Sweet Endings

Before leaving for my trip, my labmates took me out to lunch as a “farewell”—more so for my leaving for graduate school rather than my trip ;) . I brought some homemade dessert over to share as my parting gift. They really enjoyed a plain cashew burphi I brought for a holiday party last year, so I decided to keep with the burphi theme, but let coconut be the star this time around.

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Coconut Cashew Burphi

With the amounts of ingredients I had, I didn’t even have enough to fill a whole pan! Even so, I thought the bars came out fine and would be suitable for three people to share.

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Follow the steps below!

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The recipe…haha noticed a typo here! Should be “18″ bars, not “8″ ;)

Desserts are known to be imperative when celebrating life’s milestones (birthdays, weddings, etc.), but they also seem to be a mandatory component when a departure is concerned. Is it because the sweetness masks the melancholy that may arrive without a doubt?

Whatever the reason may be, desserts bring with them a celebration within themselves! With one bite, they can make a dreary day brighter, or add more sunshine to an already blissful event.

What are your favorite desserts to make for those “farewell” situations?

That Bread Place

My sister, who came up for a weekend in the last week of March from school due to it being a three-day weekend (her school takes Cesar Chavez Day off), had absolutely no clue what I was talking about when I first texted her about having lunch “at that new bread place”.

Once I filled her in on the details, she was excited about going of course. What exactly is “that bread place” we were talking about?

Boudin SF. I say Bo-din, you say Boo-deen, she says Boo-din—it doesn’t matter how you pronounce it. In the end, it’s all about the food. And our experience? It was alright.

Entrance to Boudin

Entrance to Boudin

This location is settled right next to I-80, which attracts those making their way in from Tahoe, or up from the Bay Area. Good thing we came in just before noon to avoid the crowds!

Cases of clam showder while waiting in line.

Cases of clam showder while waiting in line.

The line wasn’t very long…yet. Like I said before, we made it in before Sunday lunch rush hour, where we watched from our seats the line growing OUT the door!!

On the left wall was a glass window where you could get a behind-the-scenes look at where the bread was being made.

A look into the bakery.

A look into the bakery.

At the front counter where your order and pay, my sister and I noticed the large animal-shaped loaves—crabs, bears, and turtles galore!

The front counter.

The front counter.

When we went to get some water, we noticed a familiar face from high school and said our hellos. Then we met my Dad at a table in the center of the dining area. Bad idea, as we would soon realize, since the place was small already and the seating arrangements didn’t help mitigate the already cramped quarters.

Waiting for food.

Waiting for food.

About 15 minutes after ordering, our meals came out.

My Dad and I got butternut soup in sourdough bread bowls, while my sister got a grilled brie sandwich with apple slices and jam.

Grilled Brie with Apples & Fig Jam---says it was too sweet for her liking.

Grilled Brie with Apples & Fig Jam—says it was too sweet for her liking.

My sister was not too enthused with her sandwich, since she wasn’t a fan of the fig jam which made the sandwich too sweet for her liking.

Sourdough Bread Bowl with Butternut Squash Soup---took me forever to finish, but I did.

Sourdough Bread Bowl with Butternut Squash Soup—took me forever to finish, but I did.

I actually preferred my soup over the bread bowl. The bread bowl of course was a great vessel for the soup, but the soup by itself is worth ordering on its own.

My Dad got a side salad with his order of the soup.

Butternut Squash Bread Bowl with side spring salad

Butternut Squash Bread Bowl with a side serving of Spring Salad.

My Dad and sister agreed that they prefer Panera over this place, citing the variety Panera tends to have with its menu. I was busy figuring out how to “properly” demolish my bread bowl, and when the knife and fork trick didn’t work, I went for it with my hands. Yes, it was awkward having to get through what seemed like miles of crowded tables to get to the bathroom and wash up at the end of the meal :P

After lunch, we ran around to do some last-minute gift shopping for relatives who we plan to see on our trip. In the early afternoon, we headed out for some fro-yo. It seemed like the perfect thing to do after feasting on carbs, after all ;)

It's a fro-yo party!

It’s a fro-yo party! I got a pistachio and strawberry mix with mochi, poppers, fruit, carob and yogurt chips. Sis got the usual chocolate fro-yo with similar toppings.

Would I visit Boudin SF again of my own volition? Probably not, but at least I can say I did go, and that I did have a pretty good bowl of butternut squash soup in a mediocre-tasting bread bowl. In my opinion, it looks like Panera doesn’t have too much to worry about in terms of competition…

Boudin SF on Urbanspoon

Are you a fan of bread bowls?

Getting to Graduate School: A Look Back on the Application Process

Graduate school → a very broad term, but ultimately it implies going to school after getting your undergraduate degree. In order to get there, one could take many paths, depending on the field of study (humanities, social sciences, life sciences, etc.) and type of degree (master’s, PhD, etc.). Whether the journey is easy or hard is a matter of opinion.

For me, it was a process. I took a methodical approach, and I mapped out everything from scratch, outlining everything that I wanted needed to accomplish . I can now look back on my map with a sense of accomplishment and eagerness about what the future has in store. I also feel compelled to share how my experience ultimately turned out…

What/How many programs did I apply to?

My background is in molecular biology, but I wanted to pursue a PhD in something that was more specific to the interests I developed later on in my undergraduate career. I won’t disclose them here since they are very specific, but to give you an idea, I applied to about 16 programs that included my “top” choice, immediate top choices, and so-called “safety” schools. Looking back, I don’t really think safety schools should be an option if you are considering graduate school, because if you want to thrive and be happy wherever you end up, shouldn’t you apply to schools where you will be able to do just that? I realized this midway through the process, but I figured that if I had all of my bases covered from the beginning, I could make a more sound decision later on.

