Monday, June 28, 2010

While I ice my foot...

...I'll update you on what I am doing with my life.

I'm icing my foot because my right arch hurts from too much heavy exercise over the weekend. I was supposed to swim today, but the weather was too amazing to turn down a run. Maybe I could've chosen a shorter distance? Probably. I'll be fine by the morning. It's just tendonitis.

This weekend was all about the fact, I don't have too much in the way of breakfasts or lunches to show you, but here goes:


Iced coffee with milk, fruit, plain yogurt, kashi (I know, you've seen this a million times...)

And a very green smoothie - spinach, pineapple, peach, banana, vanilla protein powder, soymilk. Really delicious after morning exercise.

This morning I had a different breakfast - wheat toast with peanut butter and sliced banana - but of course I didn't take a picture. Lame!

Post Saturday AM run bfast of one waffle with blueberries, banana, and almond butter sauce and one egg over-hard cooked in cooking spray. My favorite kitchen purchase of late was an oil mister. You fill it with your own olive oil and it sprays oil in small amounts. I use that thing all the time. I put 4 oz into the thing when I got it in early May. We're looking at the beginning of July without filling it once! 

Lunches - 

This is his & hers lunch on Saturday. We had sandwiches - he had hot ham & cheese on wheat with pickles and some leftover taco pizza. I had swiss with red onion and tomato grilled on the george foreman with some of the same taco pizza. We shared some grapes with this meal. 

Sunday was an Amy's Black Bean & Veggie burrito, steamed broccoli, salsa, and a serving of chips. Also unpictured 0.75 oz of chocolate.

Later in the day I had a substantial snack but my camera ate the picture. I had 3 oz of cheese, almonds, and some crackers (maybe 3-4 total). I was obviously requiring some protein!

Then he had to pack my lunch for today because he ripped a hole in my spare bike tube while being too manly and macho. He did such a good job - carrots, red pepper, and broccoli with 1.5 tbsp of Newman's poppyseed dressing. An apple with peanut butter (trying to use these single-serv ones up! They were from a trip earlier this year). Part-skim cheese stick + a few cheese cubes. Plus some pretzel goldfish. 

So quick story about the goldfish. They are my go-to snack, but I always measure them into a 1-cup ramekin to eat them. When my significant other was making my lunch, he asked how many goldfish was a serving. I told him 'one-ramekin-worth', and then I found him in the kitchen measuring a ramekin worth of goldfish to put into the bag! 

Dinners --

Sauteed bok choy, 4-5 oz swordfish steak, 1 cup of rice, 1 big spoonful of mango pickle.

Then I made this huge pot of curry for the week. It has 2 cups of garbanzo beans, 1 zucchini, 2 small onions, some garlic, 1/2 a red pepper, 1/2 a green pepper, three broccoli stalks (the florets will be used otherwise), a large sweet potato, and 4 small carrots. This was simmered in a tomato-cardamom sauce and 1/2 a bag of frozen spinach was added at the last minute. Right after I took this picture, I ate 1 cup of this with 1/2 cup of rice. 

Tonight was a masterpiece. We went to the farmer's market on Saturday and that trip formed the basis of the meal. We bought 1 lb of this grass fed beef that is locally raised north of town and processed less than an hour away. It's also super lean! I bought some last year, and I now cannot look at other beef the same way. I also bought the rainbow swiss chard for $2.00! I got a huge bunch! Finally, my basil plants needed pruning, so we made pesto. So here's the menu: 
Rainbow chard - Sauteed in garlic oil and red wine vinegar with a little salt. 
Pest-O's (like Spaghetti-O's, we're clever I know) - 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves, 2 tbsp grated or shredded parmesan or like-cheese, 1/3 cup garlic olive oil (or olive oil, then add 1/2 tbsp of garlic), 1/4 c walnuts, big handful of spinach for color only. Blend. Salt to taste. 
Wine-stewed beef - Brown 1 lb of beef cubes in a pan with a small amount of oil. When browned, add 1 small onion finely diced, 1 tbsp garlic, some salt, some pepper. Once the onion is translucent add 2 cups of red wine. Simmer for at least an hour (the better the beef, the less time it takes. I've done a full 2.5 hours before) adding water if neccesary. Add mushrooms in the last ten minutes of cooking of you like - we added 1.5 pints of white mushrooms.

