Week 11: Pufall Lab, University of Iowa

August 7th, 2014

John Christiansen ’15, Dimensions Fellow in Research

This week has been spent trying to get the deletion check primers to work. These PCR primers would be used to amplify a region of transfected NALM6 genomic DNA to determine if the CRISPR vectors were effective in cutting out their target. However, previous attempts to validate the effectiveness of these primers using wild type NAML6 DNA have not gone well. I later learned that the primers were misordered. This week we received the proper primers and I began to work with them.

So far, I have performed the PCR with these primers three times. The first time (Friday, August 1st) I found that none of my samples, even the positive control, had any product bands when analyzed with gel electrophoresis, though the 100 bp ladders still showed up clearly. This suggested that something had been wrong in the reaction, and on closer examination it was found that I had added too much dNTP. PCR can be finicky and this might be why nothing was amplified. On Monday (August 4th) I tried again. This time the correct dNTP concentration was used, but the only product bands seen were two very faint bands, each in no template control lanes. Oddly enough they were the right size for the primers used. The procedure was performed correctly, so the fact that I saw so few bands suggested that my reactants were somehow inept and the fact that I saw bands in the no template control suggested that I had DNA contamination. The solution to both problems was to replace each reagent and try again. I also reduced the amount of ladder I loaded in with my samples after being informed that the imaging machine we use to see the bands generates an image based on relative intensity.

The third time I tried PCR with the correct primers (August 5th) I used new reagents and only loaded 3 uL of the ladder with the samples. I finally got some positive results. Out of the five primer sets tested, two had worked very well. One had replicated the desired product well but had faintly replaced a few other bands, and another produced appropriately sized but faint product bands. Only one of the five sets failed to produce a product band. These results were not perfect, but it was a relief to finally see positive results. Later today (August 6th) I’ll be redoing the three sets that didn’t work as well with some different conditions to see if I can optimize them.

Of the five primer sets, two were for my work with BCL6 and the other three were for different gene that the lab technician Mimi had been working on. My two primers worked out well, and I am ready to move on with deletion screening as soon as Mimi has the time to show me how that procedure works; hopefully I’ll be able to pick it up from watching her work with her primers. I also have assembled the samples I needed to test the dexamethasone induced BCL6 regulation in SUP-B15 cells. I have previously do the same with NALM6 cells, but a few complication have previously delayed my work on SUP-B15. I look forward to retesting the qPCR skills I have developed this summer.

Week 9 and 10: Pufall Lab, University of Iowa

July 31st, 2014

John Christiansen ’15, Dimensions Fellow in Research

I have condensed week 9 and 10 into a single entry because week 9 was relatively uneventful and I was very busy in Week 10.

Week 9 was the last quiet week. The FACS sorted well had begun reaching significant cell density; some of the wells began to change from a light pink color to an orange, indicating an increase in cell density. However, it was still too early to move the living wells onto a new, live-cell only plate. On such a plate they would more easily be assayed for cell density, and the proper number of cells could be harvested for PCR of a segment of the BCL6 gene. From the size of the PCR product, we could determine which cells had the desired deletion.  This process requires the FACS sorted cells to grow to a significant density, as well as BCL6 gene segment primers of the PCR.

Miles and I also began to seriously consider being a part of the University of Iowa’s Summer Undergraduate Research Conference. Undergrads who were doing summer research though a UI program are required to give a poster presentation at the event, but for me it was optional, as I came in through Cornell Fellows. I knew of the event and was interested in giving a presentation. I assumed that I would be e-mailed the information when appropriate, as I was on the summer intern activities mailing list. As it turns out, there was a different e-mail list for poster information, as well as an e-mail list of summer mentoring faculty that Miles wasn’t on. By the time I figured out when the conference actually was, the registration deadline had already passed. Thankfully, the program manager was sympathetic, as others had the same issue, and although it was an extra hoop to jump through I managed to get on the schedule.

The last few weeks had been rather quiet, but week 10 made up for it. I consolidated the living FACS wells into a new plate, as described above, but before we could move on with the cell density assay, Mimi and I had to test the BCL6 gene segment qPCR primers. We used a quick extract procedure to get some NALM6 genomic DNA and check to see if we had amplification with gel electrophoresis, and we tested several other primers along with BCL6 primers. Between the two of us, we tried about 5 times with different template densities, PCR buffers, and even used qPCR to determine the optimal annealing temperatures of our primers. However, we saw either not amplification or heavy smearing/multiple bands that did not include the size of the expected target. Only later did we discover that a mistake had been made in the primer order. Although we were bound to not get any positive results, it was useful for me to get some experience with both the techniques involved and troubleshooting PCR. The timing was unfortunate, however, as I would have loved to have put successful GR deletion detection on my poster.

Unfortunately, this was the same week that the lease on my apartment was ending and I needed to figure out where I was going to live if I wanted to continue my internship past the previously scheduled end (I am, by the way), so I was somewhat distracted from lab. Furthermore there was a difference in expectations between my PI and me: Miles thought that I would generate information like I would on a paper and that he would then show me how to organizes a poster, while I thought that that I was supposed to figure out what was expected for a poster with Miles’ help before I started to produce the figures and information. Each of us was waiting for an anticipated move by the other. Between this, the apartment issue and a sudden surge in lab work, even after Miles made his expectations clearer and gave me some deadlines I managed to get behind on a project I already had short notice on. The poster was more or less constructed over the course of two days at the expense of Miles and me. This was not a pleasant experience and is a glaring blemish on my summer experience here, but it was also a learning experience about proper communication and poster construction. Also, the final product turned out surprisingly well.