What factors did I consider when picking schools to apply to?

A lot of factors were considered, but the main ones were:

Location – I came into the process wanting to relocate to the city/urban environment. I’ve lived in a bucolic area for the majority of my life, and while that’s great for raising a family, I believe that the average graduate student in her early twenties should use the opportunity to seek out the city experience. At least that’s my opinion ;).

Faculty – I will admit that I was that girl who made an Excel spreadsheet listing faculty from each school I planned to apply to, and next to their names, listed their research interests! Embarrassing, I know, but it really helped me organize what the trend with the school/program/department was in regards to what was deemed “important” research.

Resources – When looking at programs, I was really interested in figuring out if the program took the time to outline what resources they provide for their students. Workshops, career counseling, grant writing help, etc. are all important things to me, and I wanted to be assured that the programs I applied to were able to afford me with that.

Graduation Rate and Funding – These were two very critical factors when considering which programs to apply to. I’ve heard of some programs where students have to struggle to find their own funding, which can be a nightmare when you’re juggling classes/the qualification exam/just living! Fortunately, all of the programs I was interested promised a standard stipend in addition to tuition and health insurance assistance. Depending on the location and cost of living in that location, the amounts from what I’ve come across can range anywhere from $25,000 – $34,000, before taxes.  Also knowing that a program wants to get PhD students out within 4.5-5.5 years is a good thing, since it shows the program is interested in the well-being of the student, and isn’t out on the hunt for “cheap labor” like certain horror stories I’ve heard suggest.

What things where part of my application?

Since I applied to biology-related PhD programs, my application was made up of the following components: GRE scores, statement of purpose and other essays, letters of recommendations, transcripts from undergrad institution(s), and filling out the program’s specific application. In science–related PhD programs, having previous research experience is key, so I made sure to highlight my previous experiences thoroughly throughout my application.

How were interviews?

Most of my applications were due in late November/early December, so I was pretty much a nervous Nelly until Christmas break was over. I happened to hear back from two programs before the holidays struck, which did calm my nerves through the holiday season.

Once January hit, I got more interview invites via e-mail. I was lucky to have almost all of my interview dates scheduled on separate days, and was able to avoid scheduling conflicts for the most part. For the one that conflicted with an already scheduled interview, I was able to have a Skype interview (technology being used for good!). I also had a few phone interviews during this time. Overall, I would say that my interview “platforms” were quite diverse.

February was interview season, and it was a blast flying out to a different place each weekend, learning about the school, networking with students and faculty (they are my future colleagues!), and being fed for free ;).  The first interview is always nerve-wracking because you don’t know what to expect, but after a while, there is a rhythm that you get into, and you become a broken record when someone asks you to “tell me about your research…”

It’s really difficult to be “bad” in an interview. You want to come prepared, but you don’t have to come in having already read your interviewer’s recent publications—actually, you don’t need to know anything about them at all!

Oftentimes, I found that my interview itinerary would change at the last minute since faculty members are extremely busy individuals. I learned the “hard way” about over preparing when I went back to the Excel spreadsheet (nerdy girl woes…) and researched my interviewers based on an itinerary I was given a month before my interview. The day of my interview, I was given an itinerary where half of my previous interviewers were replaced with new names. I had no clue about what these people were interested in researching in, but it wasn’t a big deal since during the interview, they spent half the time telling me about what they did anyway!

How did you make a final decision on your school/program?

Honestly, I went with my gut. Seriously though!

I interviewed at some pretty big name schools, and I was truly gratified by having such an opportunity. While having a big name over your shoulder isn’t a bad thing, I didn’t want that to be my deciding factor when choosing a school. Ultimately, I wanted to be in a program that was supportive of its students, well-funded, was conducting research that pertained to my current interests, and that cultivated an environment in which I could envision myself being happy. It’s not worth being anywhere unless you’re happy. With all that said, I believe my decision reflects that.

From a quantitative perspective, so many months have gone by for me to get to this point. While the application process was technically less than a year in duration, my preparation to be even considered a competitive applicant took years—considering my time in undergrad, the research experiences I had to be involved in and learn from, the time I took to retake the GRE—it truly was a process.

Right now, I am appreciative of the fact that I will be able to pursue my graduate studies at an institution that I believe is right for me, and I am excited to be able to start this next chapter in my life. I look forward to learning, growing, and yes, the stress of it all, because what’s life without a little bit of stress ;)?

What is your approach when it comes to achieving goals—big or small?

Bored in Flight

I cannot believe how fast time has flown ( ;) ) by since my last international flight! But that streak ends now.

I’m still not sure if I should be excited about the trek we must make, however. The longest leg will be across the Atlantic ocean, where we will then have a layover in Frankfurt, and from there make our way to our destination. For many of our past trips we’d always take an Asian airline and fly over the Pacific, and for some reason, it didn’t seem too long—at least when you think about how long an international flight is supposed to be.

I thought it would be fun to list the things I have done to keep myself occupied in the past when flying internationally, even though boredom still occurred!

1a) What I did then:  Listen to MP3 music.

Does anybody still use an MP3 or an iPod anymore? Haha. When I first got my very own MP3, I brought it everywhere—car trips, taking the bus to school, and obviously on long airplane flights. I loaded music from my Dad’s playlist into it that I didn’t even like, just so I could have a “full” MP3. Even then, I would resort to listening to my 3-5 favorite songs at the time on repeat for hours on end.

 1b) What I plan to do now:  Catching up on audiobooks…and listen to music.

I still have my MP3 from way back when, but am going to force encourage myself to finish an audiobook I’ve been putting off for months now. I was never a fan of audiobooks since most of the time I found the voice of the narrator annoying, but since this is an audiobook of an interesting book (Story of the Human Body), I feel compelled to actually finish it. I think a 11-hour flight should do the trick. I figure that once I finish this audiobook, I can go back to listening to music ;)

2a) What I did then:  Not get up the entire flight (except to use toilet).

