Friday, December 19, 2008


Today we are having the first real snow storm of the season here in Boston. Predicted to start at 10am the snow actually came around 1pm. For about 3 hours now strong winds have been blowing snow past my window, completely eliminating visibility of downtown Boston. Although I am looking forward to walking home in the snow, seeing as how I have warm waterproof boots and a long down jacket with a great hood, I think I will wait until the winds subsides a little before venturing out into the cold.

Nights like this, I like to curl up with a good book (currently reading Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami) or watch a feel-good type of movie. I guess I'll have to see if the video rental place is still open when I make it back to Somerville. With only a week 'tll Christmas I find myself in a state of restless excitement. I am eagerly and somewhat impatiently looking forward to the coming vacation while at the same time thinking of all the things I still need to finish before I leave. For tonight, though, I think I'll just relax with a movie/book (once I make it home through the snow!)


Wednesday, December 10, 2008


One thing that I constantly have to work on is staying present and existing in each moment. It's very natural for me to get lost in thoughts or daydreams; sometimes it's a very convenient escape from dealing with what is in front of me. So to get anything done, I constantly have to remind myself to be present. It is the same when waiting for something to happen. Life is punctuated by a series of pre-planned events: deadlines, vacations, special occasions. It is easy and natural to become absorbed in planning for and anticipating these events.
For me, I find that I can become so absorbed with future events that I lose sight of the present, what's going on here and now. Life doesn't stop in between events, I know that, but I often manage to forget. The worst is when the expected doesn't happen. I feel lost. What should I do? go on as if nothing was supposed to happen? try to figure out what prevented events from happening as planned? I usually end up obsessing over such things and find myself in a state of suspended animation: unable to accomplish anything until the issue is resolved, or the day ends. This is A WASTE OF TIME. I am constantly frustrated with my self for being this way. Therefore a long (long!) distance relationship with a man who lives in a place with a fourteen hour time difference often leaves me exhausted and frustrated. I expect to talk with him, at a certain time, but if he is not answering, I find myself at a loss. Is he just busy? Is he going to become available very soon? Should I just wait until we can talk? Sadly, I'll admit that I do wait and the result is that I feel anxious and frustrated. I know its all in my head and that it will be fine when we actually do get to talk; I just really don't like waiting!


Monday, November 24, 2008


I'm the kind of person that is very prone to stress. I think too much. I anticipate trouble, so if I have a deadline, or really any kind of upcoming event (travel, exam, dentist appointment) I tend to get stressed out.

The thing is I know that I'll be doing that, but so far I haven't figured out a way to neutralize the stress. The stress often makes me feel trapped and I end up not preparing as well as I could, because I waste a good amount of time being paralyzed by stress. Why is this relevant? Next week I have a meeting with my thesis advisory committee. Basically it is a group of three faculty members that I meet with periodically and they advise me on how to proceed in my research. This is really for my benefit, but I always get stressed out thinking that I should have done more, and that now is really not a good time to have this meeting. However, afterwards, I always find these meetings helpful. I just wish I didn't stress out as much before hand and prepared better. I find that when I feel stress, I suddenly realize all the things I'm interested in/rather be doing other than the work that is causing the stress. In addition, I have a midterm in the Japanese class I'm taking on the same day! I don't think I'll have a very relaxing Thanksgiving, but on the plus side, it will all be over with in just over a week :)


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rest in Peace, Michael Crichton

This morning starts with sad news. Author Michael Crichton has died of cancer at age 66. (link)

Michael Crichton is the author of one of my favorite books, Jurassic Park. Although obviously fiction, this book showed me the potential of science and is one of the reasons I became interested in genetics.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