Finally, tomorrow I'll eat that curry for lunch. Since I didn't picture a serving before, I thought I'd show you this one: 

1 cup of curry (on the bottom), 1/2 cup of rice, 3/4 cup chickpeas covered in spices, and a little mango pickle. Plus some grapes. 

So, I made a huge dietary mistake yesterday. I exercised sporatically thoughtout the day - yoga, bike, run, playing in the pool - so I didn't get real hungry. I ate a huge protein rich snack later in the day, and a small amount of curry late in the evening. I was hungry before bed, but I chose to ignore my hunger because I thought 'I probably overate today and shouldn't eat anymore'. Well, I woke up starving this morning, which prevented me from going to workout. I did the math on my calorie balance yesterday (I don't usually do this - It's not good for my perfectionist brain) and I was at least 1000 calories in the negative. Oooppps! Lesson: No more editing myself on whether I should or should no be hungry! Eat when I'm hungry! 

Finally, Eating Requires Activity (ERA): Fri 16 mile run, Sat 9 mile run, Sun 25 min yoga, 7 mile bike, 3.25 mile run, Mon 7 mile run. 

Hope this week treats you well! I'm dying to know other people's July 4th plans. I didn't make any because I will probably just work + chill as usual.  

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Being a scientist

Today is a perfect example of why I personally can never be without a job...
I had a minimal work day today - I was in for a moment this morning, but I'm off the hook until 7pm.
I literally have had free time for 6 hours and I've now run out of things to do with myself!
Seriously, my cat is tired of me bothering her...
 Pleading...leave me alone to play in my box!

And that is why today is a good day to talk about what it's like to be a scientist - more specifically a biochemist. I've just recently gotten my first real job after 7 years of college. I got a bachelor's degree in Biochemistry in 2006 and immediately started working on my Ph.D. This spring I was awarded my Ph.D and now I'm working on learning more about Mycobacterium tuberculosis so we can prevent the diseases spread by the Mycobacterial family of bacteria. My research is, admittedly, cool. And I've been very lucky in my life to have successful research, a boss who appreciates me, and a fun work environment. 

However, people outside the science world really have no idea what being a scientist looks like, or how people get there. So I'm doing this question & answer style to give you some idea how we spend our days. 

1) What kind of education is required to work as a scientist? 
There are multiple answers to that. The minimum is really a bachelor's degree with very few exceptions. If you go on to get your Master's degree, you could teach at a small college, you can teach high school by only taking a test and getting experience in many states, or you could do some technical work at a public (like a school or gov't institution) or private (like a company) institution. A Ph.D opens more doors - more teaching, higher positions in companies or research institutions -, but to have the highest jobs, you really have to get experience. That is done via postdoctoral research or years on the job at a company. Then you can really design the type of science you're doing and direct others in how to do it. 

2) What are the hours like? 
 Ha! No one told me, but biology doesn't wait for M-F 9-5. Biology keeps it's own time, thus the 'biological clock'. Sometimes biology's clock doesn't jive with your personal clock and then you get stuck at the lab or office much later than you would like. My tips? Pack extra food and keep it at work, or know a really good takeout place that delivers so you won't have to look up from your tube that drips 1 droplet of water for 4 hours straight and requires the utmost attention. 

As a graduate student, I worked 70 hours/week on average. Now I'm doing about 50. I work weekends, evenings, holidays - whatever my experiments dictate. I think about work at home. I work on work at home. It's really whatever you and your boss are comfortable with. I should warn you that the sciences have an inflated view of normal work hours, so if you work for someone who thinks you should be working 70 hours/week and you feel it has to stay at 40, my advice is to find a more understanding boss. 
3) What do you do all day? 
Understandably I can't tell you the exact details of what I do on any given day. But, the basic idea is that I do experiments to test ideas about how the world (in my case, Mycobacteria) work. I don't know the answers to these questions. Sometimes I only have a vague idea of what kind of results I should be getting. But I test them, look at the results, and do my best to interpret these results. I also dream up new things to test - or my boss asks me to answer a question, and I have to do some experiments to answer this question. 
If you took a chemistry or biology lab class in high school or college, you might have done some experiments and measured some results. The main difference between that class and what I do? No one tells me HOW to do the experiment to get the best results or WHAT those best results look like. I have to figure that out on my own. Then I need to ask the next question based on whether or not the experiment answered my first question. 