I guess I had a high tolerance for being uncomfortable when I was younger. Because of this, the middle seat was designated to me, and I was “banned” from sitting in the aisles. My parents would be the ones getting up frequently, especially my Dad who would take frequent “walks” down the aisle, and sometimes even get extra snacks for us from the stewardesses. I remember one time when he brought some extra ice cream back for me and the sis—we were on cloud 9!

2b) What I plan to do now:  Get up!

Even though I consider myself to still have a high tolerance for being uncomfortable on planes (hey, I battled through a fever coming back from Chicago!), I do plan to get up at times during the flight(s). Gotta try and prevent getting numb legs! Although I do think that if I become a frequent aisle-walker like my Dad, I may start to annoy people…

3a) What I did then:  Sleep!

Traveling as a four-group family back in the day didn’t give us much flexibility as far as seating options. We always booked four seats at the center of the plane. Despite being safe and sound with my family, I never had the opportunity to look out the window on an international flight. Imagine all the years I missed out on the amazing views when taking off/landing! The geography across the States is one thing, but being able to scope out the geography of other countries is something I have missed out on, but am eagerly looking forward to feasting my eyes on.

But I digress. I guess the lack of a window near me left me nothing to do for the majority of the time except sleep. I was the kid who got headaches in the car (if not carsick), seasick on boats—and flying was no exception. It was either sleep or suffer with an achy head for several hours, so sleep is what I did. I even tried to “sleep” through meals because that’s how much I loathed airplane meals.

3b) What I plan to do now:  Sleep!

Now that we’re a party of two traveling, we were able to book a window seat! I now have the option to sleep forwards using the fold-out tray as pillow holder like I used to (this time, I’m bringing disposable cleaning wipes!), or I can sleep with my head perched against the wall of the plane near the window. Not looking forward to the cramped quarters of economy class, but at least now I can have some scenery and sky to distract me ;)

4a) What I did then:  Complain and whine about headaches.

I love to travel, even though my body may not enjoy the process of traveling. As I mentioned earlier, I am prone to get [insert mode of transportation here]-sick, or at least headaches induced by whatever mode of transportation I’m using. Fortunately, it has never been anything like a migraine, but once a tension headache hits, it lingers. When I was a kid, I never let my parents forget for a second if a headache was bothering me. It probably caused them to form headaches too!

4b) What I plan to do now:  Journal/draw/gaze out the window, and if all else fails—sleep!

This time around, I am also going to make a forced effort to fight my jet lag, which means trying my best to keep myself occupied through activities like journaling, drawing, and gazing out the window. I guess there’s also in-flight movies, and if all else fails, I’ll end up going to sleep anyways!

If you’ve been on-board a plane for an insane amount of time, what do you do to keep yourself entertained?

Monday Munchies

I figured that since I’ll be outside of the States for the next month, I might as well enjoy some foods I doubt I would come across at my destination. These eats are from Friday, but since I’m posting it today, a Monday, I thought Monday Munchies was a clever, alliterative title ;)

As an aside, I have some posts scheduled for the weeks since I’ll be busy seeing family, and because my internet access may be limited, I may not be able to respond to comments/read and comment on others’ blogs until I get back—just saying, I’m not ignoring my wonderful readers ;) !

Tropical Escape is the second-to-last flavor of Chobani Flips I needed to try. Where in the world is Honey Bee Nana (cause I certainly can’t find it in any grocery stores near me)???

The tropical escape flip flavor comes with pineapple greek yogurt, while the topping includes chopped hazelnuts, granola, and coconut.

The tropical escape flip flavor comes with pineapple greek yogurt, while the topping includes chopped hazelnuts, granola, and coconut.

Well in the meantime, let’s get back to this yogurt. The pineapple yogurt had traces of pineapple pieces which I thought was nice. I was actually more impressed with the mixture of toppings: chopped hazelnuts, chopped coconut, and granola. When mixed with the yogurt, it really did taste like paradise!

Second “munchie” of the day was this KIND bar:

Tiny cube pieces of chewy apricot and chunks of almond make up the majority of this bar!

Tiny cube pieces of chewy apricot and chunks of almond make up the majority of this bar!

I was a fan of the small, cube-like pieces of apricot since they reminded me of gummy candies. Except there’s no gelatin here! And of course, how can you have a KIND bar without whole nuts strewn into the mix?

And finally, a perennial favorite, a thinkThin bar in creamy peanut butter.

A smooth chocolate coating over a melt-in-your-mouth PB filling---what's not to love??

A smooth chocolate coating over a melt-in-your-mouth PB filling—what’s not to love??

If you’re a fan of milk, then a thinkThin bar is right up your alley! This is one of the reasons I can’t be vegan

What did you munch on this Monday :) ?

April on the Other Side of the World

The last time I was overseas was six years ago. It has been six, long years since I saw the faces of several aunts, uncles, cousins, members of extended family, and my dear grandparents.

April couldn’t be a more perfect time to go. I don’t think I’ve ever been to India in the springtime—even as a baby! When I was a kid, we never missed a visit every two years for at least two-three months in the summer. When I got older, winter break became the norm time to visit since three weeks was the most we could manage in regards to taking time off. Taking one week off of school was enough to cause an avalanche of make-up work, so it only made sense to combine that week with the two weeks of winter break.

With the whirlwind of my undergrad years behind me, and the intense (but hopefully rewarding!) years of graduate work ahead, it made perfect sense for my Dad and I (my sis unfortunately can’t join us cause she’s got school until May :( ) to reunite with family members new ;) and old sometime in the next few months before August.

