The Never Ending Art of Work-Life Balance

A philosophy professor places a large mason jar on the desk in front of his class and proceeds to fill the jar to the top with as many large rocks that will possibly fit. He then asks the class, “Is the jar full?” Some students answered yes, some answered no. It wasn’t full. So he continued to fill the jar with smaller rocks and then asks the class again, “Is the jar full now?” Again, the answer was no. So the philosophy professor adds sand to the jar and asks the question again. As before, the answer is no. This time he adds water to the jar and then asked his students:

“What is the moral of this story?”

“There’s always room for more,” one student cleverly commented. And while it was a good answer, it was incorrect.

“No,” the professor responded, “the moral of this story is that you should always put your big rocks in first or they will never fit.”

As I was sitting in this months Coffee with Women in Medicine and Science (WIMS) series titled, Work-Life Balance, this was my first time hearing about the Rocks, Pebbles and Sand Analogy for Time Management, and it really got me thinking. Throughout my undergraduate career, things came easy to me. I never had to use a planner. I never struggled to juggle, work, my campus leadership positions, class and friends. I had a strange gift of effortlessly making everything fit. Going into my third year of graduate school, lets just say that this is no longer the case.  By the end of the week, something, or someone, always gets left out of the equation. After hearing the stories of Women, at various stages of their careers, work and life is an equation that you are always trying to balance. An equation that can sometimes only become  harder once you decided to build a family in a workforce that tells women that children will only hinder their career.

My take away from this session, you can have it all. More importantly, my “all” may look different from  the next person’s “all” and that is okay. For some people, their family was their big rock, which meant home time was strictly family time, at least until the kids, and spouse, were asleep and if additional work needed to be done, then this was the time to do it. For others, that big rock was running, and making sure their was always sufficient time to get a decent long-distance run in. And for a few, that big rock was work. Sometimes, we may have deadlines, emergencies, or fellowships due that require time away from the “big rocks”. Whatever the case may be, the important thing is recognizing that you are putting the things that give you the most joy in life first.


The Joys of Teaching

This June I had the pleasure of working with high school students participating in the 4-H Teen Conference held at the University of Kentucky. Underneath their health major, another student and myself proposed a nutrition course titled #HealthGoals. Together, the objective of our course was to inform students of basic nutrition facts, guidelines, and consequences of overnutrition, as well as to introduce the students to fruits that are traditionally less eaten, and healthier snack options. While my colleague and I prepared intensively for the class, what we were not ready for was how much joy our group of students were going to bring us. We packed each day with interactive nutrition activities and games and on the last day played, what turned out to be, a very competitive game of jeopardy. However, what made each class spectacular was how engaged each student deemed to be. We received all types of questions ranging from why do we need water to what we thought about the ketogenic diet. With this being a group of high school students, one thing that was important to us was ensuring that each day be filled with engaging activities that would best promote learning and retention. Each student came equipped with varying educational backgrounds. However, whatever the case may be, we wanted, possibly their first, nutrition educational experience to be an impactful one.

For the course the bulk of the class consisted of a powerpoint prepared with basic nutrition facts such as how many servings of fruits and vegetables are required for their age group, for example. However, we made sure to break up the powerpoint with fun Kazoot.it quizzes. Other activities that the students did to break up the lecture included:

  • Create an individualized meal plan utilizing Choose MyPlate
  • Make a healthy “no bake” snack
  • 1-minute presentations on their favorite fruit/vegetable that included the season it is grown in, calories per serving, ways to prepare it, and key nutrients
  • “Non-traditional” fruit tasting that included students peeling and cutting the fruit
  • Jeopardy
  • Long and short term health goals and how to reach them

Maybe this is how it always feels to teach, or maybe we just got lucky with an amazing group of students. Whatever the case may be, this is a memory that I will cherish forever.

Can you think back to your first teaching experience? Is there anything that you would change or knowledge you would pass on to help future educators?