I came to the US when I was ten years old. Up until that point I have never heard of Halloween, as we didn't have this holiday in Russia. Even having lived in the US for a few months I had no idea what this holiday was all about, so when our school organized a Halloween festival, I just thought it was something to do with fall and harvest. My whole family went to this festival, and it was here that I first encountered a haunted house. The school had set up the trailer normally serving the function of a gym, as a haunted house. I asked my dad what a haunted house was, he didn't really know and translated it as a 'hunter's house'. Envisioning it to be like a comfortable log cabin with moose heads and a fireplace, my sister (13) and my brother (4) ventured inside the 'hunter's house'. My sister was in the front, carrying my brother, and I followed behind. Inside it was dim with spooky sounds, fake blood, severed limbs, and cobwebs. We were confused, but we saw that it was organized like a winding corridor, so we moved forward. The first time someone dressed in a costume jumped out at us I shut my eyes and started screaming. My brother started screaming too. My sister kept moving forward, but pretty soon we were all screaming 'we want to get out of here' in Russian. We didn't know why people were trying to scare us, we just wanted to get out. I didn't open my eyes until we were outside. Once we got out we started crying and it took some time for us to calm down. I don't think we stayed at the festival much longer after that. So my first Halloween was traumatic. We didn't know about trick-or-treating at the time so we didn't even get candy that first year. In subsequent years I grew to like Halloween. It was fun to make costumes and go around asking for candy. I think I still went trick-or-treating in highschool figuring I missed out all those years I was in Russia. Now I associate Halloween with Ray Bradbury books. He is my favorite author, and he is actually the first author whose books I read in English on my own. The way he writes you could almost see, smell and hear the events he is describing. Something wicked this way comes. is a great Halloween read. Another favorite is From the Dust Returned So tonight I won't be going trick-or-treating, and I will probably get home too late to pass out candy. But I'll probably end my day with Ray Bradbury.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Actions have consequences

This seems fairly obvious. If you leave home late you will be late to class. If you make an inquiry you will receive and answer. If you take a step forward you will see what is around the corner; conversely if you take no action you will remain stationary.
Sometimes the consequences are predicted and expected, other times they cause surprise. Sometimes the acticipation of a certain outcome prevents action or conversely the desire for a certain outcome drives action, but in both cases the outcome is not guaranteed to be as expected and sometimes leads to surprising and unexpected revelations. There are also those times when you do something just to make anything happen, because inaction can no longer be tolerated.


Monday, October 20, 2008

A lovesickness gene? and find out how toxic your make up is

Lovesick voles as a model for the human condition? What's more the result of this research seems to be a drug to cure the pain of separation. Read the story here.

Also, I read about an interesting resource called Skin Deep. It is a searchable database containing information of the safety of ingredients in various beauty products, from shampoos to lipstick. It is interesting to find out all the potential hazards that the impossible-to-pronounce ingredients of the bottles pose to my health, but a criticism that I have of this database is that is doesn't mention what doses elicit the harmful effects described.



Strength to me has for a long time been equated with self-sufficiency. Strong people get things done and don't ask for help. Too long I have thought this way. I always aspired to be a strong person and so did not develop a habit of asking for help. Luckily, over the past few years I have begun to realize that asking for help does not make one weak. Some things are just not feasible without assistance. In many cases the outcome of just about any project can be improved with another's input, even if that input is just a suggestion not a physical action. When a person is locked into their own perspective of things they are limited by the scope of their own knowledge and experience. Another person's input into the situation adds a different perspective and the combination of perspectives can bring to light a solution or idea that would not be considered otherwise.

I shake by head in disbelief as I write this; disbelief at being the one to say such things. As soon as (and for many years after) I read Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" in high school I was in love with the idea of individualism. In her world the only limitation to a person's potential was their own lack of motivation and effort. An individual was enough to achieve anything of their own choosing. It took me many years to realize that this kind of blind arrogance is actually detrimental. Not utilizing other people's knowledge, experience and capabilities may give you a sense of satisfaction at having achieved something all on your own, but it also prevents you from achieving something greater than what you alone are capable of. So I learned that asking for help is not weakness, in most cases its just plain smart. Having said that, after many years of not asking for help it is hard to break the habit. Being a smart, strong and capable person I often choose to struggle rather than ask for help. And needless to say, sometimes end up wasting a lot of time trying to complete, learn, figure out, solve or otherwise accomplish something which would be much more speedy with someone else's help. Sometimes I just need a reminder. So today I got one: I have a cold and feel so weak that its pathetic. I could barely climb the subway steps on my way to class this morning. But feeling this way made me remember that asking for help is OK sometimes. So I finally got around to posting a question on a online forum, a question that's been bugging me for some time and to which I could not find a satisfactory answer. Lo and behold people replied to my question! I don't know why, but I'm genuinely surprised at the kindness of people and their willingness to be helpful; it makes me happy. So today I don't mind being weak, because it helped me to let go of my attachment to self-sufficiency, and thus lead me to the answer to my question.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Expandable Posts

