Guest Blogging and Getting back into the Swing of Things

trumpet science

After all the conferences and catching up on work in lab, things are finally getting back to normal. I will continue my scientific journey story soon but for now…

I am published in Nature!!! Well kinda. I got to do a guest blog for the Nature sponsored blogs at Scilogs. Check it out!!! http://www.scilogs.com/guest_blog/the-biggest-lesson-music-taught-me-about-life-in-science/

MDLJ

#BLACKandSTEM, What Is Your Endgame?

chess the begining

So I was thinking, what is the endgame of #BLACKandSTEM. Well, first we need to understand some of the layers behind what the rally cry hashtag means to you. Is it seeing who is out there? What they do? To feel supported in your scientific craft? It probably means something slightly different to everyone, but one thing is for certain, it represents a wonderful and supportive community. So back to the original question, what is the endgame? Here is a little anecdote about what I mean.

When you do an experiment, how do you conduct it? You form a hypothesis and you test variables to see if that hypothesis is correct. The endpoint is only as good as how you test for it. In the end, “the data is the data.” Now this is a great way to find out new things, but not necessary the approach I would take to #BLACKandSTEM in relationship to the end game.

Now, how do you write a paper? What I do is I take the results from the experiments that I have done and I put them in an order to tell a story, a story for which I already have a conclusion. So I make figure 1 a-d, figure 2 a-c, figure 3 a, c, and d (I need to clean up “b”) and so on. The point is, it is a lot easier to do those clean up experiments when I know the end of the story I want to tell.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are the experiments, what is our paper? Our story? What vision do you have for #BLACKandSTEM. What figures do you have in place to make that story a possibility? How can we all contribute those clean up figures to that story so that we can reach our endgame?

First, we must know what our endgame is. Mine is to be a professor so that my presence and science will (not might, WILL) motivate a generation of people interested in science; a diversity and passion that will spark people to want to know more about science. My endgame is when other people get there, but my figure 2 is getting there myself.

So, what is your endgame, where do you see this movement going, and how can the #BLACKandSTEM community help?

MDLJ

Conference Recap #4 – All the Feels

copper

I am here at the biometals conference at my alma mater (GO DUKE!!). As I look around, I am the only black guy. About 150 people here and I am the only black guy. Do you have any idea how I feel about that?!?!?!

Normal. I feel normal. I feel normal because that’s how I choose to feel.

Where did you think I was going with that???

Look, I would love for this meeting to have more than the 4 total black people here, but I can’t let that bother me while I am here. Nor can I let that limit me.

If you approach a situation as if you are disadvantaged, then you will be disadvantaged. Again, the cards may very well be stacked against you (although this is a great crowd and I ABSOLUTELY do not feel that way here), but you cannot stack the cards against yourself.

You have to believe that you belong. You have to walk and talk with authority. You have to literally sit at the table. Fortune favors the BOLD.

I’m learning so much at this great conference and making some wonderful connections. Budding collaborations are in the works!!!

MDLJ

Scientific Journey #3: It’s Not Easy Being Green, My First Lab Experience

Here is part 1 and part 2 if you want to get caught up.

I had to make LB plates but something didn’t look right. After autoclaving it, I knew things were supposed to turn into a solid when it cooled in the petri dish, but as of now it just looked too liquidy (hows that for a science term). Swirl swirl and swirl some more, but liquid it remained. Ten good minutes had passed and it showed no signs of solidifying. Finally the lab manager asked me,

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to get these plates to solidify so I can go home.”

“Did you add agar?”

Whomp Whomp. Who knew you had to add agar to the LB powder. The equivalent is me trying to make jello, swirling around the powder in the water, but without heating it. Just sitting there all ho hum.

on fire beaker

Ladies and gentlemen, I was GREEN. Luckily, one, making plates wasn’t the main part of my job, two, I was a quick learner, and three, when I innocuously screwed up, I did it in a way that made the lab manager cry (from laughter). She was a wonderful lab mom in that respect (now she is retired and I hope enjoying every minute of it).

This was my first lab environment. This is where I developed my lab chops. This was my first scientific family.

