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A Look Forwards

Surprise! I’m back!

After a discussion with MarCom and Shawna Dorman, I have decided to post one last blog before I leave you all to the next student who will travel abroad.

So, the purpose of this blog is to talk about my future plans. What does the future hold for me?

If everything goes well, yours truly will be graduating with an Associate’s degree in Biotechnology in May of 2011. Hopefully, I will be able to transfer this to my university of choice, the University of Rochester. This university has everything I’m looking for, apart from the tuition (…yikes…). U of R is a science school in every sense of the word. During the numerous times I have been there, I have been through their chemistry lab, their fusion lab, their laser lab, and their optics lab. They have opportunities for undergraduate research in almost every scientific field you can imagine,  and equipment beyond the wildest fantasies of any biologist/chemist/particle physicist.

I’m torn between three majors there at the moment; Biomedical Engineering, Biology with a concentration in Molecular Genetics, and Biology with a concentration in Cell and Developmental Biology. It’s very difficult; on one hand, Molecular Genetics and Cell and Developmental Biology would be ideal if I want to go into strictly cancer (oncology if you want to get technical) research. However, on the other hand, Biomedical Engineering combines my newfound interest in materials science, optics, and my fascinating with genetics and cellular bio. Only time will tell!

In the nearer future, I am planning to go to Costa Rica with Professor Leupold during spring break to study Costa Rican ecology!!! I may even be blogging my experiences on here once again! (You’ll never get rid of me! :))

But what after the U of R, you ask? Well… that’s the part I’m still quite fuzzy on. I know I’ll want my PhD in something, from a good graduate school, but I’m at a bit of a loss still. Should I follow Biomedical Engineering, I have been looking at Duke (again, tuition… double yikes!…).

Looking forward, I realize that the world is a giant place, filled with wonders as well as horrors, happiness as well as tragedy, joys as well as sorrows. And I have never been happier about the beautiful variety of this planet. Memories from Australia might eventually fade, but the horizons that I have been exposed to will remain bright in my mind forever.

(Thanks to everyone who read and commented on my blog: hopefully I will hear from you again over Spring Break 2011!!)

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Reflections

I have been back in the old U.S. of A for just over a week now, after spending a whirlwind seven days in New Zealand. Now that I’m back at school, getting into my classes, and settling into Batavia, I’ve had some time to think about how my trip abroad impacted me.

For sure, I learned a lot about pathology. I saw equipment that I had never before dreamed of, learned fascinating new techniques, and discovered that the process of diagnosis is a whole lot more complicated than one might think.

But not only did I encounter new knowledge in my schooling; I learned new things about the world around us. To travel to the other side of the world both expands and shrinks the Earth for me. I have learned the incredible diversity of this fragile, beautiful planet and its peoples. But I have also learned that, no matter where you go, human nature is the same. No matter what your culture is, we all laugh the same way, and we all cry the same way. People will be people.

Now, I’m sure you’re all very curious to hear how my trip to New Zealand went. Words absolutely fail me, so, instead, I am posting a menagerie of my best pictures of New Zealand. These follow my trip chronologically as I went through New Zealand; read the captions to gain a better understanding of what my trip was like.

On the plane, on my way into Queenstown.

Sunset in Queenstown

Horseback riding in Glenorchy (outside of Queenstown)

More Glenorchy

Yours truly horseback riding in New Zealand.

A reflecting lake on the way to Milford Sound

On the way to Milford Sound, some beautiful mountains.

A waterfall in the Sound. I'm on a boat here.

Cliffs and a waterfall in the Sound.

Milford Sound, in all of its glory.

Flying over the mountains in a six-seater airplane on my way back from Milford Sound.

Me, on the Mt. Iron trail, outside of Wanaka

Stay away from the edge! (Mt. Iron, Wanaka)

Sheep on the Mt. Iron trail!

Lake Wanaka

 

And thus it was I left New Zealand; with fond memories and  priceless pictures. It was a beautiful place, one that I will always remember. I arrived in the U.S. on October 8th jetlagged, exhausted, but far more traveled and just a little more wiser than when I left.

An (Almost) Final Farewell

Well, my friends, the time has come. I sit in a once-again rather barren room, now devoid of nearly all its furnishings, ruminating on how quickly this time has flown. It seems only two days, not two months, since first I stepped off the plane into Brisbane, jetlagged but elated. And now, I pack up my bags for my exodus back to the States.

Well… Not quite. I am flying into New Zealand tomorrow, to spend a week in Christchurch and Wanaka. Among other things, I am taking a nature cruise around Milford Sound, horseback riding through the mountains, whitewater rafting, and hiking up Mt. Aspire. I won’t have any internet, but I will post pictures of my adventures there when I return to the States on October 8th.

Before I bid you adieu, I thought I’d give you some snapshots of myself with my elusive, wonderful homestay family, who have, until now, not appeared in any of my pictures. They have been absolutely wonderful to me, taking me camping and making me feel quite at home here in Brisbane. They are quite a multicultural family, being British (Ed is pure British), Brazilian and German (Christiane was born in Brazil but has relatives in Germany and spent many years there). They are a crucial part of why my time here has been so wonderful.

