Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Draws Toward a Close

First and foremost I won't keep you in suspense - the beer I brewed is pretty darn good. It's no Killians, but it is an Irish Red, tastes like and Irish Red, and looks like an Irish Red. I know you were as concerned as I was about the outcome of this beer. Now that I have confirmation that I can produce something potable, it's time to start learning more about how to craft and design my own beer. I'm hoping to kick out another batch before classes start.

My typing speed drastically reduced pace at the end of the last sentence. I didn't realize that telling you that my classes start soon would actually make it come true but it has. Before I get into that whole bundle of joy, how about a real update. It's not that I don't trust you to be interested in my brewing, it's just that if I tried to introduce it later in this post after I throw down some actual life updates you might not care about the beer as much as I think you should.

So here we go - I absolutely loved my first rotation in Hershey. I got to learn so much about the shoulder joint, learn some new software for taking patient image data and converting it to shapes and materials that you can push and pull on in computer simulations, meet and impress my prospective PhD adviser, and establish connections with my colleagues in the MD/PhD program. The shoulder joint is extremely complex. In fact, it is comprised of 3 joints - not just one! That makes it especially challenging for biomechanics folks to characterize and ultimately simulate its function. (If you find that fact interesting, I recommend you check out the webpage on wikipedia - if you read that, you'll know more than I do about the shoulder joint ). So by the end of the rotation I had learned to take a patient's MRI scan, parse that data into 3D point clouds that define the outer bounds of the bones and implants, assign material properties to those materials based on the image intensity, construct 3D solid models out of the point cloud data, and apply loads to the materials in a computer (FEA) model to simulate the amount of load the fixation screws on the glenoid implant experience during daily activities like pushups. The outcome of the work could lead to more stable implant or screw designs that would reduce abnormal loading conditions and preserve the longevity of the implant.

In hopes that I still have your attention and your eyes haven't rolled up into the back of your head as you exclaim "I can't take another line of this boring science-y garbage" I'll shift gears to talk about normal things. At the end of my Hershey rotation I moved to State College, the place everybody  thinks of when I tell them I go to Penn State. State College is a pretty great place. It rains every day but don't that that discourage you - it only happens when you go outside. The dorm rooms are prime candidates for historic restoration groups making them very...... unique in their ability to deny graduate students of wireless internet. In all honesty, I do like State College - the campus is enormous which has made for some great exploring! There are restaurants and bars here that you can walk to which is a huge step away from the overripe bananas, browning lettuce, and daily sandwiches I left behind in Hershey. Also, the Penn State chapter of my undergraduate fraternity is THE building next to my lab building. Being in State College has reminded me a lot of my undergraduate days (complete with a game of Edward 40 Hands) and has also introduced me to the huge research resources that will be available to me during my tenure at Penn State. Gah - I started this paragraph wanting not to say anything about science but I couldn't resist that one.

My adviser here in State College, Dr. Stephen Piazza, has been truly fantastic to me. He ensured that there was a workstation with my name on it and 2 (that's right - 2) monitors. In fact yesterday was Saturday but I went into lab anyway because the monitors there (individually) are larger than my laptop screen, the chair is comfortable, and I had the whole place to myself to watch Netflix movies while the world of computers continued to laugh at my futile attempts to produce something useful for the knee-modeling community. Back to Steve though, he actually SENT me home to Buffalo for a long weekend. Literally he came in on Wednesday, had a meeting with me and before I left that meeting he told me that he didn't want to see me in lab again until Monday. I had not been home with my family since New Years and it was a much needed visit.

I must say that, so far, I have been nothing short of amazed and thankful for this MD/PhD program. There's a catch though..... There's always a catch.... Oh right, I remember now.


