The End of an Era

This past Friday, I completed my two-year Postbaccalaureate IRTA (Intramural research training award) fellowship at the National Institute of Mental Health. I have grown during the past two years in ways I had not previously imagined. It was much more than science, medicine, child psychiatry, clinical interviews, rounds, diagnosis screenings, brain imaging, neurocognitive testing, DNA extractions, blood/plasma, cell culture for iPSCs, manuscript-writing, and working closely with famous collaborators from around the world – no, this experience was so much more than that.

I worked with a dynamic group of individuals who taught me how to feel confident with my own knowledge while remaining humble in that I can never learn everything. I managed quite a difficult role in the group, where I was basically put in a Postdoc position as a Postbac (I legitimately took over full-time roles of both a PhD and a lab technician). Assuming far more responsibilities than granted a typical IRTA, NIH forced me to grow independently and sometimes to only rely on myself. Research can be a tricky, political profession. NIH is more than a place of scientific research and application of medicine at its finest. I have the utmost respect for any and all individuals who choose this field as their career path. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been offered my position. It’s been fun, busy, stressful, and downright challenging – ultimately worth the experience of a lifetime. I’m taking these life lessons with me everywhere I go.

After my final day in the lab, I headed down to Williamsburg for a family vacation in my old college town. It was a fabulous way to celebrate two years of work after graduation (as well as celebrate a couple of family members’ birthdays!) in my home away from home.

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Oh, the places you’ll go!

T minus 74 days until my last day at NIH, and 4 weeks after that I will head to Commissioned Officer Training in Alabama. From there on out, I will be a busy busy medical student. Surprisingly, I am not too worried for medical school because classroom academics used to be my jam. It’ll be an interesting transition, but I am looking forward to it. Plus, I’ll be close to amazing friends, my nuclear family, and I’ll have Andrew for emotional support at home when I hit the books day in and day out.

In the meantime, I have a massive to-do list. To touch on a few of these would be awesome, but I want to take advantage of the time I have before the ball gets rolling.

  • Travels galore – – I am truly a homebody, but I appreciate going to new places and seeing how life away from home is. Every new place gives me a better understanding of the world and how I fit into it. Mostly though, I like visiting friends and having them teach me about their lives in a different location. Just returned from Czech Republic and Austria (blog post TBA), with future plans to go to Chicago, Canada, New York, Boston, Maine, and Brazil.
  • I have been gunning for an independent project and first-author publication at work since I interviewed and asked about writing opportunities for the lab’s Post-baccalaureate IRTAs (Intramural Research Training Awardees). Fun fact: when someone is selling a position to you, the delivered information isn’t 100% honest. Different IRTAs in my lab have completely different opportunities based on their mentors and the work they have inherited, mine being a fight-for-everything-you-want sort of position. After two years of blood (oh so much blood), sweat (the lab can get hot), and tears (not just my own), I can safely say that I love the science of child psychiatry.
  • Physically prepare myself – – I am one of those individuals who barely makes the weight requirements. I needed to diet and exercise like a beast to lose 15 pounds before my USUHS weigh in (thank you for the time, government shutdown), and I will likely need to lose the weight I gained back for my next medical exam. I also want to get in tip top shape for running (not my forte) as well as the push-ups and sit-ups. Pretty sure I can currently pass the sports physical, but I don’t want to be close to the cut-off. Don’t get me wrong: I love working out. I absolutely love exercising when I have the time. I just wish that we could include more body combat, weight lifting, and yoga into PT.
  • Learn Farsi. Apparently learning my native tongue would make me more money in the Air Force – talk about motivation! I am working on my Rosetta Stone and have my family for back-up. Growing up with Farsi at home made me comfortable with listening, but I want to get the alphabet down and solidly learn the speaking basics. Afterwards, I can start thinking about Russian again.
  • Read up! I should appreciate reading while I have the time for it. I have fiction novels, detox books, and my guide to being an Air Force officer. My to-read list keeps growing and growing, including a few French novels to brush up on mon français.
  • Dabble in piano like the good old days. Jazz, classics, some pop songs that I can sing to by my lonesome. Time to invest in a portable keyboard because my Sojin is staying with the parents.
  • Enjoy down time. I know the average 23-year-old wants to go out and party, but I REALLY love doing nothing. I’ll appreciate lazy Sundays while I have them 🙂