In my newest job, I'm spending slightly more time managing other people and their experiments than doing my own. I spend a lot of time meeting with my labmates one-on-one, talking to them about their results and the interpretation of these results, trying to decide what these results really mean, and deciding what the next step is in this process. It's fun and challenging, as I spend a lot of time teaching people how to analyze their experiments to become better scientists. However, my success is intertwined with their success, so it can be stressful at times. 

4) So this job must pay pretty well, right? 
 Hmmm...being a scientist CAN pay well, but time and education does not always result in excesses of money. To give you an idea, graduate students working on their Ph.D usually work in the lab 50-80 hours per week, and those kinds of hours with typical grad student pay ends up equating to $4-7.00 per hour. People with a Ph.D, but little experience usually get paid $30-$50,000/year. Professors and senior researchers at companies have variable salaries, but it can start as low as $50,000 and go as high as the sky. At my public institution, professor's salaries vary from $50,000-$400,000/year. And yes, you can expect to keep up the ridiculous workload for your life if you choose the jobs that result in the higher salaries. Even some of the jobs with lower salaries end up paying poorly when you figure out the dollars/hour you're getting. 

5) Where does the money come from to pay for science? 
This is an interesting question because there are multiple layers to it. I work at a public institution, and most of us get paid by government grants. That means that taxpayer dollars go to a fund that is then dispensed to the scientists for their use. These scientists need to write to the government or funding group and convince them that their money should be allotted to that specific group of scientists to solve that particular problem. It's supposed to be a merit- and idea-based award system. The professors and researchers that work at these public institutions are paid via taxpayer dollars by the institution. They have set wages, but if they are awarded enough money by the government to do research, they can supplement their wages from that money.

In the companies, the wages and project funds are largely driven by profit margins and successful research projects. If you are a scientist at a company, your main job is to figure out how to make the company money. They then sell your product or idea and make money, and you get paid. If you do this well for the company, you hopefully get a raise. Or you find a new company that appreciated you more and will pay you better. 

There is slightly more to this than I'm telling you about right now, but I'll cover it in a 'science and public policy' post at a later time. 

6) Tell me about your average day? 
First of all, I NEVER dress in a full white biohazard suit. I wear jeans and a decent shirt most days. If I'm spending a lot of time teaching or in meetings, I try to dress up because I'm not a very big girl, and I'm kind of young. When I teach, students often have trouble finding me if I'm working around the room, and sometimes they forget I'm their teacher and have inappropriate conversations with me. I've found dressing up makes me easily spottable and marks me as a 'teacher'. 

Also, technically I should be address as 'Doctor', but the only people who really call me that are people trying to sell me lab equipment and the lawyers who worked on my patent. And I really like it that way - I'd like people to feel comfortable with me. 
So, on an average weekday, I wake up at 6:45, go work out for 1-1.5 hours, and go to work. I get to work around 9 unless science dictates that I must show up earlier. I've gone in as early as 4am. I usually try to 'put out fires' by answering e-mails in the morning, then I start experiments or start meeting with people who need my help. I eat lunch at work 90% of the time and I eat at my desk. This is why my blog is so heavy in the packed lunches. I try to come home by 6  most days, but sometimes I have to stay later. I'd say I work between 8-9 hours during the main part of my day most days of the week. I have to go back to work in the evenings 2-3 days per week for probably 1-2 hours apiece. Sometimes I can substitute this by going to the coffee shop and working on my laptop, but not always. Once I'm home, I work a little bit after dinner, again mostly on the laptop looking at results, writing up results, or planning future experiments. 
I probably work 50 hours M-F and then I work most weekends. I try my hardest to spend less than 10 hours at work between Sat and Sunday. Sometimes they are just like every other workday. Sometimes I just need to pop in here and there. It really depends. 

That's all for now, but I hope this clarified some of the questions you have about the life of a scientist. If you have any further questions, please leave them in the comments. I'd love to know what you all think!

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I've been so busy (with fun things!) all week that I just want to crash, but I promised myself I'd get more than one blog in this week, so here I am! Just a recap today, but I had to prepare a meeting for my lab about Mycobacterium (the bacteria family responsible for the disease Tuberculosis), so I'll give highlights from that for my science content this weekend.

