Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sleep Deprivation, Painful Exams, and Dumb Mistakes- Reflecting on the Past Week

Right now, I am writing this post at 4 AM. But why would anyone choose to stay up this late? Well, this past week has been quite eventful. I just survived my first "round" of assessments; a period of time in which concentrated exams, papers, and essays are all due for my classes. The good news: I survived! I can say that I am happy with the work I've put in on exam prep & writing. The bad news: my sleep cycle is completely devastated. Which is why I am still up at 4 AM after trying (and failing) to sleep for the past couple of hours.

What can I blame my insomnia on? The built up stress of so many classes, extracurriculars, projects, UROPs, and trying to balance it all? Nah, that's an everyday challenge. The root of my temporary sleep issues is something much smaller: the recent 20.320 exam. Most of the questions on that test are engineering-based, which involves a lot of data interpretation, model building, and equations. Four questions in 90 minutes: let's go! What this meant to me is that I had to commit these engineering concepts to muscle memory. We learn big themes in 20.320, such as enzyme inhibition, signal cascades, and a variety of experimental techniques. The only things that change between the practice exams and the real one are the specific molecules and reagents in question: EGFR, Raf, p38, or whatever. Just use the same equations, but switch out the proteins, ligands, and inhibitors! For the Tuesday exam, I ended up studying from Monday evening to 5 AM the next day, sleeping for 3 hours, and studying again at 8 AM. All for a 9:30 AM exam. I can only thank the wondrous powers of evolution (or whatever force you may believe in) for the creation of the coffee bean.

This adenine-like substance is my Facebook cover photo for a reason. Man, what am I going to do without you?

But how does this all relate to 20.109? I want to talk a bit about something differing: making stupid mistakes. A few hours after my all-night party with 20.320 and the subsequent exam, I walked into 20.109 lab feeling strangely energized. I walked right into that tissue culture room (M1D6) with a ton of confidence! Setting up the 17 reactions was totally easy, and I had a fun time laughing at my lab partner's shenanigans. As I began to clean the 17-well plate, I looked at the next few protocol steps in horror. "Pipette 95 uL of reaction into each well"? That totally doesn't add up. I only prepared enough to put in 50 uL for each well! And then it hit me: I forgot to add 50 uL of OptiMEM for the 17 reactions. Suddenly, all the aggregate exhaustion from the past 48 hours hit me as I completely lost my caffeine-addled energy and descended into a state of mental enervation. I cannot read protocols, I cannot follow protocols, and there's no way I'd be able to interpret statistical data from CometChip analysis.

Mistakes happen all the time, and sometimes it seems like life is just about learning from one mistake after another. With the help of our awesome TA's, (thank you Isaak!) Xander and I remade the reactions and completed our TC work without any further hitches. I learned to actually read protocols in advance instead of mindlessly skimming through them. And after I stepped out of the TC room, I made the decision to just go home and do the CometChip analysis when my brain recovered. After a really long nap. Speaking of naps, look at the time! I have a 20.320 lecture in about 5 hours. Time to submit this post and head to dreamland- good thing I took some melatonin. Let's hope I don't end up like Patrick for tomorrow's Flow Cytometry. 

SLEEP_IS_FOR_THE_WEAK.jpg (480×320)

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