James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

February 14, 2008

Retrospective CSHL (part 3)

Filed under: University Visits — Tags: , , — James @ 1:42 pm

Saturday started out with another couple of interviews. Even with 20-30 minute interviews and no time built into the schedule for traveling between labs, they weren’t able to fit them all into one day. 


I should also mention that there are no room numbers at CSHL. Once I found the correct building I just stuck my head into a room and said, “Sorry to bother you, I’m looking for Dr. X’s office.” (I didn’t actually interview with anyone named Dr. X, but it would have been cool if I had.) This was actually good marketing for the organization, since every response I got to doing this was both polite and enthusiastic.


We had an enjoyable lunch where all the grad students and faculty ended up in one room and the interviewees in another. Not great for making a good impression, but it was fun to get to know the other people I was interviewing with better. And one of the pizza’s provided was covered in MEAT. Berkeley was a very vegetarian friendly campus, sometimes frustratingly so.


After lunch we got the tourist tour of CSHL. The first building was constructed as Origin of the Species was becoming popular. So people were starting to get very excited about the study of evolution and inheritance. But how do you study those things? They didn’t know anything about DNA. So one of the early things they studied was the way that embryos developed. And the easiest systems to study that in are fish, since it’s possible to observe the embryos in fish eggs develop without having to crack through a shell or dissect thousands of pregnant mice. Later as Mendel’s work was rediscovered by biologists CSHL moved on to breeding experiments, and then when the first genetic techniques were developed the exciting research moved to viruses, with the smallest genomes of any organism. We saw a gazebo on the waterfront with a sculpture of a virus on the roof. I’m told couples from the lab often get married under the virus…


Scary though of the day:

“The average person alive today is as likely to die in an airplane crash as a meteor impact.” 

February 13, 2008

Retrospective of CSHL (day 2)

Filed under: University Visits — Tags: , — James @ 8:20 pm

Ok so my laptop is back up and running at a reasonable speed after some RAM issues. I also have a working camera again, and, by cleaning under by bed, once more have the technology to transfer pictures from my camera phone to my computer. Which allows me to bring you this picture (click to see a larger version on flickr):


Dance of The Polypeptides  

So when last I checked in, I have just gotten through my first day at Cold Spring Harbor, and was facing a grueling day of interviews.


Well it was grueling. I met with more than three times the faculty I did at Berkeley, and all on these were one on one meetings, no being able to fade into the background of a group meeting. The other major different between Berkeley (as well as Minnesota) and Cold Spring Harbor as that at the former schools ask roughly the same number of people to interview as they’re planning to extend offers to. The result is that the interviews focus on learning about faculty’s research and lab management styles, while trying to avoid making any strong negative impressions. (For example, I was told a guy who feel asleep during an interview with faculty was not offered admission.)


In contrast, Cold Spring Harbor invites six times as many interviewees (spread over three weekends) as they would like to see in their entering class of graduate students. There were two kinds of meetings. Those with PIs who I’d either requested or how requested to meet with me, which were similar to my interviews at other institutions, and interviews with members of the admissions committee. And the two were marked identically on my schedule.


Unlike previous schools I actually had to sell myself during the interviews. It took me until about my third interview to adapt to the new dynamic.  Those interviews tended to focus on my own research as an undergrad, and fortunately I had several research projects to talk about, and (I hope) a good grasp of the greater context. First I’d explain what I’d done, then answer questions about why it was important, or why we’d used the techniques we used, or what have you. Towards the end I was actually starting to enjoy myself. Being able to talk about experiments that I was personally very interested in, to people who were both bright and well educated, but knew less than I did about the specific topic. There aren’t any plant PIs on the admissions committee, so I was mostly talking to people with backgrounds in cancer and neuro biology. So I also got to learn about subjects at adjoined on my own, but in which I had very little background.

February 7, 2008

Cold Spring Harbor Lab (Installment 1)

Filed under: University Visits — Tags: , , — James @ 10:31 pm

I’ve arrived in Cold Spring Harbor, and am writing this just after midnight.


Instead of staying up all night to catch a 6 am flight like I did to Berkeley, I was able to sleep in a little, drive to the airport at noon, and take a direct flight to NYC, where I and a fellow student were picked up by a driver waiting for us with a sign and driven out to CSHL. On the plane ride out I was seated next to two Cornell prospective investment bankers who were getting flown out for a sell weekend. (They’ve already been offered jobs and now the banks are flying them out again to wining and dine them in an attempt to influence their decision.) One was a fellow Iowans, which is cool, as there are something like 15 of us at Cornell. (Based on a very old facebook search.)


The first event this evening was a talk about the approach to graduate study at CSHL vs other places. It boils down to, getting classes out of the way the first semester, graduating in four years instead of 5-7, and giving the lucky few who get admitted lots of support in their living circumstances and learning, so that the students can focus on giving 150% to their research. For example the organization provides highly subsidized housing, and if will help you find non-lab housing if you want it, especially if you need room for a partner and/or children. 


Then we were matched up with our individual graduate student hosts and went out to dinner in a number of small groups. Mine was 50% current or former Cornell students. The highlight of dinner was a dessert called “King Kong,” which featured chocolate cake in the shape of the empire state building, lots of vanilla ice cream, strawberries, and sparklers. I wish I’d gotten a picture of it.


Came back to the CSHL bar and had a chance to grill grad students more thoroughly. Note that several of the grad students were running back to labs to set up, run, and image gels between beers.

Powered by WordPress