Yeah - those things. They're gonna start up way too soon and then they will consume way too much of my time. My mood about them changes from excited, to anxious, to terrified every 15 seconds. I bought a stethoscope, required for classes, which reminded me of my Dad telling me about the tools he had to pick up to start day 1 of his apprenticeship. His stories continue onto the next few years during which he was constantly hounded and bested by the skilled craftsmen who did all they could to prevent anyone they deemed 'unworthy' from entering the trade. I anticipate a similar experience and at least for now I am looking forward to it.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A lot has changed

As the title of this post suggests, I intend to fill you in on what I've been up to and why I haven't been blogging for a little over a year. Yes, I had to go look that up and yes I felt disappointed. However, that vast gap in time will give me a lot to write about in this post. Grab some snacks - I've got plenty of time to make this one long and informative (boring).

Ok so where I left off was explaining that I had decided to throw my head against the med school wall in one last hurrah before giving up the life dream of becoming a physician. What an exhausting and familiar process that sent me off on! Firstly, I had to obtain letters of recommendation for school from my employers, former lab bosses, and the surgeons I had been working with. This meant that they had to find out that I was intending to leave my job one year later. Seeing as how I had been there for a year, I had established a nice reputation with a lot of great people so actually getting the letters was easy but I played it up in my head as if I were declaring myself a traitor because I was leaving the lab. However, rather than trying to convince me otherwise, my boss, Dr. Timothy Wright, recommended that I apply for combined MD/PhD programs because he thought I would be well suited to such training. I didn't take much convincing and ended up applying almost exclusively MD/PhD to schools.

Unfortunately, my medical college admissions test (MCAT) score from my sophomore year of college had expired and I had to retake the test. This wonderful 6 hour test presents wannabe students with the opportunity to demonstrate their retention of biology, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry in attempt to prove their worthiness to the medical school gods (admissions committees). Being 4 years removed from the courses that taught me these things meant that I was going to have to put myself through MCAT bootcamp if I was going to perform well enough for the gods not to laugh at my application as they sent it sailing through the air after folding it into a replica of a crashed airplane and lighting it on fire. So I got a hold of a Kaplan test prep book and began spending 8 hours every Saturday studying for the test. With 3 months to go, a friend of mine gave me a set of audio lectures geared toward preparing students for the MCAT. I listened to them every day on the 45 minute commute each way to work, whenever I was walking around anywhere, and before I went to bed at night. With 2 months to go, I started studying for no less than 1 hour every day in addition to the audio lectures. When I hit the 1 month remaining mark I started doing a practice test every Saturday and Sunday. I took 5 days off work the week before the test and continued to cram. The test came and went and my score ranked in the top 7th percentile, despite my fears that I had not performed well!

Armed with a great test score and letters of recommendation from 5 orthopedic surgeons at HSS, 3 from scientists, and a personal statement that had been reviewed over a dozen times by each of 4 people other than myself I sent out my applications and promised myself that I would never go through that wretched process again. The rejection letters started hitting my email but one of them stood out. It read something like: Congratulations! You are cordially invited to interview at the University of Kentucky for admission into the MD/PhD program. Having never before seen a rejection letter that looked like that, I reexamined and realized that this was no rejection letter! I was so ecstatic that after 2 years of rejection and one year off all of my hard work had finally paid off and I had been accepted!!!!.... to interview......

It didn't take long to realize that although getting an interview was a huge accomplishment, this process had not yet released its death grip on me. I threw together 6 powerpoint slides detailing my research efforts, publications, presentations, and professional connections in an attempt to make sure that my interview stood out and when I left their office they still had a physical reminder of who I was and how badly I wanted this acceptance. My interviews went extremely well, with a majority of my interviewers asking me what I had done so wrong to get rejected in previous years.