The boss (AKA the Chair of Microbiology and Immunology) was a “tell it like it is” kind of guy. I always knew where I stood with him because he wasn’t afraid to tell you, whether you asked or not. I cannot tell you how valuable this was for me as a young scientist.  I was in the “kid” stage and although I knew I wanted to be a scientist, I had no idea how to get there (or where “there” was). Hence I needed his direction.

I needed his statements like:

“Give journal club as a technician.”

“You are not ready to apply to graduate school this year, but you will be next year.” #truth

“Take this graduate class, it will grow hair on your chest.”

Yes, he encouraged me to take classes while I was in his lab. He reasoned that if I could already pass the classes, the admissions committee would have few things to say against me, and that one I joined graduate school, I would already have a few credits so I could get more done in my rotations. He prepared me to do my job and prepared me to leave at the same time. Yes, I was fortunate to be in his lab, but also this is a tale to you the reader to make sure to try an identify the type of mentor you are getting involved with. I learned more than I thought from him, I realize that now and I remain grateful.

One of the classes he suggested that I take was advance molecular biology. This class had my first “I have to study this topic moment” of my scientific life and it fundamentally changed the course of my science career. I’ll share that in my next post. For now, I’m at the Biometals meeting at Duke University.

Cheers,

MDLJ

Wow you made it this far, good for you!!! Want to do something fun? Tweet me @blacksciblog and tell me what you think the topic was or to tell me what that topic was for you.

 

Scientific Journey Part #2 Baby Steps in Science

First off, if you missed part one of the story and want to get caught up, click here.

All caught up??? Good!!

Here, I will detail my first steps toward science.

Baby_Steps_Sand_Light-Gallery1-615x387

So I have made my decision to do science. Now what??? Maybe I can stay at Duke for an extra year and go for the chemistry major…have you seen the tuition??? Strike one.

The next thing I did was apply to every research job under the sun. I was in Research Triangle Park with >50 different companies to work for, not to mention Duke University, UNC, and NC State were there as well. Surely I will get one bite…crickets, nothing but crickets. After applying to north of 200 jobs in one month I got one short call and that was it. Seems no one wanted to take a music major seriously, honestly it is hard to blame them. Strike two.

Even though I am calling this strike two, I was truly fortunate to have a supportive mother and at that point girlfriend (now wife of course). They are the reason I put family first now. They were there for me before science and I can never (will never) forget that.

Even with their support, at this point, I am pretty lost and when you are lost, you try to retrace your steps. Since the word was pharmacology, I decided I would email the local authorities on pharmacology in the area. I emailed the chair of pharmacology at Duke and UNC to find out if there was some magic formula to getting into science. Dr. Gary Johnson, the Chair of Pharmacology at UNC told me some great advice, “take your resume to the HR departments; put a face to a name or piece of paper.” This advice was given very close to 10 years ago (in early June of 2004).

Following his advice I went to every department I could find, which is pretty difficult at a place you have never been. A couple weeks later, I got a call. It was from Dr. Jeff Frelinger, who was the Chair of the Microbiology and Immunology Department at the time. My first in person interview!!!

So I get all dressed up in my suit and I go bright-eyed and bushy tailed to the interview. I remember sitting outside of Jeff’s office (funny how once I walked in, the time was a blur), but I said to the lab manager at the time, who is now quite the dog agility expert, “I guess I am a bit overdressed for the lab.” Crazy as it sounds, that statement might have got me the job. I was not nearly the most qualified for the job, but in addition to Jeff somehow thinking that I had the best ability to learn the job at hand (it wasn’t the kind of thing anyone would have done as an undergraduate), I got the lab managers vote because she thought I had personality.

Again to recap, not the greatest at microbiology in undergrad, and I am now working for the Chair of Microbiology and Immunology. At this point, I no longer doubt what I was told (see part one). I know that this science thing was meant to be. That confidence would be, and is still needed in my scientific life.

Today is actually 10 years (TO THE DAY) that I got the call to say I was being offered employment. He took a chance and I am eternally grateful. We all had help to get to where we are. We had someone to believe in us when they had no reason to do so. I feel it prudent to stop here and just be thankful. I will save my experience in the Frelinger lab (which was a great one) for the next post.

