Here's what Emory's offer says to me ...
Here's a 25k stipend, waived tuition, a new laptop, access to some of the best libraries and databases around; free access to any and all the chemistry professors, grad students and techs; access to millions of dollars worth of scientific instruments - pick any question you want to study within your research interest and go!
*jaw drop* I have died and gone to heaven. Going to the grad visitation weekend helped it to finally sink in and slap me in the face. This is for real. This is what I've been waiting for since middle school. It's finally happening!! I'm finally getting to be a real scientist!! And, I'm getting paid to fulfill my dream. Seriously?
I had been terrified about the interviews at Emory. I didn't know what to expect and I was really afraid that I was going to be expected to know more than I did and would say something dumb. All kinds of fears.
However, when I was finally driving down to Emory, I felt a lot more at peace. It's the waiting that kills me more than anything. I had also prayed a lot about it and I knew other people had as well.
I got there and was about an hour early for the main event things. Two other students were there early as well - a guy named Matthew and a girl I can't remember the name of. There were lots of grad students with name tags who welcomed us. Most of them all wore jeans. They were very nice. One of them introduced me to Ann Dasher, who organized everything and she gave me my bag and name tag. I guessed there were about 20 other bags there. I learned later there were 29.
Dr. Conticello walked in and that was a pleasant surprise. I worked for him three years ago during Emory's Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURE), under the amazing Melissa Patterson, one of his grad students who now has her Ph.D. and is working as a post-doc in Seattle.
Dr. Conticello was looking really casual, was happy to see me and thanked me for coming. I felt a lot better and less nervous at this point.
Two grad students (Rolando and Bryant) took us four early arrivals on a scavenger hunt around the chemistry building - it was quite ridiculous. One of the requirements was to propose to Ann Dasher. That guy Matthew (Jones?) actually did it! I was shocked. He was quiet and shy seeming but he was a lot more bold than I would have been. Fortunately, this was a team effort, so I didn't have to do it.
We visited a lot of other labs and around the campus and did silly things. We went outside and dressed a fire hydrant in a scarf and took a picture. We took a picture under a street sign that started with a "D." We took a picture in front of the board where this diazo reaction was written out. It was an important reaction and it was a shame that we didn't know it, the organic students said. They were partially joking. We went to Dr. Hill's lab and got one of the Chinese students to write 'Welcome' in Chinese.
Dr. Saliata found us in his lab and said hi. He's kind of short, wiry and full of energy. He was really nice and enthusiastically showed us his instruments - the instruments did look really cool. I remembered seeing one of them in a picture on his website. I asked a question - I would have liked to talk to him about the instruments some more, but the others looked like they wanted to continue on, so we did. I didn't think at the time I'd be much interested in working for him, as measuring force was interesting to me but not one of my major interests.
After we left Saliata's lab, we visited Dr. Lutz to take a picture of the courtyard. I was looking for Dr. Lutz everywhere but I didn't see him. I was really looking forward to saying hi and hoped he remembered me. His lab is right next to Dr. Conticello's. While I was working with Melissa Patterson in the Conticello lab, he would always come by or we'd see him around and he'd talk and make wise-cracks. It was intensely amusing. He has a kind of sarcastic humor, which I usually wouldn't like, but his is SO overblown it's hilarious.
Poster Session and Dinner
Dr. Lutz's students
Then, we got back to the poster room in time for the poster session. It was a kind of small room - or maybe it only seemed small, because there were three rows of huge poster boards sitting in it in the middle and then two more on either side. The room was full of people - all the professors, the grad students and prospective grad students. There were tubs of beer and soda. I got a coke.
I talked to Dr. Lutz's students first - just ran into them. They explained to me some of the the projects they were doing. They said yes, they had just been updating the website and getting started on things more seriously now that a few of them had finished their rotations. It was kind of hard for me to hear what they were saying because the room was so noisy.
After I talked to them, I saw Dr. Lynn. That was really exciting, so I went and introduced myself. I told him I'd emailed him about NMR and he remembered that. We talked about NMR for a good while. He said that in-cell NMR was limited by sensitivity - it's hard to get clear readings the bigger the protein - and was mostly limited to proteins less than 20 kDa. I checked my paper that I'd brought with me later though and they did a 32 kDa protein, so I was a little encouraged.
