As some of you (who know me) may remember, I moved out here to San Francisco over 2 years ago, in 2007, to begin my studies at UCSF (Univ. of California, San Francisco). I am pursuing a PhD in craniofacial embryology there. In fact, I am well into my 3rd year.
I wanted to celebrate my 2nd year anniversary of moving out here from Fort Wayne, IN; it was a HUGE move (not to mention I had just moved back from London, England, that year).
Why am I in the emerging field of craniofacial embryology, studying how the face and brain develop in embryos? Because, I myself was born with a rare disorder of craniofacial development (Treacher Collins syndrome), whereby my facial skeletal structures, palate, and ears failed to develop in my embryonic development.
What has this second year been like for me? VERY BUSY!
Summer 2008: Alien Embryos: The beginning of my cutting-edge research...
During the summer of 2008, I was involved in my second laboratory rotation (of 3). I was in the orthopaedic surgery department laboratories at SF General Hospital. My mentor and I began doing a very interesting experiment, involving chicken embryos in a special hypoxic chamber.
The goal of my experiments was to see how hypoxia affects craniofacial development. I had read past literature describing craniofacial anomalies in chick embryos under hypoxic conditions. More recently I had read a clinical report of holoprosencephaly (a rare disorder of forebrain and facial development in which the forebrain fails to divide, along with facial defects, including cyclopia in rare cases) in a human fetus without a heart (ie, hypoxic due to acardia).
When I saw my hypoxic embryos, they came out looking malformed, as well as developmentally delayed. They had serious brain and facial defects! My embryos looked so alien, that I even marked my containers "Alien Embryos"!
Little did I know, this would launch a great adventure in research for me, for the next 3 or so years!
My First Research Presentation: UCSF Research Day 2008
In the fall of 2008 (beginning of my 2nd year), I was encouraged by my mentor from the aforementioned laboratory to send in my abstract of my summer research for the UCSF annual Research Day, an in-house mini-research-conference that involves presentations by students as well as guest speakers. I was encouraged to try for an oral presentation. I was chosen to give an oral presentation.
My talk was titled, Hypoxia as an environmental cause of holoprosencephaly. I gave a 12-minute talk, with Powerpoint slides of my chick embryos (and discussion of holoprosencephaly) and my results. I had 5 minutes of questions and answers time. My talk was well-received by everyone in the lecture hall. Lo and behold, to my great surprise, I was awarded first prize in the graduate student division!
My First Major Research Conferences All Over the US
Research Day at UCSF was just the beginning. I was later encouraged to register and submit my abstract for the upcoming Experimental Biology 2009 (EB2009) meeting in New Orleans for April 2009. (This was organised by FASEB, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.) My abstract (the same title as my Research Day abstract) was selected as a finalist by the organisers of EB2009.
Before I went to EB2009 in New Orleans, however, I went to another meeting earlier in April 2009. I was encouraged to attend the IADR meeting in Miami, FL. I went there (even though I did not present there), and made connections with professors from other countries. I also met old friends from King's College London, where I attended previously. I also started "networking" with new colleagues from New Zealand (more later on that), China, England, etc. That was my first meeting I attended. I flew DL, SFO-ATL-MIA roundtrip.
I went to EB2009 just 2 weeks later in New Orleans. This time, I took my poster with. It flew first class on Delta, whilst I flew coach I flew DL, SFO-ATL-MSY roundtrip. I got an unexpected hotel upgrade, to a suite, at the Omni Royal Orleans in the French Quarter. At EB2009, I presented my poster, which was well received. Besides that, I ran into my old anatomy professor from King's College London! (She's the editor of the current Gray's Anatomy.) I met some well-known professors from all over the USA and the world, and they also liked my poster presentation.
Just 2 weeks later, in early May, I attended the West Coast regional meeting of the Society for Developmental Biology (SDB) in Monterey, CA. There, I showed my poster again, and won a prize (a textbook on evolution).
In July 2009, I attended my 4th conference--right here in San Francisco. It was the annual international meeting of the Society for Developmental Biology (SDB). Again I showed my poster.
Besides presenting my research at these conferences, the most valuable thing I have gotten from these meetings is to network, network, network all I can with people in my field all over the world!
More Alien Embryos: My Dissertation Research Begins: My Third Year Now at UCSF
Now that I am well into my third year at UCSF, I am in the laboratory full time at SF General Hospital. I am continuing my research into the effects of hypoxia on brain and facial development in chick embryos. I am still "laying" dozens upon dozens of eggs in my "chicken farm" as I call it now. I am still using my hypoxic incubator system to churn out more hypoxic, alien-looking embryos!!
Now my focus is on the cellular and molecular mechanisms of these hypoxic defects in my alien embryos. I want to see if hypoxia kills off more cells and messes with signaling pathways important in embryonic development.
I am preparing my proposal for my Qualifying Exam (wherein I am required to give an oral defence of my proposal to a panel of 5 selected faculty members), in order to advance to candidacy for the PhD.
My Plans for the Coming Year
I plan to go to more conferences as the opportunity arises, especially international ones. For example, I would love to go to the Gordon Research Conference in Italy for craniofacial research, if I get enough data (and money, too!) by then (April 2010).
I also plan to go back to London to pay a visit to my old professors at King's College London, where I studied 2004-2007 and began my craniofacial research. I would like to go in April 2010, around my 35th birthday.
Recently, I got an invitation to speak in New Zealand in April. The Univ. of Otago dental faculty heard about my work (when I connected with some of their people at the meeting in Miami last April), and have asked me to give a talk at their Research Day event. So, hopefully in April I'll be flying off to New Zealand to give a talk!
It's been a very busy year for me!
[Edited 2009-11-21 23:24:20]