Monday, August 27, 2012


I survived my first week--which was orientation. This was a basic test of my ability to wake up and get down to the Graduate Center in a timely fashion.

The CUNY Graduate Center on Fifth Ave.
On Tuesday of "Orientation Week", I had my first session when I met with all of the incoming biology Ph.D. students. In a group of 28, a lot of the students were in the Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology (MCD) track. While I understand the appeal of molecular biology, the MCD track (which sounds like it's a standard molecular track) is very unappealing to me because the students are in a giant, impersonal horde. MCD students will eventually complete three different lab rotations (thus testing out three different labs). I really don't understand this concept, because when I was looking to apply to different schools, I was looking to get into specific labs that studied coral reefs, etc. Why would you want to work in a lab for 5-7 years that you didn't already intimately know? However, I guess it's just a different mindset for a different side of biology study. For instance, when I was doing research at Clark University, I didn't particularly care at the start what I did, I just wanted the experience and training. I knew I wanted to do something related to Marine Biology, so the projects that were handed to me were fine by me. There are also Neuroscience (NS) and Plant Sciences (PS) tracks in the biology program, which have a handful of students this year.

Nonetheless, I'm much happier in my Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior (EEB) track. We're the second largest group with eight total students. EEB students complete just two rotations (one each semester), and it's expected you'll end up with the lab you had in mind when you applied to CUNY. When applying to Ph.D. programs, students usually seek out specific labs and ask if there is room in their lab. Once accepted, students pursue a project in that lab. This is the route I've always planned on taking, and even though things have the potential to not work out that well due to funding eventually coming from the campus I work with (i.e. money no longer coming directly from the Graduate Center) and other stuff that I decided to tune out because... I don't really care to work in a lab that's not exactly what I want to work with. That sounds selfish, but if I'm going to spend 5-7 years on a project that will consume my heart and soul then it should be a project I love (and for a lab that I enjoy).

During this orientation with the other biology students, we were advised on the classes we should take. By the end of spring semester, we need to take a course that represents one of the four core areas of the EEB track: behavior, evolution, ecology, and systematics. Unfortunately, it looks like I'll only knock off one of those courses this semester with a standard evolution course, in addition to a population/ecological genomics course (which doesn't fulfill the ecology requirement). However, in addition to the behavior and systematic courses that are offered in the spring, I will take a community ecology course that sounds much more up my alley to fulfill my ecology needs. While a much busier spring semester seems daunting to me, I'd much rather have a more open fall semester. This will allow me to 1) become more acquainted to the city first, 2) become more comfortable with a new school, and 3) get started in a new lab and become acquainted there too. Additionally, we all know the weather in the fall is way better than the weather in the spring (for the most part), and I'm more partial to fall weather. So, I'll load it up in the spring when it's dark and cold.

One of four different orientation sessions I went to >_>.
On Wednesday, I went to a Human Resources orientation to pass in my paperwork so I can get paid as a student. (I have a scholarship as a graduate student in addition to what will become my paid teaching time.) This orientation was called and advertised as a "One Stop" to have all of my questions answered and to pass in/file my paperwork. I envisioned a one-on-one 10-minute meeting with an employee to make sure my paperwork was all right and to answer any questions I had. Turns out this was also an "orientation" where we sat through a lecture that was completely unnecessary. While this "One Stop" event was a good idea, it was executed really poorly and ended up being a bit of a drag. But I walked away with all of my paperwork submitted, an advance on my "salary", and my student I.D. (oh man, I got a sweet picture too).

On Thursday, I finally met my potential adviser, Dr. Gruber. He's like the James Cameron of biology. Dr. Gruber is really into high tech cameras and works to modify them in order to perform under water. He's working on a submersible robot that will be able to help him study fluorescent proteins of coral reefs. I saw the lab and the building he works in at Baruch College, which isn't too far from the Graduate Center. It seems like it could be a fun set up. Dr. Gruber gave me a plethora of scientific reading to do on calcification, which is likely to be way out of my league, but something that really interests me. I hope to meet with him again next week.

To wrap up the week, I had a "science" orientation where we met some additional faculty and had a poster session representing biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and physics. Unfortunately, the poster session was really loud (louder than any poster session I've ever attended) and kind of a waste of my time. While I appreciate the idea, it was too loud to hear anyone and too crowded. But I guess that's how poster sessions are supposed to be. Oh yeah, and this was after some dude shot up another dude just across the street from the Graduate Center--but more on that below.