Getting there is going to be a doozy, but the time spent with family will certainly make up for it. To keep my mind from worrying about the leg-numbing fourteen-hour trek across the Atlantic (and then some), I thought I’d summarize what I am looking forward to…

1—Seeing the kids.

Since my Dad is the baby of the family, my sis and I wound up being the youngest batch in our group of cousins. Our cousin group ranges from ages 45-18, with my sis being the 18-year-old youngin’. So naturally, many of my cousins are already mothers and so there will be many little kiddos to meet and play with when I visit! One of my cousins had a baby recently, so I’m definitely excited to meet the latest cutie of our clan ;)

The shirt we got for the "big" sister of the new babe. This girl is a cutie herself!

The shirt we got for the “big” sister of the new babe. This girl is a cutie herself!

2—Reconnecting with family more seriously (and humorously).

As a child, I absolutely loved it when my parents would tell me stories from their childhood. As I got older, long car rides and those “when-I-was-your-age” situations were also the perfect moments when stories were shared. In previous visits, it was nice to get other perspectives from aunts and uncles to the stories I only heard from my parents.

I was a lot shyer back then, and only absorbed the stories that were brought up on their own. This time around, I want to not be so reserved around my relatives and I really want to try and connect with them. Seeing as how visits can’t be taken for granted (six years!!), it would be nice to let my inhibitions go and to enjoy unforced conversations (and laughs!) with my extended family.

3—Learning how to cook traditional recipes from the source.

Even though I come from an Indian family, I have to be honest and say I don’t eat traditional Indian cuisine seven days a week. The real truth? I barely do. My family is completely vegetarian though, so a lot of the meals we do eat are vegetable-based. I often end up having vegetables in some form with carbs of some form every night for dinner, it’s just not traditional Indian fare.

But in India, it’s a different story. People are eager to feed you, and the food you are offered can’t be beat. It’s fresh, (most of the time) healthy, and if it’s made by family, then you can guarantee that love is the only additive ;) . For example, my pati (grandma) makes the best idlis and dosas. I always used to ask for my dosas extra crispy, and she knew how to make them to my request just right.

Warm, spicy goodness.

I’ve made chili idlis before, but I want to shadow my pati instead of adapt a book or internet recipe!

Instead of just eating the food this time, I actually want to learn how to make these traditional recipes myself—from the source, and not a library book anyone can get their hands on. Food is a big part of culture and tradition after all, and I think going through the cooking process step-by-step with a family member will also bridge a stronger bond!

4—The sights and smells.

There are certain sights and smells that I will always connect to India: the scent of sandalwood, the murmur of a electric fan, Britannia biscuits, the feel of an air-conditioned jewelry and sari shop, the hot and dusty roads, masala chai in tin cups, the twinkling ring of Walls ice cream carts rolling across the beach…whenever I come across any of these, I immediately think back to India and some memory associated with them. It’s a wonderful feeling, and I’m excited to come across these sights/smells once again :)

SomeofmyfavouriteBritanniaBiscuitsfromIndia

Some of my favorite Britannia biscuits. Little Hearts are a classic :) !

5—Reminiscing and new memories.

Going along the whole sharing stories/reconnecting with relatives line, I look forward to the big-group reunions we plan to have where many of my uncles, aunts, cousins, and cousins’ children will assemble at my grandparents’ house. Of course it won’t be exactly how it was in the past, as some people won’t be there due to the fact they now live in different places with their own families, or they have passed on, but being able to reconnect with as many people as possible is my main goal on this trip. It’ll be about reminiscing with everyone about how things used to be or what things we all did in the past, and it’ll also be about creating new memories so we don’t miss the past too much.

My Dad has “put me in charge” of setting up a video montage of old home video clips from our past trips to India. I have clips from as early as ’96, but watching the ones from 2000 really threw me back. That was when my sis and I were the “cuties of our clan”, and before many of my cousins got married. It’ll be interesting to see how they and their children react ;)

How long has it been since you’ve seen a large portion of your family?

Recruitment Recap #4 – Interview in the Windy City

This post is the second in a series regarding interview recaps of PhD programs I applied to. The first post in this series can be read here, the second here, and the third here.

My last interview weekend took place in Chicago, and I was super excited to not only finish up interview season, but to have my last interview take place in an amazing city.

Compared to the JFK airport, I thought the O’Hare airport was cleaner and prettier. There were lights, curvy window walls, and it just seemed to be spacious overall!

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hard to take a picture when you are walking fast /// window walls

I did not have to deal with a taxi debacle this time around, and was able to secure a ride with a shuttle. The ride was okay itself, but the awkward part was having a phone interview with a faculty member who wasn’t available when I was in NYC the previous weekend during the entire drive over.  I was explaining my research experience (probably in a really loud voice), and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the driver/other passengers were irritated. So embarrassing…

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Inside the shuttle.

When I got to the hotel, I was pleasantly surprised by the room, which incuded a “living area”, bathroom, and two beds since I once again had a roommate. She hadn’t arrived yet, so I freshened up and got my things together to get some late lunch.

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“living area”/ room key  / bathroom  / bed

To get to my destination, I had to cross the river. When I got to the River Walk, I was blown away by its beauty. Even though it looked freezing with slabs of ice sheets floating on top, there was just something about the fog, mixed with serenity, mixed with the dim lights that made it worth walking the long way.

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Beauty is possible in winter.

After eating at Native Foods and grabbing a Crumbs cupcake, I began to walk back while admiring the city streets beside me on The Loop.

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Tall buildings, rainy afternoons…

I spotted a Freshii!

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A hidden Freshii!

When I got back near my hotel, I decided to check out some shops nearby since I had some time left. Zara was right across from me, and Topshop was a block over, so I made it a priority to check out both.

