Monday, December 29, 2014

What do I want to be when I grow up?

It's funny how time flies. I remember vividly dreaming and hoping to be a ballerina, or a vetrinarian or a cow girl. Most of all, I wanted to be an artist! I wanted it so badly that when my drawing skills didn't improve overnight, I gave up drawing altogether some time in high school. In fact I transferred out of drawing and into photography class. I was very self conscious of my abilities and I didn't feel comfortable in a crowded room with my art on an isle for everyone to see. Photography was more my thing. I could sneak around with my camera clandestinely capturing candids of my friends, strangers; tourists were my favorite. Then I could hide in the dark room for hours and hours, in secret, obsesively dodging and burning. I loved film. I loved art. And with the help of my chemistry teacher, I began to love chemistry.

Drawing and art crept back in, of course. In college, I turned to sketching to stay awake in class, trying to capture my neighbors before they noticed, or the professor at the front of the class. In such a low pressure environment my skills began to develop. Have you ever drawn the back of an ear? I took a painting class and discovered that I work much better with colors than with shades. I made cards and gifts and sketches. Watercolor, oils, acrylics, spray paint, oil pastels, anything I could get my hands on, I would do it. I still do it. I love it.

SO why all this talk about art? Aren't I a chemist afterall? This is my fifth year as a professional student in chemistry. I'm a master even, soon to be a doctor. But I want to be more than a chemist.

Sometimes I struggle with imposter syndrome. Sometiems I feel like I am the opposite of what a good scientist should be. I'm not as precise or systematic as many of my peers. I'm not as tidy or as punctual. I'm not as skilled at manipulating equations or exhaustive memorization. I don't really care about points or grades or prestige. I worry that I'm just not cut out for it. Maybe I should have been an artist? Who knows.

But as I get older, what do I want to be has resolved into what do you want to do?

The more I know about the field of chemistry and science in general, the more I realize that to succeed at anything, you have to have a vision. On my grandpa's 80th birthday recently I asked him what it was like to see the younger generations take charge of our modern world- cell phones, the internet, the mall, you name it. I asked him if he felt we were misguided and spoiled. After some thought, he said this "The only thing that really worries me is that kids these days, they lack direction." I think he's right too. There's so many distractions these days and it's so hard to sift through all of these new and expanding expectations and social causes and standards. There are so many things to be. The tyrany of choice, right?

This past year has been marked by self reflection and reconstruction. What do I want out of life? How can I accomplish my goals while staying true to myself? What are my goals? Six months ago, I made a 12 month plan aimed at "fixing" everything I felt was wrong. I set some financial goals. I vowed to lose 10 lbs. I drafted a list of medical issues that needed to be addressed. I went in search of a boyfriend and more friends in general. Being the overachiever that I am, I managed to make serious progress on all of those. I lost the weight and started eating healthier, consolidated my credit, and dealt with many other chores I had been putting off. These small accomplishments have boosted my confidence and now I'm thinking about what my next goals are. I'm even feeling inspired to make some very long term goals. I told my mentee that it helps to write down goals and share them and so I'm going to practice what I preach and share with all of you.

What do I want to be? What do I want to do?

I want to make a difference. I'm sad to say that I live a selfish and self centered life. The way our world works, it's difficult not to. Lately I've been asking myself what can I do to give back? In the past, I've done community service with my resume in mind. But now that I am an adult, it's much more personal.

While at MIT, a funny thing happened. For the first time in my higher education I had a black professor. Not only a black professor, but a female black professor. A black female professor in science. A highly respected, very successful, completely stylish, somewhat short amazingly smart professor who looked just like me. She took time out of her extremely busy schedule to speak with me, to give me advice, to mentor me. This simple act likely saved my life. I was in crisis and she was one of only two professors willing to speak with me, to help me. Her example helped restore my faith in myself and I believe that it's my responsibility to do what I can to inspire other women that they can be successful without sacrificing who they are. So here is my vision.


Visibility is key to achievement. I want to increase the visibility of successful people from diverse backgrounds.


I want to encourage a culture of mentorship in my community. I want to develop the communication and leadership skills necessary to lead a project or organization that accomplishes a specific goal. I want to overcome my anxiety over communicating and coordinating with figures of authority and organization. I want to fight so that others don't have to experience what it's like to be written off because of your race, your femininity, or your different point of view.


