come from! – and then went to see the Dream Garden, a beautiful 15 × 49-foot mosaic in the lobby of the Curtis Center. So beautiful.
By that time it was getting late and things were starting to close up, so we just wandered around for a bit (and dropped by an interesting exhibit at the American Philosophical Society Museum). We then headed for dinner at Buddakan. We’d been to the Baddakan in Atlantic City a year and a half ago and really liked it, so we thought we’d try the one in Philly.
We shared the crispy duck salad to start:
We both thought it was really good, generous serving (it was meant to be shared) and a good amount of duck too! For main course, I got the miso black cod and Yufei had the wok cashew chicken. Again, both were great! My cod:
Then for dessert, we shared the dim sum doughnuts:
They came in a cute little take-out box, were warm and fresh, with three dipping sauces: chocolate sauce, jam, and a cream cheese sauce. It was so good! The meal certainly didn’t disappoint, and I think I might have to go to the Buddakan in NYC sometime!
The next day, we walked around a bit more (there are so many little parks, squares, and other public spaces in Philly! I love that).
Then we took a bus down to South Street to have lunch. Of course, we had to get some Philly cheese steak! Went to Ishkabibble based on Yelp reviews, and had a pretty good experience there. The place was tiny so we had to wait a bit for a table, but the people there were really friendly and the food was great too!
Elfreth’s Alley (starting to get some beautiful afternoon sunshine!):
And then the area around City Hall (which is a gorgeous building by the way), and finally, the LOVE sculpture, which appropriately sums up how I felt about our trip and this beautiful city:
I want to go back! Not necessarily for the museums and historical sites, but Philadelphia just feels like a nice place to walk around in and just relax for a day, sit in a square, look at public sculptures and murals, things like that. In a way it almost reminds me a bit of Vancouver. I wish it weren’t so far away, otherwise I would totally go there once in a while to escape the craziness of NYC.
Questions like these abound, and answers were not easy to find. But a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon something that quite possibly changed everything.
While searching for something loosely relevant, I came across the website for the Association of Medical Illustrators. This was only slightly intriguing, since I knew that the profession’s existence since high school. In fact, my art teacher even suggested that I look into it, him being one of the few people who supported me having a career in art. I never followed his advice, probably because I was too wrapped up in preparing for my then-supposed illustrious scientific career. But this time, out of sheer curiosity and convenience, I decided to look around the site.
When I click on the Education page, my heart stopped and I sat in awed silence for at least a full minute. I have heard of the profession alright, but I knew next to nothing about what it takes to actually become a medical illustrator. As it turns out, it actually requires training that is way more specialized than I thought. Currently, there are only 5 institutions in North America that offer an accredited graduate program in the field. And the coursework includes not only classes in illustration, design, etc, but also biomedical science classes such as anatomy and and pathology alongside medical students.
Could it be? It’s possible to have a graduate education, and a career, in both art and science? This sounded like something I wanted, and needed. And since the prerequisites include a slew of science classes, my coursework for the last 2 years have not been a total waste. But on the art side, I was sorely lacking. I have not taken a single art class since high school, and I have no respectable portfolio to speak of. But that’s ok. It’s not too late yet. I still had 3 semesters left, and if I still don’t feel like I have enough skill and a good enough portfolio before graduation, I’ll take a year off and work on it and apply the next year. Because for the first time in my life, I felt like I’ve found something I can do for the rest of my life. Something that would make me feel happy and fulfilled and… excited. I was actually excited about the possibilities that this future hold. For the first time in my life, I felt like I’ve found my calling.
What a refreshing sensation. This is what it should feel like when you’ve found the right path for you. Not dread or despair or constant doubt. Almost miraculously, the fog that had been obscuring my future suddenly lifted. Now, not only do I clearly see what my past had been, I also see concrete, realistic, steps I can take in order to achieve a goal that I actually care about. Of course there are still questions and uncertainties, but these fill me with not fear or apprehension, but excitement and passion. Of course this is a departure from what I had originally planned for my life, but isn’t it finally time to take a leap? To take a step for the sake of my own dreams that I’ve neglected for so long?
Some people might think me foolish for abandoning such a noble, prestigious, and lucrative career opportunity as medicine. My parents would probably fall into this category. When I had expressed the slightest interest in art therapy 2 summers ago, their reaction was that of extreme discouragement and disappointment. Anything less ambitious than medicine would seem to them as me not fulfilling my potential. I’m so brilliant and talented, they tell me, and if I give up now and choose to do anything else, I would be wasting what’s been given to me. But you know what? Sometimes giving up is the bravest decision.
So I fully recognize that I may not get the support that I would like from my parents, emotional, financial, or otherwise. But that’s ok. I can turn to other people for support. I can get a loan to pay for school. It’s not their life. It’s mine. And I need to do this for me. Even if I fail, even if I find out that maybe after all, I want to change my mind again and do something else, I need to do it so that I won’t be regretting it for the rest of my life.
I don’t need anyone else’s permission to do what I feel is right for me. Sure, my new goal my not be nearly as ambitious in the conventional sense as my previous one, but that’s not what matters. I may have been ambitious before, but that ambition lacked the passion to drive it. My heart was not in it, and the resulting misery is something that I would rather not experience ever again.
What is ambition without passion? Nothing but an empty chase after a dream that’s not your own.