A short time after the Kentucky interviews I get another rejection letter except this one invited me to interview at Penn State! The Penn State interview was scheduled for mid January 2013. On the last business day before Christmas Day while I was sitting at the center island in my parent's kitchen I got an email to inform me that I had been accepted to the MD/PhD program at the University of Kentucky. My world stopped turning as I broke down crying hysterically in front of my father because I knew no other way to react. My efforts and perseverance had finally brought me to my goal. 2 weeks later the Penn State interview went equally as well as the one at Kentucky. A few weeks later I got my second acceptance into a MD/PhD program. This process had quickly turned from me expecting disappointment to allowing me to choose between schools! Shortly after getting accepted to Penn State I received an invitation to interview at the University of Buffalo. In an extremely difficult decision I respectfully declined the invitation to interview at UB because I knew that their research was not strong in biomechanics. Similarly, I discovered Kentucky's biomechanics department to pale in comparison to Penn State.

So here I am, at my HUGE two-bedroom apartment in Hershey, Pennsylvania, having spent a majority of the day beginning a batch of homebrewed Irish Red ale and exchanging my New York driver's license for a shiny new Pennsylvania one. I have made friends with the current MD/PhD students (affectionately referred to as "the Nerds" by me and as "the mud-phuds" by everyone else) in the years ahead of mine because nobody else in my year has arrived in Hershey yet. I am 2 weeks into a 4-week research rotation in which I have been developing computational finite element models for assessing glenohumeral implant fixation as affected by osteoarthritis. The rotation has been very educational and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Leaving HSS was difficult for me. For the 3 months leading up to my move to Hershey, I began devoting myself almost entirely to work. I held very long hours and did not spend much time at home. In exchange for my efforts, I have published 3 papers all of which I am second authored on, and am writing 2 on which I will be first author. There are others that I have authorship rights to due to my efforts, however, I think it will be challenging enough to try and get even two out while going through research rotations and med school.

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Update

Hello (very) loyal audience!

It has been far too long since my last post and I actually feel really guilty about it.  I really enjoy(ed) writing in this blog.  So, rather than continuing to wait for a self-proclaimed profound thought worth sharing I figure I'll stop procrastinating and write a post about what I've been up to since my last post. 

So first and foremost, I have been working.  As most young professionals in my generation are discovering, saying that I have been working doesn't quite do it justice - it indicates that I have a job but doesn't quite give the flavor of reality that I'd like to offer for taste-testing.  I am currently involved in 5 biomechanics studies at work and I'll try to lay them out in non-engineering terms to try and maintain the image of being a normal, sociable, real, not nerdy person!  Disclaimer - I am very nerdy.

The first study I worked on when I started my job at HSS was called the Juvenile ACL reconstruction study.  The primary significance of the study is addressing the fact that adult ACL reconstruction techniques are inappropriate for juvenile patients because the growth plate of their skeletally immature bones (the part that causes the bones to elongate to full, mature length) would be disrupted with a drill tunnel, thus stunting the growth of the bone and dwarfing the patient.  The clinical alternatives generally involve methods that use extracortical fixation (a screw that enters from outside the bone and doesn't pass too deep) and wrapping the ACL graft around the back of the femur and then through a bone tunnel in the tibia, sparing the epiphysis (growth plate).  There are many surgical variations on this procedure and the Juvenile ACL study set out to evaluate two such techniques with the hopes of finding that one was more kinematically stable or reduced pressures in the joint relative to ACL-deficient knees, or both.  The testing is conducted with a large robotic arm that manipulates the knee in predetermined ways that are deemed relevant for recording measurements based on past literature and functional clinical exams.  All in all, 11 cadaveric knees were dissected, prepped, tested, operated on, and analyzed by yours truly, one of my coworkers named Carl, and a surgical resident named Moira.  Dissection and prep took place on the same day, testing generally took one 18 and one 12 hour day, and the surgeries were performed on testing days.  The study took us 8 weeks to complete from start to finish.  Doing some rough retrospective number crunching, I was involved in cutting up 11 knees, performing 22 ACL reconstructions, and 330 hours of testing - IN TWO MONTHS!    I've never been in a place that's so efficient and productive with its research.  Data processing took Carl and I about 3 weeks to munch through after which Moira turned an abstract around in about the same time.  The study has been finalized, a paper written and submitted, and plans are currently being made for designing future research thrusts based on our findings.