An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: Preparing For My First Teaching Experience

If you have been keeping up with my last few blog posts, then I’m sure you’re able to tell that I am a graduate student. As a part of the many training activities that I have partaken in throughout the time of my graduate training, I am excited to say that I can now officially add “course developer” to my curriculum vitae. This summer I will have the pleasure of working with high school students participating in the 4-H Teen Conference held at the University of Kentucky. Underneath their health major, another student and myself proposed a nutrition course titled #HealthGoals. Together, the objective of our course was to inform students of basic nutrition facts, guidelines, and consequences of over-nutrition, as well as to introduce the students to fruits that are traditionally less eaten and healthier snack options. The only catch was that the students were allowed to pick what classes they wanted to attend. So, my colleague and myself’s perspective course was in competition with several other potential classes and had the possibility of not being chosen. This was initially stressful because we knew that we had ideas for an exciting class, but how do we ensure the students know this as well? After days of tweaking the course description, we were finally able to settle on a name and description that perfectly, and succinctly, advertised the course. After submitting, a few months went by before we heard anything else about if we would have students participating or not. Finally in May, we received word that 11 students had signed up for our class. I know this may not seem like a lot to everyone, but to us, it was a win.

Now that we knew for sure we would be instructing a class we moved on to the official planning stage – and it was a lot harder than we thought it was going to be! We would be instructing 2 classes, each of which would be 3 hours and 15 minutes long. How were we going to fill all of this time? We also wanted to make the classes as interactive as possible to increase attention to, and retention of, the material. Drawing on our years of joint experience as students, we were able to come up with a final outline of what we would be doing down to the last minute. We thought, “Better to be over-prepared than to not have enough material to fill the time.” I would say that this experience was without a doubt more difficult than I thought it would be. Planning a class takes a lot more time than I was originally anticipating.

Going forward I now have a better understanding, and appreciation, of the planning my Professors do to make a successful class.

For those of you that teach, do you have any tips that make the lecture planning process smoother?


How Hard Is It To Create A Resume?

Curriculum Vitaes (CVs) are traditionally used by those with graduate degrees when applying to jobs within academia or when applying to research positions. CVs are very exhaustive and include everything that you have done regarding education, publications, presentations, research, classes taught, and other professional activities. In my case, every time I complete an objective towards my graduate training, whether that be attending a professional development event or submitting an abstract, I dump it onto my CV. With your CV easily being several pages long, imagine how daunting it can be when told you need a resume instead. “Ugh, help please?!” Since I am interested in a career in industry instead of academia, as a part of my graduate training I was given the task of “fake applying” to a job post that interested me. This meant that I needed to drop a lot of items on my CV and cater my experiences most relative to the job I was “applying” to and construct a perfect resume.

Needless to say, I STRUGGLED. I spent hours trying to narrow down what was most important in terms of this job. I obviously thought that all of my combined experiences mattered. However, employers spend on average 10 seconds reviewing cover letters and CVs. So, making sure my resume stands out in that 10 seconds is very important on progressing to the next step in the job hunt process. After receiving my assignment back with tons of red markups, and listening to what my other peers had to say about what they learned during this assignment, I feel as if I now have a better understanding of how to better construct a resume.

One trap that I fell into was using the pre-made templates. While they may seem aesthetically pleasing, they often do not place your information in a format that allows the reader (employer) to scan easily and quickly. A simple, yet classic, 1-column format with bold heading is often best.

Another good tip was combing all of my graduate work into one section title, “Experience.” What we are currently doing as graduate students, while it may not directly relate to the job, is still valuable experience and should not be undermined or thought of as less than.

One tip, that was given to my peers and I by multiple sources, was to move “Education” to below “Experience”. This one was definitely a hard one to swallow. I worked hard for my degree and want my employers to know that I have it. However, what employers care about is your experience. The degree is a requirement box you will be checking but not what makes you most applicable to get the job done.