Today I finally learned how to make posts expandable in Blogger, thanks to Ramani of Hackosphere. Check out his description of the hack here.


of fish and chicken...

The previous title of my blog come from the research I do.  I am a graduate student of biology, in my seventh (and hopefully, last) year of school.  The specific branch of biology I toil away in is developmental biology, which is basically trying to understand how the embryo develops the way it does.  When I began my research the organism I studied was chicken.  About a year ago I had to transfer to a new lab, and I started to work with zebrafish as well.  The first part of last year I was trying to salvage my seriously badly planned chicken project, and for the past 6-8 months I've worked on a new project with zebrafish, which so far has been going more smoothly (tphew, tphew, tphew, knock on wood) than the chicken project ever did.  Recently I've been taking steps to revive and salvage the chicken project, as I hope to include it as a chapter in my thesis.

Ah, yes the thesis.  For years I could not visualize my project coming to a conclusion and myself as having finished my PHD.  However, I am in my seventh year, and the fact that I'm still in school is starting to hit home.  I am excited at the prospect of having a real job.  So I need to get myself together and finish this thing.  Is it possible?  I think so.  It will take a lot of work on my part, but I believe I can do it.  What do I need to finish?  Well, first I need to get a substantial amount of results.  Next I would need to get 'my box checked' or in other words get approval from my dissertation advisory committee to go ahead and start writing.  Next there is a lot of paperwork, a lot of writing, a lot of scheduling and finding examination committee members and of course the defense itself.  Now for the deadlines: in order for me to get a June degree I need to have my defense by May 8th.  I need to submit the thesis to the committee two weeks in advance; it would take 4-6 weeks to write (haha super optimistic here) so I need to have my experiments finished by february and to have my box checked by then as well.  I will be having a dissertation advisory committee meeting in the beginning of December, about six weeks from now.  At this meeting I hope to convince my committee that I'm ready for the box checking. To have a case for this I need at the very least a thesis outline and a bunch of data figures and even better a draft of a paper (or two).  

I know this is a really ambitious plan, but I believe I can do it.  I have been in grad school long enough and the sooner I finish the sooner I can move to Japan and get a real job and be with my (future) hubby.....(dreamy sighing)
Back to reality:  I need a plan and I need to stick to this plan in order for any of this to work out.  I think I'm appropriately motivated now to start making a plan.  Stay tuned! 


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Theme of the Day

I noticed long ago that my days have a theme to them.  It's hard to explain where the theme comes from, but I find that my thoughts all link to some central idea each day.  I thought it would be fun to record these, since usually I don't remember what the theme was a few days later.Today it is: Desire.  Mood can be influenced by internal factors (the way you think can lift your mood or sink it) or external (events, experiences, interactions with people, things that alter your internal chemistry all can have their effects on mood)  Where does desire come from?  It seems to be internal: I feel it like a strong pull originating somewhere in my gut and giving me tunnel vision in regards to anything that doesn't center around the object of my desire.  A significant portion of my metal faculties become preoccupied with building plans and fantasies.  And yet the object of desire is (almost) always external. It is an idea, person or thing that captures your attention and awakens desire. Once awoken, desire begs to be fulfilled it won't let your mind rest, even if you relegate it to a little corner, until the desire is fulfilled. Another interesting aspect of desire is that the outcome of fulfillment is not always the same as you imagined, but even so, you find yourself transformed in some way.