This time, it’s going to be different. On the verge of turning 21, and with that, of growing up, I think I’ve finally found a good answer to the question we’ve all been asked so frequently as children. This time, the answer fills me with both ambition and passion. And that’s the way it should be.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
This is perhaps the most asked question of all when we were children. My parents often tell me of such a story: around the time I was 2 or 3, my answer to that question would be get my PhD and become a professor. They are fond of recounting the story year after year, as if it were a sign that I was destined to have a great and noble profession, in academia or otherwise. In reality, we all knew that my odd response was a result of constantly hearing my dad talk about his job as an academic; no one would expect a two year old, no matter how precocious, to understand what it means to obtain a doctorate.
By the time I actually begin to comprehend the concept of having a career, my answer changed. An artist, I would say; I wanted to study art in Paris and become an artist. Grown-ups would think that it was cute, probably picturing a little six year old Chinese girl in a beret in front of the Eiffel Tower. No adult took it seriously, but to me it was all very real. In the yearbook of my kindergarten, under “dreams for the future,” I had written: “I want to go to the Central Academy of Fine Arts and become an artist when I grow up.” (I guess Paris was going to come later). It was a veritable dream alright; I remember watching outside the window on tiptoes each year when the time came for the art students to take the entrance exam to get into the Central Academy in Beijing, thinking that one day I would be on the other side of the window. My parents were supportive enough. After all, it was good to have some kind of extracurricular talents; all the other kids were doing it. So I was enrolled in art classes in some form or another since I could remember. And I was happy with that.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, art fell by the wayside. Academics took over my life because people told me that it was what mattered. I had always been good at school, but now it was actually Important. The people that surrounded me didn’t help much; I was drawn into the hysteria of getting the best grades, of doing all the toughest classes just because, and later, of the craze over getting into a top American university. I had a science heavy course load; why not? That’s what all the other smart kids were doing, and I had to keep up, I was ambitious. Besides, Biology class was always interesting. My answer changed once more: I wanted to do something with science. My parents were glad. Being the daughter of a chemist and an engineer, this was exactly the path they wanted me to take.
Art was not entirely forgotten, though. I still enjoyed it tremendously, and I took art classes throughout high school. Every time I even considered doing art as a career, nearly everyone told me the same thing: it’s better to just keep it as a hobby; I was more ambitious than that; I was too good at science to give it up. And so I listened. I went ahead and worked hard. And all my efforts paid off: I got into Columbia.
I was happy too. Look at me! I’m an Ivy Leaguer now. I’m going to be successful. Sometime during freshman year, I became a pre-medical student. Look now! I’m going to be a doctor. People regarded you with awe when you told them that, and I enjoyed it. I never stopped once to ask myself why I came to that decision; I can’t even remember when or how it happened. Wasn’t that like just THE thing to do? So I shrugged and forged on, driven by my ambition, never looking back.
(Continue to Part II)
The past 2 weeks have just been a blur. I traveled to 2 new countries, finished my summer research project, gave my first ever presentation at a scientific symposium, won a prize at said symposium, flew back to New York, moved into my new dorm, and started classes for my junior year at Columbia. Whoa. That’s a lot. I know.. so let’s go through it bit by bit :)
The very night Yufei came to Vienna, we left on a night train for Munich. From then on, it was just a whirlwind of train rides jumping from city to city in Germany and Switzerland. So I think the best way to do this is just through the photos. Here goes!
Klein Scheidegg, Switzerland (yes, that is snow on the ground):
These were the main places we visited besides some minor excursions by train or boat and some other places we didn’t get to explore at all due to bad scheduling (sorry Zurich!). In any case, I had an excellent time on the trip and was reluctant to return to Vienna and work (albeit for only 2 more days by then).
After wrapping up my research project and final presentation, it was time to present the fruits of my labours for the past 2 months to my fellow summer students, various other scientists at the Vienna Biocenter, and a panel of judges, including my own PI. I’ve only ever practiced my presentation once in front of some people from my lab, and 2 more times by myself, but I decided to not sweat it and employed my usual tactic of telling myself that it’s too early to panic until the very last moment, by when it is already too late to panic anyway. It didn’t quite work so well this particular time, and I was really very nervous before I went up to the podium. Thankfully, I was in the first group to go, so that after I finished I can breathe and relax for the rest of the day. I barely remembered anything while I was up there doing my presentation and had no idea how I did, until at the closing ceremony, where I was both shocked and honored to find out that I was awarded one of 4 prizes for the best project/presentation. I genuinely thought that everyone did a really awesome job on their presentations, so it was really a nice surprise to end my research project on this high note.
To celebrate our accomplishments and bid farewell to each other, the summer school had organized a lovely dinner for us at the uber-posh restaurant Palmenhaus, which is actually inside a greenhouse that’s part of the imperial palace. The ambiance was great in the glass and steel structure, a strange melange of modern and historical.
The food was excellent as well. For starter, I had the beef carpaccio, which was delicious.
And for the main course, I chose the salmon which was served with pumpkin. A rather odd pairing to me, but I think it worked well.
I very badly wanted to stay for dessert, but my flight was at 7:00 am the next morning and my bags were still very much not packed, so I had to bid everyone an early goodbye as I left dinner early. What a group of wonderful people who made my summer memorable. I miss them already.
Life was calling on the other side of the ocean, and less than 24 hours later, I was in New York again. Even though I’ve been here in the city for the past 2 years, I always have this strange sensation returning to it after having been away for a while. The new school year began before I can even take another breath, and now the first week of classes is already over.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts since I got back, but perhaps those would be better shared another day. I think this post has gone on for long enough already.