I suppose I should take a minute or two now and explain what testing is like.  It involves sitting in a room about the size of 4 H3 hummers with a huge robotic arm, 2 freezers full of..... parts....., the specimen you are currently working on (in the robot's grips), a computer cluster from which we researchers play God to the robot, and usually a coworker or medical resident to keep you awake and entertained.  Operating the robot is a matter of running specific house-written (MATLAB) computer codes, watching the readouts on the computer screen to ensure that you haven't told the robot to perform its own, violent surgery on the specimen accidentally, and keeping the specimen moist so the tissues don't dry out.  Needless to say, Carl, Moira, and I learned a lot about each other during those testing days.  On the really long days (nights) there always seemed to be a bewitching hour between 8-10pm that always rendered us slap-happy, irritable, and karaoke-prone for the rest of the testing day.  Carl gave brief introductory lessons on the finer (innapropriate) words in the German language, Moira continually demonstrated a desire to understand what was going on with testing but, frustratingly, not being able to grasp engineering concepts, and I blessed the crowd with a witty, satirical sense of humor that can only accurately be described as that of Jeff Tucker's.  Those of you that know my father (or maybe myself - .....scary) understand what it was like.

Another important aspect of this study that I have failed to mention up to this point is that a senior, attending surgeon from the main hospital, Dr. Frank Cordasco (Google him!  He's really cool!) came over to perform the surgeries with Moira, Carl, and myself.  Now that the study has been submitted, he will be writing me a letter of recommendation for medical school.

(dramatic pause)

You did read that correctly.  I am, yet again applying to medical school.  If there is one thing that I have learned from my experience so far at this job, it is that I LOVE surgery!  I generally don't take well to being held back and I would generally hold a grudge against medical schools and spite them for not accepting me in the past but I have found a real passion here and I am throwing my hat in the ring again one last time. 

Note - at this point I am realizing that I will have to tell you about my other studies in another post (but at least the topics for future posts are decided so I have no more excuses to not write!)

I spent a large part of the day today filling out the all-too-familiar-to-me common application for AMCAS which opens up for submissions on June 5.  I will be submitting my application on June 5th and, therefore, will be quite busy between now and then with work, applications, and continuing to study for the MCAT, which I intend to take in late July this year.  To further belabor myself (and much to my surprise), I will be applying to some schools for their MD/PhD program, adding more years onto the time it would take me to graduate.  I have developed a soft spot for research since starting this job and would like to stay involved throughout my career (or at least that's how I feel now).  So that's the long-put off update - stay tuned as I intend to get back on the horse and post more regularly!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Late Nights/Early Mornings

So here's the deal with New York City: you can't sleep full nights and experience what the city has to offer, period.  I am fortunate to be in the city at the ripe age of 23 while I can still occasionally get away with missing an entire night (week) of sleep and survive.  And by survive I mean drag my non-coffee drinking, groggy butt into the office to be harangued by my secretary who immediately notices that I am wearing my glasses.  She follows her bemused facial expression with something like: "somebody needs to learn how to handle the city... Bendito!"  I still tend to be the earliest one in the mornings, however, so I normally have time to make it look at least like I've been rubbing my eyes to cure some terrible itch rather than look like the only one who can't make it in the big city.  Fortunately, my office is full of 'young professionals' such as Julie, my housemate, and myself and, therefore, it is not uncommon for someone to show up late and/or look a tad (understatement) under the weather.

One of the most important things to realize about partying in this city is that the party don't start till I walk in - Terrible Ke$ha lyrics that come into my head every time I hear the words 'party start'.  Where I was really going with that is that the parties don't start until 10:30PM at the earliest!  What this means is that if you want to be cool and hang out with your friends out at the bar, you're going to be out until at least 2AM but probably more like 4.  On top of that, you will be paying the princely sum of $6 for any single beverage you order - unless you would like a mixed drink in which case you can safely double that number.  Summary: Overtired, broke, and still uncool.