A quiet corridor in the Conservatory Garden.
During the week I did venture out to Central Park for a little bit. I need to visit a wider sampling of the NYC parks and find some favorite spots. This week, I found the Conservatory Garden within Central Park, which is a spot that's close to home and is particularly tranquil.
A view in the very north eastern corner of Central Park.
The Graduate Center is a stone throw away
from the Empire State Building.
Because I'm new to the city, I still get lost really easily. I'm learning to navigate my way around by remembering even streets run east, odd streets run west, and odd avenues run north while even avenues run south. There are some exceptions, (like 34th below) which run both ways. Through in some named avenues (Lexington, Madison & Park, etc.) and it can be confusing to a new New Yorker where you are exactly.

The scene outside the Graduate Center at 5:00 that afternoon.
The 33rd St. stop on the 6 train is only two blocks from the Graduate Center on 34th & 5th, but I was still getting disoriented by the subway exit I took to get onto the street. Looking up at the high rises allowed me to orient myself however, as the Empire State Building is kitty corner to the Graduate Center (I have since figured out which subway exit is the fastest for me to take). So, this made things really interesting when a gunman shot a former co-worker and was gunned down in a hail of bullets from NYPD on the street outside of the Empire State Building.

Early that week, I was going into the Graduate Center between 9:00 and 10:00 for my various events. The shooting happened to occur at approximately 9:00 on a day that I wasn't due to the Graduate Center until 2:00. In fact, I was sleeping in when the shooting went down. Instead of being productive, I spent that morning following the story and trying to keep up with the sporadic posts from the Graduate Center regarding my orientation event scheduled for that afternoon. With my event still on, I went in as planned. When I got there, the corner was covered with cops and news teams. A very interesting sight to see, even though it was there because of a tragedy.
On the corner of 34th & 5th.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Slowly discovering New York City & preparing for student orientation

Second Ave (...I think). One of my favorite
things about cities on a grid is being able to see
straight shots down the city streets.
Very slowly, I'm starting to come out of my shell and explore New York City.

Last weekend my girlfriend and I went out with our friends from Clark University (our alma mater) again for some dinner and Mean Girls Trivia at a bar. Our friend Maxie, who is from a NYC commuter town, knows the area really well, so she was able to find us a good, cheap dinner during happy hour before we were due to go to a bar for trivia. Apparently we got to the bar early enough for 2-for-1 drinks which made the deal even sweeter. (By the way, I swear I'm not a big drinker even though I've brought up cheap alcohol twice in this short paragraph.)

Unfortunately, I've only seen Mean Girls twice (but we watched it the night before trivia obviously), so I wasn't much help at trivia. However, I am proud to say I was correct on a few questions we got wrong because we didn't go with my answer. We finished at the middle of the pack and had a good time.

Half of us went to another bar after said goodnight to the other half, and I'm really glad we did. Because we found THIS:
Um, best interactive advertisement EVER.
Left to right: take your picture with Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and email it
to yourself; a portrait of How I Met Your Mother that makes NPH's forehead
look bigger than it already is (his forehead is a source of self-consciousness); and an
interactive pinball machine game! Go touch screen pinball go!
Our friend Ryan dominating at touch screen pinball, obviously.

Yours truly dominating (cheers to Ryan for the picture!).

Me and the lady frannn with some awesome people.
Suit up!
(This is my current Facebook profile picture and it's awesome
 because NPH is in the foreground!)
We saw this ridiculous sunset on the way home the other night.
Overall, things have been really quiet with little adventuring. It's kinda hard to be motivated to travel around the city when it's so hot out (consistently in the mid to high 80's). I know I'll make up for it this fall when the temperatures are more decent and I'm more excited for the beautiful fall weather. Fall is by far my favorite time of year, and I'm determined to make it the best fall I've had in years. Anyway, with a quiet few weeks in the city, I've mostly been venturing out to to grocery shopping or something like that. The other night we saw this awesome sunset after picking up a few things. On a separate venture to acquire groceries, we tried the Trader Joe's down by Union Square. This ended up being quite the experience. Never have I ever been in such a packed little store. It was our fault really, for going in on a weekend day (something we don't do again). It was really overwhelming, but it reminded me this is what city life is going to be like: sometimes it's going to be really crowded and I'll have to wait in line a while. I'll just have to learn when I can do things off of peak hours for the best experience possible.

