“I’m Sexy and I Know It…”  If data could talk, this is exactly what my data of after three years would say ( in quoting LMFAO).  For the last 3 1/2 years, I had a vision of how to approach my PhD research.  I was determined to work with alligators and their parasites- one of the reasons why I decided to go to UCLA was because I found an advisor who was going to let me research what I wanted to research-what I had passion for!  I just didn’t want to do science-I wanted to do science that interested me and that I was absolutely obsessed about, and it just so happened I was enamoured on learning about the interaction of Louisiana Alligators and their parasites.  So I’ve been going to the annual alligator harvest for three years picking through stomach, guts, lungs, etc of alligators in search of their parasites.  I collected livers of alligators and froze them for later heavy metal analysis to analyze heavy metal effects on alligator parasitism.  I even froze some parasites to compare and contrast host-parasite pollutant concentration.  And I collected tissue samples of parasite embeddment to analyze histological slides/immune response to parasites by alligators.  
I thought I was on top of the world!!!!  I remember older grad students telling me, “You are going to wake up one day asking yourself, why am I doing what I am doing?  What is the point of my research?  What is it significance to science and society?”  I snickered!  I never thought I would ever feel like that- I loved crocodilians and parasites.  I was going to change the world- make everyone see how cool parasites were, and how awesome crocodilians were.  Yep, super optimistic!  But that all changed during my doctoral orals…

There I was presenting my doctoral orals.  I presented my chapters.  I was asked questions about my research, and just general questions on my field- I nailed them!  Data collection wasn’t a problem either, so I didn’t have to worry about them asking me, “How are you going to get that?”  But after presenting my data to the Godfather of Ecoparasitology, the woman who discovered the function of antibodies, one of the oldest crocodilian researchers in the world, the MVP of mathematical modeling epidemic diseases in wildlife, and my advisor who is one of the founders of one of the world’s most prestigious systematic groups, I began to question my research.  I didn’t like the questions or hypotheses I had anymore, and this feeling declined more and more each day.  I knew what I wanted to do, but couldn’t really express it.  My thoughts were running around like decapitated chickens in my head.  Damn it!  I have three years of data with close to 10,000 parasites from alligators and I have no idea what to do!!!!  

Lost, frustrated, scared, and feeling idiotic the last couple months have been a struggle.  I had no idea how to express my research to others at scientific meetings- I was all over the place more so than normal.  I knew what I wanted to do, but just couldn’t say it or write it.  I should have listened to all those older graduate students before me, because that day had come.  I tried talking to some people about it, but some didn’t understand or seem to care to listen to my rant.  But maybe that’s because I didn’t know what I was talking about and sounded like that Charlie Brown character.

However, the heavens have opened – I struck gold- an epiphany!  After examining my data and then going over my new ideas and hypotheses with some of my committee members, I’m feeling like my project is sexy again!  I feel the intellectual merit and scientific techniques I’ll be using has appeal and allure to get any scientific reviewer excited and hot.  And it still has the broader impact quality of reaching out to society.  Integrating toxicology, immunology, parasitology, mathematical modeling, and a dab of biochemistry, my alligator-parasite research is going to make some people’s hair stand on their ends!  So what exactly am I doing or showing?  You must wait in anticipation…  But if you really want a sneak peak, head to http://rockethub.com/projects/3823-alien-vs-predator    $1 contributions go a long way!!!!!!   😀

So if any new graduate student is reading this, be prepared.  You are going to go through a period of “what the hell am I doing.”  I don’t care how much you say you love your project, there will be a time.  I think its been like that for every scientific researcher- its a haze.  But don’t give up!!!!  It’s just part of the process.  But if you are feeling that way, seek some comfort or advice from another graduate student.  It will help you get through the turbulence, and probably get you faster through it.

Now back to “I’m Sexy and I Know it!”