However, he said there was a way around the problems of in-cell solution NMR - solid state NMR. I don't really know anything about solid state NMR. I'll be doing some research into it soon. With solid state, you freeze the cell you want to look at and spin it at an angle artificially, so it gets around the tumbling problem. Ugh. That's probably wrong. /headdesk. I have so much to learn. I'll be looking it up later. It sounds intriguing - I'm just not so sure and I haven't given up on solution in-cell NMR. For one, if you're freezing the cell, it's no longer alive, and you'd just be taking a snapshot. You couldn't see any kind of dynamic changes that go on in a living cell. I think the information you'd be gathering would be more limited in other ways. Yes, you can look at polymers and bigger proteins, but only a brief snapshot of them. It's still cool though. More reading to do, yes. *strokes invisible beard* It was hard to hear each other, once again. That room was so noisy.
After I talked to Dr. Lynn, I got some food. They had interesting hors d'oeuvres - some kind of spicy chicken, folded mushrooms, fried tomatoes and cookies. It was pretty good. I talked to a bunch of the others students and grad students. I met Heidi Day and Claire. I also met a P-chem grad student who said linear algebra was important to take for P-chem. Lots of them said that. Good to know.
I looked at a few other boards, wandering around, though by that time I was tired. I was trying not to get involved in a long drawn out conversation because then it was awkward to leave it. One thing that surprised me was Dr. Saliata's board - a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. I read it while his grad student was talking to someone else. The research looked fascinating. He was not only doing force studies, but also a synthetic biology project, designing small protein motors or something. I'm jealous of engineers sometimes. They are the ones who get to push the envelope by making our instruments more sensitive. We just get to use the instruments. But, with synthetic biology, it's almost like being an engineer and from my classes at UGA - yeah, total fun stuff.
One thing that made me a little sad was that I'd get a lot of disappointed looks when I said I was interested in the biomolecular division. I met a *lot* of P-chem, inorganic and organic grad students. The most common questions were ...
"Where are you from?"
"What kind of chemistry are you interested in?"
"Where did you go to school?"
Most seemed disappointed that I came from GA, really close by too, for some reason. lol! However, one grad student did say that there were an usual number of GA applicants this year.
I looked for Dr. Lutz, but never found him. I saw Dr. Gallivan. I saw Dr. Conticello eating with Anil, the NMR guy and wanted to talk to him, but never got around to it. I didn't want to interrupt his conversation. Dr. Lynn was around. I met Dr. Scarborough and one of his grad students. He's a newer faculty in ... I think inorganic chemistry. He seemed really nice. I saw a lot of organic/inorganic faculty that I recognized only slightly. I saw Dr. Heaven. He's very smart, the grad students said.
The faculty and students were going bowling after that, but I didn't want to go really, as I was worried about getting home late and getting sleep for coming back at 8 a.m. tomorrow, and I'd already made plans to say hi to the Warmachine gaming crew doing the IK-RPG at Bryan's house. I brought chocolate to them over there and watched for an hour, then went home. I'm glad I didn't go because they ended out staying up til midnight. One of the grad students hinted as much beforehand, which made me happy with my choice.
I felt better overall about Saturday after the Friday stuff. The atmosphere at the poster session was very casual, very congenial, friendly and fun-oriented. All the grad students were really sweet, would do anything for us new comers and treated us very respectfully, like we were honored guests. That made sense, but it was still nice to experience that.
Saturday, activities 8 a.m. - 10:45 p.m.
I got there really early. I was the first one. Then, one other student came. We got breakfast. The other students started arriving.
I finally saw Dr. Lutz! It was clear from his conversation with one of his grad students that he'd just gotten back from a talk or trip of some kind, which made sense why he hadn't been there yesterday. I shook his hand and said, so this was my official visitation weekend? I said yes and asked if he remembered me. He said, oh yes, he had scars from the last time he saw me. Typical Dr. Lutz response. He seemed somewhat nervous and more subdued than I remembered. Could be he was tired. I was happy to see him though.
The rest of the faculty started arriving - Dr. Conticello, Dr. Lynn, Dr. Saliata... I was sitting in a corner scarfing food. It was interesting food - ham, cheese on a croissant - that was interesting. Muffin. Chicken biscuit. Orange juice.
I moved up to the front rapidly when other people started arriving, because I didn't want them to steal all the good seats. Dr. Saliata commented about that - that people who sat up front did better on tests, not that this was a test. I agreed.