The conference itself also went surprisingly smoothly. All the posters were up by 1:30 and the 145-ish presenters were split up into two groups: half presented their posters from 1:30 pm to 3 and the others from 3 till 4:30. That way, everyone got a chance to both present and look at other presentations. I was surprised by the breadth of topics covered by the research presented: they ranged from biomedical to rocket fuel to racial dynamics in early America. I feel like I presented pretty well for the most part. For the last few weeks I had been worried if my background knowledge was sufficient for the presentation, but I was able to answer every question I was asked. I also had some difficulty deciding on the timing of background information: should I try to present it all in the beginning or as it becomes pertinent to the results? I tried both and I think the all in the beginning method worked best. Aside from waiting by my poster for someone to ask a question, it was really fun. I was also set up pretty close to two other Cornellians who also didn’t get the e-mails and registered late.

Week 6: Phu My Medical Clinic

July 29th, 2014

Tyler Thorne ’15, Keeler International Fellow in Cross-Cultural Psychology

This was my final week at the Clinic and it feels so strange to be finished with my Fellowship.  I tremendously enjoyed going to the Clinic everyday and working with the children.  I did not realize how attached to the children I would become and truthfully, I am very sad to leave them.

The week started off slow as many of the children were still sick, yet once they returned we were very busy.  Many of the children had regressed in the behaviors that we were reinforcing, thus we had to dedicate more time reviewing behaviors, and working on approximations of behaviors that the children had already learned.   For example the speech therapist had the children do a review sheet, where they practiced sounds, and previously learned words to get them warmed up for the session.  For physical therapy we spent more time stretching out the children with Cerebral Palsy as their parents often do not have the children do anything physical and they returned extremely stiff.  From this I learned that as a psychologist I must be flexible, and be willing to change the therapy schedule in order to meet the needs of the patient.

After a few days of therapy though a majority of the children have made up for what they lost when they were sick except for self sufficient eating habits.  The children have really struggled to relearn how to self feed again.  The two children I work with mostly have regressed to the point where they do not grab the spoon and wait for me to feed them.  This is incredibly frustrating as it took literally 5 to 6 weeks to develop these behaviors and they where extinguished after only a week or two off.  I believe this is due to them not feeding themselves or having to practice self sufficient eating habits while they were sick at home.  It is also related to Vietnamese culture as I have found that it is not uncommon for a parent to spoon feed a child, even if that child is completely capable of feeding on their own.

The physical therapy is the area that I have seen the most improvement.  In the 6 short weeks that I was here several of the children have taken great strides in being able to walk without assistance. The children with Autism made small improvements but I feel that they needed much more one on one time and really a better system.  I think it is really tough as many of the staff do not understand Autism and the children are then not treated normally or with proper social cues, which interferes with properly learning those skills.  The therapists understand and provide a nurturing environment for the children, yet once therapy is done the nurses take them to the play room where the Autistic children basically play by themselves and not expected to display proper social interactions which is counterproductive to the therapy.  Yet this is due more so to the culture than anything else, in Vietnamese Culture those with disabilities are seen as lesser and almost sub-human, hence many born with disabilities are abandoned and placed in orphanages.  Thus as the nurses have not had any education on what is going on with these children, they believe that the children will never be able to grow or develop and the nurses act differently toward these children providing a less nurturing environment.  As sad as this is it is not specific to Vietnam as in many cultures mental illness has been misunderstood and been seen as demon possession or punishment for sins in a previous life rather than a situation that can be improved.

This week we also did Art Therapy and Dance Therapy with the children.  During these activities I actually drew a lot from what I learned in my Basic Acting course, such as activities and games, so thank goodness for a liberal art education or I would have been at a loss for things to do during this time.  These activities are usually done in the afternoon after the children have finished their other therapies. Art, dance and music are all great for the children as you can physically see how it calms all the children, as many of them become understandably frustrated during their structured therapy.  Also this therapy type is great as it works on their coordination, creative thinking and it helps the children learn to cope with new tasks as many of them have a hard time adjusting to new situations.  The children also love these sorts of activities, so its great to see them happy and having fun.  I also continued teaching some of the children English, which is actually really fun and I am just amazed at how clever the children are.  Many of them had picked up phrases from working with western volunteers or doctors but with some structure they have quickly learned more than just basic conversation.  It is also important for their future to have a skill such as being able to speak English, as these children are disabled (the ones who are learning only have physical disabilities) they are not allowed into the school system.  Given this, they have a lack of opportunities for jobs or a means to support themselves, yet if they learn English this opens up a whole new set of opportunities.

It was incredibly sad when the children found out it was my last day as all of them started to cry.  We had cake as a going away party for me but some of the kids did not even eat because they were too busy crying about me leaving.  Overall this was an amazing experience, and from it I have learned a great deal.  It has also really directed my goals for the future, I really enjoyed working with children and I feel that I would like to work with children in the future.  I am now sure that I would like to work in a Clinical or patient orientated setting rather than solely doing research.  I am also extremely grateful to the staff for working with me and teaching me a great deal about therapy and the Vietnamese Culture.   While there were some situations we did not see eye to eye on I have made life time friends and professional contacts.


Week 8: US Conference of Mayors

July 27th, 2014

Kelly Oeltjenbruns ’15, Ricker Fellow in Urban Policy Development


This is it! My last week on the job. MY last day is the 23rd; it was going to be the 25th, but Dave has a fishing trip, and I’m not going to complain about two extra free days in DC! Today was income inequality paper-oriented; after the meeting last week, I have a bit of an idea of where my research will fit in with everything that is going on in preparation for the August 11th American Opportunities Task Force meeting. Basically, we are waiting to get the paper from New York to see if my work fits with theirs, and if not, mine will stand alone (as it probably will even if part goes into the New York paper). Dave read through what I had done, and gave me some edits and direction to finish the education section and get moving on minimum wage.

