End of the Semester and Summer

June 27, 2008

I know I don’t update much, but here’s a small bit about my academic life in recent past.

The semester ended with a bang. I did excellent in Atzori’s class, Cellular Neuroscience, and recieved an A (it would have been an A+ if there was such a thing in graduate school).  My presentation in Cellular went splendidly – even better than I expected.  Systems was a rough ending and almost ended badly for me.  I studied very hard for the final exam, which the professor had promised would be harder than the third test (because everyone did so well on the third test that she felt it should be harder, and it was also covering harder and more abstract material).  I scored an 88 on the final exam, which put my grade at an amazingly close 89.85 and due to the good graces of Dr. McIntyre, she rounded it up to an A! I was very worried, but thankfully it all worked out.  I still have my graduate GPA of 4.0, something I’m still fiercely proud of.

This summer I’m working in Dr. Cauller’s lab.  It’s a very interesting experience, but so far, pretty boring.  I’ve been warned that most lab work is boring.  I’ll probably post again right before the fall semester and talk about my upcoming classes.


So….an update…

April 3, 2008

Well, I haven’t updated in like…2 months…or more. Sad, but I’ve just been way too busy and sadly I’ve lost alot of interest in using this site for what I originally wanted to use it for, which was my own musings on Neuroscience and I trudge through graduate school. Oh well.

The semester is going great, although I’m ready for it to be over. I just read back over my January 11th post and it seems as though my predictions about this semester were correct. Systems Neuroscience has proved to be the class where I’ve learned the most, while Cellular Neuroscience has proved to be the most boring and unhelpful class I’ve taken yet. There was quite a bit of cross-over at the beginning of Systems into Cellular, and so basically anything I learned about cellular neuroscience was from Systems. My study group came through for me before the Cellular test and we were able to do really well on the test, despite Dr. Atzori’s poor teaching methods. I’m fairly certain that I did very well on that mid-term, but nearly a month later, he still hasn’t graded them. Dr. McIntyre, on the other hand, has already graded my “mid-term”, which I got a 96 on. I put quotes around it because we have 4 tests in that class and nothing truly like a mid-term or a final exam as each covers new material and is not truly comprehensive.

I’m giving my major presentation in Dr. Atzori’s class on April 9th (6 days from now) and I haven’t written it yet. I’ve read a few of the papers, but otherwise, I’m a huge procrastinator. I’ve slated it for this weekend, but my in-laws came into town this week and are staying until early Sunday, which probably means I won’t get anything done Saturday. Regardless, I’ll get the presentation done; I always do. After this presentation, I’m done in his class for the sememester and then the only thing left will be the 4th test in Systems. I’ve calculated that all I need is an 87 on the final test to secure an A in the class.

Oh, and I also got accepted in Dr. Cauller’s lab as part of my Ph.D. application. It’s a neuroprosthetics lab. So I did indeed apply for to “upgrade” to the Ph.D. program from the Masters program (which has been the plan all along), but I do not yet know about it, but I’m guessing I’ll get in. I was accepted into a lab, I had UTD faculty recommend me, and I’ve got a 4.0 graduate GPA (that still feels REALLY nice to say!). I think I’ll get in, no problem.

So that’s the last two months, at least, regarding my school. If I had actually blogged the whole way through it could have been like…12 posts. But I’m too lazy to go into all the details now…and I’m at work, so I need to wrap this up. My 15 minute break is over.

New Semester, New Stress

January 11, 2008

This semester I’m taking two classes and I think it will prove to be my greatest challenge yet. I think that Neuroanatomy last semester will have been tougher than both of these classes combined. However, the work load of taking 6 hours will probably kill me more than last semester. During the week when I’m not studying, I’m at work or class. This semester I’m taking:

MW 7:00pm – 8:15pm: Cellular Neuroscience with Dr. Marco Atzori
TTH 11:30am – 12:45pm: Systems Neuroscience with Dr. Christa McIntyre

Cellular appeared as if it was going to be the most interesting course I’d take this semester. However, it has turned out to be quite a disappointment. The late time at which class is held means I’m struggling to stay awake. I would not have had that problem last semester with Dr. Greenwald, but that’s because he’s a way better lecturer. Dr. Atzori is from Italy so I have to focus on what he’s saying as he says it because his accent is so thick. Also, his teaching method is horrible. He jumps around alot of doesn’t really present the information in a concise manner. Of course, he knows his stuff solid, and he seems like a pretty brilliant guy…but so far his classes are so terrible that I’ve been nodding off constantly.

