1 Year Anniversary of This Blog

Wow, I cannot believe its been a year since we started this blog! A lot has changed since then- pandemic, lab commitments, WFH, and prelims, oh my!

Allow me to reintroduce myself. I’m Ayumi (eye-you-me), a second year grad student in molecular engineering. My research is on polymeric prodrugs for the radical cure of malaria. Malaria is caused by parasites of the Plasmodium genus, and there are 5 species that cause malaria in humans! But malaria parasites can be found in birds, reptiles, primates, and more. My work is specifically focused on malaria caused by P. vivax, a species that is notable because of its dormant liver-stage parasites called hypnozoites. Hypnozoites can cause recurring malaria, and standard anti-malarials don’t treat the hypnozoite stage! This is where the ‘radical cure’ comes in-- a radical cure is treatment that eliminates all parasites from the body, especially hypnozoites. I’ll post more in the future on malaria, because I think Plasmodium are fascinating (they also might have once been a photosynthetic organism, like plants and algae!)

Plasmodium vivax Infection in Humans

This time last year, I was having panic attacks any time I thought about the prelim exam. Imposter syndrome was hitting hard, the pandemic had slowed down a lot of my work, and I wondered if I was actually going to pass. To be quite honest, when I did finally take that exam I was still wondering if I would pass! This past year has shown me the extent to which I am not perceiving reality. I thought I had a 50:50 chance of passing the prelim at all; by the end my committee called my work excellent and a pass with flying colors, and I almost choked. How could I have so miscalculated my own abilities? I’ve come to realize that I have a negative confirmation bias when it comes to my work. I look at negative events as further evidence that I am a bad scientist, and any positive events don’t count in my tally. It’s not a good mindset to have in general, and especially in academia when you do need to celebrate any and all victories. So this year, I am working on having a balanced view of my work, taking note of both the positive and negative, and not letting it affect my self worth regardless.

I'm so grateful for the support and friendship of Phuong, and the chance to document this journey through this blog! If these posts can make even one grad student feel less alone, then it is a worthwhile endeavor. Happy Pi Day, and thanks for keeping up with us, helicuties!


Happy Pi day readers (aka Helicuties)!!

....And a happy blogiversary to us!

Echoing Ayumi's words I can't believe that it has been a year since we launched this blog, and what a year it has been amirite? I'm so grateful to have taken this year to build up a community through this blog and our various social media outlets (check us out on Twitter and Instagram if you haven't already for some additional content on our science and lives)! When we first started this blog, the pandemic had just hit Seattle, and we were going into lockdown. Ayumi and I had wondered about what we could talk about now that life had slowed down for us and our labs had closed down. This past year made me realize that even though I've been away from my family and friends (I still have labmates I've never even met in person before!) I've still got a great support system that has carried me through this year. As Ayumi mentioned, a year ago I was panicking about my preliminary exam and even moreso, my lab placement. When I started this blog I hadn't even committed to a lab yet, and I was on my third (and last) rotation praying that things would line up and that I would find a lab home that I could be proud of. Well, here I am a year later with both a lab home that I am happy to be in AND a signed form from my committee signifying that I had passed my prelim exams. I'm still in awe of everything that Ayumi and I accomplished this past year despite the pandemic, and we are forever grateful to our family, friends, and to our newfound science community through this blog.

Since we started, we have gained many new readers so I'd also like to take this time to re-introduce myself to this new community. Hi, my name is Phuong, (pronounced as Foon and rhymes with spoon!) and I am a second year PhD student in the Molecular Engineering program at the University of Washington. I'm working in the Nance lab, and we focus on engineering nanotherapeutics and nanotechnology to probe and treat traumatic brain injury in neonates. Despite the fact that we were all babies at one point, neonatal research is much underserved! My particular project is about evaluating the therapeutic efficacy of extracellular vesicles in neonatal cerebral ischemic models. Cerebral ischemia is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity. If left untreated, it can lead to permanent brain damage and cognitive dysfunction. Extracellular vesicles are cell-derived vesicles carrying a variety of biomolecules that have recently been shown to be critical for paracellular communication, and they are highly integrated in many aspects of healthy processes in the brain (neuroprotection, neurogenesis, etc.). So I'm studying their role in an ischemic brain in hopes of providing a window into what injury response mechanisms occur. Though extracellular vesicles are really cool, this field is very young and as such it can be a challenge. I'll post more about this in the future, but for now, just appreciate that within the span of 40 or so years, extracellular vesicles have turned from being referred to as mere waste products in biology textbooks to now being a critical mode of cell communication!

Lipid-bound extracellular vesicle containing a variety of biomolecules!

This blog started out as a way to document our journey through grad school, but it has since evolved to be about so much more than that. We talked about discrimination in academia, about our relationships, and about fun (and random) science that our curiosity led us to learn about. It always brings a smile to my face to learn that someone has found our posts helpful or encouraging. We are grateful for your support and are excited to share with you more about our journey this year!