In the meantime, Iowa is in alternating storms and heat waves, so mornings have been mostly liquid breakfast:

 And an unpictured 16 oz nonfat latte.

There have been many duplicates of the 'burrito bowl' this week, so for newbies, this is how you assemble a delicious burrito bowl:

Beans & Rice. Broccoli recommended, but not required. Heat up in your microwave.

Top with veggies & salsa. I like lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, avocado, onion, EVERYTHING. And I prefer fruit salsa with black beans.

Peach Salsa
1 cup diced peaches, no skin
1/4 c diced onion
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1/2 c matchstick jicama or peeled tart apple
1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
sweetener to taste

Saute the first three ingredients in some cooking spray, add in lemon juice and boil off the liquid. Add sweetener to taste. Cool. Add in jicama or apple. Refridgerate. Yummm!

Other meals:
Salad w/ nutritional yeast, roast beef + swiss sandwich, strawberries.
Salad topped with roasted veggies, bleu cheese, and balsamic. Butternut squash soup, and berries with almond butter sauce.

What are berries with almond butter sauce? The best snack ever! It's a little heavier, so perfect before a workout. 

1.5 cup berries
2 tbsp almond butter microwaved with 2 tbsp milk product. Then you warm up the almond butter before you eat it and pour it into the berries. Mix & enjoy!

  More salad, grapes, and mint chocolate almonds (no, I didn't eat the whole thing. It's prettier than a bag of almonds!)
As demonstrated by this picture, which features a bad of mint chocolate almonds, a roast beef & swiss sandwich, and 2 carrots with 1/2 a bell pepper.

Now, these lunches are admittedly small for me. Why? Well, I overpacked at the beginning of the week, so I had some premade 'snacks' to augment my lunches for Wed & Thur. What kind of snacks?

A missed breakfast while I was getting a pedicure (pink toes! Best calf-rub ever!Great company with my friend Missie!).
More almonds

Watermelon & cheese stick.

Finally, for the previously mentioned meeting, I prepared cupcakes and washed 2 lbs of grapes for my lab.

There are 18 people in my lab this summer. 1 dozen+ 3 red velvet with cream cheese frosting!

One dozen funfetti + vanilla frosting.

I only had to take home 2 cupcakes. Good job, labmates!

Finally, tonights dinner was a leftover masterpiece.
I was actually so hungry after the group lifting class that I ate dessert first: a leftover red velvet cupcake and 2 chocolates from the freezer.
I made taco pizza with leftover turkey taco meat from last week's tacos, tons of veggies, and a mix of cheddar jack and chipotle cheese. I roll out my own thin crust. The picture? The headline meal! 

ERA: Mon off; Tue 5 mile speedwork run, 1000m swim; Wed off; Thur 5 mile run + group lifting. 

I hope you have an excellent weekend! I'll be back with a science post and a fun weekend recap!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Working in the exercise

Thanks for all the positive feedback on the Carb II: sweeteners post. It always amazes me how much people like science – they just don’t know it. 
This week was a struggle with balancing work and exercise. I spent the early part of the week not busy enough at work, and now I have so much to do that I have to stop myself and just go home. I couldn’t have helped it – many of the problems had to do with equipment malfunctions and misbehaving biology. Groan. As a result, I once again gave up Yoga on Wednesday. Thursday’s run got pushed to Thursday night, when it was 85 degrees, humid, and with impending storms. See how fun that looks? It didn’t rain, but I’m still drenched and drinking some coconut water for extra electrolytes. This girl is not a summer-time athlete.


Then, Thursday’s night run caused me to miss my Friday AM swim. I actually got up, went to the bathroom, came back to the bedroom to change and woke up on the bed an hour later. Lame. Friday weather and pool hours didn’t work out with my schedule, and I went for a walk with the fiancé after dinner. Today I made up for it with a bike ride and swim. I finally took the time to raise the seat on my bike 1 cm (and it made a huge difference!) and put on my new aero bars.
used to think that I just couldn’t ride in aero bars - they were so uncomfortable – but these new ones with some adjustments were like riding on air. When I was in the aero, I was  easily coasting along at 2 mph higher than upright with no extra effort. YESSSSSSSSSSS. I forsee a new future in riding for me. 
Despite my busy days, at least the food has been normal. Yogurt and fruit with kashi.

