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

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 2, 2008

Another Day of 1000 Interviews

Filed under: University Visits — Tags: , , — James @ 10:33 am

(This entry, and the following one were written last night and are being posted today, now that I have the time to get internet access.) 


This time I have seven. Three with faculty, and four with the labs of absent professors. And I can honestly say that I walked out of each interview very excited about the science in that lab. Also, it was nice and sunny today which was a vast improvement on yesterday.


Very briefly, I interviewed with a guy who does phytochrome research, which is what my undergraduate research started out in, so I was able to talk intellegently about that, and he knew the guy I work for at school. The meeting was very VERY brief though, they drove us out to the PGEC for an hour and I was scheduled to meet with three groups during that time. The second woman I talked to studies the regulation of cell differentiation in meristems. If I was less tired I could talk about that in a lot more detail, but the sobering part was when I realized her research was behind about a third of what we had learned about shoot meristems in my plant development course last fall. But once more fascinating (I’ll be using that word a lot.) Then a meeting with a lab group whose PI wasn’t in town, but I thought they managed it quite well, some of their work ties in with the Ramosa mutants I worked with several summers ago, and it was, you guessed it, fascinating. Then it was back to Berkeley’s main campus for lunch and MORE interviews. I was fortunate in that most of the on campus people seem to be centered in one building, the microbiology people had to run around to a lot more buildings. 


Another thing that both I and a couple of the other people who are interviewing noticed was that the grad student’s here at Berkelely seem happy. I haven’t been to any schools where all the grad students seems depressed, but there does seem to be a lot of variation.


But my first interview of the afternoon was particularly exciting, I promise I’ll be very brief with the last three. It was with a woman who studies plant evolution in all sorts of REALLY weird species. Like cycads. Which are gynosperms (a group of non-flowering plants which include things like pine trees) which pollinate each other by using insects. The insects are drawn to both the male and female cycad cones. But the cones heat up on alternating schedules driving the insects out of male cones, where they’ve been coated in pollen, to the female cones, where they fertilize individual seeds.  (The fact that this plant is able to generate heat, vaguely like a warm blooded mammal is pretty cool in of itself.) And then we ended up in a discussion of how cycads may have more trouble spreading their seeds now that dinosaurs are extinct. So that was really cool. As I promised, I’ll mostly skip over the last three labs, not because I was any less fascinated, but because it’s harder to describe. An imprinting lab, a epigenetics lab, and an genomics/bioinformatics/evolution lab. In the last of the three we learned about how transposons can be “domesticated” and adapted to serve a purpose within the host species. The guy I was talking to claims that’s actually the origin of the immune system in animals. Complicated story there, I’ll try to explain it if anyone asks.


Best Metaphor: “Some labs are like viking ships and some labs are like dingies.” (And dingies are the good ones)


Most “I’m definitely a potential grad student” moment: 


“Um…wait…I can’t remember his name but he works on a species called bracopodia.” <– I’m better at remembing the names of new species of grass than of the people I meet who study them.

Powered by WordPress