Me at my desk in the office!

Me at my desk in the office!

I had the privilege of getting lunch with a Cornell alum today. His name was Jon Odell, and he is a partner at Cromwell & Moring in DC, specializing in mergers and acquisitions. Mr. Odell and I grabbed some Quiznos and talked about his Cornell experience, my plans, and his work, and boy, was it a blessing. Jon was super laid back and very open with his law school experience and how he liked working at his firm, and even took me to see his spacious office on the 14th floor of a downtown office building. It was great to talk to him and learn more about the field that I may be entering in a few short years.


I finished the education piece on Monday, so today was completely focused on the minimum wage. I am using a study from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning research center, and with my own conservative mindset, it was easy to see areas where the study didn’t have information on what I thought would be relevant to a minimum wage discussion (i.e. how businesses would be impacted, how workers’ benefits would be cut, etc). The US Conference of Mayors has policy supporting a $10.10 minimum wage, however, so the point of my paper is to substantively give the merits of enacting these policies, so that is what I need to focus on.

Today, I had lunch with another alum. His name is Scott Provinse, a ’93 grad who studied sociology and political science. He currently works at SunEdision, and basically handles clean energy deals with the government. Both Scott and Jon were super laid back people – a characteristic that seems to be a-typical for a lawyer – and the diversity was encouraging to me. Not because I consider myself very laid back, but because they were just your typical go-with-the-flow guys who were very successful because they adapted well. Not everyone who is successful was top of their class at Harvard, and I think if we realized that, we’d spend a lot less time worrying about where we’ll end up in 10, 20 years. I’ll get off my soapbox now!

Scott had some great experiences to tell me about at Cornell. In fact, Scott and I have both been students of Craig Allin, and we’ve both lived in Pauley-Rorem, so we were able to share some laughs about that. He was great to talk to, and I’m thankful that RJ back at Cornell was able to reach out and make that happen!

I walked back into the office after lunch and, wouldn’t you know it, the management team for the building was serving ice cream and waffles. One of the many perks of working at 1620 Eye Street: Snickers ice cream with caramel and chocolate sauce. I could get used to this.

After lunch, Dave and I worked on editing the IHS Global Income Inequality report (Dave has been editing it all along). This report is similar to the metro economies report that we worked on earlier, but deals with the wage gap, household income, and the like. Again, we worked on crafting the message in preparation for key findings, which we will write shortly!


My education piece is done for the most part, so today I worked on assembling a workable minimum wage piece and putting together some preliminary key findings in the IHS Global report. That was actually fun; I got to pick out what I thought was the most impactful, and while Dave will most certainly have alterations, it’s exciting to really start from scratch, look at some statistics, and look back to say which ones are the most eye-grabbing, or will go nicely as headlines, or etc. I drafted (complete with color-coding, of course) my findings, and we’ll pick those back up on Monday!

Lunch today was with a connection through Mark Hudson, a lawyer in Cedar Rapids who I met with early February. Mark electronically introduced me to Jay Kramer, a recent law grad who spent a few years working on the Hill and now does political consulting. Talking with Jay was also awesome; over our delicious Potbelly sandwiches, Jay told me about his experience as a lawyer for political campaigns and the strategy involved. That was, by far, the most exciting thing I’ve heard someone say they did with a law degree. That would certainly be up-beat and exciting, to work for a campaign and be the legal consultant. Our discussion was at least an exposure to a field I’m not sure I knew existed.

After work, I went home quick and then headed out to the NoMa outdoor screen; a couple of friends and I caught the outdoor movie ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower” under a beautiful starry sky, surrounded by a couple hundred people enjoying the same stuff. I loved it, and the movie was great, too. The ice cream from the Orange Cow food-truck wasn’t half bad, either! We will certainly be doing back.


This was an unusual day. I started by going to a hearing in the Senate Dirksen building. The hearing began at 10, and though I got there 20 minutes early, it was standing room only; the hearing dealt on the border crisis, so the hot-button topic drew quite a crowd. The Senators trickled in slowly after the clock struck 10, starting with Chairmen Robert Menendez, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Sen. Bob Corker (ranking member), and Sen. Benjamin Cardin. The witnesses were Thomas Shannon Jr., from the State Department, and Bruce Swartz, from the DOJ. Menendez and Corker both said some words, and then the witnesses had a chance to testify for 5 minutes each. Following, each Senator (alternating between Republican and Democratic senators sitting on alternate sides of the semi-circular bench) had a chance to ask some questions of the witnesses. At best, I was surprised; at worst, disappointed. The witnesses were altogether unhelpful, especially when the Republican senators asked questions. There was no substance from them, no specific numbers or specific ways in which they (the DOJ and State Dept) would use the 3.7 billion that Obama asked for to address the root causes of the increase in children coming into the US (causes which may or may not have been identified). The Senators that came in at some point were Senators Rubio, Johnson, Flake, McCain, and Udall. Once the Senators (with the exception of the chairman and the ranking member) asked their question and said their piece for the record, they left. I was surprised that they weren’t actively listening to one another. I spoke with Dave after the hearing, and we talked about different kinds of hearings, and how, as the international relations committee, Menendez really had to have some sort of hearing about our relationships with the other countries involved, and how this wasn’t a hearing where the Senators wanted to roll up their sleeves and get to work; it was all for the record. That definitely calmed a bit of cynicism that was creeping up on me after seeing that hearing! There is, however, talk everywhere about how nothing is getting done in Washington. Many have said that this is the slowest they’ve ever seen government, and I was able to get a little taste of that frustration when I saw nothing really being done in front of me. Regardless, it was very cool to see Senator Rubio, McCain, and Boxer in person!


