This week has saw a Monday through Thursday of 9 am - 8 pm days trying to get experiments running, data worked up, and prepare for my presentation. As a part of the program, we are each required to share a twenty minute presentation with the rest of the group...it's funny that instead of being petrified for a presentation that long, I'm worried that I will have far too much to talk about! Oy..talk about becoming a complete science dork. I am guilty as charged.
Part of the reason the first part of my week was so busy was due to a planned visit to see NYU and visit the campus where all of the environmental health research takes place. I had to go on a Friday, which made for a very interesting schedule. I took the T into town at about 11 pm, stopping first at the South Station Diner, a famous Boston establishment. Open from 5 pm to 5 am, it has great diner food and atmosphere (read: the best Reuben I have ever tasted). My bus (Greyhound) left from South Station at 12:30 am (between Thursday and Friday), arriving at Port Authority in New York City at 5 am. Honestly, the ride was noisier than expected: you'd think people would have no reason to be on cell phones at 3:30 am, but apparently I was mistaken. I bummed around in the station awhile, waiting for it to become a bit lighter before taking the subway to Washington Square. The NYC transit system is extremely efficient and fast, yet confusing for a newcomer. It doesn't help that Minneapolis has confused my sense of what is "up town" but I made it through all right. I made the decision (albeit unknowingly) to show up in Manhattan on garbage day. Eww. It may have given me a slightly skewed vision of the city, but I was rather disappointed. I love cities, and I cannot stand to see beautiful buildings and parks profaned with litter when a garbage can is all of three feet away. I also expected the area around NYU to be cleaner specifically because it was a college campus, but it wasn't any cleaner than the surrounding area. I think in some ways it just may not be worth it to try.
I walked around for a time before settling in at a coffee shop to try and wake myself up (besides the scant hours of sleep I had tried to catch on the bus, I had been awake for 25 hours and counting). Since the campus where environmental research takes places is about 50 miles away, NYU provides a van for students living in the city to get to Tuxedo. Now, when I did a little bit of research trying to figure out how to get to Tuxedo (before I knew of the van), I saw that Tuxedo had a commuter rail stop. So, I had this picture in my head of "Oh, it's kind of a suburb: it was just built out of town because land in Manhattan is expensive." Not even close. It's in the middle of a state park. In the middle of nowhere. It's absolutely beautiful, with tree-covered mountains and so much green! However, it was completely unexpected to wake up after dozing on the bus in an area that could have very easily be located in northern Minnesota.
I was ushered into the cafeteria to await my first appointment (since I had arrived before some of the professors with which I would be interviewing). It looked like the cafeteria at my elementary school, except smaller in size with adult chairs. There was a lady there wearing a Yankees cap with a fantastic accent from Brooklyn serving jello and coffee. It was an odd blast from the past (given that the whole building was probably built in the 1970s as well). For the next five hours, I talked with a few graduate students as well as four different professors: Dr. Terry Gordon, Dr. Judy Zelikoff, Dr. Jerry Soloman, and Dr. Cathy Klein, regarding my graduate school plans and dreams. Most of them didn't know quite what to do with the policy-oriented side of my personality, but once we descended into the world of "hard science," things went just fine. The research focus of the institute is mainly pulmonary and respiratory toxicology: for instance, one of the research scientists exposes pregnant mice to cigarette smoke in an effort to study developmental problems related to tobacco and nicotine. If you are interested, the link below will take you to the homepage for NYU:
As far as classes go, the first two years would be spent living in downtown New York City, attending classes at NYU's Manhattan campus. Every Monday and Friday would be spent up in Tuxedo for a specialized environmental toxicology lecture as well as journal clubs and laboratory rotations. The remaining three to four years would be spent living in graduate student housing (apparently 20 or so crummy apartments) about two miles from Tuxedo. Apparently a car is a necessity, for the nearest grocery store is over half an hour away. I have to say: it would be very different going from one of the largest urban areas of the United States to a very rural research center through five or six years of study. All of the students I talked with impressed upon me that the isolation isn't a bad thing: you get work done. Honestly, I'd like to think that I can get work done without being completely cut off from friends and the outside world. The other thing I didn't like was the closed bays: laboratories today have two styles: open and closed. Closed means that each separate bench has its own room, so you work in isolation for much of the day. Open bays are more like one large room separated by benches: there are almost always people around and more activity. It's a source of debate as to which is a better system. Some say that closed bays are safer since chemicals won't spread as easily if there was a spill. Some saw that open are safer since one is less likely to make a mistake when around background noise and other people (besides the fact that having extra people around is a sort of safety net to make sure if something does go wrong the incident can be reported immediately). Frankly, I much prefer open bays because I hate feeling lonely at work. It gets boring. Sure, you can argue that you get less work done when you are talking to labmates, but I have a feeling more than one "aha" moment has occured within conversation with someone who is just far enough away from your research to see it from a new perspective.
All in all, I'm not sure if I'm cut out for both downtown Manhattan and the boonies. The program and classes sound great, and the professors seemed quite nice and extremely knowledgeable, but I just didn't feel it (especially in comparison to how much I have enjoyed my time at MIT). The stipend is also substantial, and there is a guarantee of funding even if the grant for your sponsoring researcher loses money (a larger concern than you would think). We'll see...I'm still going to apply, but I'm very glad I was able to visit the campus now and have an idea of what their program is all about.
Because I was visiting NYU, I was planning on staying in the city until Sunday with a friend to enjoy the nightlife and shopping. Unfortunately, the friend that I was going to crash with became very ill and it didn't work out. So, I ended up doing a little shopping near Union Square (hello $15 little black dress!) before heading back to Port Authority to try to catch another bus back to Boston. I waited in line for nearly an hour, and as soon as the lady heard I wanted to get on the next bus to Boston she said, "Next bus leaves in five minutes...gate 84. Walk fast and you'll make it!" I was already off and running. I made the 9 pm bus, which put me into Boston at 1 am. Now, normally that wouldn't concern me: I'd just take the subway home and be extremely careful walking the four minutes back from Central Square to the frat house. However, public transportation here stops running at 12:30, which is a combination of a pain in the neck and just plain dangerous. So, in lieu of having to take a cab, a guy friend from the frat walked the two and half miles to the station and walked me back home. Upon arrival, I took a quick shower and basically fell into bed. After 44 continuous hours of being awake (minus slight dozes on the buses), it was time to sleep. Let's just say I made to oh, about 4 in the afternoon on Saturday. I made dinner with a friend (homemade beef stroganoff with crescent rolls, as well as an amazing concoction of cornflakes, marshmallows and butter) before going back to bed. I cannot pull such long days. I become completely useless.
Today was slightly more productive, with lots of GRE studying and getting caught up on paperwork. It's been really hot here, so the other goal is to move as little as possible. Hopefully the rain tomorrow will cool things down a bit.