As for Systems, so far it’s a good class. Dr. McIntyre is nice and helpful. Her lectures are interesting and she even cracks a joke every now and again. It appears right now that her class will be the most helpful and where I’ll learn the most. The only downside to this class is that it has to be my lunch break on those days.

So far homework is still non-existent, other than reading assignments. The most interesting thing I’ve read about recently is how action potentials are created in the body, and how the nervous system conducts electricity. Last semester in Neuroanatomy we learned about this, so I already knew about it. However, what I’m reading now is the how and why of the what that I learned last semester.

As I trudge on, I’ll update again sometime.

Finished At Last

December 7, 2007

The semester is over. I spent just as much time studying for the final exam as I did the mid-term. Though, the final was on the Monday after the Thanksgiving break, so my break was a rather miserable time mostly spent studying. Sure, I got to see family and friends and that was great, but the entire time I was with them I was feeling guilty for not studying. Also, my birthday was the day before the test, which meant no celebrating on that day. Instead, I got to study on my birthday. But my studygroup found out it was my birthday and they got me a cake. They’re a great bunch of people and I’m really blessed to study with them.

I studied hard, and once again it payed off. I found out from Dr. Greenwald that I made a 90 exactly on my final. That puts me at an A in the course. So, I have achieved all my goals for the semester and as of now I have a 4.0 in graduate school. My continuing goals are to keep that 4.0 throughout so I can graduate with it. I want so very desperately to be able to say when people ask that formerly dreaded question “what was your GPA?”, I can proudly respond with “4.0”.

Next semester: Cellular Neuroscience with Dr. Marco Atzori and Systems Neuroscience with Dr. Christa McIntyre. Should be fun. I’ll post more about those as I get closer. But for now, I’m on Christmas break, and enjoying it very much.


October 18, 2007

Well, I studied my rear off for the midterm. Seriously. I think I studied harder than I’ve ever studied before for any test. The only exception might be the Operating Systems final junior year of undergrad, but I’m pretty sure that this beats it. I started in earnest on Tuesday night (6 days before the final and 1 day after the review), and studied every night that week. Then I studied at study group Thursday and Friday from 4 to 6 as well as on my own. I studied on Saturday for about 8 hours, and I studied on Sunday for about 9 hours. I also studied on Monday before the test whenever I had a spare moment, including my lunch break. I went into the test not knowing what I’d see and expecting the worst. And before the test believe me, I had done a whole boatload of praying: all morning and during the drive over to the campus, I was praying. During the test, my Sympathetic Autonomic Nervous System was in high gear, because I was sweating like a madman!

The test was actually pretty easy. Most of the point-outs were from the slides he had given us to study and practice on, and I had gone over those slides so many times that I knew almost everything he asked. The drawings were cake because I’d drawn them over and over and over again (probably 12 times each, at least). Finally the multiple choice was easy as well, since I’d studied all of the course material many times and even had my wife quiz me several times. It was a relieving, joyous, and therapeutic time. Why therapeutic? Because it felt good and I mean really, really good to walk out of there knowing I did excellent because I’d studied (and by the grace of God).

It felt even better when I checked my grade and found out that I got an A. I think I’m going to do alright in this new field of study.

Weight atop my shoulders

September 27, 2007

There is a general weight atop my shoulders now that I feel won’t be lifted until after the midterm. I have been studying and learning this material as best I can, but there hasn’t been any way thus far for me to gauge how well I know all this stuff. No quizzes, or projects, or anything like that. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I need homework with grades! I need quizzes! Right now the midterm is this big gray blob in my mind; I know of several things that will be on it, but it’s not defined in my mind yet. I’m terribly afraid of getting there and there being things on it that I didn’t study, or point outs that I’m unfamiliar with. I want very badly to get an A on this first test, because that will make getting an A in the class all the easier. But I just have this nagging feeling inside that I just won’t be prepared for the test. My only consolation thus far has been that reminder in the back of my mind telling me that this isn’t a Harbert class (undergrad professor who was graduate-level tough, all the time). Instead this class really is about memorization and regurgitation. A little bit of it is application (like, “if this part of the nervous system breaks, what would happen?”, etc), but not much.

Only time will tell, though. But until then, the weight on my shoulders gets heavier and heavier as I get closer to that midterm.