Do you agree with moving “Education” or do you still believe it’s definitely something to show off and keep at the top?


Glossophobia: How To Tackle Your Fear of Public Speaking

This year at #ExperimentalBiology2019 my abstract was selected for oral presentation in the “Environmental and Epigenetic Contributions to Disease Origin” session, sponsored by the Water and Electrolyte Homesostasis Section of the American Physiological Society. When I received the email stating that my abstract was selected I, initially, was super excited. This was huge news – my first oral presentation in graduate school!

However, shortly after, the realization of speaking in front of people hit me and glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, quickly washed over me. The conference was months away, yet, there I stood, frozen, with the anxiety of presenting my work in front of a large group of people. What was I going to do?

Being able to effectively translate your science to a population who doesn’t know your work is something, as scientist, we all have to do. Proper communication is important because during this time, you can receive good feedback or questions that have the potential to propel your research to the next step. So, it was very crucial for me to make sure that I delivered an effective presentation.

Fast Forward to the day before my presentation and I finally have down the perfect delivery. However, the big problem now is making sure that I can stay calm enough to deliver as I have practiced. Very often, during the practice presentations with my advisor, I would become so nervous that I would either speed through the entire presentation, do not explain my presentation well, or a combination of both. At one point she even asked where I would like her to sit during the presentation so that I did not see her and become extremely nervous (during the actual presentation she sat in the back and remained crouched the entire time so that I couldn’t see her). So, what do you do when you have practiced your presentation almost a million times and are still overwhelmed with anxiety?

When trying to determine how to attack my anxiousness, these are a few tips that I found useful:

  1. Take a deep breath. You have spent a lot of time preparing for this day, you got this!
  2. No one knows your material like you do. You have spent plenty of hours and weekends trying to answer your particular research question. There is no one in the audience (besides your advisor) who will know your research like you do.
  3. Focus on the material and not the audience.
  4. Channel your nervous energy and make it work in your favor. For me, after I finished the introduction slides and realized that this was not as bad as I had thought. I was able to channel all of my energy into my excitement for my research. This was cool data that I was sharing and I wanted the audience to be just as excited about it as I am.
  5. Visualize your success.


What other tips can you think of that can help people with glossophobia overcome their fear?


Identifying Your Transferable Skill Set

Finding a job in this current market can be described as a nearly impossible, and scary, task. Particularly, for us PhD students and postdocs looking to score a faculty position at a research institution. While the number of PhD recipients is on the decline, the number of faculty members retiring, contrarily, is not. So, what do we do?! After all of these years of hard work and training, are you telling me that I may not be able to #SecureTheBag? Well, the good thing about having a doctorate degree is that there are a lot of other potential jobs outside of academia – government, industry, non-profit, the list goes on and on. However, how are we to apply to these jobs when we have spent years of being sculpted for academia? Transferable skills are skills obtained during one job that have the ability to be transferred to others. Recently, I attended a workshop completely focused on teaching and providing tools on how to identify one’s transferable skills.

Before the workshop, I was aware that transferable skills existed, but I was not entirely sure of the methods by which one identifies said skills, yet alone the ones that I “supposedly” had. However, after a few minutes of thinking and finally understanding how to identify my transferable skills, I was able to come up with a good sized “beginners list” of skills that I have picked up during the short duration of my PhD training thus far.

The first task and skill I developed that is translatable (and one that applies to most PhD students) is wanting to throw in the towel on writing my dissertation, but persevering through regardless. I haven’t begun to write my dissertation, however, I have spent many nights, early mornings and weekends at the lab bench and most certainly have been ready to give it all up to get my life back. Nevertheless, here I am still working hard to get great data. The attributes developed during this time are perseverance, patience, determination and confidence. Ultimately, this means that I am self-motivated, determined, not easily discouraged, and dependable in high-pressure situations. Performing assays in the lab is something routine that almost every biomedical researcher will encounter, but this is not something that I would brag about when applying to a government position. Instead I could say that through learning how to troubleshoot different assays, I have picked up excellent critical thinking skills that have made me adaptable and able to find multiple ways to approach a problem.

