Monday, December 30, 2013

The Shadowing Gig

As my studying frenzy for finals was winding down, I sent an email to a specialist vet that I had met earlier in the year. She wasn't able to take on a shadow when I met her, but I figured with the three-week winter break coming up, my schedule was more flexible, and perhaps hers was now as well. She was very pleased to have me join her and her techs!

Her practice is located outside of Eugene, about 45 miles south of where I am in Oregon. I've been driving down there as often as practical and spending the day at her practice. I have friends who commute far more than an hour each way every day so I can hardly whine about this small investment of time and gas. I in fact view it as an investment, one that is necessary for my vet school applications.

The vet has been extremely kind, allowing me to follow them into exam rooms and to observe procedures. She introduces me to every single client, hardly necessary but a demonstration of how professional she is, and she even invites me to feel lumps and look under the scope when there is something particularly unusual or interesting to feel or see. Her techs have been equally helpful.

These shadow gigs are purely volunteer situations. They have to be approached realistically--the purpose is exposure. You won't learn how to be a vet by shadowing. But you can learn plenty of interesting things by observing and asking questions when you can. I think I've mentioned before that I have many, many more questions than I end up asking. The vets and techs have jobs to do, after all. They can't spend every moment talking to you. You have to high-grade your questions and ask them at appropriate times.

I remain very interested in the universe of problems that surround diet and disease--some diseases can be improved by diet, some diets can cause disease. Shadowing with this vet, a dermatological specialist, is allowing me to explore some of that universe a little more. By far the greatest number of her clients have dermatological problems caused by allergic reactions. Diet may not be important at all. But it comes up often enough to satisfy me for now.

This vet also gave me some important information about vet schools in general. Some of them utilize problem-based or case-based programs instead of formal, sequential lectures. Some schools have replaced their entire program with problem-based learning, others have replaced only the third or fourth years with it. Case-based learning is used in other industries as well and there is a ton of information about its usefulness; scholarly studies of the method suggest that it greatly improves problem-solving skills. But it has its pros and cons. One of the big cons is that most of the schools that use this method assign you to a cohort, a small group that goes through the cases together. If you get assigned to a shitty group, you are fubared with no recourse. This will certainly be a factor in deciding which schools I will apply to. Right now I'm considering five schools; the list may expand or contract and even change as I sort out my various criteria.

This Friday will be my last day with this vet. I'm ready for classes to start again but I've really enjoyed looking over her shoulder.


It's been nice and quiet here at Circusk9 these past couple of weeks but the learning frenzy will start up again next Monday. I still have to pick up one more textbook and a special notebook for my anatomy lab. I've signed up for French and the second term of Biochem as well as Animal Physiology and Comparative Anatomy.

Today's accomplishment: I bought a new recliner. I have a perfectly functional, nearly new recliner...but it was too narrow for both me and Mimi to fit in it side by side. Yes, that's right. I bought a new piece of furniture to accommodate my dog!

If you are a dog person, you are probably thinking, of course, makes perfect sense. Dog people buy cars specifically for their dogs. If you aren't a dog person, you probably think I'm crazy.

I like window shopping in furniture stores but picking out one thing from the clutter of the dozens of little pseudo-rooms can be frustrating--too many choices can be paralyzing. Fortunately, there were some really ghastly pieces in the store that I went to; they were quickly eliminated from further consideration. Some of these chairs are effectively folding beds; the realization that some people may spend more time in their recliner than in their real bed makes me shudder. I managed to quickly hone in on a nice leather chair that was on sale. Plenty wide enough for me and a little fox terrier.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Never Miss an Opportunity to Pee

Just checked my final grades--I made an A in Biochem! That was the only class in which I didn't have a solid A going into the final. I am so relieved. I thought that I did really well on the final exam but those kinds of feelings can be tricky. When you leave an exam thinking that you did really well, it either means you did really well or you buggered things up so badly you can't even recognize how poorly you performed. On the other hand, I studied myself blind for that exam. For the final, we were allowed to bring a notecard which we had to get from the prof in advance. Here is one side of my notecard (the scan got clipped but you get the idea):

Clicking on these low-res images brings them up in all their original res glory.
Keep in mind that these are just the items that I chose not to commit to memory. There were many other bits and bobs that I felt that I knew well enough that I didn't need to put them on the card. The notecard was 5x8 inches so there was a substantial amount of real estate available; I only used half of the other side. Still, I spent days working out a compact notation system for the things that I wanted to put on there.