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an actual Garmin store / Zara, upper level / light canopy in front of Topshop / Topshop dresses

At around 6:30, I realized it would be a good idea to get back to the hotel for real this time since the first event started at 7:00. I met my roommate, who was applying to another program from mine, and we both went down to the hotel’s ballroom where we met other applicants, got free school swag, and were told of our itinerary for the weekend. We then broke into our program groups, and left with current grad students in each program to go out to dinner.

My program group ate out at an Asian sushi bar, and I then realized that there were more grad students than applicants! Literally everyone in the program—from first-years to fifth-years—were present, which showed how excited they were for recruitment weekend themselves. If the current grad students are happy, you know the school ain’t so bad ;).

The next day, recruits from all programs were shuttled from the hotel to the university. One of the current grad students took it upon himself to give us a bus tour via the bus microphone, and pointed out some Chicago landmarks while inserting some quick tidbits of fun facts.

When we got to the school, our programs split up again, and my program group was escorted by two of the faculty directors who led us to a corner conference room with this view…

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How can you work with this in front of you??

The room was surrounded by windows for walls, and the Chicago skyline stood out prominently. It surprised me how anybody managed to get any work done if it had to be in this room!

After helping ourselves to coffee or tea, we watched two grad students, who were finishing up with their PhD studies, give presentations on their main projects. We also learned more about the department we were applying to, and the program directors gave talks themselves.

Soon it was time for lunch, which was held in the main lobby. It was basically catered salad and pizza, and we had about 2 hours to chat with grad students before our interviews right after. There were only four 30-minute interviews, with 10 minutes in between. Since this was my last interview, I had little-to-no nerves, almost feeling like a broken record by this time :P.

After interviews, we had a break before we were shuffled to a graduate student seminar. The current grad students go crazy for this every-Friday event, since everyone knows science pairs perfectly with free food and drinks (pizza and beer) ;). Us recruits happened to be guests on a day when a grad student gave a talk on his research in prostate cancer, while mixing in themes from the show Adventure Time. I think we figured out a few slides in as to why faculty don’t come to these things ;)!

Dinner was held at the home of one of the directors, and it basically was a selection of foods ranging from pretzel rolls to quinoa loafs—pretty much good food all around! I thought it was super thoughtful for the professor to invite all the recruits PLUS all of the current grad students for dinner at his house. A very different approach for a social get-together when compared to my other interview weekends!

After dinner, I was starting to lose my voice and overall did not feel very good, so I thought it made sense to call it a day and stay at the hotel, rather than push myself to “be social” at the arcade bar, even though I don’t drink. My roommate was really sweet and let me help myself to some cough drops/ibuprofen. Apparently everyone came back at different (odd) hours in the morning, ranging from 1 to 4 AM. After hearing some of the stories the next morning, I was glad I didn’t go!

We left for the university the next day around 8:30, and the (half) day’s events were devoted to a walking tour of the campus, student housing, and later, poster sessions before bidding adieu.

One of the current students took us to his apartment: a cozy little living space with a kitchen, three (small-ish) bedrooms, and one bathroom. His living quarters were a running distance away from the science buildings on campus where the department is housed, so it’s an ideal living space—especially for a first-year.

Next, we took a tour of the gorgeous gothic architecture that made up the campus:

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Have I stepped into a Harry Potter book, or what??

The outside of the library lured us inside…

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Walking towards the library.

…and we were blown away…

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The beautiful library on campus.

Sitting in a library like that would definitely push me to study.

Lunch was catered again (salad and some random non-veg appetizers), and we were urged to walk around and mingle with grad students showcasing their research, via posters. At around 1pm, all recruits were called over to get shuttled to the airport or back to the hotel to do our own thing.

I opted to go back to the hotel so I could visit Water Tower Place again, as well as walk more of downtown Chicago.

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water tower / random spongebob mailbox—couldn’t resist / walking in an alleyway

At around 3:00PM, my sore throat started to get the best of me, and I pretended to be a mannequin took a seat near a window in a nearby Nieman Marcus for half an hour (no joke). I did happen to come across a Vosges boutique—with samples! And if you’re a regular reader of mine, you know how I feel about free samples, let alone chocolate ones!

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Blurry phone pic of Vosges Boutique Store.

I did manage to make it to the airport on time despite my less-than-stellar well-being. Needless to say, the 4.5 hour flight home was a horrible one. Probably one of my worst flights ever. But this trip overall? One of the best, ever.

How do you cope with getting sick while traveling?

Better Than Cheesecake

Note:  I was not monetarily paid to write this review, nor were these samples given to me by the company. I personally purchased these bars, and all opinions are my own.

When it comes to cake, I prefer chocolate and vanilla (with loads of frosting) over carrot or cheesecake. I can’t say I’ve always been cheesecake’s #1 fan. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never had the perfect slice?

Until that happens, I think the ANSI Gourmet Cheesecake Protein Bar does a decent job of being a good substitute.

Ansi Gourmet Cheesecake Protein Bar

Ansi Gourmet Cheesecake Protein Bar

These bars obviously rival Quest with their low carb (they have 17-19g of fiber) aura and main ingredient of whey isolate protein. They are also free of rBST and rBGH hormones. While not suitable for vegans due to the milk-derived ingredients, I contacted the company to make sure these were okay for vegetarians. I got a response that deemed these as vegetarian-friendly, and was also glad to see that these bars were gelatin-free. For every (60g) bar, there is 20 grams of isolate protein.

I found all three flavors at my local Vitamin Shoppe, and decided to try two of the flavors Monday morning before heading to lab.

