What is your research topic?
I study telomeres, a particularly fascinating and dynamic section of our DNA. Telomeres are highly conserved, repetitive sequences that cap the ends of our chromosomes. These sequences are arranged in lariat formations thanks to six specialized proteins, collectively known as shelterin. Telomeres and shelterin protect coding DNA by hiding the blunt end of the chromosome, which otherwise would be recognized as a double-strand break. Significantly, telomeres can shorten due to cell replication and/or oxidative stress, which has implications for tissue health and aging.
I am curious to see if arctic ground squirrels, an extreme hibernator, have telomere length dynamics that are correlated with the amount of tissue-specific oxidative stress experienced throughout hibernation.
Describe your daily routine.
I wake up at 7 am every weekday. I generally snuggle until 7:30. Then I pet my dog, eat breakfast with Cole and Jason, pack a lunch, and bike ski walk or drive to school. I always aim for a 9:00 arrival but 9:30 is more realistic. I strive to plan my next work day the day before, so that when I arrive my day is already laid out for me. I’ve been spending at least a couple of hours in the lab every day, running assays, preparing/quantifying samples, or extracting DNA. Most days, I also have to peek in on the hibernating squirrels in their cold chambers. “Downtime” involves reading papers, reading science stories, or working on assignments for my science writing class. I almost never work past 6:00. When I don’t have symphony or ballet, I go home to drink a brew, eat dinner, and watch BBC whale mating videos.
What practices do you employ outside of work time to support productivity and enthusiasm once you’re in the office?
Trying to sleep as well and as much as possible, making delicious food to eat at home and bring to school, and shutting off the work brain once I leave campus (can be very difficult to achieve). I also engage in lots of non-school activities (skiing, music, crafting, baking) to help me feel balanced and remind myself that there is more to my life than graduate school.
What is the most productive part of your day?
I would say this changes on a daily basis. I’d like to say morning, but sometimes I hit my stride an hour or so before leaving for the day (especially if 5:00 is a deadline for an assignment).
Do you have any rituals or habits that keep you going through the workday?
Being a rather obsessive calendar and scheduling person holds me accountable for the work I know needs to get done. Going for walks in the afternoon is very helpful, as well as leaving my work for a time when it feels overwhelming. Eating a good lunch is essential, as well as afternoon snacking. I’m always making tea in my office.
What do you admire most in your supervisors? Do your supervisors ever act in ways that compromise your respect for them?
I admire when supervisors show kindness while still challenging me to succeed. I think the ability of a supervisor to put themselves in a graduate student shoes is a wonderful quality. Unfortunately, I don’t always see that sensitivity.
Do you ever feel that your efforts in graduate school go unnoticed? Describe.
Not necessarily. I would say that I thrive when I receive direct, verbal affirmation of the work I’m doing, but that doesn’t always happen as not everyone communicates in that way, nor do I feel it’s necessary for my supervisors to continually give me clear, positive feedback. They are very busy people with lots of other students and responsibilities to juggle. I do feel supported by my committee, but the infrequent, direct praise of my work and ability is a wonderful gem that gives me strength to proceed.
What is your favorite way to distract yourself from working?
Writing blog posts. This is an interesting one because many times I’m working on a graduate student experience- or science-related post, so I don’t necessarily feel like this is a total distraction or act of procrastination. I also like to check in with friends. I am almost always reflecting on how I can be more focused at work, and in general I think I do a pretty good job.
What are some of your greatest doubts or anxieties surrounding your research?
That I will produce inconclusive results, that I will not show up to do the necessary work, and that my supervisors don’t respect or believe in me.
In general, do you think that your fellow graduate students are healthy mentally and/or physically? Do you think that your graduate student environment is supportive and understanding?
I think that graduate students are fairly unhealthy and unbalanced. There are exceptions to this, but I see a lot of poor work-life balance, background (or very present) anxiety and stress, not a lot of well-rested faces, and a resigned feeling of “well, this is just the way grad school is.” I think many of us aren’t exposed to resources or an environment that demonstrates you can make it through your master’s or PhD without constant stress and anxiety.
I surround myself with positive people, not only at school but in my life. I have enough personal challenges with my masters that I need a highly supportive and understanding cloud of friends and colleagues around me. Happily, I see a lot of uncompetitive and understanding peer interactions in my little West Ridge bubble.