Dr. Dyer, director of the grad program, gave the program summary. Here it is in a nut shell.
$25,000 stipend, up from $24,500 and $24,000 before that.
Emory automatically entered the most promising of us for extra fellowships that we should find out about in a few weeks.
Must TA at least two semesters. There are lots of interesting teaching opportunities if you want to pursue that.
Six required classes, two of which must be taken in the second year.
We have cumulative exams instead of quals. They are tests that you have to complete 10 points in. You can get a total of 0, 1 or 2 points on the test. There is no penalty for failing them or taking them multiple times. They're announced a week in advance and will typically be about a certain journal article a professor wants to test.
The first year, a grad student does rotations in 2-3 labs of his choice, to help him chose a mentor.
There's a second year review in the fall, where the student will give a presentation of his work heretofore. If he passes, he gains legitimate Ph.D. candidacy status. The grad students assured us later that if you want to succeed, there's really no reason for you to fail. The faculty aren't looking to fail you. They want you to pass.
We get a free laptop as part of the package. O.o Don't know what kind it is or anything.
We were running a little behind by the time we got to the interview part of the day. I had five appts with five professors for 30 min each - Dr. Lynn, Dr. Weinert, Dr. Saliata, Dr. Conticello and Dr. Lutz, in the order.
Dr. Lynn talked to another guy and I about self-assembling nanotubes. We heard one of his grad students talk about her work - very interesting, about a nanotube that self-assembled with a gradient - positive charge on outside and negative charge on inside. I wished I had more time to talk to him. I had so many questions. But we had to hurry to the next interview.
Dr. Weinert already had two students she was talking to, but I joined them and sat in on the last part of the conversation. After they left, two more came to replace them. Then two more came! There were now five of us and two had to stand.
She talked about her work - she has three projects - making a synthetic heme, as a replacement of heme in blood transfusions; isolating cCMP and characterizing the pathway for it from rat livers (very important signaling molecule); and investigating the redox activity of this sulfide responsible for a potato rot disease that caused untold loss in crop damage everywhere - biofilms, how to destroy or dislodge the biofilm - very interesting.
I went to find Dr. Saliata. He was touring two others through his lab. I found them and joined in. He has a lot of synthetic stuff around his lab that looked fascinating. He explained his instruments again in more depth. I got to ask a few more questions. I can't remember what they were. He said the room was hepafiltered and they'd blocked off the window to make sure that the instruments worked optimally. Good grief. Everything is falling out of my head - so not right.
He had a cell culture lab next door with an incubator and hood. It was a very basic setup, as he said himself, but worked for what he needed. Cells could be grown here and tested in the other room.
We went back to his office and discussed his project about measuring the force between a receptor in a ligand. It was really really interesting. I did not expect it to be, but I couldn't help finding it fascinating. He talked some of the history of the problem, what others had done and what he was trying to do. It's a question that not really any one else has attempted to answer and there are a lot of intriguing unknowns.
He didn't get time to talk about his synthetic biology project that had been on his board, though I really wanted to ask him. He said he'd be at the dinner so we could talk later if we wanted to.
By this time, we were about 30 min off instead of 15 min. I talked to Dr. Conticello next. I asked him about the prion project, because I didn't know much about it. He went over it - it had been put on hold more or less - the person specializing in it was graduating. But some interesting things had been discovered. Unfortunately, I cannot remember very much of it. I was having trouble staying focused. I could try to explain what I knew but it was be a travesty. He also talked about the elastin work going on. L-DOPA work was largely complete. At the time, I wondered what that meant. Was someone developing it for use in drug delivery? Because, they should.
I talked to Dr. Lutz with one other girl last. As usual in his office, he was speaking fast but really, really quietly. I don't know why he does that. He has a very interesting bioenergy project that's just starting up. He's doing a therapeutics one and a biocatalysis project as well.
I didn't remember very much of what either Dr. Conticello or Dr. Lutz said. I'm kicking myself now that I didn't bring my special pen that records voice and records digital notes. I wanted to ask Dr. Lutz more about the biocatalysis project, but didn't, because I thought he and the other student might already have discussed it.