Friday, August 1, 2008

Lessons I learned this week

1.  I have come to an incredibly liberating conclusion.  About 50% of all experiments are not going to work.  Maybe the technique is flawed, maybe there is something wrong with the reagents, maybe there is human error; for whatever reason, it just isn't going to work.  This is nothing to get depressed about.  There are plenty more experiments to do.  Most of the time these dead experiments don't even deserve trouble-shooting: just drop it and move on; try something else.  Hey, there's a 50% chance it'll work!

2.  The more work you do the more work there is to be done.  This can be good and bad.  Good because you always stay busy, keep momentum going, and increase your chances of success.  Bad because you work longer and longer hours, feel stressed that you will forget to do something, feel pressure to get/stay organized, feel overwhelmed.  Then again its good because you quit obsessing about small details and just get stuff done, actually start get organized, figure out ways to be more efficient.  All this is great until you realize that its 9:30pm on Friday evening and you are still at work...and are planning your day at work tomorrow.

3.  Is there a 3..?  Oh yes: I love writing!  I keep forgetting that... 


Thursday, July 17, 2008

career advice and the dangers of yoga

Harvard Career Services

Yoga is great. It helps you relax, get focused, become strong and flexible. However it should not be taken lightly. Like any excersise it takes time to build up strength, insurance and flexibility needed for certain poses and even experienced practitioners need to consider this when they haven't practiced for awhile. Not listening to your body and trying to force something to happen will usually lead to injury. Read more here: When yoga harms


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The space between the beats

The truth is that there is lots of time in the day.  It just so happens that I spend most of it thinking about doing things instead of actually doing them.  So it often happens that at the end of the day I look back and think "I haven't done anything!"  although my head is spinning with the minute details and delicate nuances of the seemingly immense tasks that lay before me, in need of completion.  

When I play the cello along with the metronome, at first, it seems that the beats come too fast, my fingers struggle to keep up and my mind can only focus on trying to hit the right notes; dynamics and other musical attributes are ignored.  However, as my fingers gain familiarity with the melody, the mind focuses less on the notes and starts to think about the other stuff that is going on, and then I notice that there actually is a lot of space between the beats, enough time to focus on the sound that I'm making and to remember instructions my teacher has given me "louder here, softer here, away from the finger board, faster bow, less pressure".  I suddenly remember that I'm playing music, I relax and try to see the whole piece as it flows from my bow.  I focus less on each note, but instead on whole phrases; I see the piece as a whole and visualize where it is heading.  I see the big picture, in other words, and that helps me to keep focused and to keep going, even if I make a mistake (or a few) along the way.
I'm starting to realize that in research (perhaps any project) the same principle applies.  I tend to focus on small details of experiments: anticipating things that might go wrong, thinking about the appropriate controls and whether I have access to all the right materials and equipment... soon I am overwhelmed and intimidated by the experiments I'm planning.  For this reason, often my experiments don't make it out of the planning stage; I hesitate to try experiments for fear that they will not work for some reason I haven't anticipated.  I lose sight of the overall goal, which is really just to try things and see what happens, and my research comes to a grinding halt.  I feel lost and it takes me awhile (and usually involves some sort of external stimulus) before I can start gaining momentum again.  Its frustrating, because I know I do this, but I can't help it because thinking seems like a practical thing to do, and it feels so comfortable and familiar that it isn't long before I get lost it it again.  The solution seems simple: less thinking, more doing.  But much like losing weight or quitting a bad habit it is much easier said than done.  When I've been working on a project that hasn't been working for several years, it is very difficult to keep seeing the big picture.  I feel that the beats are racing past me faster than I can count and I'm struggling just to hit any note, to make any progress, to accomplish any small thing. What I need is to instill more discipline in my daily life, one that demands constant productive activity and generates enough momentum that the occasional thinking spell will only slow me down, not totally immobilize me.  How do I achieve such discipline?  I guess I'll go think about that...


Monday, May 5, 2008

Why put it off when you can do it now?

