doc w/ Pen

journalist + medical student + artist

I’m Not Old, I’m ‘Refreshingly Contemporary’

Whenever my mom has to learn some new-fangled technological thing, like how to program the DVR or how to update her cell phone’s bluetooth headset on her computer, she has a great sense of humor about it. She refuses to consider herself old or out of date. “I’m refreshingly contemporary,” she always says – no matter how long it takes her to figure out the technology.

I’m not even 30, but I had my own “refreshingly contemporary” moment during finals week, one that gave my research biology class a good chuckle. (Glad you got a laugh on my behalf, guys!) Rather than have an exam, our “final” was to give a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation on our antibiotic resistance project. (I wrote about my own experiments in an earlier blog post, Caffeinated E. Coli. Click on the link to read that post.) The goal was to emulate a scientific conference, where we, as the presenters, demonstrated what we had done through slides showing our data, tables, figures, conclusions, etc. In addition, of course, we also had to explain everything to our audience in a clear, concise manner. So our grade was to be based both on our oral presentation and on our slides.

My Research Methods in Molecular Biology class,
the day we gave our PowerPoint presentations.

And now for my “refreshingly contemporary” moment: As an almost 30-year-old, I have never, I repeat never, given a PowerPoint presentation. When I told this to my class and my professor, my lack of PowerPoint experience did indeed elicit laughs. “Never?” someone asked. “What did you use for presentations?” I thought about it for a second. For starters, I realized that I hadn’t given a presentation of any sort in a long time. And in school – way back in the day – I used posters and overhead projector transparencies. Yes, I’m old. In comparison to the undergrad youngsters I was talking to, at least. And there was another thing: “Well,” I said, “as a former journalist, I’m used to being the one asking the questions, not the one doing the talking.” My professor just smiled. “I guess the tables have turned then, haven’t they?” he said.

One side note: I had used PowerPoint once, but not for an actual presentation. I had put together some graphs and text for a previous class assignment, and decided that the slide page orientation looked better than an 8.5 x 11 page. So I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the software. But I had most definitely never made anything for the “big screen.”

I wasn’t really worried, though. PowerPoint is Microsoft software, which I’m pretty good at using. And when I had used it the previous time, I quickly realized that all the same copying, pasting, and formatting skills from Word would apply. Sure, I didn’t know how to make the presentation fancy – but I didn’t really care. I would focus on substance rather than style. Which is the main point anyway.

So I approached the presentation in the same way I would a lab report. Look at the data, decide what kinds of figures and tables are necessary, and then put those together. Then work out the analysis of the data, and the conclusions that I could make from it – analogous to the “discussion” section of a written report. And last, put together an introduction and conclusion. I found that my writing skills – both having a good understanding of sequence and how to use transitions – came in very handy in both writing the presentation and designing the slides. When I was done, I was confident in my work.

The day of the presentations, Dr. Kreher brought us bagels, coffee, and juice – “It’s not a conference without food,” he told us. I went near the end, and despite some technical difficulties (related to creating my presentations on a Mac and trying to run it on a PC … always an iffy proposition), felt really good about how things went.

The only downer of the morning was that after the last presentation, our class was officially over. My favorite class, the class that kept me going through this incredibly difficult semester. That thought saddened me. And then …

“Wait everybody, don’t leave!” shouted out one of my classmates. “I want to take a picture of the class.” So we all lined up in front of the blackboard, and smiled for his iPhone camera. “This will be fun to look look back on in 20 years,” he said.

Indeed. Fun to look back on a photo of the people with whom I truly got my feet wet in research. And fun to look back at the PowerPoint presentation I gave that same day, which, I hope, will be the first of many.

Pre-Med Year 1: Done

Well, it’s official: I have finished year 1 of my pre-med courses. It’s surreal. Two years ago, I was a laid-off textbook editor barely contemplating the road to medical school. One year ago, I was gearing up to work in a research lab and start classes in the fall, not having “done” any science since my sophomore year of college (back in 2000). And now I have a 4.0 for 29 credit hours of straight science courses. Things are looking good.

More importantly, I am loving this journey. Courses I knew I would enjoy (such as biology) have delivered. Classes I thought I would have to fight my way through (namely, physics) have piqued my interest in some way. Subjects I didn’t even know would capture my attention (I’m referring to research here) have lured me in.

I have learned so much, but everything I have learned has only made me want to learn more. Case in point: I practically drooled when I looked at the list of upper-level science classes I was eligible to register for next year; the hardest part was that I obviously have limited time and can’t take everything. With most of my requirements out of the way (physics, gen bio, and gen chem), all I have to take, in terms of pre-reqs, is organic chemistry. But since I’ll be in school, I get to take so much more: anatomy, a cadaver dissection lab, genetics, and biochemistry. I absolutely can’t wait to take what I have learned this year and add to and expand upon it. I feel like this year, I got a general outline of so many things; in the future I will be filling in a lot of the details of that outline. Being a former journalist (and still very much a writer), I understand the importance of an outline, but I also understand that the meat of a “story” lies in the details. And I am hungry for those details.

I look at some of my classmates who are so impatient to “get there” – to medical school, I guess. But I have a feeling that once they get to medical school, they will just want to, again, “get there” – to residency. And then to a fellowship, etc. If you are always focusing on the future, you miss what is in front of you. And that is the most beautiful, amazing part of life. Sure, I’m excited to go to medical school. But I am enjoying each day as I go. Because if I don’t, this journey is empty. And I won’t have absorbed all the lessons and knowledge I can gain along the way. And in many ways, that would make not only this journey empty, but my life empty as well. And in emptiness, I would certainly not be fulfilling my dream.