Wednesday, September 28, 2011

RPI NIH Training Grant Retreat

Poster Session
RPI received a NIH training grant to fund some of its graduate students.  Last week the students hosted a retreat show casing talks of their research as well as several professors.  Roughly 20 students were asked to present posters during an afternoon poster session.  Someone once explained poster sessions to me as "show-and-tell for scientists."  This idea led me to believe that poster sessions would be more about sharing something exciting in your work and criticizing the science.  Unfortunately, at my very first poster session, I had the experience of having an older gentleman tell me "that seems stupid" when I explained my poster to him.  Granted it was a fairly simple set of experiments but I had been a grad student for a grand total of 4 months and was happy to have ANY results to show for it.  Ever since then I've been less enthusiastic about the whole show-and-tell thing.

Thankfully, most of the people at the retreat were people I share a lab with or work in the same building so I didn't have to worry about total strangers judging my poster.  Of course, none of the science that has been working is from exactly the same project.  I was able to put together a decent composite poster of three related projects that told a rough story.  I definitely was not in the running for best poster. However, since I was away at Cornell the week before the retreat and had the date wrong for the retreat; I'll take what I can get.  Now all I need to do is get a complete story and try a national meeting poster session again.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Intro to NYS Wine Country: Cayuga Wine Trail

On my way home from Ithaca, I had to drive from the southern tip of Cayuga Lake to the north end in order to hop on I-90. It a beautiful day out and I'd never been to any of the Finger Lakes wineries so I took the more scenic route along the Cayuga Wine Trail.  Before I reached the wineries I stopped off at Taughannock Falls.  Pictures of this waterfall are all over brochures for attractions in the area and I was driving right passed it so after nearly hitting a couple of deer I stopped off for a breather and some scenery.  Looking up at a waterfall in excess of 200ft tall is awe-inspiring in it's own right.  Add in the fact that you're at the bottom of a 500ft chasm that dwarfs not only you but the waterfall and you're reminded pretty quickly of how big the world is.

Taughannock Falls
After a few pictures, I was ready for a different kind of scenery involving bunches of grapes.  I think I passed a sign for a different vineyard or winery every other mile before settling on two neighboring lake-front wineries. Both Cayuga Ridge Estate Winery and Thirsty Owl Winery boast many award-winning white wines and picturesque locations.  Going to a winery to do wine tasting is definitely the best deal. Two dollars buys you 5 samples of wine off of a description sheet. At Thirsty Owl, they gave you the two dollars back in the form of a coupon.  Wandering the shade of rows of grapes between vineyards and looking out to the lake I can understand why wine tours are so popular.  The wine doesn't hurt the cause either. I will definitely be exploring more of NYS wine country.  Anybody want to come with me?

Cayuga Ridge tasting room

Ready for harvesting

Thirsty Owl wine room

View of Cayuga Lake

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Grown Up Field Trip to Ithaca

Last week my lab sent me to Cornell University to shadow a lab and learn some cool tricks with DNA.  Like many old towns, Ithaca has a lot of character.  During my visit I learned that Ithaca used to be the "Hollywood of the East" in the days of silent movies.  Nowadays the cinema history has all but disappeared, save a few blurbs in restaurants.  I spent most of my week in the lab but I was able to escape early a couple of times to do some exploring.  Cornell's campus in huge. I could have spent the better part of my free time just exploring the botanical gardens and the older buildings overlooking Cayuga Lake.  The aesthetic appeal of Cornell definitely rivaled good ol' RPI.  Ithaca is a mix of charming corners and struggling areas.  One of the more charming corners I visited was Ithaca Commons, a pedestrian only street with small shops, restaurants, and modern art sculptures.  There's a range of restaurants there, but I was only able to sample a couple: The Ithaca Ale House and Kilpatrick's Publick House.  They're both pub-style establishments that served delicious food and had decent beer lists.  I'd recommend either.  The eatery that stood out the most to me was Shortstop Deli, a deli counter hidden in the residential are of downtown.  It's been features on the Food Network and in Gourmet magazine, but the highest praise I can give it is that it ranks in the top three delis compared to my hometown sub shop, Aunt Cookie's.  Where I come from there is no higher praise than that.

