Chemotaxis: Check!

June 29, 2013 § 11 Comments

and that means the first year is done!

The hours leading up to my exam were terrible. During this exam period, I have pushed myself to the outermost dimension of my comfort zone and while cramming on Thursday, I could feel myself beginning to break down. At around 17:00, I had to lay down on the floor with my legs up on the couch for 45 minutes, just to rest my eyes and drop my focus for a while. Afterwards, I came home and studied until about 3:00 a.m. Skjalg was absolutely amazing with me. He saw how hard of a time I was having and stayed up with me and tested me on the topic list. He even woke up at 6:30 to test me again before I left for my exam at 7:30. I honestly don’t think I could have lasted as long as I did without his support and for that I feel extremely lucky.

At 8:00, my professor invited me in to the Department of Genetics, Cell and Immunobiology, where his office and lab are located. My heart was racing and my stomach was as uneasy as it’s ever been – this was my last exam, I was feeling horrible about it, and wanted to do well.

We sat down in a long, empty conference room. He had blank pages in front of him, looked at me and said, “Ok, let’s see ‘Bacterial Chemotaxis’ and….’Tumors and chemotaxis’.” I immediately lightened up – these were two topics that I knew and that I knew well! Bacterial chemotaxis was one of the main topics from the topic list and tumors and chemotaxis was one of Skjalg’s topics, so he had prepared me for it. I was given 10-15 minutes to prepare:


The exam itself was possibly 5-10 minutes long. I faced my notes towards him and pointed at the major points while providing as much detail as I could about each topic. I didn’t write down as much as I mentioned verbally (it was along the lines of the information contained within my notes, see the pictures below). After I’d discussed bacterial chemotaxis and tumors and chemotaxis, he asked me to described some of the assays (tests that can be done in the lab to measure chemotaxis). I described different chamber assays, agar assays, and then mentioned impedance-based assays.

When I was finally done, he said that he had to get a certain piece of paper and left. He hadn’t said a grade yet, so I wasn’t entirely sure that the exam was done at that point. When he returned, he had with him a sort of exam attendance sheet. As he filled it out, he began to ask me questions about myself, what year I was in and where I was from. As I answered, I glanced down at what he was filling out and what I saw made stomach flutter – “Grade: 5”. I had to fight the urge to physically express my surprise and relief.

After he’d filled out the sheet and noted my grade in my index book, I got another surprise. “Would you be interested in working with other students in the lab? I know you students are busy during the 2nd year, but if you start early then you can present your data at the conference before the beginning of the 3rd year.” I told him that I was interested, but informed him that I had no lab experience from before and didn’t really have a lot to bring to the table. We talked a little more about it and at the end agreed to talk at the end of the summer. From my understanding, I would be part of a group of students working in the lab and that we would split our time, so that I would only be there for maybe two hours every other week.

The rest of the day was spent in bed, napping and watching movies. At 20:00 Skjalg and I headed to La Pampa – an amazing Argentinian steak house – to celebrate. We went all out: champagne, gambas¬†al ajillo, empanadas, tenderloin with various sides and a bottle of red wine. Mads joined us for the second half and then the three of us headed to Di Vino for a glass of wine to close out the night. Di Vino is a wonderful and popular wine bar immediately outside of the Basilica. I think we’ll be visiting it a lot more often when we move!


And miles to go before I sleep

June 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

My eyes sting with exhaustion and it’s not even 10 in the morning yet. I stumbled across a playlist on 8tracks inspired by Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening” and it’s giving me the strength I need to keep going. I am studying at Jannie’s today, even though she left for Sweden this morning. I came over before she left with coffee and breakfast to say goodbye and pick up her spare key, since I will be taking care of her plants while I am here. She was nice enough to offer me to stay and study here instead of Starbucks – which is great because the only comfortable chairs there are outside and it’s freezing today!

I’m lucky that this last exam isn’t anywhere near to the magnitude of the others. There is so little information available to us – chemotaxis, as you probably could have guessed, is not the most well-known branch of biology/clinical pathology. So today I will read the wikipedia article (written by my professor) and a short 30-page guide he wrote – there is no textbook. In a way, I’m actually looking forward to studying it. It just might have been easier if I had more time and wasn’t so tired!

Stopping By Woods-1

Medical Biophysics Final: CHECK!!!

June 26, 2013 § 4 Comments

It’s done! It’s over! Medical biophysics is behind me! I wish I could describe the sense of relief I felt when I got my result and emerged victorious into the corridor of the biophysics wing. Waiting at the end was my anxious and expectant boyfriend, ready with his camera. “I passed! I got a 4!” His face lit up and he hugged me and told me how proud he was of me. I was in so much shock that I had to sit down and actually began to tear up. A friend came up to console me, thinking that I had failed. I laughed and assured her that it was relief and not anguish.