And this action shot of my smoothie:
I’m calling this the ‘purple nurple’. It’s a green monster with blueberries. Delicious! 

And multigrain Thomas English muffin with AB + preserves with a side of applesauce. 

Today was special – that mound of fruit? Blueberries, strawberries, bananas on a WAFFLE topped with Meghann inspired cashew-butter sauce. The fiancé tried the cashew butter sauce and liked it, too. 

Lunches have been pretty standard – mostly vegetarian – but I’ve also been hungry in the afternoon and been supplementing with Luna bars, Tiger’s milk bars, nuts, and dried fruit.

I made quesadillas on low-carb wheat wraps. Those had cheese, beans, and corn with some spices. With each was a small salad - in the right picture, the salad was a leftover from an uneaten lunch and isn't pictured - and fruit. I also had 1.5 cups of TJs butternut squash soup, which was very good.

For Friday, we went to El Azteca for lunch again. This time I got my favorite: chili verde. I ate all the beans and rice and 2/3 of the chili. I gave away my tortillas.  I also ate some chips and salsa. Laura, who also likes the chili verde, tried the chili colorado (i.e. chili roja). It wasn't as good. I think next time we'll both be getting the same thing.

Today I went into work and had some leftover veggies/noodles with a 4 oz pork tenderloin portion. Also, watermelon. I'm so thankful for summer fruit! 

Dinners were interesting as I was so busy that cooking seemed tedious: 
 Pork tenderloin, Uncle Ben's ready rice multigrain blend, and a salad with homemade honey mustard vinaigrette. This was so easy that I think you all could make it and enjoy it. Plus, it's super low-calorie - unlike the storebought stuff. 
Honey Mustard Dressing
2 parts yellow mustard
1 part stoneground mustard
1/2 part dijon mustard
1 part olive oil 
1 part honey
salt, pepper, and thyme to taste. 
  Veggie burger with 1/2 a huge microwaved sweet potato, plain yogurt, sriracha, and that mixture of veggies and noodles. 
The best dinners were the ones the fiance made. I came home to turkey tacos last night - 
(yes, i hold the tacos between shot glasses. Caitlin taught me that trick) I also finished my sweet potato, and when the fiance made nachos on his second plate, I stole a solid 5 chips worth of that. 
Tonight after my bike ride, he also cooked. I was in a 1600 calorie deficit by this time, so I had a small snack first. Cheese, crackers, and random pickled veggies. 
Dinner was extravagant. Crab, clam, and scallops in a wine sauce with red pepper, garlic, mushrooms mixed with pasta. We also roasted some beets, sweet, and white potato in herbs. Finally, the beet greens were sauteed. I had about double the pasta shown. 

Finally, let's talk about snacks. This has been a huge week for snacks. I come home and eat 1/2 c of pretzel goldfish while I cook. It takes the edge off. We went to see A-team in theatres this week and we decided to bring our own popcorn. If movie theatre popcorn wasn't so bad for you, I'd have no problem paying for it. But they only have diet coke as their sugar free soda and their popcorn and snacks are all bad for you. We made 2 small batches of popcorn - plain with 'cheese smoke' aka cheddar flavored salt, and cinnamon roll flavored. The cinnamon roll flavored one is actually still pretty decent for you. It had about 2 tbsp smart balance, 1/3 c sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt.
We had more popcorn later in the week - cheese smoke and nutritional yeast for extra cheese flavor. 
The popcorn was consumed with one too many ginger basil cocktails, which is probably a large reason why I didn't want to get up and run this morning. 

Finally, we did a taste-test of all of the sweet almond flavors that were on sale at the store (yes, I own them all. The mint chocolate is the best, followed my the vanilla bean). 

I ate so much this week! Yet Eating Requires Activity, so here's the ERA: 
Mon 1000m swim; Tue 4 mile speedwork run, group power lifting class 1 hour; Wed off; Thur 6 mile run, 15 minute yoga; Fri 1.5 hour walk; Sat 1500 m swim, 26.5 mile bike. 
I'm going to do a post on being a scientist, so what questions do you have about what being a scientist is all about? OR if you're also in the field, what is the MOST RIDICULOUS question you've been asked?