Archive by Author

How financial instability and undocumented citizenship hone my problem solving skills

9 May

Note: This blog post was written by an undergraduate student in San Francisco. 

There have been many times where the stress of financial instability has fogged up my mind and kept me from studying, working on assignments, or attending class. There are days I feel so hopeless all I can do is stay in bed and wallow in my penniless state of being.

In the future see myself in a research lab

However, that is not how you achieve a PhD degree. Ambition gets me through those dark times, as long and dark as they may be, discovery keeps me intrigued and in school. In the future see myself in a research lab, at a colloquium, or a seminar discussing findings with my colleagues, having a regular office job is simply not an option. That is the reason I am here, that is the reason my family stayed in America way past their wishes, so I could attend an American college and pursue my dreams.

How will I pay my rent, what’s free to eat?

Coming into my third year here at SF State, I completely lost any stable source of income. This is due to my undocumented status. I am Dreamer, and recently my work permit expired, leaving me with no chance at attaining a job. Studying biology while lacking funds really makes college much more complicated. Daily stress accumulates from sources like how will I pay my rent, what’s free to eat, or when is that next assignment due. 8-hour school days with no money to buy coffee or spending 5 hours on one question when you can easily get help from a Chegg subscription are constant reminders of my current situation. I have not been able to afford a textbook for years, and the luxury of new school supplies is one that stayed in high school. You cannot take out student loans as a Dream Student, nor can you borrow money from banks when you have no credit and illegal citizenship status. I leave my house and risk the chance that I might get deported. Some might say I should be a lot more stressed then I am, but I personally believe that you make your own reality, and suffering is not part of mine.

I will make discoveries one day

So how is it that I survive? Sometimes I think have to work twice as hard to figure out those extra problems that come with being financially strapped. How will I print my essay without any money to use the printers? Sometimes I secretly sneak into the biology graduate lab and print what I need to print. How will I afford the lab manual and supplies I need for lab? You ask everyone you know while searching Facebook book trade groups for hours until you find what you need. How do you pay for the bus is you don’t have the fare? Bus drivers usually let you on if you put whatever’s in your pocket in the machine. There’s a billion ways to make canned chicken taste good. If you message ticket scalpers the day of you might be able to score free tickets to the concert. I may not be able to afford a new laptop at the moment, but I will be the one discovering models for gene regulation and health disparities one day. When there’s a will there are ways. I can testify to the notions that anything is possible if you just believe the outcome to be plausible. The most creatively brilliant ideas sprout when you have no choice but to think outside of the box.

I know I will be a good research scientist

For all the reasons described above, I know I will be such a good research scientist; I have been forced to think outside the box when traditional methods will not work for my situation. The confidence that I will love and excel in my career keeps me in school rather than searching for financial stability. My problem solving skills have reached an extremely high level. Finding money to survive has been tricky, but it has taught me a lot about problem solving, appreciating what I have, and realizing what I truly need.

(Image: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/pictures/60000/velka/woman-studying-cartoon.jpg)

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Making stop motion videos in a genetics class

23 Apr

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Last week, the students in my genetics class made stop motion videos. They had to do some preparation as homework (mainly thinking about a topic), but other than that, they just had 50 minutes to make a movie. I expected that most would not finish it in that time, but they get extra credit if they finish it at home.

From my colleague Kimberly Tanner from the Science Education Partnership and Assessment Laboratory (SEPAL), I have learned to collect feedback from students very often during the semester, so I asked them: Did you learn from Monday’s class?

Probably 90 students made a stop motion video in the two sections of my genetics class on Monday. 54 of them wrote feedback on Wednesday. 32 of 54 (59%) thought they learned something about genetics!

32 students felt like they learned something about genetics

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6 students thought it was “just review”

I think that review is very useful!

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8 students felt like they learned about how to make a stop motion video

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8 students felt like they didn’t learn anything

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Will I do this again?

Yes! Definitely!

