Sunday, June 10, 2007

The D-0 Experience I

I realize that updates are lacking as of late, but I just haven’t had time/drive to write much. The creative spark is lacking currently and the enormous transitional period I am going through has also dampened anything truly inspiring to share with others. With that being said, I am going to revert to the original purpose of this blog – not simply for entertainment, but to educate others and provide insight to future students as they cross similar barriers. With that in mind, I am starting a new intrablog series (yes another one) dedicated to Dentistry – namely the schooling thereof.

We are no longer called freshmen. Incoming students are referred to as the D-1 entering class. I like it because it sounds like something out of a terminator movie. Ultimately though, it is just a fancy way of saying freshmen, because it is still the ‘first’ year and we are the newbies in town.

So why does my title say D-0!? Well, because some people refer to the time between acceptance and matriculation as D-0. There truly is a lot more to being a D-0 than one might assume. All the busy work, stress, gopher running, and old-fashioned anxiety rolled into one are a good start. I have already mentioned several of the odd-ball tasks like filing mounds of paperwork, verifying this and that, taking out a sea of loans, and collecting teeth to boot. I have recently been asked to provide final transcripts, and pay for a background check to be sent to the school. Separately, all of the above mentioned tasks are really not bad at all, but they snowball into one hell of monster when you add them up. Add moving and working into the mix, and summer vacation really doesn’t even exist. Might I add the last summer vacation ever.

The D-0 portion of dental school will probably be the biggest variable amongst incoming students. Some take vacations, others work, some have changes of heart, and others fail to matriculate by not completing anything and everything required by their respective school. My experience has been fairly straightforward thus far.

In all actuality, I am probably doing myself a huge favor by participating in this summer research program. I have my residence located and partially set-up, although there is still PLENTY to do. I am beginning to familiarize myself with the surrounding neighborhood/city as well as the dental school itself.

I have met several of my classmates although we really haven’t had much of a chance to get to know one another. I am hoping this changes before orientation so that I’ll already have a few friends to ease the gigantic clusterfuck that is “school orientation.” Ya know, when everyone is supposed to somehow get to know an entire class in one week.

So what am I doing at the school? Not much yet, the first week of this eight week program was an orientation in of itself. I have gotten to know everyone who works in my mentor’s lab and what all of their responsibilities are. I feel bad for the primary PhD responsible for giving me something to do because she didn’t even know I was coming until I walked in the door. She is also responsible for ANOTHER student in a different lab.

However, they have lined up a project for me to start, although I still have a lot of basic training to go through. Ever listen to a 2-hour online lecture about HIPAA? I don’t recommend it; your eyes just may start to bleed from utter demoralizing boredom. Ever take a pair of 2 hour courses involving the basics of lab safety? Oh the joys of research orientation.

The first week really involved me reading a lot. I will be doing work with wound healing so while at the lab, I either observed/practiced some technical ability, or read a journal article contextually beefing up my wound healing repertoire. I began extracting RNA on Friday, but only got about half finished. The problem is that I need supervision and all the lab folks have other responsibilities as well. I am hoping to solo RNA extraction by Tuesday – but we will see.

The entire process really is no different than cooking – you loosely follow some protocol, pay attention to things in bold, definitely take advice from the veterans, and go nuts. It isn’t all shits and giggles though. For example, there is one point when we spin the sample down into three layers. The top layer is where the RNA is contained, but YOU CANNOT PIPETTE ANY OF THE SECOND LAYER OR YOUR SAMPLE IS RUINED. So now I have to eyeball everything perfectly, and slowly pull this top layer out because you need to get pretty much all of it. I fucked up one of the two samples at this point – luckily these were going to get tossed anyways.

I have a feeling this type of technical research is just like any other monotonous job, you are clunky at first, than eventually perform like a well-oiled machine.

Why am I extracting RNA? Briefly, the lab has samples of human tissue from past experiments. Some of it is wounded, some of it is healthy. My mentor also does a lot of work on how stress effects wound healing. Some of his results are actually quite remarkable. Let’s just say stress has an effect – and it isn’t good. But I digress; my job is to find out what is going on with the Mast cells or eosinophils. They produce all sorts of cytokines/chemokines that assist/call in other cells to assist the haywire process known as wound healing. I could go grab my notes and get really technical…but I choose not to. Email me if you are DYING to find out and I can link you some papers.

We want to know what is being produced at what stages during wound healing as well as in healthy tissue. Another side project is to figure out why oral mucosa heals SO much better than other tissue – some people think it has something to do with mast cells – so I am going to help in those discoveries by first extracting some RNA from the various samples.

I still need to learn the ins and outs about real time PCR to quantify exactly what the RNA is expressing, but that will probably happen later this week. I find research interesting, but I am 95% confident that I will not be enrolling in the DDS/PhD program come next year – I just don’t want to limit myself to academia and research before I even experience clinical dentistry.

My advice to fellow D-0’s or any that are to follow – do what you want to do. I chose to participate in this program so that I could move into the city early and get comfortable before school started. I also am not a big traveler, so backpacking through Europe just ain’t my thing. I know people that are doing all sorts of activities, but I am completely content working and exploring my new home. To each his own.

If your school does offer a summer research program, I highly recommend looking into it – the experience thus far has been positive. I of course still hold the right to retract this statement at anytime over the next seven weeks.

Oh and to my readers not interested in dentistry – if you see ‘D-anything’ in the title followed by a roman numeral, I am gearing the post towards fellow dentites – so read at your own discretion. Haha, I bet you wish I put this paragraph at the beginning.