After talking to Dr. Lutz, he and us students all trooped to the poster room again for lunch. The coordinator exclaimed that she KNEW it was his fault! He said, what??? It was humorous. Yes, we were the last ones - ALL the seats were filled with students eating and most people were mostly done it seemed. Dr. Conticello told the coordinator that he had to have more time - a half hour wasn't enough. She said yes, she'd already made a note. I laughed at that in my head. Poor professors. Having to talk constantly for almost three hours. Good grief.
They had burritos there for lunch: chicken, steak, something and something ... I looked at them a long time. One of them was supposed to be beef, but was called something else. I finally decided after long deliberation to try it and sat in the back in the only available chair between a professor and another prospective student.
The professor started talking to me. It turned out to be Dr. Dyer, P-chem professor and director of the whole graduate program. He asked me what school I graduated from and what chemistry I was interested in - naturally. When I realized who he was, I thought, "What a stroke of luck!" So, I asked him my question that I felt was most appropriate for him - why was the chemistry dept separate from the biochemistry dept at Emory and was there any collaboration between them?
Professor Dyer's Answer to my Question about Why the Biochem and Chemistry Program at Emory were separate...
THAT was a fascinating discussion. I finally started to understand why that was, and the complications of it all. It makes a lot more sense. Here's what he said:
Biochemistry has less stringent teaching requirements on the professors and they are located next to the medical school so that they can collaborate with doctors doing patient studies and such. Chemistry has much more teaching requirements. If they were combined, it might require the biochemistry professors to teach more, which would hinder their medical collaborations. Their programs are also somewhat irreconcilable with Biochemistry not having much of a class requirement while Chemistry does. Some of it is also traditional. Biochemistry is traditionally associated with medicine. Chemistry still does a crap ton of biochemistry - it's just a different philosophy / environment than Biochemistry is, focusing less on the medical and patient side. In schools where the biochemistry and chemistry departments are combined, it's pretty much just one department that is all chemistry, without the kind of flavor of biochemistry program that Emory has, with a lot of medical collaborators and focus on physicians - they do have an associated hospital, so it makes sense.
I told him that I was happy with my choice of sticking with the chemistry dept, though initially the separateness of the two depts confused me. I said that chemistry I felt was vital to understanding everything else in biology. Dr. Dyer heartily agreed. He said that chemistry tended to drive discovery more than biology, in personal, biased opinion. I would say that the closer one gets to the fundamentals, the more driving force there is. In that way, physics and math likely drive discovery even more than chemistry does.
About that time, Dr. Dyer had to leave because they were kicking out the faculty for the graduate panel - a panel of graduate students that the students could ask how it "really was."
*chuckle* I have no illusions about this. Knowing me and Oxford, current students are going to be biased toward their school and professors of course! And probably, the professors could find out from them all about what was discussed - so it's not really the way it's presented - us students really find out things later, like when we went to the bar in the evening or something, when they are no where near faculty.
Still, I found this panel truly interesting. Lots of great questions were asked and I felt a lot better about a number of questions that I had.
Questions for the Graduate Panel
I found out that only some of Emory's labs are piloting digital notebooks. This made me feel a little better, as I didn't like the idea. They're being backed up on a cloud network, so there's also less chance of the data going *poof* which is good.
There are actually some fees each semester - about $1,000 a year, $300 a semester and $660 dollars for the parking pass - about the same as UGA's so no surprise there.
The students didn't feel like the environment was competitive. After what I'd seen at the weekend, I could agree with that.
Grad students get two weeks of vacation time a year, which can be added to or subtracted from based on how hard the student is working and is dependent on the professor's approval of course.
It's typical to work on Saturdays, but generally not a full day always. It's often best to be as productive as possible while you're there so you don't have to work late hours. Just work hard. /nod That makes sense.
We talked a long time about the cumulative tests and the 2nd year exam. So, Emory doesn't have quals like most schools. It has "cums" - pronounced "cue-ms," which are tests that each dept gives. You have to get a total of 10 pts to fulfill your cum requirement. You can get a 0, 1 or 2 on them. There is no penalty for getting 0 's, so you should take as many as you can. They are announced a week beforehand, usually based upon a certain journal article. Take a lot of them so you can get used to them.