From far left; Lara, 4 years old, myself, Tom, 7 years old, and Ed, my homestay father. This was on the way back from camping at Mt. Barney; we decided to stop in at a beach on the Gold Coast.

From far left: Lara, Tom, Christiane (my homestay mother), and myself. This was camping at Mt. Barney, waiting for dinner to be ready. (Doesn’t it look delicious?)

This week, I spent my last couple w0rk experience days in Cytogenetics. This was a VERY fascinating department, and the one that I had been looking forward to the most. It is here that they analyze genetic defects, study cancer genes, and diagnose a wide range of diseases through karyotyping and genetic analysis. This is very much my field of interest, and it was very informative working there. They even had a technique for attaching florescent markers to specific gene loci to map out genetic defects and problems! The kind director of the lab let me snap a few shots of the main area. Here they are.

And with that, I will bring this post to a close. My time here in Australia has been a transfiguring experience that has influenced my world views, political opinions, and scientific curiosities. Truly, coming here was the chance of a lifetime.

Flavor Of Australia

So, sadly, my time here is drawing to a close. In nine days I’ll be leaving for a vacation in New Zealand, then I will be back on American soil once again. In that time, I’ll try to squeeze in at least two more blog posts, not including this one, just to give you all a final taste of the Australian way of life.

But before I get all choked up with goodbyes, I thought I’d treat you all to my favorite pictures from my time here, and tell you why they’re my favorites.  A collection of the “flavors of Australia”, if you will.


I took this one a couple days ago, on the walk home from the train station. It illustrates how incredibly *lush* this city is. Everywhere you look, there’s color, green, vibrancy. Half the time, I forget I’m in a city, simply because of how green it is. This picture illustrates how people here let nature take its course in their city, rather than fighting it.

The important thing here is the graffiti. I took this at the train station as a reminder that all countries have poverty. All countries have unemployment, trouble with vandals, crime, etc. While Brisbane and Australia have a very low crime rate, it doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. It’s just a rather poignant message, I think.

These two pictures were taken in Chinatown, when I went there on Monday for the Lantern Festival. If nothing else, Brisbane is a multicultural city. The statistic I heard was that 1 in 4 Brisbane inhabitants are immigrants, which, when you think about it, is absolutely mind-blowing. The wonderful ethnic diversity (especially in the food- yum!) is incredible here, especially the richness of Asian and European cultures. My homestay family, for example, is Brazilian, British, and German.

Another great thing about Australia is the wildlife. This parrot, for example, I saw on my way to work one day. You see these guys all the time, as well as bright green parrots, white and black magpies, little scurrying lizards on the sidewalks, geckos on the back porch, and kangaroos in the countryside. (Oh, and let’s not forget three foot long snakes in the bathroom). If you’re afraid of any kind of animal, Australia is not the place to be. But if you love wildlife and nature, it’s paradise! (Just don’t get bitten!)

(Not my photos, save for the tractor one. I did take that, simply because I thought that that antique was awesome. Kudos to my homestay mother, Christiane, for taking the rest of these)

This are some snapshots of the harsh Australian outback, as well as a farm in the middle of the outback. Basically, as soon as you leave the city, you’re in the country. The contrast of the greenness of the coast and cities to the dry, rugged terrain of the outback is striking. But at the same time, I can see how it breeds hardy, resourceful people who can survive on almost nothing, and have a wonderful, dry sense of humor about life in general.

First off, I apologize for the fairly bad quality of this picture. I had the zoom in all the way, but I was still trying to take a picture of something on the telephone lines. And, to be perfectly honest, I had absolutely zero interest in going any closer to that thing. To give you a sense of perspective, those are telephone wires, which are probably a good 3/4 of an inch thick, maybe a little less. Now look at the size of that spider. As I was saying, there is a lot of wildlife in Australia. Most of it wants to eat you, poison you, bite you, or steal your babies.

And, finally, here’s just a few other photos, sans descriptions, that I’ve taken over the time I’ve been here.They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will be quiet and let you enjoy the beauties of Brisbane.

Science-y Stuff

So I thought I’d give you all a run-down on what I’m actually *doing* at Sullivan and Nicolaides. Hopefully, I can even make it somewhat comprehensible! I’ve been trying to digest everything thrown at me during my time at Sullivan and Nicolaides, and it’s a lot of material to memorize. So bear with me, and if my explanations sound a bit shaky, post a comment and ask me to clarify!

First things first: this is the actual building I work at. Impressive, no?

Headquarters

It is in here that I have been learning a bit about pathology, or at least that’s the idea.

So, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept of pathology, it’s basically the analysis of all those samples that your doctors take from you when you think you might be sick/pregnant/etc. So tissue samples, blood, urine, the works; all of it gets sent to a pathology lab, who perform the required tests on the samples. Sounds simple enough, right?