We sat there for a few moments, until Skjalg realized that they were releasing the results for his Medical Biochemistry exam. The result….drumroll please…he passed! That means that Skjalg is 100% done with the 1st year! And he did so well – 4s and 5s on all exams except for biochem (which people are lucky to just pass). I’m so proud of him ūüôā

I have my chemotaxis final on Friday morning, so I’m not done quite yet. I am completely exhausted but I keep telling myself that I only have to push through 30 or so more hours – and I know I can do it!

For those curious about my exam:

  • For the written exam, I got 85 points – which is 53 more points than my first attempt (that’s progress!). The calculations and multiple choice were standard and I had to draw a schematic of a coulter counter for my drawing.
  • For my oral portion:¬†Audiometry as my lab topic and my theory topics were:¬†Measurements of Luminescence. Emission polarization and anisotropy and¬†Types and laws of fluid flow.

Luckily enough, I had reviewed luminesence during yesterday’s tutoring session with my professor. Unfortunately, we didn’t cover emission polarization and anisotropy, so I was really weak there. In fact, I think I might have gotten a 5 had it not been for that (even though I had some small mistakes in the other topics). I did watch a video on emission polarization this morning while I was brushing my teeth, but I missed some critical details and wasn’t able to figure out anything about anisotropy in the few seconds I had.

Here are the notes I prepared for my topics (we are allowed to keep them after the exam). We are allowed ample time to prepare after we get our topics – I had about 2 hours!

Audiometry AudiogramLuminescence Quantum Yield

Fluid flowflow laws

Fear is the mind killer

June 24, 2013 § 3 Comments

Quote from Dune by Frank Herbert

Wednesday nears and I am in a constant battle with myself. My state of mind is at the mercy of two very different consciences and finds comfort in neither. The weaker one scrutinizes each second that passes, criticizing all progress and demeaning all efforts. It tells me that I am going to fail, that I have wasted the past 16 days of my life for nothing and that I am only going to embarrass myself. The stronger one gives me a slap, tells me that nothing is wasted, that I am not defined by this and that everything is going to be just fine.

As I grow older and go through more and more of these experiences, I find it easier to knock away negative thoughts – but they never go away completely. It’s amazing how much we can torture ourselves with our imaginings of the future. We allow ourselves to deeply fear something that we can do nothing about in that moment and that may never even happen. Here are a few things that I’ve repeated to myself throughout this exam period (things that I really need to remind myself of now):

  1. A reminder: I have survived everything in my life up until this point. I have survived every hurtle, every challenge, every difficult situation thrown my way. And, surprise surprise, I will survive this the same way that I have survived everything else. Bring it!
  2. A thought: there is no point in fearing the future as I see it. I don’t know what is going to happen, so I should stop entertaining my fears. I will deal with the outcome when I know the outcome.
  3. A quote: from Rocky Balboa, 2006. It is in my favorite motivational video, which I watch at least 4 times before every exam. I’ve memorized it by now and it’s one of my go-to self-motivating mantras:

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and, I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you’re hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!

Cause if you’re willing to go through all the battling you gotta go through to get to where you want to get, who’s got the right to stop you? I mean, maybe you guys got something you never finished, something you really wanted to do, something you never said to someone – something! And you’re told no, even after you pay your dues – who’s got the right to tell you that? Who? Nobody! It’s your right to listen to your gut and it ain’t nobody’s right to say no, until you’ve earned the right to be where you want to be and do what you want to do!

Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth – but you gotta be willing to take the hits and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you want to be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm

June 21, 2013 § 4 Comments

Quote by Winston Churchill

As can be guessed from the title, I have come face-to-face with my first failed exam. For those of you that don’t go to Semmelweis, or perhaps another medical school in Hungary, you may not know that failing exams is pretty common. It was a bit of a weird concept for me when I first got here. I found it odd that we had 3 chances at each exam and that there was even an option for a 4th try with permission from the head of the department. I had no idea how much those chances would be used! It is such a shot in the dark when it comes to the outcome of your exam. You may be excellent in 99% of the topics, but then fail on that 1% that you didn’t know well enough. The majority of the exams are oral and the content is based on random topics that you draw from the topic list.

Our exam on Wednesday was split into two parts: a written and an oral part. The written consisted of 10 multiple choice questions (each worth 4 points and minus 1 for each wrong answer), 2 calculations (each worth 20) and a drawing (worth 20). I was unable to answer 3 of the multiple choice questions (one about what Boltzmann distribution shows on a graph, one about thermoluminescent dosimeters and the third I forgot). Of the 7 I answered, I only got 4 right. For the calculations, I completely blanked! I looked at them when I first got my exam and then just panicked and dug myself into a hole. When I looked them up later, after the exam, I realized they weren’t all that complicated – but I clearly did not spend enough time practicing calculations. I don’t remember exactly what they were, but they were something like this:

  1. The voltage amplitude of the 1ms long square pulse of a pacemaker is 3.6V. Find the energy of one pulse if the resistance of the stimulated area between the electrodes is 900ő©.
  2. Calculate the temperature change from a dose of 20¬†őľGy.