Senate International Relations committee hearing

After the hearing, I had some time to spend outside the Capitol before a Supreme Court tour. I quite enjoy hanging around the grandiose structure; it’s crazy that I walk by storied structures like the White House and the Washington Monument every day. What a blessing!

So, a mentor/friend at Cornell who went to school in DC was really close with a family out here, so I had gone a few weeks back and spent a Sunday with them. The father of the family was Dan Long, who works at the Supreme Court and edits the opinions for publishing. He graciously offered to take me on a tour of the Court, so I dragged Parker along (just kidding, he came willingly!) and we went at 3 o’clock to see the place where the Hobby Lobby case was decided not a month before.

Dan the Man!

Dan the Man!

Dan showed us the back rooms, dining rooms, courtyards, offices, main court, and, my personal favorite, the basketball court. The Highest Court in the Land – I’d heard it was there, and it was definitely a bucket-list thing for a retiree like me to see. Parker drained a jumper and I – giddy with excitement but rusty from a lack of practice – eventually sank a free throw and took some lay-ups. The court was very old-school, and I loved every second of being there. Dan then took us down the spiral staircase and into his office. Overall, awesome tour, and a huge shout-out goes to Dan!


The coolest, by far.


Friday was a good day. I’ve been working on this paper about income inequality, but without real direction on where it will be used. Sure, Dave and I can certainly make it a stand-alone, but ever since the meeting with New York, Boston, and Sacramento, when we learned that New York was writing a paper, Dave and I really weren’t sure where mine would fit it. Today, my work found its home.

Kevin Johnson, USCM President and Mayor of Sacramento, wanted to have a paper/publication ready for the August meeting on Income Inequality. He (and the USCM staff) wanted something detailing USCM’s positions but also something substantive, with figures and numbers that can quantify advocating for certain policy solutions. Well, there was a slot for early childhood education and a spot for the minimum wage, and my work (with Dave’s help, of course) slid right in. The guys upstairs liked it, so my work was put to good use!

That night I enjoyed a little jazz in the garden (quickly becoming my favorite event) and a baseball game with Parker. The Nats, unfortunately, didn’t pull out a victory, but I will be back at the park on Sunday with Dave, his son, and his niece!

A little Friday night baseball!

A little Friday night baseball!

Saturday and Sunday:

Two great days. My second-to-last weekend in DC featured a beautiful cupcake at Georgetown’s Baked and Wired, a sad farewell to a good friend who was headed back to Louisiana, and an exciting Nats victory coming from a Jayson Werth to-the-fence line drive RBI double to score the game-winning run. Plus, I got a free Denard Span bobble-head out of the deal. Not a bad weekend at all..

A little bonding time with Denard Span..

A little bonding time with Denard Span..


My last week is officially underway. With my paper finding a final resting place, the big things to work on now are the IHS Global income inequality report and tying up any loose ends. I worked on finalizing some preliminary key findings and the report, so that Jillian can put that all together. I may have mentioned this earlier, but it’s fun to pick out what is important in the report and classify those as key findings! Dave encourages me to think like a reporter and find stuff that can be written about, stuff that can make headlines. These key findings, like the ones for the Metro Economies report that made the Wall Street Journal, may very well be the subject of high level news stories, and that’s exciting to me!

I am also putting in some work on MoneyU, the program that Dave and James are looking at in connection with DollarWi$e. It’s really good information – I think I’m taking it more to learn for myself than to pilot it for Dave’s purposes!

My last day will officially be on Wednesday, and that is coming quickly. That will be David’s last day before vacation as well, so poor Dave will be left all alone (he is probably rejoicing at the prospect of getting something done) to eat his coleslaw at lunch!

Tuesday and Wednesday:

Well, this was it. We spent the last two days finishing up the Kevin Johnson paper, getting some last minute advice from Dave, James, and David, and spending basically the entire day talking politics. It’s a little too soon to put into writing everything I’ve learned during my fellowship, and I’ll take some time to reflect, but I can definitely say it has been worthwhile; the new perspectives, views of political processes, and observations of professional interactions. Dave has been phenomenal, as has James and Jillian – I’m going to miss them, and the rest of the staff.  The last day we had a celebratory lunch (complete with my first salmon BLT- quite tasty) and Dave and I had our closing chat.

THANK YOU to RJ and the Fellowship Program, to Dave, and to the Conference of Mayors staff! Time to go back to Iowa!

Dave and I on my last day of work!

Dave and I on my last day of work!

Week 10: Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest

July 22nd, 2014

Nolan Schillerstrom ’15, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

This is most of the gang from Audubon during the "see you later lunch."

This is most of the gang from Audubon during the “see you later lunch.”

Norman Brunswig: The executive director and founder of Audubon at Francis Beidler Forest.

Norman Brunswig: The executive director and founder of Audubon at Francis Beidler Forest.

I never thought this week would actually get here.  I have settled in quite comfortably here in South Carolina.  Although, I do miss my family and friends from home a lot.  It will be a slow week that in the end will seem like it flew by.  The office has been slow for most of the week.  Mackenzie, the office manager, took Monday off to take care of her sick kid and the visitor center was so much quieter than normal!  She is usually singing and talking to herself at her desk, and we are usually cracking jokes back and forth.  Matt is gone this week on vacation so I technically don’t have a supervisor…  muahaha.  In reality, it is sad that Matt is gone on my last week because he was a fantastic supervisor and became a good friend along the way.  Mike took some vacation days at the beginning of the week also, so it was just me, Mark, and Barbara while I was in the office.