 A good starting point is probably a blog that highlights the successes of women, racial minorities, LGBT people, you name it. Through interviews and personal stories, I want to start a dialogue about the barriers still faced and how we can overcome them. I want to overcome stereotypes. For many, race is a taboo subject that is impolite to talk about. For LGBT people, even would be allies are eager to understand but afraid to ask. I want to show people that you really can be whatever you want. My friends in elementary school used to say I was stupid and ditzy. I never felt like I would be good enough. I want the theme to be overcoming adversity. I want the lesson to be that everyone feels alone and inadequite but that it is possible to overcome these feelings and be successful. This is especially important for teens who may not see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Eventually, I'd like to facilitate research fellowships for highschool students who might not have a chance otherwise. When I was in highschool, I felt like only the smartest students could work in a lab. I vaguely wanted to, but I didn't know how. Also, I did not have the luxury of volunteering so much of my time as I worked to support myself much of my senior year. I'd like to draw from diverse pools as well-not just AP and IB kids. I get the feeling that many kids feel intimidated and dissinterested in science because they don't understand the application or relevance of it. I didn't really love chemistry until I got my hands dirty. I bet you could take a C student from a junior chemistry class (not AP/IB), get them into the lab, give him a project of his own and the change of perspective might motivate him to learn skills in order to apply them. A small group environment is key for this. I believe this is why many teaching labs are useless. This past summer I witnessed a program that takes Juan Diego High School students and pays them to work in the lab. Why can't we have a similar program for public schools?

I'm not sure what will come of this, but I'm brainstorming and thinking. I don't want this to detract from my studies, but in a large way I could see this becoming an integral part of my studies. Who knows!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

[Time flies. In time, flies]


So the semester is over! It just flew by. This round of finals was somewhat intense. It might not have been so bad except I was working on a 6 page research proposal for a fellowship application and it was due the same day as the revisions for my paper, a homework assignment, and a final exam. Needless to say my sleep schedule has suffered!

I was really excited about my proposal though. I feel like I'm finally becoming a scientist! It was just a teensy weeny bit stressful to decide what I wanted to do my dissertation work while taking finals and classes etcetcetc. Adventures!

The revisions for our review manuscript got accepted though solidifying our first lab publication, and my fourth. Having so many publications, it makes your CV longer than one page is not a bad problem to have :D

But I came here to share an adventure that is far scarier than class 3 and 4 scrambles. My dad is always hassling me to write him songs etc, so for this christmas, I'm putting together a collection of recordings of me playing the guitar and singing. I'm making an effort to take steps to feel more comfortable in the lime light and so I figured it would be a good exercise to post it here as a lead up to the open mic performance I want to do next month. I've never really done that before… not at a real venue. We'll see how that goes. Even if I sound terrible it will be..well, character building.

So a disclaimer: I'm not beyonce or anything like that, but I really do enjoy singing and playing and writing silly rhymes… I've just been recording on my iPhone using the voice memo app. It works pretty well, but without any editing skills, I have to do it perfectly in one take which can be tricky given that even recording makes me feel a bit nervous. The obnoxious things about writing songs is that you kind of have to spend some time learning them! It takes a while to be able to get a cut that doesn't make me want to fall on my capo. All of it is pretty rough. The working title for this collection is Berkley to Boston. Mostly because many of the songs were written during that time period, and because my dad bought me the novel "Dealing: or the Berkley-to-Boston 40-brick lost-bag blues"  at a cool street sale on my first day in Boston. It was all I had to occupy myself for that first week and so it made an impression on me.

Anyway, here it is. Enjoy!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fall for the First Time: Nebo, Capitol Reef, and The Swell

Despite a busy semester, I've been trying harder than ever to sneak in a few adventures here and there. 

The first was a botched trip up to twin peaks. Ever since I got back to SLC, I've been itching to summit the broads fork twins. Unfortunately, due to sketchy snow conditions and a wrong turn, we ended up on the slopes of nearby Dromedary instead. We figured, why not try to climb up Dromedary. We bouldered around, but it is a pretty involved and exposed scramble and it was getting dark and so we decided it was better to be safe than sorry and gave it up in favor of slogging down to lake blanche. The views from the ridge line were amazing though and I can't wait to attempt both of these peaks again. Zhesen also insisted we drive through guardsman pass to see the aspens. He's never seen fall aspens before so he was very very excited. For some reason, even though I've lived in Utah for my whole life, I felt like I was experiencing the fall colors for the first time too!

Sunrise peaking over

On the slopes of Dromedary 

Lake Blanche and friends waaaay down there. 

