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First Summer Subgroup Meeting

This week, we summer students had our first, full subgroup meeting with Jacob, and, while it was a little intimidating at first, it was such a great learning experience that I really enjoyed it. Since this was the first time we exposed to each other’s projects, we spent a good portion of our time explaining the background behind them. I volunteered to go first, and through Jacob’s questioning throughout the whole meeting, I learned three major things:

  1. I thought I knew the fundamentals of the technology with which I am working (fMRI, MR-PET, baseline and blocking scans, etc), but during my short presentation, I realized that there were certainly some holes in my understanding, and fortunately they were quickly filled in that time. Even after reading some papers and plenty of Wikipedia articles, at the beginning of the summer, my understanding of all of this was quite hazy, but as I keep gathering these points of understanding and insight, the picture is becoming clearer and clearer. That understanding is making me really appreciate the technology I’m working with, and as everything starts to clear, I feel like I’m developing a stronger sense of ownership over my projects, which is exciting.
  2. I’m beginning to work on my skills at explaining what I do in science in layman’s terms. Jacob urged us to start our talks with something wicked big picture—in his words: “one step below ‘the brain is important’”—and we all struggled with it. I think that is because most of the time when we talk about our work in science, we’re in the academic setting where everything is either currently studying something in the sciences or they’ve somewhat recently seen the basics in high school. Honestly, coming into the meeting, I thought my skills in this department were decent, as I’ve done a fair amount of tutoring both formally and just with my friends/classmates, and in those sessions I could break down concepts into simpler terms. However, once again, they had a general exposure to the material to begin with, so I really wasn’t testing my skills fully. As someone who hopes to be a physician, especially a pediatric physician, the ability to describe physiological concepts to patients who could have little to no science background knowledge is absolutely crucial. Patients will want to know what’s going on in their bodies (and/or their children’s bodies), so doctors need to be able to tell them in a way that they’ll understand.  By the end of the summer, I want to get better at this.
  3. Okay, confession—and this might be blasphemy considering I’m working in a heavily chemistry-focused research group: I did not like taking organic chemistry this past year. I struggled through that class. Hard. I was given several packages of notecards worth of reactions and mechanisms to memorize over the course of two semesters, and I had to somehow memorize them and translate them into use when given a synthesis or product prediction problem. My bridge between that input and output was shoddy at best because I was probably missing some fundamental bits of understanding. The result? A pretty miserable two semesters and some hard feelings between orgo and me. However, when we were going through some of the reactions that my fellow interns were running, I was able to both see a real application for those piles of notecards, and I think I started to learn organic chemistry—and really learn it this time. The result this time? It was actually pretty fun! Even though I am not doing a lot of chemistry (in terms of running reactions, NMRs, TLCs, etc) myself this summer, I am excited about keeping up with what my fellow interns are learning as they do their chemistry-focused projects.  

While subgroup meetings are typically an hour long, we occupied Jacob for about two hours this past week. To me at least, those two hours were the furthest thing from time wasted, and I’m looking forward to learning more at our next meeting next week.

-Steph Lie

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