Ultimately, from this discussion I was able to come up with a substantial list of translatable skills (such as the aforementioned), along with effectively disseminating ideas, communicating science to a non-scientific populations, public communication skills, and many more.

Can you think of a list of transferable skills that would make your applicable for a non-academic position?




Healthy Heart for Women

Kimble, Richelle. “Heart Attack Signs and Heart Facts.” Women's Lifestyle Magazine, 8 Apr. 2015, womenslifestyle.com/heart-attack-signs-and-heart-facts/.

Kimble, Richelle. “Heart Attack Signs and Heart Facts.” Women’s Lifestyle Magazine, 8 Apr. 2015, womenslifestyle.com/heart-attack-signs-and-heart-facts/.

As a pre-qualification exam graduate student, I have a full-time class schedule. As a part of my many class requirements, one that I am fulfilling this semester is general physiology. On February 1st in class we were ironically going over the cardiovascular system, which is also National Wear Red Day. Wear Red Day is an awareness campaign where women and men alike are encouraged to wear red in solidarity for women’s heart health. On this day at the University of Kentucky, where I am a graduate student, two professors in the Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences hosted the 5th Annual Healthy Hearts for Women Symposium. I know what you are thinking, “How does this relate to your physiology class?” Well, I volunteered and attended the event, however, I had to step out for an hour to attend my morning physiology course.

After spending weeks on basic heart anatomy and function, during this class period, we were finally moving on to cardiovascular pathophysiologies. On this day we learned many things but for some reason, the one concept that really resonated with me was the relationship between myocardial ischemia, atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction. Needless, to say it was a very interesting lecture. However, what made it even more interesting was the connection it had with the symposium. Upon returning to the symposium, Dr. Martha Gulati the Division Chief of Cardiology from the University of Arizona College of Medicine, was giving her talk on, “Women and Cardiovascular Disease: Is there really a sex difference?” I arrived late because of my class, but once I got settled into my seat you would never guess what slide she was currently showing — the development of a plaque in atherosclerosis! It was so exciting to me to have just learned this material and to now be in a talk describing the response of women in these disease states. Dr. Gulati brought up some very interesting points during her talk. Such as how the troponin levels during a heart attack in women are not always at levels comparable to men because women’s heart’s are smaller. When you think about it, you sort of say to yourself, “well yeah that makes sense,” however the sex-differences in diseased and even non-diseased states are not always apparent. When doing research, this is also why sex as a biological variable should be considered.

Overall, I would like to end with this quote that I felt summarized the post nicely: “In a generation that promotes equal opportunity for all genders, it’s crucial to not overlook the gender differences that affect health.” (Thompson 2019)1

For those of you conducting research, how are you incorporating sex into your studies?



  1. Thompson, Elizabeth. “UK Hosts Annual Symposium for Promotion of Women’s Heart Health.” UKNow, University of Kentucky, 30 Jan. 2019, uknow.uky.edu/uk-healthcare/uk-hosts-annual-symposium-promotion-women-s-heart-health.

The Struggles of Scientific Writing

After months of collecting and analyzing data, the time has finally arrived to start writing your manuscript. You are excited and ready to share with the research community your groundbreaking findings. Now the only thing standing in between you and your published articles is that blank Microsoft Word document.

Can you remember the daunting task of writing your first, first author manuscript in graduate school? Including months of intense writing and re-writing, attempting to get the perfect final draft just for the reviewers to eventually rip it (and your ego) to shreds.

Well, there is no quick fix for scientific writing. However, what if I told you that there is a close second? Recently, I had the esteemed pleasure of attending the American Physiological Society Writing for Scientific Journals live workshop. This professional development course is designed for trainees, with the sole purpose of providing the necessary tools for crafting a better manuscript.