I tried the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough flavor out of the two first.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake Flavor

When I was taking a picture of it, I noticed that my bar was about to tear apart! The sales associate was right when she said these are some of the softest food bars that they sell. The look of the bar reminded me of vanilla fudge, and to keep true to its name, there was sprinkling of chocolate chips within the bar.

The flavors were simple in that it tasted like sweet and soft vanilla fudge, almost like biting into a cloud. I say that as if I’ve eaten a cloud before :P

I followed up that bar with the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake flavor.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake Flavor

It reminded me of the ThinkThin Creamy Peanut Butter bar in terms of consistency and taste. The marble appearance reminded me of a Quest Cookie Dough bar. Compared to its chocolate-chip-more-like-vanilla sibling, this bar was less soft, but it still had a chewy, fudgy texture.

Strawberry Supreme Cheesecake

Strawberry Supreme Cheesecake

Since I felt obliged to try all three flavors, I went back the next day to get the Strawberry Supreme flavor after lab. It looked very much like the chocolate chip flavor in appearance, and indeed tasted soft, fudgy, and more like vanilla than cheesecake. The strawberry pieces added some interesting crunch—like pop rocks but not quite.

Reading and Eating

Reading and Eating

I had this bar in my car while reading the March 2014 issue of Runner’s World. Nothing like catching up on some reads while having an afternoon snack!

Are you cheesecake’s #1 fan? :)

Robots ’14

Spring—the season of the sun’s return, over-blooming flowers (allergies, ick!), and…ROBOTS!

When I was in high school, the month of March was always a thrilling one because of my involvement in robotics. After six weeks of being huddled in a cold workshop tinkering away at metal and coming home after school smelling of grease, competition season was always something I looked forward to.

This year marks my fourth year out of high school, and out of robotics as a “participant”, but that didn’t stop me from volunteering. I had a mini-rant about what happened last year, but this year turned out for the better—and I’m glad it did!

♥00oo♥

Looking back, the days leading up to a robotics competition were always exciting for me.  Competitions usually took place on a Friday and Saturday, but the events really began on a Thursday. For me, the excitement always kicked in to full gear on the Wednesday before a competition.  If we were traveling to a regional far away from our school, Wednesday was all about getting yourself pumped up for the “adventure” in the days ahead.

This year, I had the opportunity to volunteer as a Judge. Instead of packing my bags and counting down the minutes to Thursday morning however, I spent my Wednesday enjoying a pint of Coffee Artic Zero after working in lab. It was a gorgeous sunny day outside, but I gobbled up this frozen treat in my car.

A Pint of Coffee Artic Zero---enjoyed in my car on a warm, sunny day in March :)

A Pint of Coffee Artic Zero—enjoyed in my car on a warm, sunny day in March. I’ve forgotten how much I love this flavor, as it is the only AZ flavor (in my opinion) that’s sharp enough to detect and discern as ‘coffee’.

As I ate away, I couldn’t help but feel the nostalgia of my high school years in robotics. I was looking forward to the next evening’s events as a rookie judge.

Thursdays were “set-up” days and were very low key, but the fact that a few of us from our team got to travel early to the arena where the regional was taking place and prepare our “booth”, unleash our robot from its crate, and (possibly) get some practice matches in made me feel productive when I was a student on the team.

This time around, my Thursday went about as usual until approximately 5:30pm. My dad (who was judging for his third time) and I carpooled together over to the location where the regional was taking place, and were able to locate the exclusive Judges’ Room.

//

Snapshots during the ‘working dinner’. I also had some coffee afterwards (the mug in the left corner of the second photo is a hint).

Once we arrived, we were given our nametags, and were allowed to help ourselves to some catered dinner while the Judge Advisor went over the responsibilities we had for the weekend. After the training, we were also given parking passes for the weekend, as well as the infamous blue polos the Judges are well-known for at these competitions:

And mine

And mine even came in a fitted size for women’s—so it didn’t look like I was in a potato sack!!

We were out after an hour and a half, and I left with a feeling of excitment—ready to inspire students, as well as be inspired by them.

Fridays were when things kicked in to full gear. Our match schedule was set up, our robot was ready to go (once we plugged in a fully-charged battery), and many of us students on the team were settled in our positions. I took on a lot of responsibilities on the team when I was a student participant, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Everytime I saw those adults in blue polo shirts pass by, I was an eager beaver—ready to answer every and any question they had about my team and our robot…

On this past Friday, I woke up at 6am in order to report to the Judges’ Room by 7am for breakfast. We also had a quick training on our “tools” (paperwork for filling out info about the teams, clipboards, a pit map, etc.), and then we were sent out around 8am to start interviewing teams. 9am was opening ceremonies, which was when we were also introduced to the kids and the crowds. We got to watch the first match, and then we were urged to continue meeting with our assigned teams in order to ask them questions from topics that ranged from robot design to public relations.

Lotsa Bots

Some of the robots at competition.

We started deliberating around 10:30am, went back out for more interviewing, and then it was time for lunch.

Part one of my lunch on Friday. Wasn't able to snap pics of the rest of the goodies :(

Part one of my lunch on Friday. Wasn’t able to snap pics of the rest of the goodies.

At this time, we narrowed down our final teams for the awards we were planning on giving out that evening. The next step was to check back with those teams to ask them further questions in order to see which team better exemplified the award they were in the running for.

Once the final teams were chosen for Friday’s awards, it was time to write some scripts! These scripts are a cute way to introduce the award and the team being given that award, and often feature hints that gives the audience a clue as to which specific team is the winner.  I had the opportunity to write such a script, and it was amusing to watch the announcers read my words during the ceremonies.

When the team name is announced, the team walks races down to the field, and the kids (and sometimes adult mentors), are able to high-five all the judges. We were given hand sanitizer for this very reason…

Complimentary hand sanitizer, to keep hands clean after all those high-fives!