If you are enjoying this story or any of the other postings, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss one. Stay tuned because the music strikes back.

MDLJ

Scientific Journey Part 1 – From Music To Being Told What To Do

I must admit I really like the look on people’s faces when I tell them that I was music major at Duke and had no science major. The questions that come after are as one might expect. How did you do it? Why did you do it? Are you crazy?

This is part one of the story. This will take you to the point of me making the decision that I would pursue science. I don’t yet know how many parts there will be in this series yet as this is the first time I have really chronicled this story on paper.

One more thing you should know before you read this story. I am a God-fearing, church-going Christian. I say this not to scare you away if you aren’t one, but simply so you know where I am coming from. I’m not trying to turn this into a blog on religion, it is still (and will be) very much a science blog. The thing is, my scientific journey is as much testimony as it is anything else so to tell you how I got to where I am, I must be honest about the story. If you think that makes me crazy, at least you will know the passion and belief behind the “crazy.” Additionally, you must know that what I do is ultimately not for me to be greater, but for the Kingdom to be greater.

Okay, here we go. A long one, but worth it I hope.

Entering Duke, I was interested in veterinary medicine. As I began my college journey, I figured that if I was going to do the pre-vet curriculum, I was going to major in something that I knew I liked, music. So that’s what I did, I majored in music but still took science classes to fulfill whatever curriculum the vet school might have needed.

One class was the dreaded weed out course, organic chemistry. Oooohhhh were the stories true. It didn’t go so well and I ended up getting a D. Knowing that wasn’t going to cut it to move on to the next class, I took it again during summer school while working at a Vet hospital. I learned two things that summer; one, getting help in the form of tutoring was very wise because I ended up setting the curve in O-chem 1 & 2, and two, I did NOT want to go to vet school any more. It wasn’t at all what I expected.

Well crap, what now.

Med school, haha nope, music grad school, eh, probably, I could do that. Meanwhile, after learning to love it, I tutored for organic chemistry. I felt that I could help because I knew the pitfalls well after falling in them. Keeping organic chemistry in my life would prove to be important.

Okay, let me fast-forward to one of the most influential weekends on my life. THE WEEKEND. December 13 & 14 2003, yes, I remember the dates (but it also helps that it was right after finals of my first semester senior year). Two things came out of that weekend one, I found out that if I asked for her hand in marriage, my now wife of 9 years (Elisha) would have said yes (I would later propose October 4th 2004), and I found out what I wanted to be, or rather I was TOLD what I wanted to be

Here’s how it went down. That Sunday, I went to church with Elisha and her family. In the middle of praise and worship I heard something. A voice that was not my own and it said “Pharmacology.” Now this was weird is soooo many ways, what was that voice? Was I the only one who heard it? That’s a weird word to say in church.

I don’t know if I actually knew exactly what pharmacology was at the time outside of I thought it meant making drugs (legal ones of course). Well, I learned to enjoy organic chemistry and I wanted to do something medical. Yeah, this seemed like it could work. But for real, who said that. Considering where I was, I could only assume God was trying to set me on a path of what to do with my life. I say it that way instead of God telling me exactly what to do because if God had told me biochemistry (which I sucked at in college) or microbiology (which I sucked at even more in college), I probably wouldn’t have listened. But I was told pharmacology and that at least made a little bit of sense.

The message that day was regarding 2 Kings 4:1-7 about Elisha (the profit) telling the widow to find all the empty vessels she could find and bring them so that they may be filled with oil. The oil would eventually run out when she stopped bringing empty vessels to the spout. In other words, she was being told what to bring to God so that her life could be poured into. And the more she would bring (of one’s self), the more God would pour into that vessel (life).

So God, you want this music major to do science and go to graduate school to get a Ph.D.? All right coach, I’m ready to play, put me in where you need me. I guess if You are telling me to go into science, then You two aren’t enemies?

So what did I do from there? Well, at the very least you know how the story is in the present (because it is far from over), and what my driving force is.

In part 2, I’ll tell how I got from this life changing moment to graduate school.

MDLJ

 

So I’m standing next to Elisha, listening about a person named Elisha telling someone how to improve their life.  WOW #Elishaception #divinesenseofhumor #oneword