I finished making all 20 nest boxes and installed 6.  I can’t install anymore because of the low water and fallen branches, presumably from the ice storm.  It will be interesting to see how things end up with the nest boxes.  I really cannot wait to see if they are used by the birds next summer.  Hopefully I or someone else can set up a study on their breeding behaviors using the boxes I built and installed.

Getting ready to canoe out on the canoe trail and install some nesboxes.

Getting ready to canoe out on the canoe trail and install some nestboxes.

I'm glad I got to see my alligator buddy one last time as I was racking my canoe.  It's like he is bidding me farewell.

I’m glad I got to see my alligator buddy one last time as I was racking my canoe. It’s like he is bidding me farewell.

I took my last walk on the boardwalk this week.  It was a week of goodbyes, although, like I told everyone at Beidler, I never enjoy saying “goodbye,” so I only say “see you later.”  I am sure that I will be back again to this beautiful swamp to see all the people and birds there.  Everyone there played such important parts to make my experience an enjoyable and fruitful one.  Matt, Mike, Mark, Norm, Barbara, Mackenzie, Erin, Ricky, and David, thank you all for giving me a summer that plunged me into the world of field ornithology.  I feel strongly that I have gained a lot of momentum this summer.  I am confident that I will become a great birder and ornithologist and will always remember my first steps on Francis Beidler Forest’s boardwalk.

They threw me a little goodbye lunch and everyone took a break from their work to eat a catered meal and say “see you later.”  At this lunch I finally got to meet the kind woman whose house I was able to stay in this summer, Noel Ingram.  It was nice to get closure to this internship with everyone and share a good meal.

Week 5: Phu My Clinic

July 22nd, 2014

Tyler Thorne ’15, Keeler International Fellow in Cross-Cultural Psychology


This week was strange in that many of the kids that I work with were missing from the clinic.  Several of the children were sick, and one child was so sick that he was in intensive care at the hospital.  This was extremely frustrating as last week I had really begun seeing noticeable improvements in the children’s behavior and I am worried that after a week of missing therapy they will regress.

For the children who were at the clinic this week it was very beneficial for them as they had a lot of individual attention.  Usually there are about 12 children that I work with during the day, yet this week I worked with about 3 or 4 children daily. One child that I had ample time to work with is a child with Autism, who avoids social contact and does not talk or make eye contact.  This week, the therapist and I worked on proper social interactions, and eye contact and by the end of the week he would smile and make eye contact when we would say “hello” or said his name.  This seems like a small step but after nearly 4 weeks of absolutely no reaction this seems like a great improvement.  It is extremely frustrating as this child does not receive speech therapy, as he does not speak, but you can not neglect a child and expect them to improve.

Another child was sick nearly half the week.  When he returned I was really worried that he would have forgotten the skills we taught him, mainly walking and social interactions.  Yet when he returned he had so much energy, and was able to practice walking for nearly 30 minutes, rather than the previous 5 or so.  Also now that he is gaining the ability to walk he is more likely to move toward others and engage in social actions.

As the Clinic was a little slow this week the Physical Therapist invited me to his office in the hospital.  There he treats adults, children and private clients.  While I was there I was able to observe him working with a burn victim and a child with Cerebral Palsy.  The child had just had surgery, in which his tendons had been stretched and realigned and the therapy was to help keep the tendons from re-tightening and to help properly train the muscles.  This child came from a rich family who were paying to have “his affliction removed”.  I thought that quote was enlightening as to how the Vietnamese view disabilities.  The therapist worked with the child by first stretching the limbs, strength exercises such as squats, and balance exercises like standing on a balance board.

Also we had a new child come to the clinic, who is very clever but is such a trouble maker.  He is also a bully and physically harms the other children and the staff.  It is obvious that he is doing it for attention as he only does it when the staff looks at him.  Using what I have learned in my courses I know that in order to extinguish his bad behavior I suggested that we reinforce positive behaviors, and give him attention when he is being good (basically cause extinction of an undesired behavior through positive reinforcement of another).  As a punishment I was at a loss at what exactly to do, I know that the punishment should be immediately following the behavior, but what exactly to punish him with is hard.  I cannot physically punish him, nor can I reprimand him as my Vietnamese is not good enough and the staff take too long in understanding that they need to tell him what he did was wrong, so I decided to use time outs.  We will have to see how this works over next week.

I also suggested that the children could benefit from using a Token Economy, which is very type of behavioral modification that has been supported in recent research.  In a token economy the children are basically rewarded for their good behavior with a  token that they can use for something desirable and a negative behavior results in a loss of that token.  I brought this up to the the therapists but they were unwilling to try it as the eldest therapist of the clinic does not want any change.  The eldest therapist feels that what they are doing is working so there is no need to change.  This is frustrating as what we are doing is working but only for some of the children.  I have also found that in Vietnamese Culture the most important thing in a work-relationship is respect.  Respect is earned in this culture, yet age automatically places you in a higher position of respect.  So even though the therapists have had years of education they are not able to implement any changes as the older therapist (who actually has less schooling) says so.  I feel that this creates a challenge environment as I would like to respect the culture but I also want the best environment for the children.

Week 6: University of South Carolina

July 21st, 2014

Setsen Altan-Ochir ’15, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

Results from running samples

Selfie attempted in the lab

Selfie attempted in the lab

In the lab. Monday started and ended with running samples on Shimadzu.