I ended up with 500.50 points out of 500 in Animal Genetics and scored 103% on the final. I kind of tanked on the second exam in Genetics with a score of 90% so doing well on the final plus the extra credit points I racked up throughout the term really helped me. I've long had a personal philosophy that included the tenet "never miss an opportunity to pee". I'll have to add to the list "never pass up a chance for extra credit points".

French and Animal Nutrition were in the bag before I even started preparing for the final exams and projects. Those were my As to lose, in other words. By luck I got a great partner for my final French oral exam. We had to have a 45 minute conversation with each other while the instructor listened but we could chose from among 12 different topics--she gave us the list in advance. My partner was amenable to practicing and we put in almost 4 hours of practice for that 45 minutes. So of course we did well. He has the craziest sense of humor, very dry, and always surprised me with some new joke or twist even when we were traveling through familiar conversational territory. You know you are advancing in a language when you can tell and laugh at jokes. Prof complimented me on my variety of conversational segues and bridges. I was very pleased that she noticed because I had in fact been deliberately working on learning and using those types of phrases. Things like "So, Andrew, tell me..." or "Well, I think that ..." or "And then what?" or "That's neat/strange/interesting/too bad!" or "Really?". We all use these kinds of phrases all the time in conversation. They are what make language flow and feel natural. If you can use them in a second language, you sound more natural.

All in all, a successful term. I may only have a couple more terms left before I have taken all the classes that I might need. The plan is moving along!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Coming Back to Earth

My brain is starting to firm up again. Studying for finals was rather consuming in both time and energy. In some ways, the snow was a good thing. I couldn't get out of my driveway for at least two days so there wasn't much else to do but study. My last final was Wednesday night (biochem). Walking out of the exam room was anticlimactic but I felt lighter and very much less stressed than I had for the previous few days!

The biochem prof put an extra credit question on the final: draw a picture of your TA for four points. Not only is that a generous set of points, I figured that artistic ability wasn't an expectation, that simply drawing anything at all, even a stick figure, would suffice. I made a minimal effort, drawing the head of my TA (she has a distinctive face). I found out later that some people drew these elaborate scenes, for example, their TA dressed in robes, standing on clouds and holding a glucose molecule with flames shooting out of it (and that person in particular probably should have spent more time on his exam and less on the drawing). But some people didn't draw anything at all! That was four free points they threw away.

When I was getting settled in the exam room for my Animal Nutrition final, my first thought was, who the hell are all these people? Most days there were around 50 of us in lecture. But there were more than 90 registered for the course, and while they couldn't be bothered to show up to lecture, they dragged themselves into the final. Almost every day, the instructor gave informal pop quizzes (show of hands only, nothing graded) and she put those questions on exams nearly verbatim. Besides the fact that college education in the US is expensive (and I happen to know that quite a few of these young people work so they surely have some vague idea of the cost of things), there is sort of the larger issue of the need or desire to learn the material. I can only shake my head.

There are any number of strategies for studying and taking exams. My primary preparation method is grinding through all material that has been made available to me. Biochem prof videotaped the final exam review. I didn't have any burning questions and didn't attend the review session itself but I watched the tape online. Animal Genetics prof didn't assign anything directly out of the textbook, which was in fact listed as optional, but quite a few of the homework problems were drawn from solved problems in the text. I worked all of the problems in the text, checking methodology and solutions before tackling the homework that had to be turned in, and read the text for good measure. But as I listen to other students in the classes talk amongst themselves, it's clear that they are not using any of these resources. Again with the head-shaking.

Things are starting to return to normal. I'm giving the house a thorough deep cleaning--the squalor was starting to really annoy me. In addition to usual cleaning tasks, this means I'm taking light fixtures apart to wash the glass parts, oiling the kitchen cabinets, tightening up wobbly chairs, wiping down walls and baseboards and vacuuming all sorts of crevices and crannies where dog hair tumbleweeds lurk. I'm tackling a room a day.