The 2nd year exam is the scary one - if you fail it, you leave with a master's. If you succeed, you get to be an official pH.D. candidate. It's an oral presentation type thing. The grad students stressed that you didn't have to worry about it TOO much, as the professors are not trying to fail people - they want you to succeed. If you really want to succeed, you work hard and know your research, you will pass. They recommended practicing with your professor beforehand in mock ones and such. That made me feel a lot better. So, it's not a death test, completely. *phew* There were some other questions, but that was the stuff I was most interested in.
Chemistry Dept Tour
After the graduate panel, there were tours around the building. We got to see the library, the mass spec room, the NMR room, the electron microscopy room and x-ray crystallography. It was a real treat. I didn't realize until later that apparently grad student are allowed to check out of the library as many books as they want for up to 4 MONTHS!! WHOA! That's awesome.
After the tour of the building, I was kind of tired and there were a lot of optional tours left: 1) an apartment tour 2) an ATL city tour going to Piedmont Park and a coffee shop and 3) a campus tour. I decided to go on the campus tour. It turned out that it was REALLY COLD!! I didn't have my coat with me and it was gusting all the way. We had two grad students leading us showing us the campus. It was interesting, but I'd seen much of it before. But, there was a poor prospective student who was wearing a thin, flimsy shirt with no scarf! That was horrible. But, we stopped by the hotel and she got her coat and was much better.
After that, the two grad students walked the two of us who commuted back to the parking deck. We got to talk to them more personally and it was interesting, even though I was freezing.
The grad student I was talking to was a third year in-organic chemist. He asked me whether I preferred a lot of guidance or a little. I said I was probably somewhere in the middle. He said older professors tended to be more hands off while younger professors tended to talk to / direct their students a lot more, be a lot more prodding, if you will, since they want to get tenure and need results. The longer they are a professor, the more paper work they get saddled with and the more hands off they become.
Honestly, he said though, you think going into it that you'll need a lot of guidance, but really, it's more of an annoyance. He said by the time you do all this studying and researching, you'll be the expert on the topic that you are doing and you'll be teaching your professor things. He might suggest something to you that you know will not work, because you've seen the data and done the actual work. I can understand that. It was interesting, in either case.
He also told me to beware of untenured professors, because if they don't make tenure, their lab is cut and so will you. It's a risk. Technically, you should be able to switch to someone else's lab, but it sets your career back by years, I'd imagine. I'd heard of this happening. Such happened recently to Dr. Cora MacBeth in inorganic, so I can understand him warning me of that, as an inorganic grad student. He said the grad students in her lab left with MAs. He's not sure why. Dr. Weinart and Dr. Salaita are the newer untentured faculty. He seemed hesitant about Dr. Weinart, but he didn't know much about her. He said Dr. Salaita was a good choice. His lab is large and his research quite popular and well-funded. If I was going to go with one of the newer faculty, he would go with him.
The Hotel after the Walking Tour
After the walking tour, thanks to the grad student's directions, I got my car and found the Silverbell Pavilion near the hotel where the formal dinner was to be served. I sat around in the hotel and wrote up questions for Dr. Lynn and Dr. Salaita or their grad students. I checked off questions on my large question sheet I'd brought with me. I looked over the journal articles I'd brought and figured out the protein measured in the one in-cell NMR paper was actually 32 kDa. Ha!! Bigger than 20 kDa. The hotel was really richy and interesting. There were saloons and a club room with people wearing tuxedos in it. I wondered what they were doing.
The Coat Rack and My Shoes
I got to the Silverbell Pavilion with another student from Oregon. The head waiter guy escorted us inside when he found us wandering confused just outside. It was still empty, but it was obvious that was going to be a really nice, expensive and formal to-do. They had a coat rack! I've never been to a formal dinner with a coat rack! I felt obligated to use it.
I decided it was time to put on my fancy shoes again. I had put on sneakers over my dress pants after taking the walking tour in my dress shoes. My feet hurt. But I had them in my Emory bag I was carrying around with all my papers. Dr. Lieberman saw me and I told him I'd brought my fancy shoes with me. He said he should have done that. O.o lol His were brown though and practically fancy already. Maybe he was just being nice.