After being accepted into the program, one of the requirements, along with having a draft manuscript, is to complete the online homework assignments before the start of the in-person workshop. Over Christmas break, I eventually found the discipline to sit down and read the pre-course readings. This is when I realized that I knew just as much about scientific writing as I knew about slugs. I understood there was an order to the sections, along with what was generally supposed to go into each section. However, this was still just scratching the surface. Writing for science is a very hard task and one that should be done properly. So many times, poor writing has watered down great science. It is not only our responsibility as scientists to do good research, but we also must ensure that we are communicating our findings to the public properly.

Another great aspect of the program is the networking opportunities in place. The course was led by six amazing mentors with a special expertise in the scientific journal publishing business. As trainees, we were split among these six mentors who helped to lead small-group discussions on how to address flaws in our manuscripts. As such, not only are we learning how to draft a better manuscript, but also how to be a good reviewer and respond to reviewer questions. After leaving this workshop I had the tools in hand to write, better respond to reviewer suggestions, how to select a journal for submission, how to be a good reviewer, and learned about resources that can further build my writing and reviewing skills. On top of everything the course is held at a Disney World resort in sunny Orlando, Florida. Overall, it was an unmatched experience that I would recommend to trainees struggling to write that first draft.




Tips for Networking at Scientific Sessions

Scientific Sessions never fails to bring forth a variety of opportunities for those who attend – The latest on what’s hot in the cardiovascular realm of research. Details on changes to healthy heart parameters. New tools for more efficient cardiovascular research. And let us not forget, networking opportunities!

In the scientific community, we all hold terminal degrees and are considered experts in our respective field; thus, it is not always about what you know but more about who you know. Networking opens the door to opportunity for numerous people and is as simple as sharing your enthusiasm for science to a stranger. Gone are the days of hammering in the lab alone day and night cranking out single authored paper after single authored paper. Welcome to the new age of team science and who knows, this stranger could be the collaborator you have been longing for. However, on the spectrum of outgoingness, those of us in academia tend to fall more on the introverted side and find it slightly intimidating to make new connections. You do not want to be the person who opened his/her mouth and almost said something. Almost. But instead, watched in a state of paralysis wondering how life might have been if you had fought the urge and instead spoken up. (Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner) Lucky for us, Scientific Sessions helps to fix the phobia of making new connections by providing different opportunities for its attendees solely dedicated to networking. One example of this was the Early Career Speed Mentoring and Networking Session offered at this year’s meeting. However, if you were unable to attend one of the many networking sessions, let it be one of your resolutions to step out of your comfort zone and actively participate next year.

In the meantime, here are a few tips that I have searched and think are helpful when approaching an intimidating networking situation:

Arrive on time. Sometimes if you arrive late than groups have already been formed. As a result, it will be more difficult to jump into conversations. It may be scary to be the first one there but it will be more beneficial in the long run.

Ask easy questions. Get the conversation started! However, make sure to include the other person in and not monopolize the conversation

Share Your Passion. People can tell when you are genuinely excited about something. Use your inherent drive for your research to win this new person over!

Smile. This one is easy, the more inviting and authentic you appear the more people will want to talk to you and the less forced the conversation will be.

Research attendees and come prepared with question. While this may seem like extra work that you do not want to do. Being prepared with questions can make the conversation run seamlessly and appear less forced and more authentic.

Bring a friend. It can sometime be awkward to talk yourself up, but by bringing a wingman, you now have the someone to help talk up your accomplishments without coming off as boastful. Having a friend also helps to ease the discomfort associated with talking to new people.

Don’t forget to follow-up. You have done all of this hard work to make great new connections so do not let the conversation end here. Make sure to exchange contact information to be able to keep in touch.

Are there any additional tips that you can think of?