Really, why?  What is stopping you?  I am slowly discovering that I am a closet perfectionist and that I use that as an excuse for not to getting things done.  "I'll do it later when I have more time, and can do it properly" - I say to myself.  But "later" just brings more stuff that needs to be done and the things that need to be done get piled up in the inbox, on  to-do lists, and as nagging reminders inside my head.  The paradox is that actually doing something and eliminating it from the to-do list feels really good, so why don't I do it more often?  I'm not sure.  Tonight I finished going through my inbox and creating a filing system, which has been on my mind for over four months.  As a side note - label makers make filing so much more fun .  I also cleaned the fish tank after two months of thinking about it.  The water was burning my hand as I was suctioning it off; I have no idea how Jock and Smitty are still alive.  Next on the agenda?  Finish phd.  It might require a bit more time than cleaning the fish tank, but it is definitely going to happen within the next year.  I've set a goal to defend before my 28th birthday. It will be my present to myself; hopefully that is motivation enough.  The more I think about my future and what career I want, the more I think that a life as a bench scientist or in academia is not for me.  I love editing -  I want to be an editor.  It feels good to say that to myself.  Now I just have to figure out a way to make it happen...


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A thought and a memory

Today is Lenin's birthday.  Growing up in Russia (then USSR) Lenin's birthday was the day everyone gathered outside to clean up the neighborhood: picked up trash, painted benches and planted flowers.  To be more accurate this didn't always happen exactly on Lenin's birthday, but on a Saturday close to it, and was called Subbotnik.  I always liked this day because I liked seeing people come together and do something for mutual benefit. I had no idea then, that elsewhere this day was called Earth day and in celebration of which people did very similar things.  Nowadays Lenin's birthday is no longer celebrated, but luckily Earth day related activities that raise awareness about environmental issues and ways to resolve them, are becoming more popular on an international level.

Learn more about Subbotnik


Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Beginner Blogger's dilemma

I started a blog for several reasons. Mainly because I get many ideas about interesting topics that I want to write about/record/reflect upon and I felt ready to move out of the private confines of a diary/my HD into the public forum of the internet.  However, I started this blog almost three weeks ago and I've only made one post.  Meanwhile the list of blog ideas keeps piling up in a folder I carry with me to and from work and add to on an almost daily basis.  What then, is the obstacle that prevents the materialization of my ideas on the world wide web?  It is what I imagine to be the beginner blogger's dilemma: the desire to publish perfectly polished posts and and  lack the time to get them past draft stage. I have ideas in roughly written paragraphs, but not very much time to revise and edit them to perfection prior to public exposure.  And so they sit in my folder and on my HD waiting for the day when I'll have more time to shape them up.  However I get the feeling that if I keep waiting for perfection, these posts will never see the light, and this blog will get stuck in one-entry-maybe-once-a-month mode.  Which is counterproductive to say the least.  And so I've decided today that I'm going to post my ideas as they come, maybe even daily, in whatever form they happen to be in.

This week I have been thinking a lot about a career in editing.  I love editing, more than writing even.  So why am I struggling through my 6th year of grad school instead of working?  Because I never seriously considered making a career as an editor.  I might complain about grad school sometimes, but I am glad that I embarked on this path because although I have no publications to my name I feel like I figured out who I was during my time in grad school, and maybe that is more important. Especially since I don't think I will pursue basic research as a career upon completion of my PHD.  And so Editing!  How does one get a job as an editor, what should I be doing in the meantime to gain relevant experience?  Stay tuned for exciting developments as I explore this new path towards my future...


Sunday, April 6, 2008

What is the measure of fluency in a foreign language?

When I moved with my family to the US at the age of 10 I did not speak English.  It would be inaccurate to say that I didn't know English because I studied it for almost two years in school in Russia and knew some words and expressions.  However this was the first time I had to speak English with native speakers.  Having to live in South Carolina added an another challenge, though I was not aware of it at the time.

I remember asking my dad to translate songs that were playing on the radio in the car.  Everytime he would listen for a few seconds and then answer - its about love.  I thought it was strange that all songs would be about the same thing and decided that he was just being lazy and didn't want to explain what they were really about.  So it became my goal to understand the words in songs.  