On the more positive side of the nightlife in Astoria is that I have met and continue to meet some of the most interesting people I have encountered this far in life!  One of them, my new friend, Newell, gave me the idea for this post's subject (here is my shameful apology for having not maintained my blog since November - I should spend less time out and more time in doing productive, self-developmental things like blogging).  I have developed a simple methodology for meeting new friends - I go out with my housemate.  Julie talks to everyone and this provides great opportunity for me to overcome the awkwardness inherent in all engineers and magnified in myself.  I wait for a break in their conversation and then poke my head closer to Julie's which causes her to both remember that I exist and introduce me to her/our new friend(s).  The surprising part of our nocturnal endeavors is how friendly everyone is that we have met.  Regardless of where we go, we leave having met amazing people who we are surely going to meet up with again in the near future.  This has, for me, disproved the widely-held belief that New Yorkers are rude.  I would say that such a sentiment comes from travelers and tourists who spend short spurts of time in this beautiful city and see a few monuments and museums (full of rude tourists), ride the subways during peak travel hours (full of disgruntled, uncomfortable workers and hobos), and dine in fancy restaurants (undoubtedly feeling pretentious).  In fact, some of the nicest people I have encountered so far in life have been random run-ins or eye-catches or people that Julie has fallen onto (don't hate me for that one, Julie)! 

As is only appropriate for this post, it is 12:30AM and I have to get up for work at 6AM.  Looks like the score still stands:  New York - 1, Scott - 0.  And with that, I wish you goodnight!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Trying to Get a Leg Up

This post may make you uncomfortable.  You’ve been warned…

Last night I found myself leaving work after a 13 hour shift that I originally thought was going to be a normal 8 hour day.  This has become a normal occurrence for me at work – partially because I like my job and partially because it’s healthier than going home and being a bum.  I’m not talking about the kind of bum that lies on a couch, sleeps, and eats.  I’m talking about the kind of bum that gets home, throws belongings randomly in places they don’t belong, cooks but doesn’t do the dishes, parties but doesn’t clean up the mess, and other general irresponsible habits I picked up from college – I love being a young professional but I’m pretty sure I can’t count myself as one because of my lifestyle.  Have no fear, though, I choose this path every day I decide to be a bum and I am thoroughly enjoying it, save for those one or two days a month where my housemate and I decide that we live in such filth that it is time to organize everything and deck-scrub the floors.  Anyhow this post is supposed to be about work so let me get back to the task.

So I get home from work last night with just enough time to make a rapid dinner (barbecued chicken and mixed vegetables), practice playing beer pong for an upcoming tournament (I did tell you I was irresponsible, right?  Well I’m not – I practiced with water…. ;-)   ), and get to sleep in time to wake up early for work.  I did not, however, have time to reflect on the last hour-and-a-half of work.  The end of my work day yesterday adequately describes why I love my job, why I am weird (or at least one reason), and why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Yesterday I volunteered (why I can’t complain about long hours) to help a coworker get a cadaver leg scanned.  Oh yeah, I just realized that I haven’t yet told you all that I work with cadavers all day.  That’s right folks, DEAD PEOPLE.  Fortunately I don’t deal with whole people and have to experience the emotions attached to that.  Unfortunately that means I get parts to deal with.  I’m currently working on 3 knee projects (meaning that I see a lot of dead legs), an elbow project, and an index finger project.  The job is definitely not for the queasy as it often involves pushing or pulling on these parts with mechanical testing machines, performing dissections, drilling holes, and, sometimes, breaking bones. So yesterday I had a whole leg to work with – we’re talking femoral head (the part of your leg that inserts into your hip socket) all the way down to and including the foot.  This 20 lb leg was strapped to two 2x4s; one was short to hold the foot at 90 degrees to the leg and the other was a bit longer than the length of the leg.  CT scanning for specimens doesn’t happen in the building I work on, meaning that the leg has to be transported up 2 blocks in the Upper East Side in Manhattan, New York.  To paint the mental picture here, imagine a leg-sized cardboard box stuffed with a leg and styrofoam jammed into a long duffel bag and then slung over my shoulder like I’m carrying a circus tent.  I proceeded down the elevator and out into the crazy world that is New York City.  Wall-to-wall traffic, pedestrians covering the sidewalk, dog walkers, joggers, and the elderly all stood a good chance of bumping into me and this unshapely package I was carrying.  I was a tad nervous about the strap breaking followed by the zipper popping followed by the cardboard giving-way to the leg as it crashed onto the sidewalk with a wet thud - but that never happened.  So I got the leg to its destination – a 2 million dollar imaging machine that took 1,164 images in less than 2 minutes, giving me a digital 3D xray of the leg and internal parts with a resolution on the order of .01mm (10 microns to those in the know).

