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A List of Things I’ve Learned So Far This Fall

By Amelia

1. How to scrape frost off a car
2. What it feels like to have your ears pierced
3. The best recipe for baked oats
4. How to drive through a twice-a-century fire storm
5. How to use a Cryostat to cut 5-micrometer sections of mouse tissue
6. How to cancel plane tickets to and from Vietnam
7. What a “direct deposit” is
8. That four-wheel-drive doesn’t work on a beach
9. How to buy a stock
10. That apparently I’m a Gemini rising sign, whatever that means?
11. The definition of the word “orthogonal”
12. How to survive an afternoon with 12 crazy elementary school students
13. How to fill out a ballot
14. That I can apply a tourniquet to my own leg in under 30 seconds
15. How to drive a Subaru
16. How to make crème brûlée (and properly wield a blowtorch)
17. The perfect formula for iced coffee
18. How to proofread college essays (that aren’t mine, obviously)
19. That Whole Foods makes a great Thanksgiving dinner
20. How to climb outdoors
21. Where to find the best Indian food in Portland
22. That it’s possible to read a 1500-page medical textbook in five weeks
23. To appreciate time with family when I get the chance to see them in person
24. That naming Spotify playlists is basically a hobby
25. That double stuf golden Oreos are far superior to regular ones
26. What a crag dog is (a dog that hangs out at the base of outdoor climbing routes and
provides welcome distraction from tough climbs)
27. Why setting a goal to run at 7AM every morning is an awful idea in the Pacific Northwest
28. All the words to “Betty” and “Mind Over Matter” and approximately a thousand other
29. How to cope with cancelled holiday plans
30. That I actually enjoy perpetual rain
31. That “donuts” is a scientific term
32. That I love Alaskan malamutes
33. The number of votes in the electoral college
34. That videos (rather than pictures) are the best way for me to document my gap year
35. How to present a slideshow over Webex
36. The best way to decorate Christmas cookies (hint: it requires a toothpick)

Starting a New Job During COVID-19

By Amelia

I can now say that I’ve finished my first week of work as a research assistant in the Gibbs Lab at Oregon Health & Science University! The lab is focused on the study and synthesis of fluorescent dyes (known as fluorophores) for a variety of uses, ranging from nerve-sparing surgery to visualization of tumors. So my research is very interdisciplinary – I’d describe it as a mix between biomedical engineering and neuroscience and chemistry.

Although this is my first real job—not a neighborhood tutoring gig, not a weekend cat-sitting post, not a summer internship or a part-time lacrosse coach position—it’s far from my first time in this lab. Last summer (or “the summer before COVID,” as I like to think of it), I spent my eight-week internship trying to answer the same scientific question I’m now working to solve as an official employee: what is the protein target of nerve-specific fluorophore Oxazine 4?

Aside from the masks and the fact that our weekly lab meetings are now held virtually, not much has changed in the year or so that I’ve been away. The end goal is still the same: that my findings will pave the way toward gaining FDA approval and making Oxazine 4 available for use in image-guided nerve-sparing surgery—a procedure that would help surgeons avoid severing or otherwise damaging their patients’ nerves in the operating room. Before my internship last summer, I had never heard of, or even thought about, the possibility of intraoperative nerve damage. So I was shocked to learn that it’s a problem that causes pain and/or loss of function for roughly 600,000 patients every year. That simple statistic is what motivated me throughout all of last summer and continues to get me through long days in the lab!

It’s exciting to be back in the Gibbs Lab, to reunite with my former mentors and return to this familiar project! More updates to come, so stay tuned!

Being Flexible – It’s Not as Bad as It Seems

By Amelia

In my last blog post, I wrote about preparing for a backpacking trip along a 65-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail. But because of the wildfires raging all across the state, I had to make a few changes to my plan. Instead of backpacking along the PCT and braving the hazardous air quality (as well as the risk of being too close to a fire with no way of escaping), I will be going on a road trip along the coast of the Pacific Northwest!

In other news, I recently graduated from an accelerated EMT program called Project Heartbeat! For five weeks, my classmates and I spent seven hours listening to lectures and four hours practicing skills every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, passed a written midterm and final, survived the notoriously tough Trauma Day, demonstrated what we’d learned during the last day of skills testing, and completed three ambulance ride-alongs. As grueling as the program was, it was also one of the most fulfilling, fun, and interesting things I’ve ever done. I got the chance to meet people from all walks of life who share a passion for emergency medicine, to learn about the human body and how it responds to injury and illness, to test my physical and mental limits, and to practice actual patient care – something I thought would be impossible until I had at least graduated from college. Just over a week ago, I took the national EMT exam (known as the NREMT) and am now officially certified as an EMT!

What surprised me most was how much I enjoyed taking the EMT course even though it was never part of my original gap year plan. I had been looking forward to spending this summer travelling with friends and family but, because of the COVID travel restrictions, I had to be a little flexible. Flexibility has never been one of my strong suits – I’m the type to plan out all four years of classes before even starting freshman year and map out every activity and meal in a two-week long vacation. But despite my initial disappointment at not being able to travel, retrospectively I can see that the COVID travel bans were a blessing in disguise – without them I would never have had the opportunity to become certified as an EMT or meet the people I did. And although the California wildfires made my backpacking trip impossible, I am looking forward to seeing a new side of the Pacific Northwest from the road. Turns out a little flexibility can be a good thing!

Preparing for the Pacific Crest Trail

By Amelia

It feels surreal that, in just over six weeks, this five-and-a-half month period of sitting around at home will finally come to an end. I’ll be stuffing my 65-liter backpack full of the essentials (sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent, water filter, bear canister, ultralight stove, cooking fuel, and food to last at least a week) and heading into the Northern California wilderness. 

My plan is to backpack along the Pacific Crest Trail from Echo Lake to Donner Summit, a 65-mile stretch known as ‘California Section K’. This will be my first real backpacking trip, so in preparation I spent three days earlier this month doing a practice trip with my family. I packed my backpack, sealed up my bear canister, and drove about three hours to Long Lake (near the Plumas National Forest). On the first day, I hiked about two miles to the end of the lake to set up camp, then spent the second day doing an 8 mile out-and-back hike (with a full pack on, don’t worry!) along the rocky Palisades Trail. I have to admit that, after startling a rattlesnake on the first mile of the trail, I almost decided to turn around and give up on backpacking altogether. I’m glad I didn’t because, in spite of the snake scare, the scenery was beautiful and being surrounded by nature made the feeling of isolation (something I think we’ve all experienced at some point during the last several months of quarantine) almost normal. On the third day I hiked back out, tired and in desperate need of a shower, but feeling at least a little more confident in my backpacking abilities.

I hope that my PCT trip will be a chance to really get to know my home state – although I was born in California and have lived here my whole life, there’s still so much I have yet to see. I hope to learn not only how to survive for a week on supplies that I can fit in a single backpack, but also how to spend time truly alone and independent from society. Most of all, I hope that this backpacking trip will be the first of many!