Professors I saw in the beginning and thoughts
I saw Dr. Kindt, an inorganic chemist. He looked nervous and scary to me. He seemed put off when I said I was biomolecular chem. I had started to dread that question by this point - there were so many P-chem-ers and Inorganic and Organic chemists around, many of which when they heard I was biomolecular were like, "oh." What's that supposed to mean?? I felt like I was a stigma, or something, a little bit. Maybe it was just that the professors were disappointed I wasn't a prospect for them. Or maybe some of the grad students are actually intimidated by biomolecular like I am by P-chem. I can't imagine that. I was *hoping* that it DIDN'T mean, "Oh, you're just biomolecular, that's a wimpy division." >.> I imagine P-chem to be a god-like division where everyone is geniuses.
I met one Chinese professor later who asked me that and I told him and he was one of the VERY FEW who didn't say, "oh" and look disturbed. He was nice and just said something mostly neutral and said he was P-chem. I said, "awesome!" and he looked really happy. The P-chemers need props. I admire them a lot for what they do.
The Food and Setup
I always comment on the food at places. I don't know why. There was Starbucks coffee and the cups were so cute! There was tea, but the hot water wasn't really hot so it didn't steep well. That's ok. I had some earl grey anyway. There was cake. There were trays of covered food to one side. There was a mobile bar. The tables were circular with chairs around them, look gorgeous and had candles in the middle. I LOVE candles!
After I finished my tea, I got coffee, and started milling through the people. My goal was simple - find and talk to Dr. Lynn, Dr. Salaita or their grad students and pester them a lot with all the questions I had left. I weaved between people until I thought I saw Rolando - the grad student who had taken us on the scavenger hunt. I wanted to ask him if he knew anyone from Dr. Lynn's lab. But, nope. It wasn't him, it Bryant who looked kind of like him, but was quieter, who was his roommate and also took us on the scavenger hunt. *facepalm* For some reason though, I wasn't much embarrassed. We talked. I told him I was looking for grad students in Dr. Lynn's lab. He said Rolando was one of them! I was amazed I hadn't realized that sooner. I determined to find him.
Bryant unfortunately is a kind of depressing person to talk to. He's a second year in Dr. Dyer's P-chem lab. He looks kind of depressed and unhappy. I tried to cheer him up, but the more I tried, the more depressed he sounded, until he started depressing me. Ugh. *sigh* To be fair, he was really the only depressed-looking grad student that I found at the visitation weekend. I don't think he realizes he's like that. It's his whole attitude and mindset. Maybe that's just how his personality is. He's kind of melancholy and pessimistic.
I finally found Rolando, is the total opposite of Bryant - exuberant, upbeat and ridiculous. He let me ask him lots of questions. Eventually, we moved to the food line so we wouldn't get left behind for food. He told me about his project, about how Dr. Lynn operates - Dr. Lynn prefers that his students make their own research proposals for their work, rather than putting them on a project, which really excited me.
The food was interesting. Some of it I didn't recognize. I didn't take any of whatever it was, except for one thing. I still don't know what it was. Some kind of fried, green fruit or something. I took snap peas, chicken, a slice of beef aaaaaand ... there must be something else. Maybe that was it.
Rolando asked if I was going to the bar with the grad students later. I hadn't been sure if I would, but since it would let me talk to him and look for other people to talk to, I said yes. We parted ways so he could sit at his table he'd picked earlier.
The Food Part of the Dinner: Almost the best part of the day! And not because of the food, though it was good.
I didn't know where to sit. A lot of tables were filled. Some were empty or had few people. I decided, "What the crap, let me just sit somewhere, I'm not going to try to find anyone to sit next to, it's too stressful." So, I saw Matthew Jones, the grad student prospective that had arrived early with me on Fri and proposed to Ann Dasher for the scavenger hunt. I'd seen him around. I saw by him and there was only one other person at his table and asked him how he thought the weekend had been. He said it was good. I can't remember what else he said unfortunately. I think he's in inorganic.
Marika of X-ray crystallography joins us
A whole bunch more prospective grad students sat at our table. I was SO pleased when the X-ray crystallography lady came to sit by me! I wanted to talk to her about her instruments anyway. Her boyfriend looked JUST like Lex Luther - oh my goodness. He was bald, had this tough guy serious expression, and looked like a body guard. It was kind of awesome. I didn't say anything like that though.
Dr. Salaita joined us!
