New Blooms

I’ve decided spring in Chicago is way more enjoyable than winter in Chicago. Then again, spring anywhere is probably more enjoyable than the cold and wet calamities of winter. I appreciate winter (and by extension snow) for the first few weeks and when it suits my desire to cross country ski, but beyond that… let’s just say I’m more than okay with today being April 29 and not January 29.

My phone’s photo gallery has quickly been filling up with springtime views of blooming flowers down Michigan Ave, reading along the lakeshore, and various coffee shops I couldn’t help but try. I seem to have developed this tendency to use my weekends to explore some of the countless Chicago neighborhoods resulting in even MORE photographs being added to the already substantial collection.

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Then again, today would be Saturday and I have zero plans or desire to leave my cozy apartment. The gloomy looking skies and the “consistent soaking rain that will persist throughout the afternoon and into the evening” forecast (the weatherman’s words, not mine) begs for a more subdued kind of day.

People have asked what I do, as a wheeler, when it rains. I mean, obviously I can’t really hold an umbrella and push. My answer: push really fast. I’m sure there’s some sort of dorky umbrella holder attachment for a chair, but I’m convinced that it would be more
hassle than it’s worth and I’d look like a complete moron since I would likely manage to unknowingly detach it and get it stuck in my wheels or goodness knows what else.

IMG_4114One of my cousin’s asked what I did with the rain living it such a pedestrian friendly city with my own pedestrian escapades and upon hearing my answer took it upon himself to help and found the attractive solution seen on the left (Note: enthusiastic model not included with purchase). Maybe “help” is a poor choice of words…

Long story short, I simply try to minimize my rain time or just push fast. Sure, I’ll undoubtedly get stopped at various crosswalks waiting for lights to change, but sometimes sweet little old ladies share their umbrellas with me and we have a lovely conversation. Literally – that happened and it made my day. So I manage – after all, as my Mom says, “You won’t melt” and thus far, she’s been right. Thanks Mom.

Alright, so moving past my weekend adventures to the “Sam-you’re-actually-in-Chicago-to-learn-things” part of life. I’ve given a quick and dirty synopsis of my program and training in the past, but in a lightning review, I’m currently in the phase where I rotate in different labs to (hopefully) figure out where I ultimately want to do my PhD when the time comes.

I recently finished my first lab rotation and will start in my second lab on Monday. Woah. That’s pretty crazy to think about – I’ve already “checked a box” in my training. Sure, it’s a teeny tiny box of simply figuring out if one lab’s culture and the work being done there is something I enjoy and am interested in, but still, a box is a box. And you know, I enjoyed it a ton. I loved the people I got to meet, the techniques I was introduced to, and the questions that were being asked.

At the same time, it was pretty overwhelming. I’ve come to realize that I’m basically learning an entirely new language. There were moments I know people were speaking English as they talked about their projects and their future experiments, but did I actually understand everything to the point that I could have summarized what was just said? Yea, not so much. Then again, there were also concepts I had never heard of before my rotation and I feel as though I could now pretty confidently explain them to someone else. You win some, you lose some, but when you start in a lab I think “lose some” tends to predominate most experiences. Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just how it goes.

One of the nice and simultaneously really strange thing about lab rotations — there aren’t many expectations. Show up. Be involved. Get a feel for the lab. Learn something. Yea, that pretty much covers it and it’s a bit disconcerting. I’m a goal orientated person and I like to do things, measurable things that I can look back at and go, “yep, good work Sam” or “that was bad Sam, you best work on that.” It’s a bit of a strange situation when one’s main focus is just “taking it all in” while hopefully learning something you can use later, but its probably for the best. No, it is for the best.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like to enter into an environment where everyone appears to be confident and know what they’re doing while you’re over there trying to translate the couple of words someone just said. I would imagine some of that is merely appearance and maybe people don’t actually feel as confident as they look, but still, could of fooled me.

It’s awfully humbling to find yourself at the bottom of the pile so to speak, surrounded by geniuses and buried underneath the endless literature, protocols, and knowledge to acquire. At the same time, the bottom of the pile can also be a really exciting place. There are a lot of unknowns and the whole point of you being in that pile in the first place is to figure some of them out.

I guess like anything, it’s a matter of perspective.

So yes, it’s nice that there aren’t a lot of expectations… it’s a steep learning curve. It’s a learning curve that you finally start to get comfortable climbing in one lab and just like that you’re done with that rotation and you have to start ALL OVER in a new lab. Sure, you take some of that knowledge with you but looking around, you realize you’re in a whole new pile with more new stuff to figure out.

I am excited for Monday and the new lab, just like I’m excited for the rain to stop.
I’m excited to again become acquainted with that humbling position of realizing just how much I have to learn.

So here’s to new blooms, new adventures, and new knowledge 🙂

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One thought on “New Blooms

  1. Nancy Jahn says:

    Congratulations, Sam on completing the first lab rotation. Can only imagine the knowledge you will absorb as you continue. God’s blessings as you continue your path to your PhD. Was great seeing you at Easter.

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