Garden at Cornell

Old Cornell Campus

In addition to the dining options, Ithaca is surrounded by the natural beauty of several state parks and Cayuga Lake.  I visited two state properties while I was in town.  Buttermilk Falls State Park has the characteristic gorges and waterfalls that Ithaca is known for.  Unfortunately, Ithaca experienced a lot of flooding from recent tropical storm rains so the gorge trail was closed which meant that most of the waterfalls were accessible.  Buttermilk Falls had calmed down but during the height of the flooding it had washed out one of the creek overpasses.  Allan H. Treman State Marine Park in on the shores of Cayuga Lake.  The park is fairly small but includes a big dog park and has a pretty view looking across the lake.  It's easy to forget how big the Finger Lakes are when you live so close to the Great Lakes.  But standing on the shore looking out at the length of the lake with the hills raising up on either side, there's no way to mistake Cayuga Lake as little.  I saw a Bald Eagle fishing one afternoon which only added to the ambiance of this giant peaceful lake.

Buttermilk Falls

Sneaking on a section of the Gorge Trail

Harbor of Allan H. Treman Marine Park
Cayuga Lake

The Finger Lakes wine region is definitely present in Ithaca.  There's only one winery in the immediate area but there's a wine bar in town, Corks and More, which is the next best thing.  Corks and More features some local wines along with wines from California, France, Australia, and more.  This is a great place to go if you want to try a variety of wines without buying tons of bottles or going on extensive wine tours.  You can choose a taste, half-glass, or full-glass from on of the dozen wine 'vending machines' the line the walls.  They also have a full bar and tapas menu.  If the science thing doesn't work out, opening a place like this is firmly on the back-up plan list.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Three Step Program to Long Hair

One of the methods I'm trying to minimize my expenses is growing my hair out.  This is not my favorite thing to do but it's guaranteed to save me a couple hundred dollars.  Thanks to Google images I've been able to put together a celebrity three step plan to long hair

Step 1. Step 2. Step 3.

My last haircut was phase 1.  Mandy Moore with a pixie inspired look.  This is the haircut I've had all summer and I'm sad to see it go.  Next step, Katie Holmes's bob.

Monday, September 12, 2011

SD in Washington D.C. a.k.a. Blisters and sunburns

During our Labor vacation Dave and I went to Washington D.C. for the day.  My family lived outside of D.C. when I was very young so I've been the Mall more times than I can remember.  I always like going back to see the monuments and the Smithsonian. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial had been unveiled the weekend before so we met up with two of my sorority sisters, Heidi and Jess, to go see it. I was psyched to see both of them especially since I hadn't since them since they graduated the year before. 

All three of us girls showed up in cute thong sandals to walk around the National Mall. Unfortunately, I had forgotten how far apart the monuments are.  Walking from the MLK memorial to the Jefferson Memorial we realized our feet were in trouble. 

Across from the Jefferson Memorial
 Walking back around to the Lincoln memorial I began wondering why I thought those sandals were so comfortable in the first place.  Aching feet and all, our crew hiked roughly SIX miles to see most of the classic sites of D.C. By the time we passed the White House and turned to Capitol Hill, the major source of motivation was dinner at La Tasca so we could soothe our blisters and darkening sunburns with tapas and sangria. 

SD at the Capitol*
Me and Dave*

Much happier after dinner*
It's been over a week since this trek, and my feet and the back of my neck are finally recovering.  I definitely will not be going to D.C. without sneakers and sunscreen anytime soon.

* These pictures are from Heidi. I really like the one she took of me and Dave.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Labor Day Weekend in Charm City

Dave relocated to Baltimore for work back in July.  Over Labor Day weekend I was finally able to venture south for a weekend.  Here's that four days off that felt like a big deal.  In addition to Labor Day, it was also the Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix which added a lot of traffic and excitement to the city.

Thanks to an awesome Southwest sale, I flew in Thursday night and flew out Monday night for way less money and time than it would have cost me to drive. Dave had to work on Friday so I was exploring the city on my own.  Walking around the city I felt increasingly carefree and excited to find out what was around the next corner.  I paused to get a map and a snack, and realized that I hadn't felt like this since I was in Europe last summer.  I didn't realize how much stress was weighing me down until it started to lift.When I saw the two-story Barnes & Noble next to the National Aquarium and the Panera across the street I was ready to stay. 
My favorite square in Baltimore.
I found a spot facing the harbor to sit and finish my snack.  The qualifies for Sunday's big race had already started so the harbor was echoing with the revving of racecars.  I could see the jumbotron of cars accelerating back up to race speed after making a hairpin turn.  If I turned the other way I saw sailboats gliding out to the main harbor.  The combination of speed and leisure hit me funny. My everyday life has resembled a racecar as long as I can remember, slowing down only when in imminent danger of crashing.  This weekend I wanted to be the sailboat; to go with the flow and try to keep that weighty stress off my shoulders as long as possible.