Council, Forbes Communications. “10 Networking Tips To Help You Make A Great First Impression At An Event.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 23 Apr. 2018,

DeBaise, Colleen. “7 Tips for Networking.” Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur, 3 May 2012,

Joubert, Shayna. “The Importance of Networking in Science.” Northeastern University Graduate Program , 9 Aug. 2018,




Live Streaming, Cardiovascular Disease, and Violence: What I Learned at Scientific Sessions 2018

Take a trip back down memory lane to your glory days as a happy and shiny nine-year-old. If your childhood was as amazing as I remember mine to be, then you spent your days running outside with friends, making mud pies, and then fabricating methods by which you could trick your little sister into eating said mud pies. Now even though life is all spick-and-span for you at that age, imagine that you have a close friend whose parents are experiencing some domestic problems – so bad in fact, that it results in the mother attempting to commit suicide by ramming the car, full speed, into a cement block with your friend and his/her two other siblings inside. In your present day and age, can you even begin to fathom the degree of trauma that this past event brought to your friend? Now, would you believe me if I say that if undealt with, your friend may not only experience mental health issues but also cardiometabolic problems? While this may not be your first thought, it is now becoming more widely known that violence (or stress) is an independent risk factor for adverse cardiovascular health. This story may seem just a tad over the top; however, this was the topic of discussion for the session titled Unpacking the Cardiovascular Biology of Violence at Scientific Sessions 2018 and was the eye-opening account given by physician Marjorie Fujara from Chicago during her presentation.

As a new graduate student, this was my first time experiencing Scientific Sessions and I was completely taken aback by the various works discussed. Presentations that I was luckily able to witness via Live Streaming. Yes, you read correctly, LIVE STREAMING. Complete transparency here, I definitely opened my iPad with the preconceived notion that I would not be as engaged watching from my tiny screen in comparison to what I would experience being presented live and in-person. However, from the comforts of my own home, I found myself unreservedly hooked on the late-breaking science from researchers across the country. From the new Physical Activity Guidelines, to the nature versus nurture of cardiovascular disease, it was without a doubt an exciting weekend for science!

Considering the variety of disciplines at the conference, there were a number of ways to personally connect to the science presented. For example, my lab studies the effects of early life stress (or adverse childhood experiences) on the development of obesity and its related diseases later in life. As a result, the cardiovascular biology of violence talks were the ones that resonated with me the most because of its applications to my own research and personal interests.

During the discussion on the connections between heart health and trauma exposure, one panelist considered the case of primordial violence on developmental programming. Key points stemmed around the idea that excessive punishment led to increased levels of circulating cortisol. This then results in damage to the hippocampus (memory and learning), amygdala (emotions), and frontal cortex (reasoning). This data has led to the implementation of “No Hit Zones” in various hospitals. At the genetics level, however, what makes the people who experience increased levels of violence different from the rest of the population? When considering the epigenetics of the situation, violence in one’s life results in alterations in DNA methylation patterns (either hypo- or hyper-) and eventually leads to a higher cardio-metabolic risk. During the discussion, it was mentioned that for a child, just hearing about violence in one’s own community resulted in a difficulty concentrating for periods ranging from two days to an entire month. You can easily begin to wonder, “What does this mean for children living in areas with high homicide rates?” Overall, people exposed to trauma, and are not properly dealing with it, are predisposing themselves to diastolic elevations much earlier in life consequenting in early onset of cardiovascular disease.

The question is now, “What interventional methods can we use to better help people who are experiencing cardiac alterations due to increased stress exposure?” One solution discussed is the Bright Star Community Outreach program. Bright Star is a nonprofit aimed at using science and research to aid members of the south side Chicago community in recovering from the trauma of violence. By confronting the trauma, instead of bottling it away, they hope to help people to end the cycle and limit violence-induced early cardiovascular insults.

As the reader, and possibly someone who was unable to attend (or live stream) AHA Scientific Sessions 2018, what else do you think can be done clinically to better serve this group in terms of cardiovascular health? Do you think they will need different pharmacological interventions compared to the “traditional” hypertensive patient, for example?



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