It’s been a while…

September 19, 2007

Well, it’s been a while since I updated because I’ve been too stinkin’ busy. I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll just start with last week’s study group meeting. It was our first study group meeting and I was afraid that I wouldn’t even be able to find the place that had been chosen, due to my lack of knowledge about the UTD campus. I got lucky and it happened to be in the first place I looked – when does that happen? Anyway, we started talking about how we wanted our study group to run and after that got down to brass tax. It turns out that I didn’t know near enough, but that wasn’t really any surprise at all.

So, Sunday afternoon I studied very hard and memorized the 12 cranial nerves and the Circle of Willis. Tonight I’ll review that and try my hand at memorizing some of the things about the spine from class this Monday.

Class on Monday was interesting, as always. But the prof couldn’t post his lecture slides on the web due to a glitch in the system UTD uses, so I had to take notes out longhand, which was literally a pain (in my wrist). We talked about spinal cord organization and I soaked up quite a bit of the information. I don’t know it my understanding was due to preparation before class or having to take notes the way I did in my spiral notebook, but something was working great.

Tonight is studying, and then tomorrow is study group. Hopefully I will feel more on top of the material by Thursday evening. During study group one of the girls is going to have slides and we’ll do our own point-outs. That should help me know what I need to work on thus far.

Labor Day

September 9, 2007

Thanks to Labor Day, I had a whole week off. I used the time to review everything we’ve learned and I made detailed notes from the book based off of the lecture notes/slides from class.

Anyway, I’ll post after tomorrow’s lecture with one of my usual thoughts about neuroscience.

Dreams and Spinal Taps

August 28, 2007

When Dr. Greenwald said yesterday in class “trust me, tonight, you’re gonna dream about this [expletive],” I didn’t really take him seriously. That is, until last night when I did indeed dream about the brain. I tossed and turned all night, dreaming about the brain and that somehow I was getting it wrong and that I didn’t want to fill my thoughts with wrong material so I was getting more and more worried which cause me to sleep worse and worse.

Also, I forgot to mention in my previous post: when we got to the part about Lumbar Punctures, aka: a spinal tap, Dr. Greenwald had us watch a clip on YouTube from the mockumentary about the fake 80’s hair band Spinal Tap. It was hilarious. I love this professor.

Gross Anatomy, The Ventricles, and The Meninges

August 27, 2007

Wow. What a load of information to soak in. There is just so much to know regarding the gross anatomy of the brain that it makes my own brain tired. I read through the chapter, twice, and class was still hard for me. The professor (Dr. Greenwald) would show a slide and point to a place with his green laser pointer and say “okay, what’s this?” and alot of people would answer “hypothalamus” or “choroid plexus” or whatever it was he was pointing at. Me, well, I would just sit there and not answer for fear of being wrong. As it turns out, that was a good thing, because I would have been wrong over half of the time. But, Dr. Greenwald did mention that if you didn’t know this stuff now, that’s alright. We’re just getting started and all. Regardless, I still felt a bit lost.

Now, the meninges, on the other hand, I understood quite well, and it felt really good. For those of you who don’t know, the meninges are these layers that cover the outside of your brain and spinal cord. Three layers, actually. The first is a thin film that covers it directly. The second is a spider-webby-like structure that goes between the first and the third. The final layer is the Dura, this thick leathery stuff. Their main purpose is to provide structural support to the brain. You see, the brain is heavy, but left to gravity, it’d be pulled down into mush. The meninges allow it to float in Cerebrospinal Fluid, which goes between the first and second layers where all that spider-webby-stuff I mentioned earlier is. Just as you feel more lightweight in water, so your brain is also much less affected by gravity as it floats in this stuff. Fascinating.

Where things get really interesting is when fluid gets between those layers and the problems it can cause. For instance, if a legion occurs in the brain tissue and that blood gets between the second and third layer (say, you’re in a really bad car accident), then that blood (called hemorrhaging) can royally screw you. You see, something I just learned today is that blood is toxic to the brain. “Nothing kills brain cells faster than blood,” – Dr. Greenwald. Might be a slight over exaggeration, might not…I really don’t know at this point how much validity is in that statement. But one thing is for certain, and that is that blood is dangerous

The second interesting thing I learned today is that stem cells more often than not will turn into cancer cells. “When left to their own devices, they turn into cancer cells alot of times. I mean…why not?” – Dr. Greenwald. It seems so strange to me that there is such a controversy of stem cells when we as scientists haven’t even figured out a way to keep a majority of them from turning into cancerous cells, which are obviously harmful to the body. None doubt the power of stem cells when they work in our favor, but I have ready many articles on stem cells and I have never once heard about this. Truly interesting.

Anyone got any thoughts about any of this?