I intended to finish all the samples, and so ended up staying until 10:30 pm in the lab. Today, on Wednesday, Dan and I realized that two samples (two vials with samples of  pH=2) for dissolved organic carbon analysis (CDOM) were missing even though the samples for Nitrogen and Phosphorus as well as DOM analysis were prepared (Nitrogen and Phosphorus and CDOM analysis will be analyzed by Dan for further  projects). Because we dump the remaining field samples after getting the needed amount through filtering, this is unacceptable. Fortunately however, one of the missing vials was a duplicate sample, and for each of them, I saved an extra sample for DOM analysis just in case. But, that is not the point. These are post-factum measures that happened to work out in this case. From the beginning, thoroughness must be the principle. I don’t think multitasking was an issue, because I had free minutes in between filtering and running the samples on Shimadzu. Although I was constantly telling myself to be slow but sure, I guess it was not enough.

Overall, I am satisfied I got to do around 100 runs, each of which takes 10-15 minutes, for 56 samples. I overcame the monotonies of running samples and existential oddities of being alone in lab, with not even a single face of a construction worker in corridors (our floor is going through renovations this summer, and sounds of construction  makes the environment feel livelier).

Sense of meaning. I have been thinking about Adam Smith’s response to the “romantic” fantasies of some philosophers in the 19th century who were overwhelmed by the implications of specialization, which tends to alienate people from the importance of their work, because they are not able to see the net end-results of their labor directly impacting others’ lives. Indeed, one can cite innumerous examples of people who work office-related middle-management jobs who  soon lose their sense of motivation in what they are doing mostly because of the hierarchical nature of decision-making and implementation. That is probably why people who run coffee shops, shoe repairs, fashion or bike shops look more satisfied day-to-day, as they are in direct correspondence with the fruits of their work, with their consumers and their feedback. Similarly, this is one of the reasons teachers like teaching; they directly impact people’s lives, and it gives them a sense of meaning and contribution. So, the above-mentioned philosophers proposed that we go back to an artisan economy where citizens make their own clothes, produce their own food, etc. But Smith argued that workers simply need to be cognizant of how their individual endeavors fit into the bigger scheme, and how they are helping other people and society. In research too, one should always be mindful of the significance of his/her questions and topics without getting distracted by its everyday struggles and realities. Enough self-didacticism.

Green and greener.


I am swaddled in green. Not only do we travel in Dan’s chic green car to visit mostly green waters, South Carolina boasts around 60 percent forestland, sinking my eyes in greenery. I even live on Greene street (and I guess I could argue that I am becoming “green” by becoming a vegetarian). Still, grass is greener on the other side: I find myself in an opposite situation to those of many people I meet. In college, the general feel I get is that of breaking free from family pressures and societal expectations. Tanya said that most young people back at home (Punjab) are heavily instructed on what and how to do things that they never get to actually do them… until they leave for somewhere, study, and explore their interests. Therefore, Tanya and many young people express their wish to be in my shoes when I say I didn’t go through that. Having been brought by a single mother, who was herself brought by a single mother (my grandmother passed away when I was three), life has been akin to trying to find a stepping ground after being thrown into an impalpable void, with no axis of reference; like pushing in all directions while space receded back immediately with greater force.

My personal observations show me that it is easier to act and live in reaction to a stimulus, be it beneficial or useless. Having that initial push to bounce off from. No matter how one is talented, hardworking, observant, or persistent, a sense of direction from adults is essential when young. In that, I appreciate my professors and mentors at Cornell for their sincere feedback and suggestions.

Field work. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent driving and sampling in four counties: Orangeburg, Dorchester, Williamsburg, and Berkeley counties. Dan, Warren, and I completed our last field day with fair amount of fun and each his/her own share of stupidity.

Among my friends, I am known for coming with rain. Putting aside our statistical intuition, based on our experiences of raining each time I was with them, we like entertaining the idea that Setsen and rain come together.  However, in case with alligators, its seems like they are not to be spotted whenever I am present. After visiting several places where encountering alligators is a certainty, we saw none except a head submerged under water at Mepkin Abbey, a monastery retreat center  located on the Cooper River.  Of course, at the time, our eyes were mesmerized with tranquility of the gardens that the alligator hunt wasn’t of priority.


The alligator is on the other side of the river, behind me

The alligator is on the other side of the river, behind me

In the car, as I asked why there are barely any natural lakes in South Carolina, I dismayed my completion of Climates of the Ice Ages class, where we got to learn several paleoclimatic proxies, speleothems accentuated. For several minutes, I somehow didn’t get why having no glaciers have to be the answer. My momentary stupidity was in taking glaciers as mountain glaciers only. Simply, because continental glaciers did not reach the region during ice ages, the land isn’t carved with depressions to hold lake-level bodies of water.


Two beetles missing at Mepkin Abbey

Two beetles missing at Mepkin Abbey

After we left the dock of a restaurant we took samples from at Lake Moultrie Tailrace Canal at Monck’s corner,  Dan realized he forgot our notepad where we keep our field notes. As we rushed back, Dan remembered putting it on top of the car by the back door. We found it intact on the road like a turtle crossing the road!

Later in the day, we had to take stream flow measurement at a channel under a bridge. We realized we didn’t have our meter. After finally figuring that out using a rope with markings, the battery of the instrument was found to be dead. Warren got back to the car to see if we had extra batteries, but brought wrong sized ones. So, Dan left with his car in search of a store nearby. Meanwhile, Warren and I managed to unscrew the screws using a coin because I wanted to try the technique of biting old batteries to harness the last remaining energy out of it. The batteries were too big and hard; or American batteries are different than Chinese batteries? Soon, Dan came back having found out that the store I saw was out of business. As we observed the flow  starting to change its direction under tidal influences, taking flow measurement had to be aborted anyways. No matter how hard we try, obviously nature has its own whims.