With grad school orientation this week, my girlfriend and I did a dry run on the subway so I could find my way around (this was most of my traveling for that week). I mean, it's a really easy ride from our apartment on the 6 train to the Graduate Center, which took us about 33 minutes this morning. I also wanted to make sure I knew where the classrooms/auditoriums were for my orientation meetings, because there's nothing worse than showing up late to orientation after being lost and looking like a complete noob. I don't want to look like a complete noob. A regular noob is just fine, thanks.

I have four days of orientation events to attend this week starting on Tuesday, where I'm meeting with the other biology students. Apparently this is my first time where I'll get individual attention and get questions answered. For Wednesday, I signed up for a one-on-one session to pass in paperwork and make sure everything is all set, which is really great. Best of all, I get to meet my potential adviser for the first time on Thursday after one of my sessions. His office at Baruch College is easily accessible on the 6 train as well.

A local soul/jazz band rocking out by the 6 train on 125th.
After looking back at my sparse collection of photographs thus far in my time here in New York City, one thing is certain: I need to start taking more pictures.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Settling into a new city

Last April I was accepted into the CUNY Biology Ph.D. program, my first choice to continue graduate school. (I finished my master's in biology this May at Clark University, where I also got my bachelor's in environmental science.)

Earlier this summer I was lucky enough to sign a lease on an place in the CUNY Graduate Center Apartments. Apparently they're fairly competitive to get into, because there aren't a lot of rooms available. For instance, there were approximately 50 people fighting over a single one bedroom apartment available for this year. Unfortunately, I wasn't that lucky person, so I settled for a small studio apartment.

However, the perks of my apartment are many, and as a first year student in a new city, I consider myself very lucky. Because I was living at home in New Hampshire this summer, it wasn't very feasible to apartment hunt in the city. There were too many variables to handle, so when we got an offer, my girlfriend and I jumped on the opportunity. We were sold on the idea of the studio, our second choice, because of the following:
  • The apartment is fully furnished. In addition to a full-sized fridge (which apparently is a luxury in the city), I have a desk, small kitchen table, full-sized bed with three drawers below on either side, a bedside table, a bureau, a closet, and a spacious bathroom.
  • We have a 24 hour fitness room (which is actually pretty big), 24 hour laundry ($4 for wash a dry per sizable load), bike storage, and a nice lounge.
  • Most of the utilities are included except for electricity, but we have a nice air conditioning unit. Apparently our heating is also covered by the building, which if that holds to be true
  • Oh, and the apartment building is a year old.
The apartment is however not perfect. While we have a microwave, we only have a two burner electric range, which means we don't have an oven. We also don't have any counter space. This means I'll have to make some serious transitions and learn to work with what I have. It's possible I'll get a prep cart to add some prep work space and maybe get a convection oven. Given the perks and few drawbacks, I consider myself very lucky, especially since the subsidized rent is very affordable.

This is something we had to take into account when looking at apartments, because the Graduate Center Housing is in Spanish Harlem (118th and 3rd). As I spent five years in Worcester Main South, this is not a big transition for me, but it's not ideal either. The apartment building is two blocks from the 6 train, which is a straight shot to the Graduate Center, down on 5th.

We've already met up with a couple of friends from Clark (our alma mater, where I got both my undergraduate and master's degree in science) who live around the greater city area. My friend Bridget (class of 2008), met up with us on our second night in the city (no less than 24 hours after unpacking) and walked us down to the Upper East Side. She lives in Astoria and is completing a master's of her own just a few blocks from us at a Hunter College campus (which is also part of CUNY). The following night, we went out with two of our Clark friends (my class of 2011) and an "honorary Clarkie", down in midtown for some dinner and gallivanting. Between now, going to Maine for a wedding, and my graduate school orientation later in the month, we hope to learn Manhattan as best as possible before the fall semester comes underway. To be honest, I want nothing else to do with any of the other boroughs until I know Manhattan decently well. Given the size of the island though, I'm not sure whether I'll be able to hold myself to that.