By this point our table was mostly filled. The chicken was good - it was my favorite. I wished I had gotten more. However, now the most amazing thing happened. Dr. Salaita came and sat on the other side of Matthew, at our table! Dr. Salaita! I cannot tell you how happy I was about that - how unexpected and what a fortunate stroke of luck - or what I would call, divine providence. I had talked to Dr. Lynn extra on Friday, but not him. And, between his poster and the research discussion with him, I'd become a LOT more interested and learning about his research, especially the biosynthetic project I hadn't heard about. It ended up that I didn't have to go looking for any professor. I was blessed that he came to us. That's how I see it anyway.
He asked me where I'd graduated - the universal question - and I told him I'd been to Oxford then UGA. When he heard Oxford, he seemed to think that was neat. I for the life of me can't remember what we talked about after that, except that I worried I was hogging the conversation so I kind of stopped talking to him so he could talk to the other people. He's such an exuberant person.
My conversation with Marika
The X-ray crystallography service instructor grad student turned out to be named Marika and she was SO nice. I talked to her a long time instead and learned a lot of interesting stuff. I asked her what X-ray crystallography could do that NMR could not and she said - everything. LOL But, she said yes, it doesn't do cellular stuff, naturally. And she didn't need it to, being inorganic. She didn't work with proteins.
We talked about women in science a lot too. I was happy to have a girl to talk to about this kind of thing. She said yes, she was the only lady in her inorganic lab. Inorganic was still very male dominated, but a lot of women had exploded the biomolecular division. And in total in Emory chemistry, it was about 50% men and women. I'd realized that, as I'd seen quite a few ladies both grad student and prospective - which made me happy about Emory.
I asked her the question that was nagging at me - was it because biomolecular was a wimpy field that women were in it? All those people saying, "oh" when I mentioned I was biomolecular weighed on me. She said, no she didn't think so. It was just that women had proven themselves so much in that division and had lots of role models. Biomolecular was also an awesome division like the others that did complicated, serious stuff. Coming from another lady in science who was also inorganic division, that whole conversation made me feel SO much better and I stopped worrying. Good. I don't want to be wimpy. No, no. I would do a lot to prove to the nay-sayers that I'm not. *sigh* I have to get over that.
She said that she often forgot how many ladies there were in the chemistry dept until she came to functions like this. I told her I'd totally have to visit her if I came to Emory. By the end of the conversation, it almost felt like we were old friends. She is so nice. She gave me her email. Meanwhile, Dr. Salaita was talking animatedly to Matthew, who looked not as interested as I would have, I was sure. But he's also a quiet personality, so maybe that's what it was. I was slightly jealous of him, but figured I'd get my chance eventually. I did hear an interesting conversation when Dr. Salaita was talking to all of us about how where he came from in Jordan, the only traffic law that people obeyed was traffic lights. Otherwise it went by the rule of, "he who flinches first loses." That was amusing. I also noticed that half his plate was full of snap peas. He must really like peas. They were pretty good. I wished I had gotten some more.
My conversation with Dr. Salaita - best part of the day
I told Marika I had to talk to Dr. Salaita, but I'd for sure be in touch. We got desert. Dr. Salaita disappeared to get desert. We were prompted to get cake when Matthew appeared with this gorgeous piece of chocolate cake that looked out of some cook book.
Dr. Salaita came back and I asked him if he had a moment to tell me about the synthetic biology project he was working and apologized if he had to repeat anything, because I thought he might have already had the conversation with Matthew and I missed it.
He said, sure, he could do that and asked Matthew to switch seats with him. He plopped down next to me and immediately launched into a very fascinating spiel about a project I didn't know he had. It wasn't specifically written up on his website. In fact, the more he told me, the more excited I got - it's *exactly* the kind of project that I would be interested in - it deals with synthesizing a specific catalytic oligo DNA called a DNAzyme to cut an RNA at a specific point and will also ligate (paste) the two ends back together. The goal of this is to modify RNA of mutant proteins to correct their function. It's a fantastic idea! I couldn't believe it. It's such a perfectly interesting project.
He said he was looking to recruit people for it and hadn't really started it yet. In the course of the conversation, he even drew on my notebook to describe things. I love it when professors draw stuff. Since we weren't rushed this time, I asked him to stop talking several times to make sure I had it right and asked a few questions. It made so much sense.
I couldn't believe that I was hearing a chemist talk so much biology at me that I understood, coming from biochemistry. Some of the chem majors who went straight chemistry, especially inorganic or organic, might not have had the background to understand the implications and nuances of that project as much. Or maybe they do. I just know I've seen the list of classes chemistry majors take. Not much biology in those. For once, I didn't feel as if my large biology background was a disadvantage. It fit for this.