Complimentary hand sanitizer, to keep hands clean after all those high-fives!

Since the matches were running 40 minutes behind schedule, Friday’s awards ceremonies were conducted pretty late. We managed to get out at 7:30pm, but it was interesting to note that report time on Saturday was exactly twelve hours later…

Saturdays were go-time for us. If we didn’t bring it on Friday, then we had to kick it up a notch (as Emeril Lagasse would say :P) on Saturday….otherwise we would be left in the dust. Once opening ceremonies were through, it was time to finish up the remainder of our matches, and to either have a running list of teams we would like on our alliance if we were in the Top 8 going into Eliminations, or to sell ourselves to other teams to ensure we would be picked. Alliance selection always had my heart racing…what would happen if we didn’t get picked?? Fortunately, I never had to deal with that when I was in school. Our team always found a spot in the Elimination rounds…

We didn’t have any training on Saturday morning, so once the kids entered the arena around 8am, we were sent to follow-up on teams that were in the running for Saturday awards. Finishing around 10am, I came back with my notes and began to organize which teams I still thought deserved to be in the running. Once everyone got back, we began to get into deliberation mode.

For the most part, many of our decisions were unanimous…at least after some convincing ;). We were able to come to our decisions fairly quickly, and so were encouraged to go back outside and watch the rest of the matches taking place. Around noon, the representatives from the top 8 ranking teams aligned themselves on the playing field for Alliance Selection. Each representative had to pick two other teams to make an alliance. So in total, 24 teams would be going forward in the Elimination rounds.

After alliances were selected, my Dad and I headed back to the Judges’ Room and had lunch. I had two plates of veggies, and some Girl Scout cookies (unpictured), which were given to us by a team comprised of Girl Scouts. The perks of being a judge at a Robotics competition…

Plate #1 of Lunch. Wish I got a picture of the Girl Scout cookies! Thin Mints and Samoas are where it's at ;)

Plate #1 of Lunch. Wish I got a picture of the Girl Scout cookies! Thin Mints and Samoas are where it’s at!

Once lunch was eaten, it was time to go back and revel in the music, dancing, energy, and robot games that were about to take place. At around 3:30pm, I went back to the Judge’s Room with my Dad to get some pick-me-up coffee. Instead, I found a rather “distracting” dessert buffet laid out for us. The cake pops immediately caught my eyes, and you know I went for those.

Desserts set out after 3pm. Vanilla and Chocolate cake pops---so moist and yummy!

Desserts set out after 3pm. Vanilla and Chocolate cake pops—so moist and yummy!

The late afternoon indulgence brought my blood sugar back up enough to go back out and watch the semi-final and final rounds. The spirit in the arena was at an all-time high since Cotton-Eyed Joe, the Cupid Shuffle, and Gangnam Style brought everyone to their feet in between matches. Students, mascots, mentors, volunteers, and yes, even some judges all got up and boogied to the music. It’s not just about the science, we nerds can have fun too ;)

Spirit Crowds

Everyone is so spirited—in the middle picture, they’re waving their phones like candles.

Even though elimination matches were fun to watch, once they were over, everyone was ready to move on to awards and then to head home. So us judges quickly got into formation like we did the evening before, and got into position to high-five the winning teams with efficiency and ease. After all of the awards were given out, we all shook hands with one another and left! Funny how something that involves so much investment in the beginning doesn’t require much in the end…

♥00oo♥

I definitely had a blast being on the other side of things, and I can now honestly understand what it feels like to be an invested alumni in this program. It really does leave a mark on you for the rest of your life…in a good way of course! Even though I didn’t pursue engineering, robotics wasn’t just about that for me. I developed life, communication, and leadership skills, as well as left inspired by what science—be it biology, computer science, physics, whatever—can do, and how it can make such a meaningful impact on the world. I guess you could say this weekend was a good reminder for me to reflect on my “roots”, and pay homage to where my love for science was cultivated.

My plans for next year? I certainly want to volunteer as a judge, but at which regional depends on where I will be living in a year from now ;)

If you are an alumni of a program/school/organization, do you try and find ways to give back?

Recruitment Recap #3 – An Interview in NYC!

This post is the second in a series regarding interview recaps of PhD programs I applied to. The first post in this series can be read here, and the second here.

Having been a California girl for almost an eternity (okay, so I’m exaggerating), visiting New York for the first time was a phenomenal experience. And being able to visit the major metropolis of the nation world because I was interviewing for grad school? Best. Reason. Ever.

My “adventure” began earlier than the crack of dawn. Despite weather warnings and imminent delays, I woke up at 3:15 AM ready to go. My dad, being a trooper, dropped me off at the airport and I went through security with ease. Since I was flying to SFO first, I hopped on board a mini jet with legit propellars. I also had a single seat by the window, and was able to lean my head against the wall for some much needed shuteye:

Mini Jet

I already knew that I would have limited time to get to my gate at SFO, but considering what happened next, I probably wouldn’t have jog-walked across the airport. My flight from SFO to JFK was originally supposed to depart at 7:00am, but after settling in, our pilot let us know that our flight “wasn’t suitable for the trip”. An explanation would have been nice, but it wouldn’t have helped anyways since us passengers were irritated with the fact that we had to get up and move after stowing away luggage and ripping open plastic-sealed blankets—I know I was!

So we were shuffled across to a different gate, but fortunately we were able to depart 45 min later. Happy that it wasn’t anything more dramatic than that, I slept for most of the 5.5 hour flight, read magazines, and admired the city of NYC from above just before landing.