If I had to pick one word to describe this weekend;  It would be fun.  We ate good food and wandered around the Inner Harbor.  We watched part of the Grand Prix. Dave even got me to go on the dragon-paddle boats after going to the aquarium.  By my standards, I did pretty well.  Only a couple isolated high stress episodes.  It was so difficult to come back to school and my to-do list on Monday night.

All-You-Can-Eat-Crab-Legs at Phillips Seafood Buffet!
National Aquarium - Still like those stingray
Calypso - The Green Turtle
Paddle boating with tired legs in the Inner Harbor

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Looking for the next big trip

Hi.  My name is Julie and I'm addicted to traveling.  It's been 14 months since my last major trip and I'm itching for another.  Unfortunately graduate school doesn't provides much time for length vacations.  I'm at a point where 4 days off in a row is a big deal.

My new goal is to take six months off after I graduate and escape to far away lands.  Six months is a little long compared to the post-graduation breaks most people take.  The way I see it, opportunities to take a couple of months off between when I graduate and retire will be few and far between.  Also research has monopolized my school "vacations" for years and I just want so time off.

The itinerary for this adventure is still up in the air.  The top destination contender is language school in Mexico so I can pass the C2 mastery D.E.L.E. exam.  I'll settle for an intermediate fluency certificate but I'm shooting for mastery.  The school I'm looking into has campuses in several cities.  I'm planning to spend the first third of my course at the school in Playa del Carmen before completing the course in Guanajauto.  By splitting up the course a little I'll be able to experience beaches and mountains and the distinct cultures that accompany the two climates.

Ideally I want to include a 6 week trip to Australia in this 6 month odyssey.  The Australian tour I have planned crisscrosses the country/continent and will be one of the greatest organizational feats I've attempted.  I would start on the west coast before flying from Perth to Darwin.  From Darwin I would make my way south passed Uluru to Melbourne/Tasmania before working my way north again to Cairns.  This portion is highly dependent of the amount of money I can save between now and then.

If Australia doesn't come together, I will continue heading south, from Mexico, into Central and South America.  I would be a little sad to postpone Australia but I will have just finished a fluency certification in Spanish so the language barrier should be at an all time low.  I definitely have more potential contacts in the Americas than Oceania which has its own set of perks when traveling.

View Untitled in a larger map

Since I'm planning this trip to begin in a mere 20 months and have a substantial amount of money to save I am restricting myself on most forms of nonessential spending including: clothes, shoes, make-up, entertainment, etc.

My friends, please be understanding as my favorite Friday night activity becomes watching DVDs at someone's house.  I promise to send postcards from far-away places as thank-you's!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Evicting Irene

Along with everyone else in the Capital District, I thought I was done with Irene after Sunday afternoon.  Unfortunately the worst of the damage to the Northeast was just starting.  Flooding has serenely damaged Southern Vermont and the surrounding town of the Mohawk and Hudson River valleys.  Thankfully, rivers have been receding since Tuesday morning across the Northeast.  It was strange seeing River St, the lowest street in downtown Troy, actually turn into a river.  Several of the people in my lab agreed that this was the first time that we were really appreciative to be living in high up on the hill in Troy.  River St has been above water since Tuesday afternoon and the restaurants are making a tremendous effort to have their establishments open as soon as possible.  I know Brown's Brewing Co. is aiming to open on Friday.  No word yet on when Dinosaur BBQ will reopen.

While we're busying ourselves with the beginning of the school year and worrying about when our favorite eaterys will open,  many people within 100 miles of Troy are having their groceries delivered via National Guard helicopter because the roads have been destroyed.  Thousands of people along the Eastern Seaboard still do not have electricity.  Most places in Troy had the power blink off for a few minutes at the worst.  By and large Trojan feelings toward Hurricane Irene were 'That was it?'  It's amazing how a few miles, or a large meters of riverbank can completely alter the way a natural disaster is perceived.  Overall people are determined to push every remnant of Irene out of their houses, lawns, and towns, and start rebuilding.