The lab is split up into different departments, who deal with different kinds of samples and tests. Microbiology checks the bacteria counts and types in nearly all types of samples, and also includes mycology, which deals with fungi. They mostly use microscope slides and agar plates to grow bacteria.

Histology works with actual tissue samples; biopsies and dissection bits. They embed the tissues in wax blocks, cut them very, very fine, and put them on microscope slides, stain them, and analyze them.

Then you have immunology, which deals with strictly blood and serum samples (lymph node fluid and so on). They analyze these for levels of white blood cells and antibodies. So, basically, they are checking the status of your body’s automatic defense system for immunodeficiency or infection.

Hematology deals strictly with blood, and all the different tests you can run on someone’s blood, to determine the platelet levels, red blood cell levels, clotting time, if you have leukemia, etc., etc. Most of this department is automated, with machines doing most of the sampling.

Right now, I’m in biochemistry, which uses “tagged” antibodies that attach to different cells. These tags can be radioactive, bioluminescent, or florescent. Depending on how bright something glows and what color it glows, or if it has a high level of radiation, the pathologists can tell if you have certain drugs in your blood, if you have different levels of hormones, etc. It’s very useful in testing for hyperthyroidism, pregnancy, and disorders that result in elevated levels of different types of hormones.

And that’s a (very brief and VERY simplified) summary of what I’ve been doing this whole time! Neat, isn’t it?

Nevermore…

So it’s spring here in Australia, finally. I arrived during the late part of their winter, and as winter weather slowly gives way to the warmth of spring, I am realizing why they call Brisbane the “garden city.” There are literally hundreds of different types of flowers that one might encounter in a simple walk down the sidewalk. In the backyard, there’s a tangerine tree hanging over the fence, with bright orange and very delicious tangerines dangling from its branches. Every day on my walk to the train station, I pass hedges and trees simply filled with bright, alien fruits and scented, florescent flowers.

Besides the flowers, there are also the mating calls and behaviors of the birds here, which brings me to the topic of my blog today. Sitting in the park today, enjoying an iced mocha and a piece of macadamia nut and white chocolate cake (be envious…), I noticed an Australian Raven flutter down onto the park lawn a couple metres from where I was sitting.

An Australian Raven

I want all of you to get this picture quite clear in your mind. Me, sitting still, minding my own business with my cake and my mocha, and this raven fluttering about on the lawn. As I watched this fellow, I noticed he had a piece of red plastic or something in his beak. He set it on the ground, fussed over it for a moment, and then started picking up leaves and things and placing them on the plastic, arranging them with precision. He then started hopping about, making mating calls. I laughed a bit and watched him. He cocks his head at me, and then runs over and picks up a discarded ice-cream container with some colored stripes on it and proceeds to drag it closer to me. He then repeats his mating calls.

It was about at this point that I looked down at myself and realized that I was wearing a black shirt. The lovestruck fool thought I was a female raven!!! I’ve teetered between being flattered and being mortified for a while, but after doing a bit of research, I found that the ravens are monogamous, forming lifelong pairs. So I decided to be flattered; apparently he thought I was good enough for the long-term!

In other news, I am now working in hematology, analyzing blood samples. The neat thing about the hematology department is that it is almost entirely automated. Samples come in, get aliquotted, get cell counts, get slides made and stained, and then get stored or sent for special testing all on machines. It’s really quite fascinating to watch, and it makes the hematologists’ jobs a lot easier.

Well, that’s all from me for now. Don’t forget to comment, and hope to hear from you all soon!

News and New Zealand

The finest rockets ever seen,

they burst in stars of blue and green,

or after thunder, golden showers,

come falling like a rain of flowers.

~J.R.R. Tolkien~
In case you’re wondering what inspired my bit of poetry here, I went to Riverfire last night. It’s a fireworks event that draws literally a million people to the Brisbane riverfront for the show. There’s live music, food, and of course, absolutely spectacular fireworks. They also had an F-11 that flew over while dumping its fuel load, which made it look like a phoenix; this great flying thing with a long tail of fire that lit up the whole sky.

This week was rather hectic; I switched over to histology from microbiology in Sullivan and Nicolaides. While I love microorganisms and enjoyed reading agar plates, it was a nice change of pace to see some actual macroscopic specimens. I have learned so much about histo and micro since I have been there, I am now almost considering a career in pathology… Time will tell! I still have several more departments to rotate through; in particular, I am looking forward to cellular and molecular pathology.

I also booked my flights to New Zealand! In case you didn’t know, I’m spending my last week here terrorizing the South Island of New Zealand. In particular, Christchurch, Wanaka, and Milford Sound. I get to hike around New Zealand for seven days, as well as take a day cruise around Milford Sound. It should be fun, and I’m really looking forward to it.

I will post again soon with some more photos and stories of madness and mayhem down under. Until then, no worries, and I look forward to seeing everyone when I get back in October!

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