According to a USGSC article, climate change and sea-level rise will purportedly affect availability of freshwater in coastal streams, because interplay of sea-level, thus tidal conditions, and streamflow govern the balance between freshwater and saltwater.


Week 7: Children’s Hospital Colorado

July 20th, 2014

Sandra Cordero ’16, Farley Fellow in Children’s Research 

This week I attended a lecture on surgical outcome research presented by Patrick. Patrick made a point that residents/ fellows and  interns he worked with, that ended up attending medical school, have come back and told him that clinical research is not as important as “bench work.” This argument is debatable and I decided to write about it in my daily journals, stating the significance of clinical research opposed to “bench work.” However, Tepper emailed me back and stated that I need to think more broadly about research. Maybe I have been biased because my internship is based on clinical research, or maybe it’s because I don’t have enough experience in research. Tepper made me understand that I was thinking only about technical aspects in a narrow part of my project.

I want to provide some background on clinical research because I know that many people are unfamiliar to it, thus may not have even understood me when I said that I will be doing a retrospective study. Clinical research attempts to answer questions regarding the effectiveness of treatments, medication, and preventive measurements. This consists of administering surveys, observing/ following up on patients undergoing a certain procedure, and analyzing patient’s data for trends. While “bench work” involves conducting experiments in a laboratory, you are able to use multiple tools to solve complex and multidisciplinary problems. We simply cannot say that one is more important than the other is because they work together. During “bench work”, you stimulate expected conditions as closely as possible to represent the real conditions, and determine the safety. Once this test is passed, it goes through the clinical trial process. Thus, I can see how individuals see why individuals say “bench work” is much more valuable because it makes clinical research possible. However, a medication or treatment is only proven effective through clinical research. Clinical research has its advantages, allowing patients to avoid unnecessary surgeries and use of medication. In addition, clinical research focuses more on report writing; thus individuals have a higher chance of being published. I feel that clinical research though deserves more credit. We need to expand the clinical research opportunities, because those skills you learn about designing a project and analysis through writing and statistics are very useful skills. Moreover, you are able to work with a variety of individuals that are educated in different fields. I work with doctors, research assistants, and biostatistics personnel.

Though, I believe that it does not matter what type of research you go into. If you need research for medical or graduate school, I think you should do the research that interests you the most, one that you are passionate about. I learned that during interviews you will be specifically asked about your contributions and what you learned during your research, and feel that if you do not enjoy what you are doing; it will be hard to talk about it. Therefore, if you like collecting and analyzing data, and writing reports, then do clinical research. If you like working with a variety of tools and enjoy DNA/ protein extraction, cell culture, and Western blotting, then do “bench work.” As for me, I enjoy clinical research; I was able to design my project. Even If I am in the beginning stages of my research, I was able to start a foundation and be creative. I wish that I was able to do more statistical analysis because finding correlations/ significances, and making graphs is very interesting to me. However, I think both type of research is beneficial, and I plan to find an internship next summer associated with “bench work,” to get that experience as well.

In addition, I worked in Dr. Chang’s office this week that has a bunch of free candy open to anyone. It was hard containing myself from eating all the chocolate. It was funny; someone stole his Yoda and asked for ransom because all the gummy worms ran out.

On the left is the empty jar of gummy worms

On the left is the empty jar of gummy worms

Ransom Note

Ransom Note


Week 8: Strack Lab, Carver College of Medicine, the University of Iowa

July 15th, 2014

Jihang Wang ’15, Dimensions Fellow in Research

We were doing similar experiments this week as the past several weeks to get more of the data and also to increase the reliability. Thus, most of the work this week followed similar procedures as I described before. In the first two days, I continued the nucleus morphology assay and finished counting six more wells. Next week I will be unblinded and finally know if my results actually meet our expectations. I did some poly-L-lycine coating and washing this week, but this time I also washed some 4-well chambers which would be used later for nucleus morphology assays. The washing of 4-well chambers required twice with sterile water with 1 mL in each well, the same amount as each well of the 24-well plate.

I did more luciferase assays this week. I first assayed the Gaussia luciferase (Gluc) for plates 3 and 4, which contained only the secreted Gluc with the media but no cells. I added 25 µL of 2X lysis buffer to each well to maximize the activity of Gluc which would be soon tested. After shaking for one minute, I added 1.5 µL of Gluc to each tube that contained 20 µL of Gluc substrate and measured the luminescence using the luminometer right away since it was a flash-type reaction. We always used a large excess of substrate so that the activity of the enzyme would not be limited.

Plates 5 and 6 still contained the cells which were transfected so that they secreted both Gaussia and Nano luciferases (Nluc), so I did Gluc and Nluc dual luciferase assays on these plates. After washing the plates with DPBS, I added 60 µL of 1X lysis buffer to each well and shook the plates for five minutes. Then I added 1.5 µL of Gluc, which was released from the cells by the lysis buffer, to 20 µL of Gluc substrate in tubes and measured. After measuring the Gluc, I assayed the Nluc by adding 25 µL of Nluc into 25 µL of Nluc substrate in an empty 96-well plate. Then I transferred all solutions to tubes and measured the luminescence.

I also helped out Ron this week with the transfection of neurons in the laminar flow cabinet. I added D, 9A, 9ED, Mas70, A, and VPE transfections to the neurons in the three 24-well plates and two 48-well plates as they were marked. Every well in the 48-well plates needed 25 µL and that of 24-well plates needed 50 µL.

Doing the transfection in the laminar flow cabinet.

Doing the transfection in the laminar flow cabinet.