But I may talk to students more about how this exercise will benefit their learning and encourage students to pick a topic they would like to review.

 

 

I drew an animation video

15 Apr

Evolutionary rescue and soft sweeps

A drawn animation movie! When I was a kid I wanted to work for Disney, so this is a dream come (a little bit) true!

The paper is here.

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Marching for science with colleagues and students

14 Apr

MarchForSciencePDF

On executive orders and protest fatigue

5 Feb
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Poster by Shephard Fairey / ObeyGiant.com via Amplifier Foundation

This thoughtful post was written by my friend Arne Bakker who works at Stanford. He allowed me to post it here. Pleuni

So, I spent part of my night listening to legal experts of the Stanford Law School discussing the impact of 3 recent executive orders by President Trump. It was pretty impressive, with some of the top legal scholars of the country being present. I learned about Executive Order #1 (by Lincoln), and about an Executive Order actually describing what an Executive Order is (Chicken, meet Egg). And I learned a lot about how these orders are affecting thousands of people inside and outside the US, which brought tears to our eyes and fear in our hearts.

But I also learned from these pretty amazing people what they think we can (and should) do:

***First, there was the positive reminder that after 9/11 the courts allowed many laws impacting civil liberties to pass because of broad ‘national security’ concerns, but that today it looks like the courts are actually resisting the policy changes from the Trump administration. Keeping my fingers crossed for that one.

***Second, there was the heartfelt plea to not just rely on the courts, but to continue calling your representatives to resist these policies and remain active and vocal in your protests. It actually works, people! These top legal experts attributed the recent changes in allowing permanent residents to enter the country and backtracking on some other provisions purely to the quick and vocal response of thousands of people after the Executive Orders went into effect less than a week ago.

***Third, they cautioned for protest fatigue. There is a real agenda for controlling the news cycle with new shock after new shock to wear us out. As someone said, don’t fall for forgetting yesterday’s news because of today’s new shocker. Think hard about what issue you deeply care about and keep track of it, even when the news cycle has moved on. Keep reminding people, give them updates on policy changes, victories and losses where you can. And don’t be upset if someone else knows less about ‘your thing’ and is vocal about a different issue that they care deeply about. Learn from them, since they will keep track of those issues and can share their knowledge with you.

 

If you are interested to read more on the travel ban by Stanford professors, see here: https://law.stanford.edu/2017/02/01/the-new-travel-ban-national-security-and-immigration/

 

Appalled by Trump actions

28 Jan

I am appalled by what is happening in the US since Trump, Pence and the Republican Party are in charge. I believe that women should have access to safe abortions and birth control. I believe everyone has the right to affordable medical insurance. I believe refugees should be welcomed in this country. (Soon, we may need other countries to welcome refugees from the United States!) I believe scientists who work for the government should be free to speak their minds and share their findings with the world. I believe no one should be banned from this country based on their religion. I belief that Black Lives Matter.

I will do everything I can to provide a safe space in my classrooms and my lab for everyone, regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status or physical abilities.

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In defense of science

28 Jan

I (Pleuni Pennings) endorse the following, which was drafted by Graham Coop (UC Davis), Michael Eisen (UC Berkeley) and Molly Przeworski (Columbia):

We are deeply concerned by the Trump administration’s move to gag scientists working at various governmental agencies. The US government employs scientists working on medicine, public health, agriculture, energy, space, clean water and air, weather, the climate and many other important areas. Their job is to produce data to inform decisions by policymakers, businesses and individuals. We are all best served by allowing these scientists to discuss their findings openly and without the intrusion of politics. Any attack on their ability to do so is an attack on our ability to make informed decisions as individuals, as communities and as a nation.

If you are a government scientist who is blocked from discussing their work, we will share it on your behalf, publicly or with the appropriate recipients. You can email us at USScienceFacts@gmail.com.

If you use this email address, here is a PGP public key for PGP encryption: http://pgp.mit.edu/pks/lookup?op=get&search=0x52C7139DE0A3D350