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.

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