He talked very enthusiastically. I loved his energy and excitement. That's how I feel about science! I felt as if around him, I didn't have to tone my excitement down - I could be myself, because he was obviously as excited as I was. He was also talking to me like an equal, as if I was a desirable person to hire. And he didn't act as if some of my more basic questions were stupid, either. Listening to him talk - it was such a euphoric thing - being surrounded by scientists where I finally fit in, talking with someone high up in science who knew more than me, about science that I love, and who acted as if I was a valuable asset worth hiring, about a project that was so perfectly fascinating and right up my alley - I felt as if I had to be careful I didn't float away from being so happy. The only time I have ever felt like that is when I met Brandon Sanderson at Dragon Con. I didn't think I'd top that for ages. What do you know.
The only thing I wished was that he did NMR. I asked him if he did. He said, no, they really didn't need to do NMR for what they were doing - and he listed a bunch of techniques they did use, gels and etc - all the techniques I am used to. I was rather disappointed but was determined not to look it and said, "That's ok."
Apparently, I wasn't successful. He gave me the most crushed looking face, as if I'd slapped him. "That's ok??" he said, as if it were some dreadful thing - and he went on a long spiel then, as if trying to convince me of something. He said they were not technique oriented, but would use whatever technique and whatever area of science they needed to answer the question they wanted to answer - it didn't matter what it was. I said yes, of course, that was how it should be, repeatedly. I felt kind of bad and wanted to reassure him that I didn't think it was a big deal. Though honestly, he read me more right than wrong. I want to do things I haven't done before. Not using NMR was a big hit to me. It's not only that I'm interested in it - but the kinds of questions that NMR can answer are unique and very interesting.
However, when I asked him all I could, I told him his research was one of my favorites. Which is true. It was sliding up to inch past Dr. Lynn's at that point. The more I think about it, the more I like his better. O.o And that Emory was definitely at the top of my list. He looked really happy about that and most of his disappointedness disappeared. He said that I seemed to be a go-getter and he had been impressed with me. Ok. I'm just saying. That made my day completely.
The last thing we talked about was he asked me when I had graduated. I had to end up explaining I took a year off to rest, because my senior year had been stressful, but now I was really pumped about coming back. Most of the professors I told that to gave me a face kind of like when people said, "oh" to my being in the biomolecular division, but he did not. He looked thoughtful and told me about a famous chemist he knew that once told him he took two years off after graduate school and toured the country in a bus and it was the best thing he ever did. He said no one would have known it - he was super successful and when you report when you got your degree, the dates are listed in such a way you can't tell it. So, maybe that was just what I needed. I said, "Exactly!" I was so relieved he didn't seem to think that was a negative. Dr. Salaita totally rocks.
After that, I went to the bar. I was rather nervous about that. I've never been to a bar. I may as well admit it. But it was actually a nice place and wasn't sleazy looking. I said I didn't want beer and about 2-3 grad students offered to buy me a coke. One ordered one and gave it to me. I was so happy about that. They included me. My unspoken excuse was that I was driving home later. I was standing about watching these people play shuffle board, and a P-chem grad student from France asked me, "So what church do you go to?" (???) I admit. This was the last question I ever expected having just walked into a bar. I told him and we had a nice conversation about church. I asked him how he knew to ask me that. He said, well, he'd seen me pray before I ate, so he figured I was a Christian. He said three other Christians had come to Emory as grad students last year.
I asked him my France question. I'd heard from others that France did not have oreos or peanut butter. So, I asked him if that were true. He chuckled and said, yes, it was, but France had a lot better things. That struck me as hilarious. Of course, he's right about that. It wasn't really a great loss. He said their pastries and pasta was great. He missed French food.
At the bar, I talked a long time to Rolando, the grad student from Dr. Lynn's lab and asked him everything I could think of. It was kind of hard to refocus after talking to Dr. Salaita, but everything started flowing again and I got a lot of good things answered. I met some of the other prospective students and got their emails. Then I went home around 10:45 p.m. A grad student drove four of us back.
That's it. I know right? FINALLY! Well, now you know more than you could ever hope to ever want to know and probably didn't. Consider the length of this note to be proportional to my excitement about Emory.