This past weekend members of PMCB, the graduate program in molecular and cellular biosciences, proved once again that scientists CAN party as we welcomed the new first year class at our annual PMCB Retreat. For us, the new second years, it was an excuse to catch up and see each other after a long summer of Comprehensive exams and research. We also might have imparted some upperclassmen advice to the new firsties. Maybe.
Graduate school is hard. Really hard. The first year is killer. Not insurmountable, but the threat of lethality hangs in the air like the stale smell of kimchi you threw away three days ago. Physically the kimchi is gone, but the fermentation smell is still there. In a program like PMCB, a small community where everyone talks and rumor mills make the rounds, you have to navigate the true from the false, the real from the fake, while dealing with general feelings of inadequacy and dread. You have to deal with classmates coming up to your face, telling you they heard you failed an exam, or being told there’s a rumor that that PI you liked so much, he really doesn’t have founding, or finding out during an exam that when the lecturer said you didn’t need to know how to derive Michaelis-Menten, he really meant you did. These things happen. Have happened. Will happen. So develop a thick skin now, before the bullets and knives start flying. This year is like going to war, so prepare yourselves accordingly.
But after the fir settles and you hit your groove, for some it takes longer than others, the fun we have here is like nothing else. I took a class this summer, Cell 620 Model Systems, that was simply amazing. In two weeks, we received lectures and practical lab experience with 10 model systems, including pig, xenopus, c. elegans, non-human primates, ferret, zebra fish, yeast, and chick embryo. It was perhaps the most enlightening, most education, most practical class I have taken at OHSU. And it was FUN. We windowed eggs, we got to touch the still-beating heart of a pig, and observed practical non-human primate work. As one of my classmates said, we got to hold life in our hands, understand its limits, and realize our own.
This place, gradate school, is where we are trained to develop our scientific sense. For some, it will be easy. For others, buckle up now because it is going to be a roller coaster. But there will be fun. You just have to work a little, or a lot, to find it.