Week 9: Audubon Center at Francis Beidler Forest

July 15th, 2014

Nolan Schillerstrom ’15, Rogers Fellow in Environmental Studies

Matt goes on vacation next week so I had to say my goodbyes on Friday.  I couldn't have asked for a better mentor and friend.

Matt goes on vacation next week so I had to say my goodbyes on Friday. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor and friend.

Everything is slowing down here at Audubon.  It seems like this is the time of year when a lot of people like to take their vacation days.  Good work is still being done, it is just done in a nature center that is a bit quieter than normal.  That said, some exciting things still managed to happen this week.  But first I need to mention a food item that you will only find in the south.

I’m going to introduce a new and bizarre food item that I do not believe most Northerners (Yankees) have heard of.  I am a “Yankee,” I grew up near Chicago and I’d never heard of this until now.  Erin told me about boiled peanuts last week and I got to try them today.  Yes, that’s right, I said boiled peanuts.  You may be wondering: what is that!?, as I did.  They are exactly what they sound like.  Peanuts still in their shells are boiled for 12+ hours in water with an ungodly amount of salt.  The result is a soft, messy peanut that is very salty and has a unique taste to it.  Mackenzie got some for me from a gas station this week and I was actually pleasantly surprised.  I don’t think they are anything to rave about but I enjoyed this bizarre little southern treat.

But, back to business.  I went out to find A914 on Monday and the whole swamp was silent.  There were some frogs and cicadas still croaking and buzzing away, but bird-wise it was like a race-track seconds before the starting gun goes off: silence.  The only thing I saw was one unbanded male Prothonotary, probably a fledgling, on Tuesday.  Matt and I were getting a little worried that we weren’t able to find our long-shot A914, so Matt took his PROW song recording and played it over where we had seen him last and he flew right over.  PHEW!  We were all a bit more chipper after finding him.

The other update on the Prothonotary front is about the nest boxes I have been constructing.  I am almost done building my goal of 20 nest boxes and I have only just started installing them.  On Monday, Matt and I went out to experiment with installation.  What is the easiest way to drive the metal post in to the ground?  How will we stabilize the nest box once it is in the ground?  How far away should they be from each other?  How many can we realistically install in one trip if our canoe can only hold so many?  After an afternoon of playing around in the boat and getting our legs and feet wet, we installed three boxes and made it back right when everyone was leaving for the day.  Based on past Prothonotary Warbler nest box studies, we decided to space them 50-100m apart so if consecutive boxes are used, they won’t be uncomfortably close for the territorial yellow-feathered friends.  I won’t bore with the other minute details but if you are interested you can email me at Nschillerstrom15@cornellcollege.edu.  We installed 3 nest boxes that were still standing at the end of the week when Mike showed me the rest of the canoe trail off-shoot where I will be installing them.

Nest box number one installed and ready for service.

Nest box number one installed and ready for service.

I sat in on a meeting with Sharon, the lady who, among many other things, writes grant proposals for Audubon SC.  She was asking Matt questions about the costs and potential growth of Project PROTHO and I decided to chime in to say that a lot of professors like to add an extra $5,000 or so in to their research grant proposals in order to have an intern over the summer. I have learned that organizations like the National Science Foundation love when education is part of a professor’s research and are usually eager to supply that extra money.  Sharon and everybody else in the room loved the idea of including money for another intern next year so I volunteered to write a program for next year’s possible intern.  Who knows… maybe I will apply for it if it happens.  It would be pretty cool to say that I was the beginning of a project with so much potential like Project PROTHO.

On Wednesday I went with everyone from Audubon SC to a meeting hosted by Audubon.  They invited conservation leaders from all over South Carolina to learn about and discuss how rising sea levels will affect bird populations along South Carolina’s coast.  The meeting was held in a brand new meeting room at Dixie Plantation with a state of the art PA system.  About 50 conservation leaders attended the meeting and I was almost stunned by how many important and influential people were there.  I got to talk to a handful of them about their careers and learned a good deal about how the DNR, Fish & Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and other companies all work together to protect land.  As sea levels rise, salt marsh habitats are being pushed farther and farther inland.  But with development and the urge to protect developing areas from high tides and rising sea levels, many dikes and sea walls are being built.  While these barriers will protect structures from the rising water, they also prevent salt marshes from shifting to higher ground, effectively killing off this essential habitat for many birds and other animals.  This meeting really made me want to play a bigger role in movements like this one.  I think I see the direction I want to take with my career.  But I don’t think I will ever be able to see very far ahead of me with any accuracy.

Setting up for the meeting at Dixie Plantation.

Setting up for the meeting at Dixie Plantation.

On Thursday I attended an interview-style webinar with the President and CEO of The National Audubon Society, David Yarnold.  It was very interesting to hear how he answered the host’s questions and it was cool to see how enthusiastic he was about answering the questions of interns like myself.  Apparently there were interns from all over the US listening in on this webinar.  I got two questions in before the hour was up and I would like to point out that twice David said he was impressed with the questions people were asking, both after reading the ones I had asked.  No big deal though…  The most interesting thing he talked about was a climate initiative that will be made public on September 9.  A scientist working for Audubon that is really good with territory maps looked at the habitat ranges of every bird species in North America and how rising water levels will affect them.  He concluded that 100 species of birds are in danger of going extinct or being seriously damaged due to rising water levels.  I am excited to see this study and to see what actions are taken to preserve these birds.  It is a perfect connection between my two majors: environmental studies and biology.  The other thing I pulled from this webinar was a quote from David: “The scientist who is a better blogger is more valuable that the scientist with a PhD who cannot communicate.”

My finished Prothonotary Warbler territory map.  Every color is a different bird.

My finished Prothonotary Warbler territory map. Every color is a different bird.

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