My only golden point was my drawing, on which I got the full 20 points. We had to draw the graph of an amplifier without feedback and with positive feedback, indicating the transition bands and high and low pass filters. Similar to this:

Since I failed the written, I didn’t go on to the oral part. Last semester I was exempt from the written portion because my midterm average was above a 4. This semester I was only 0.25 points away from exemption – oh how nice that would have been!¬†Jannie went on to the written (and to eventually pass – go Jannie!) and I headed home to escape the heat. Afterwards, we met up for lunch in front of the Basilica.

I jumped right back in to physics later that evening with a tutoring session with my physics professor. I had seen him at the exam earlier in the day and when I found out I’d failed, I asked if we could meet. For me the issue isn’t not being able to understand the material, ¬†but rather not knowing how deep to go and how much they want. I’ve never had a tutor before, so I had no idea what to expect. It ended up being exactly what I needed. We covered a few topics, including my calculations from my failed exam, but the best part was actually feedback on how I presented myself and my knowledge. Now when I found out I’d failed I wasn’t really surprised – I knew I didn’t have enough points without the calculations. I was a little disappointed, but actually more relieved. I looked at it as an opportunity to learn the information better and was actually happy to have a fail under my belt. We’re here to learn – and not just school topics – but also how to be stronger, how to endure, how to fall and rise, again and again and again. I almost wanted to fail because I knew that it would mean that I had to struggle a little harder and that the victory would then be so much sweeter. I guess you could say that the sweetness of the victory is proportional to the amount of work you put into it. And, although I’d worked my butt off preparing for the exam, a little extra work could never hurt.

Anyways, back to my professor’s feedback. After the tutoring session, I asked him what I could work on. He told me that I am very enthusiastic and that it comes forward in my explanation, but that I have a tendency to add in short half sentences that detract from what I said prior. He said that there were many times that I said something correct and then threw in some irrelevant information that only undermined my correct statement. Then he had a little “a-ha!” moment and told me, “You did it this morning on your exam, when you included negative feedback even though it wasn’t asked, and I remember from your midterms that you always give me too much information. It is good that you know more details, but in the eyes of a teacher, this isn’t the best thing. There is an older professor here who says, ‘to teach is to leave’. That means, to teach someone something is to leave out excess, unnecessary information. It is better to lead someone than to overwhelm them with details. You aren’t getting the grades you deserve when you do this.”

This was something that I’d already suspected about myself and to hear it from a professor was an amazing experience. It doesn’t always feel good to receive criticism but when it confirms something that you have wondered about, there is a certain relief that comes with it. Something I was insecure about was suddenly out in the open and that gave me the chance to welcome it and change it.

A lot has happened since then. I had hoped to write an entry after the exam, but didn’t feel inspired enough. As a result, the “a lot” will have to be summarized.

  1. It’s HOT! Record-breaking heat this week – Wednesday was the hottest it’s been on that same day since 1918! Our apartment is consistently around 34¬įC (93¬įF) and we are miserable. Bedtime is a nightmare in this heat.
  2. We found a new apartment! (Well, Skjalg found it and I said yes to it before even seeing it.) It is in a perfect location – overlooking the park between the Basilica and De√°k. So, right in the middle of everything. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large kitchen/living room space, standing-room balconies from the main bedroom and living room overlooking the park, and best of all – air conditioning! The building is quite old…so it has charm…but we will bring it up to home standard in no time. The real kicker – we’ll be paying less than we are paying now! (Not a lot less, but it helps.)
  3. Packing process has begun! I study until I’m too tired to study any more and then pack a couple boxes. Studying for finals while moving is testing my superwoman skills.
  4. Tutoring! I met with my professor again this afternoon. More intimidating and less inspiring than our first session, but informative nonetheless. I get a little nervous when I ask him about things like formation of images in ultrasounds and we end up covering the theory behind hexadecimal colors.

Now it’s off to get in a little studying before bed. In order for me to fall asleep last night I had to lay a cold, wet towel over my torso and place an ice-pack on my chest. Let’s just say I’m not looking forward to going to bed tonight….

What’s the antimatter?

June 13, 2013 § 3 Comments

Biophysics cramming is in full swing and I’m crossing my fingers that it all pays off next Wednesday. Jannie and I are studying together for this exam and I’m really appreciating that I’m not “alone” this round. After last Friday’s biochemistry semi-final I was completely demolished. I took Friday afternoon and all day Saturday to recuperate, closing the “study vacation” with a date night with Skjalg.