Twin Peaks over there. We were trying to find a less snowy route and ended up too far over.
A second adventure is lab related- I attended the nanoUtah/COMS conference at the Grand America hotel. (fancy, I know). The conference was really interesting and gave me a unique opportunity to see nano science from the business perspective. We heard talks from leading companies and even got the chance to tour a few nearby business sites. We got to tour the new nanofab facilities up on campus as well which was pretty sweet. I got to see their new STEM as well as a demo from a guy who is promoting this "class on a chip" thing. I wish I'd taken a video because all the little gears and things in the image were rotating and doing cool things. Yay nano science!
Then it was back to southern utah to explore the San Rafael Swell. The drive down there was almost worth the trip because the colors in spanish fork canyon were amazing! We eventually made our way down to Chute canyon, a great place to car camp by the way. It's near Goblin Valley but not nearly as crowded which was a plus. Chute canyon and nearby Crack canyon were beyond gorgeous! Next time I'm in the area I'll have to visit Little Wild Horse Canyon.

Silly selfie

Looks like an American Flag!

What a doll!


Poor Lucy is beyond pooped

Loved the textures here

 As if the swell wasn't enough, the next weekend I teamed up with Zhesen to explore Capitol Reef for the first time. We made a pit stop at Mt. Nebo to see if we could redeem ourselves, but alas, some trailhead confusion left us skunked yet again. Next time!!!

Mt. Nebo!

After realizing we weren't on the right trail we attempted to scale this ridge but to no avail.

The next night we found our way to some BLM land outside of capitol reef where we found a cozy campsite right off of pleasant creek road. The stars were out of control and I was inspired to sketch this doodle. The milky way is tough to draw!! After obtaining our backcountry permit we headed to the southernmost tip of the park to access the halls creek overlook trailhead. The 4wD road going down there wasn't too rough, but it still took us 2 hours. From the trailhead, it's a 9 mile hike to the narrows which took us around 5 hours including time spent dawdling. We camped in an enormous alcove at the mouth of the narrows. The immensity of the alcove and the beauty of the green grass around it placed this campsite amongst the top most beautiful places in my book. Wow!
Hiking in the narrows the next day was even more spectacular. The water was a crystal blue-green and completely clear and still…. that is until we splashed through it!! Though they were not as tall as the narrows in Zion, the walls were artfully sculpted and dramatic. The sweeping overhangs lead me to feel encircled and embraced… a truly amazing place. For all the energy we spent getting there, we were rewarded with solitude (we only saw one guy the previous day). Definitely worth every mile!

Pure bliss

You can see Brimhall double bridge over there. We didn't have time to see it but I suspect it's awesome. Next time!




At the mouth of the narrows

The grassy hill at the mouth of the alcove. So much grass!!!

The view from above the grassy hill. You can see our tent over there beneath the alcove.

This alcove his HUGE

Further into the narrows.


Even better than the subway

A common sight in Halls Creek Narrows

Zhesen looking skeptically at a bit of deep wading

Hanging gardens in bloom

Zhesen preparing for some deep wading

At the end of the narrows

Made it back to camp! 

After several attempts, I managed to get the whole alcove

Goodbye magical place!

Typical wash hiking

Cool colors in the wash

Zhesen was pretty intent on seeing the sunrise from the trailhead and so we rushed to get back that night, hiking for a few hours in the dark which sounds spookier than it was. The trail was easy to follow and we were rewarded with an even better night sky when we got to the trailhead. When I saw the sunrise in the morning, I saw that Zhesen had the right idea. Breathtaking! Not knowing when we'd be back in the area, we decided to drive back to Torrey on the Burr Trail Road, a road that winds its way through the northern tip of the Escalante national monument and up through the dixie national forrest. This is a drive I highly recommend. First of all, it's paved lol. Secondly, it takes you through soaring red rock cliffs to a gorgeous aspen and juniper forrest high up on the mountain side. The cottonwoods were in prime form, dressed for fall. Not knowing when we'd be back in the area, we took the time to drive through cathedral valley up in the northern part of the park, a 3 hour ordeal on even poorer dirt roads. The sights were cool though and I'm glad we did it! Overall It's been a whirlwind October and I feel rested and ready to tackle my crazy class load. Until next time, here are the rest of the photos!

Cottonwoods near deep creek campsite. I recommend!

Temple of the sun and moon and me

Temple of the moon in cathedral valley

Cathedral valley

Zhesen at Cathedral valley overlook

Another sunset

Looking back at the Henry Mountains before we make our way back up north