I arrived around 5:00pm, and found a place to organize myself and whip out my winter coat. The next step was to hail a “taxi”…well, it was more like a pushy guy with an Italian accent get in a car with three other foreign tourists. Okay, so it wasn’t as shady as it sounds, but I was a bit on edge until I got to my destination. Despite having suspicions about my so-called cab driver however, I let my eyes soak in the snow-covered brick buildings that flanked the highways of New York. With 80′s music blasting from the car radio, I couldn’t help but think about The Cosby Show.

My nerves calmed down once I reached the hotel. The school I was interviewing with booked our rooms in a Upper West Side trendy hotel with loft-style rooms.  I met my roommate who was already settled in, freshened up myself, and then headed out the door for my Crumbs quest.

Closet to hang clothes / so many floors! / cozy bed / fun "locker-style" shelves

Closet to hang clothes / so many floors! / cozy bed / fun “locker-style” shelves

Walking outside was not much fun to say the least, but I did my best to take advantage of walking on NYC streets—icy numb-feet-inducing puddles and all ;).

Night of Nasty Weather

Night of Nasty Weather

After consuming my delicious cannoli cupcake from Crumbs, I was ready to hit the hay since the next day was interviews!

The so-cozy-you-can-sink beds / unused Keurig and FREE water bottle / window seat / view from window seat

The so-cozy-you-can-sink beds / unused Keurig and FREE water bottle / window seat / view from window seat

The next morning, my roommate and I met four other applicants in the lobby. After realizing that the cars that were supposed to pick us up were not going to make it on time, we had to hail cabs (real ones this time) in order to drive over to the school.

The rest of the day consisted of meeting the program directors, interviews, lunch that was buffet-style with current grad students, a wine and cheese reception, and a tour of a current student’s studio apartment (her room had an amazing view of the NYC skyline).

Even though the day’s events left me depleted of energy, we still had to make our way to the subway in order to get to dinner in West Village.

Oh New Yorkers---always on the go!

Oh New Yorkers—always on the go!

Not exactly the most thrilling event of the trip, but at least now I can say I rode the subway, right? To be honest, it just reminded me of the BART.

Dinner was at an American restaurant (burger and fries fare) which one of the grad students booked in advance. We had a custom menu, and many in our group took advantage of the open bar…especially the current grad students. Our group took up tables for almost three hours, since each of us had to order an appetizer and meal. I opted for a plate of mediocre garlic fries (unpictured)  as my meal because I was still full from lunch, and didn’t have room for a veggie burger. I did have a bowl of well-seasoned brussel sprouts as my appetizer (sorry for the blurry photo—had to be sneaky!)

West 3rd Common (1)

The three hours went by slowly, but the time was spent chatting it up with grad students, from topics spanning running (on of the students I spoke to was a serious runner!) to lab rotations. They were a fun bunch, and the student organizer who planned the event was super sweet when she came around from time-to-time in order to check-in and see if everything was alright.

Around 10:30pm, our huge group parted, with one group heading out to another bar for drinks, and the other heading back to the hotel. Guess which one I joined? It was obviously past my bedtime ;), so back to the hotel I went, via subway.

The next morning, we had a late start. Our group met up with recruits from sister programs for brunch at a nearby diner. Again, dining options were made from a set menu, and again, considering how our groups was even larger now, it was pretty much time for linner by the time we left ;).

We split up into smaller groups to check out different museums and such. I went off with the Natural History group and enjoyed the view of New York City during the day.

New York is just as pretty during the day.

New York is just as pretty during the day.

Walking Around NYC to eventually get to NHM (3)

The NHM building was a beautiful one…

From the corner / closer / as we approached the side entryway

From the corner / closer / as we approached the side entryway

I spent around three hours in there, and at one point ended up with two other recruits from my program and a current grad student escort whom we “kidnapped” from another program. We decided to head back to the hotel, but we had a blizzard to face outside! By the time we stepped inside the lobby, we looked like snowmen! We chatted in the lounge until it was time to assemble for dinner.

...

Hung out in the hotel lounge with two recruits and a “kidnapped” grad student from another program than my own :P!

Dinner on Saturday night was at a local Korean restaurant in Midtown. My group arrived from the hotel via subway, and the grad student organizer who planned out the previous day’s events was able to arrange a vegan friendly version of Korean BBQ for me and three other vegetarians/vegans.

Me and three other veggie people demolished three bowls of bibibamp, noodles, appetizers, and sauteed mushrooms.

Me and three other veggie people demolished three bowls of {vegetarian} bibibamp, buckwheat noodles with sesame seeds, appetizers, and sauteed mushrooms that was meant to be a meat replacement.

We seriously ripped out our chopsticks and went at it. The four of us went through three bowls of veggie bibibamp (no egg though since a vegan was present), and savored sauteed mushrooms as much as our meat-eating collegues were enjoying their meaty barbecue. After the meal, we all sat back and went back and forth about how delicious everything was!

It was around 9:30pm when a few students were escorted back to the hotel via cabs, and even though bowling (and drinks, for those who were still “thirsty”) was on the schedule, I wanted to spend some more time exploring the city at night—now that I knew to be more wary about slushy puddles.

So roaming around I did. The buildings look so beautiful at night, and I spotted 16 Handles from across the street. I would have gone in for some late night Saturday froyo, but I was (unfortunately) quite full from the Korean meal.

love

I love the tall brick buildings / snow shoveled to the side / 16 Handles! <— been wanting to go there since seeing it on ‘Giving You the Business’

I left around 8:00am the next morning, and after a six-hour flight and a lay-over in LAX, I was home in time for dinner and sleeping in at 8:00pm PST…which was totally okay since I was still on EST.

NYC left a wonderful impression on me, and I only wish I could have stayed longer and even had the chance to meet with some of my favorite NYC bloggers ;). Only time will tell if I have the chance to explore this amazing city again, so I am glad for just being able to visit at least once.

NYC—love or hate it?

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