Sunday and Monday started off a little slower than Jannie and I would have liked. For the exam, we need to prepare 90 topics, 46 calculations and 20 labs. We originally set out to complete a fraction of those each day, but it ended up stressing us out more than motivating us. So what did we do? Evolve our study plan! Yesterday and today were spent covering topics from the topic list on our own. Tomorrow we will continue with that, but if we find that we are running out of time, we will split up the remaining topics. Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be spent going through the 20 labs and 46 calculations and then finally Monday and Tuesday are set off for review.

Here is an idea of the topic list:

01. Early atomic models. Rutherford-experiment. Franck-Hertz experiment. Bohr       model of atom.
06. Black body radiation. Kirchhoff’s laws. Stefan-Boltzmann law. Wien’s                    displacement law. Planck’s law of radiation.
12. Production of gamma-radiation, K-capture.
22. Mechanisms of ionizing radiation. Stochastic and deterministic effects. The            ALARA principle.
24. Isotope diagnostic methods. Gamma camera, static and dynamic tests,                  scintigraphy, SPECT.
26. Basic types of luminescence and their properties. Kasha’s rule. Luminescence       excitation and emission spectra. Luminescence lifetime.
30. Properties of laser light. Applications of lasers.
39. Structure, elasticity and biologically relevant sizes of DNA. Structure and               folding of RNA. 
44. Methods of biomolecular structural analysis: mass spectrometry, CD-                  spectroscopy. X-ray diffraction and its applications.
51. Statistical interpretation of entropy. Thermodynamic probability. The                    third law of thermodynamics.
65. Action of mechanical forces on biological tissues. Biomechanics of hard                 tissues.
69. Microtubular system. Microtubule-dependent biological motion.
73. Respiratory cycle. Respiratory volumes and capacities. Role of surface                   tension in respiratory function.
75. The circulatory system as a vessel system. Physical variables across the                   circulatory system.
77. Structure of striated muscle. Fundamental processes of striated and smooth           muscle contraction.
78. Mechanisms of muscle contraction. Energetics of striated muscle.
79. Excitation-contraction coupling. Elasticity of striated muscle.
80. Electrical activity of the heart. Physical principles of the ECG.
81. The cardiac cycle. Work of the heart.
82. The resting membrane potential.
87. Biophysics of vision. Sensitivity of the human eye. Color vision. 
88. Biophysics of hearing. Signal amplification in the ear. 
91. Biophysics of complex systems. Collective behavior. Tissue differentiation. 

To help me cover them, I’ve been watching a lot of the biophysics videos by yairmeiry on youtube. He is a former student at Debrecen (another medical school in Hungary) that has made amazing videos based on the university’s lectures. Since I’ve been watching those videos, I’ve been using the efficiency graph I made for myself when I was studying for my last physics semi-final. Dorky, I know, but you wouldn’t believe how helpful it is!


Biochemistry: Check!

June 8, 2013 § 2 Comments

If I wasn’t still so utterly exhausted, I think I would be in a state of shock. Yesterday’s biochemistry semi-final was horrible! At one point I thought to myself, “You deserve to fail because you have no idea what you are doing“.


The exam was divided into two parts. The first included 10 structures (out of a possible 200 total structures), 1 calculation and 14 open questions. The second part consisted of 40 multiple choice questions. In order to pass, we needed 13 points from the first part and 21 from the second. What did I get? 13 and 24! Safe to say that I scraped by there…

The room was heavy with emotion when they released the results. Many of the students were taking this exam again for the second or third time and therefore had a little more riding on it this round. Some people screamed out of happiness, others were hugging, some were crying and some escaped defeated.

Afterwards, Skjalg and I went to an apartment showing. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what we wanted. It was spacious and located on a beautiful street near the Basilica, but it would have required too much work to make it feel like a home. Plus, it was filthy. I couldn’t believe that they would show the apartment in that condition. The first thing we saw when we walked in the dusty front door was a toilet. They were replacing it with a new one and had left the old one immediately next to the front door. To make matters worse, the spot where the toilet had been was just a huge hole in the wall, surrounded by debris and broken tiles. Luckily, it’s a renters market down here. When we told him that we were interested in having a place from August, he told us that that would be fine as long as we paid a deposit beforehand. I’ve never come across an agent who is willing to lose two months rent like that! I’m bummed that it didn’t work out, but we still have plenty of time to find a new place.

Once we were done with the showing, we met up with Jannie to check out the flooding Danube. It’s been rising steadily over the past several days and newspapers are saying that it will the be highest flood wave of all time. I snapped some shots of the river, which was much less menacing in person than it’s being made out to be in the papers. It probably didn’t help that there were tons of people sitting out along the banks enjoying the sun. It’s hard to imagine what it looked like before the flood.


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