It's almost been 12 months since I've started at UCLA's lab. I've learned so much from them. They taught me how to run Acid Fast Bacteria assays, allowed me to look into microscopes to see things like malaria (all 3 species!) and TB, and allowed me to become part of a research team that's working on anaerobe bacterial presence in Chrohn's Disease.
The time's flown by, and I sure hope you stay with me despite my long hiatus. I promise I won't be gone for long. As soon as this MCAT thing is done, I'll post pictures of all the weird things a Clinical Lab Scientist gets to see in a microbiology lab. I've worked hard in gathering interesting pictures, so hang tight! :)
The Adjustments of The Real World
I just finished the second week at my very first “real” post-undergraduate job. I work as a Health/Hospital Lab Tech for UCLA’s lab in Brentwood, and though I was prepared for the transition to the real world from an academic one to be difficult, I was still surprised from the needed adjustment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m eternally grateful for having my job in this hire-frozen economy, and even more grateful that I’m working in the health and science field as a recently graduated student. The opportunity is amazing, though the adjustments were hard to settle. The hardest thing to adjust was my sleeping schedule. Gone are the days that I could stay up until 1am and be late for my 8am class.
My schedule is as follows in the lab:
At 7am, which is when work starts, I organize urine, stool, and critical fluid-streaked media plates in numerical order as each patient is assigned a number, and each specimen from the same patient is assigned a number. These plates are to be “processed” and the Clinical Lab Scientists record the findings into the computerized health system.I then dilute urine solutions and run them in the Vitek machine, which reads cards placed into the solution made and prints a report for the clinical lab scientists.
UCLA is known for making their own MIC (microdilution) trays, which are used for inoculations. The trays are kept frozen at negative 70 degrees and take 30 minutes to thaw out before we can use them, so I take a count of all the needed trays of different types before my lunch break to give them time to thaw. After lunch break, I dilute all the specimen solutions in tween water, invert the tubes, and then run the MIC machine until 4 pm.
The second hardest adjustment is the 40-hour week. By Friday, I feel like I’ve run miles up and down the Big C trail. On my first week especially, I was nostalgic for the days when Thursday nights were the start of my weekend; Fridays seem to last forever before work ends these days. There have been days where it’s felt like med school was so out of reach, days where I wonder what I am doing and why exactly I am where I am. Those days are rough, especially after working for 8 hours, and being stuck in traffic for 2. But despite these hard adjustments, I’m still very much grateful as I’m learning new techniques and gaining clinical experience for my application. The key now is to stay highly motivated and to save, save, save. I try to remind myself that all of this is part of a journey toward a dream I’m not willing to let go of, and am more than willing to work hard for.
I met a friend on the second day of work, and after realizing we had similar goals (He wants to go to vet school) he told me, “We’ll remind each other about our goals every day from now on. Especially on days we’re extremely tired.”
Each time I pass him in the halls of our lab or run into him in the elevator, he says “What’s up, future med student!” And I reply with “Hey there future vet student!” as well as a big smile on my face for the rest of the day. Well until I hit the 405 at 4pm anyway.
I've recently graduated with a NutriSci Physiology and Metabolism degree from Cal and found this blog to be a great opportunity to share the adventures and triumphs as an alumni. I had this freshman fantasy in which I'd announce to the world that I'd be going to a top medical school in the nation-after finding some type of cure for diabetes of course- and I'd invite every one I know to the white coat ceremony. (These daydreams tended to happen in Organic Chem lecture, at 8 am) But alas, sometimes, things don't go exactly as planned, or the way you plan them in your decaffeineted, sleep-deprived mind.
Among the many things I've learned at Cal, I've learned that it's acceptable to be unconventional. With that said, instead of having found a cure for diabetes (without a lack for trying, mind you!), I'm taking a year/year and a half "off", as I study for MCATs, and find ways to give back to my community while working locally to save up for a dream that's still very much embedded in my heart. And though I can't offer you a front row seat to my white coat ceremony (just yet!), what I can offer is a view in this transitional phase as a Cal alum, in an adventure that's frightening and exciting, and lessons that we can learn together at the same time. Not to mention the lessons I've learned while I was there such as to NOT take more than 2 labs per semester! So, I hope you stay tuned.
As of right now, I'm in the long process of signing paper work to finally start my position at UCLA's lab, and I'm so excited and grateful to have been given such a position.
For those of you looking for scientific or lab based jobs after graduation, or as an in-between job before any professional school, I've learned in my experience that it helps if you have lab experience: assays, administrative, the works! Your colorful experience in multiple lab settings is beneficial. One of the best ways to get research and lab work is to go to a professor that's done research in things your interested in, knock on their door, and politely ask to be free labor. Your enthusiasm about the material will set you apart. There are also multiple research program opportunities on campus such as URAP that you can take advantage of, so put yourself out there!
Like I said, for many of us, the adventure starts right now-whether it be looking for a job, applying to graduate/professional school, or even if you're just trying to figure out telebears as a freshman, I'm glad we're here together. I can't tell you how excited I am to be able to share with you the ups and downs of this post undergraduate life, and to hear your stories and lessons as well!