My sister and I would record songs from cartoons and Disney movies by holding a tape player set to record up to the TV speaker and then listen to these songs repeatedly to figure out the words.  Of course we wanted to be able to sing along, and we did, with the words we thought be heard.  Nowadays I always find it amusing when I hear some of these songs and realize that we were way off in some parts, although the words we used did make sense in the context of the song. It was a couple of years before I could understand the songs on the radio.

For a long time I considered that fluency in a language is reached when words in songs could be freely understood. Why am I rambling about this? Because right now I am learning Japanese. Well, I have only just begun, and I am wondering how long it will take me to become fluent. I became interested in the language after getting somewhat addicted to anime. I love listening to Japanese speech; it sounds so lovely and resonant.

"Learning a foreign language as an adult is difficult." People say this to me all the time. However I have enough arrogance, or self-confidence in my brain power, not to get discouraged. Even when I am faced with the overwhelming reality of the amount of information that needs to be assimilated in order to achieve any kind of respectable fluency of speech and proficiency in reading/writing. I look forward to the day when I can sing along to the anime opening and closing theme songs!

Curious about anime? Check out!


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

~It starts with a narrative...~

On this day, seventeen years ago my mom, sister, brother and I traveled from Moscow, Russia to join my father, already living in the US.  I was almost ten.  I remember being excited to see a new foreign land, especially one which received so much negative propaganda in Russia, and to see my father again, after a two year separation.  I was also apprehensive about both because I wasn't sure what to expect.
When I tell people that I've lived in the US for seventeen years, they usually say "Oh, you grew up here, you probably don't remember much of Russia"  That's not true.  As far as I'm concerned a lot of my "growing up" happened in Russia, and I remember many things.  Our trip over, although patchy and somewhat faded is still firmly imprinted in my mind.

I remember getting up at two in the morning to get to the airport, sleepily waiting for hours in a crowded waiting area, waiting in the long customs line with anxious anticipation, watching as the customs officer told my mom to unpack our suitcase for inspection, finally getting on the plane (my first time).  The plane seemed so huge with two isles and many, many seats, the fight was long and my mother got upset when my brother (three and a half at the time) threw up on his new clothes.  I remember finally getting to NY, not understanding what people were saying to us, having the oranges we got on the plane get taken away in customs.  Worrying that I wouldn't recognize my father, and the relief when I did; surprise at how different yet familiar he looked. Traveling through NYC by subway, by taxi, looking out the taxi window and being in awe of the fact that stores were filled with goods; a sharp contrast to the barren wasteland found at that time in russian stores.  We met up with my dad's friend who took us to his house for the night.  Both he and his wive were very kind, but I remember my dad having to translate what they said to us.  They gave my brother a plastic dinosaur, which I immediately wanted.  I tried for years afterward to get it from him, he finally gave it to me a few years back, I still have it somewhere at my parents house.  In the morning they fed us breakfast.  I don't remember everything, but I remember that there was bacon.  It was the first time I ate such food, I remember liking the salty crunchy taste.  I remember the long drive to South Carolina.

I love to write. There are thoughts twirling around my head always and setting them down on paper lessens the chaos inside my head.  Sometimes it is even interesting to read these thoughts afterwards, as words flow out in surprising combinations.  It is particularly satisfying when subsequent re-reading makes me think "Wow, I wrote that?"  Today I can't seem to get started with work.  My mind drifts to the past, recounting the journey I made to get to where I am today and wondering how things will progress in the future.  Recent events in my life made me remember my love for writing.  Increasingly, I feel dissatisfied with the ambiguity that is inherent in scientific research.  I can't even get excited about the results of my own experiments.  I keep thinking that the life of a bench scientist is not for me.  My ideal career would be in scientific editing, but what is comes down to is that I've spent many years doing research and not much time writing in any kind of organized way.  I need to do something now.  Write more, maybe get published.  I need to know that I can write something that other people want to read and that they can trust me to edit their work.  Now is the time to stop thinking (something I do way too much of) and start doing.  This blog is the first step in an attempt to turn my passion into something tangible and present it to the world.  Today, 17 years later, another journey begins.