So next time you see someone walking on the Upper East Side with a large container be sure to steer clear.  You never know what surprises may await!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Something to Keep in Mind

I was struck by terrible news today.  While at work one of my college buddies messaged me to let me know that one of our old classmates passed away of natural causes this past weekend.  I should start this by mentioning that I did not know Bobby very well.  He was one of those college peers who shared the same major, appeared in many of my classes, and was randomly assigned to a group with me to work on class projects every now and then. What I did know about him, however, is that he was a very hard working 24 year old PhD candidate, president of the Biomedical Engineering Society, integral member of his research lab, boyfriend, son, brother, and friend.  Six months ago he and I were standing in front of our class dissecting a journal publication about tissue engineering with the intentions of educating the next generation of biomedical engineers on how to focus their efforts to help sick people recover.  To my knowledge, Bobby was neither sick nor injured.  For all I know he may not have experienced any warning signs that he was in any danger, given that he was working at his job when complications set in.  This hit me as a very clear message that I am not indestructible and as a reminder that the only guarantee I have in life is the present.  It is incredibly important to take time to appreciate the here-and-now and (I know it's cliche) live each day to the fullest.  There is no more blatant reminder that life is a gift than when one gets taken away. I don't mean this post to be morose or negative but I do want it to serve as a reality check! Death is something we shouldn't live our lives running from but just accept as the inevitable end and choose to live accordingly.  We all have so much talent and so much promise individually but, more importantly, we all mean something to so many other people.  Bobby would not have called me anything more than an acquaintance yet I feel so much anger and frustration with his passing.  I am fortunate enough to have had very few encounters with death thus far in life that I literally cannot imagine what his close friends, and family are going through. Bobby is greatly missed and his passing commands everyone to take some time to appreciate those who care for them and those who they care for. At the end of the day, what more do we have than each other and the memories we have created together?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Alone in a Crowded Room

It happened.  I mean I guess I knew it would eventually but I never anticipated what it would feel like when it did.  This morning I felt completely alone in New York City.  I was having an excellent morning up until I got on the subway to trek into the working world for a few hours. After pushing my way into the crowded car the tone rang and the doors slid shut like they always do. Something was different this time when the car started moving - I was looking around at all the people and felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I wanted to go back to the world of the weekend where I got together with close friends and met a few more.  From the buzz of the beer garden on Sunday afternoon, randomly meeting people who are feeling equally as carefree and fun-loving, to the sleeping in, ordering out, and all-around laziness that comes with few commitments I had more than enough social and personal time to stay happy. I can't explain where this feeling came from but it really hit hard. I love my new life and the independence that came with it and this post is not a complaint but, rather, an observation.  It is so interesting to me that you can feel isolated when surrounded to the point of physical contact with people who are (mostly) around your age. I have had plenty of opportunities to make friends in the city and I have been having a great time.  The real truth of the matter is that, in a city so large, nobody belongs more than you do.