Today the snow has at last melted enough that I was able to take the dogs out for a walk. Since in these parts nobody shovels sidewalks and the cities don't plow side streets, the super cold temps turned all the fluffy snow into compact ice pretty quickly. It was far too cold for Harry in particular (it got down to 3 F here one night and 8 F the following one). There's no way I'm going to take him out in that kind of weather. Following our very long walk this morning, they are all blissfully crashed out in their chosen napping spots--Mimi in an open crate at my feet (she's never more than a couple feet from me, ever), Harry over by the gas stove, and Azza back in the bedroom.

Things will be pretty quiet here at CircusK9 for the next three weeks. I'm working on arranging more volunteer/shadow opportunities, and am going to try to get a job or research position for next term. I might have something lined up for the spring term already but that's months away. I'm thinking about posting brief reviews of books that particularly piqued my interest just to keep the writing part of my brain active.

As a side note, for those of you that know me personally (I'm pretty sure based on the stats that I have a couple of regular readers that stumbled on the blog by accident), I have FaceTime and Skype. Email me to get that info if you want it.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Winter Sunshine

It's going to be extremely cold the next couple of nights--a blanket of snow and a clear sky will combine to create perfect conditions for any heat left in the ground to radiate up, up, and away. It may get down to 7 F tonight! That's pipe-freezing weather for areas like this which don't normally experience such temps. I've done what I can to protect the house.

But that clear sky means the next two days will be beautiful, sunny days. It's still damned cold, below freezing, but the sunlight is flooding into the back door. The entire pack has stretched out on a blanket for a nap (can't have them laying on the floor, they are all too delicate for that).

Harry grew up in Salt Lake City (he was born in Provo). He's seen his share of snow. I used to take him snowshoeing with me! He's a hardy little guy. And this morning he was trying to hop around in the snow and run with the other dogs. He managed to have some fun for a few minutes. But I'm afraid his age is catching up to his intentions. His left front leg "froze" up, wouldn't bend. It was almost like he was having a spasm in that leg. I picked him up, wiped all the snow off his paws, and set him inside so he could warm up. He's fine now but I shoveled off the back porch so he wouldn't have to walk in snow at all if he didn't want to.

Friday, December 06, 2013


My driveway and car:

I was supposed to turn in my French portfolio today and I have one class that was meeting for a review for the final. Not sure either of those events will be happening--I'm not sure I can get out of my driveway, much less to campus.

It's not the snow per se, it's the fact that it rarely snows here. No snow plows for the streets. I think they put sand/grit down on the main roads but little bitty neighborhoods like mine? Nope. Nobody has snow shovels or proper tools for moving snow around. I don't even have any decent snow boots/shoes.

But as predicted, Azza decided this snow is the most fun evah!!

As I write this, she's curled up in front of the gas fire on the bed next to Harry, recharging for her next foray outside.


Even though it was forecasted, I didn't really expect to wake up this morning to this:

Yesterday it was 17 F when I left for school--too cold for bike riding, at least for me. It's warmer this morning with the snow, 30 F, but I'd say this is an equal damper--my bike has street tires (not skinny racing ones but normal street tires). Heck, the Honda Fit is a mighty little car but I suspect it's little tires aren't up to the roads either, at least at the moment. I know it's slippery because Harry fell over while trying to pee. Thankfully, I don't have to be on campus until around noon.

The terriers have seen snow--no big deal. Azza is most emphatically not happy about this. She hugs the house in the slightly less snowy part under the eaves, trying to figure out where the heck this stuff is coming from. I'll bet that she gets into it later though--racing around and snowplowing it up. Funny, though, because she is relatively indifferent to rain. Maybe snow smells different to her.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Ur-Dogs and Study Breaks

It isn't that my creative juices are at a low ebb, but that all my creativity is being channeled into finishing this term up. Rants about millenials can only be taken so far before they become parodies of themselves.

When the last study marathon is over (next week), I'd like to say that I will sleep for a week. But if the dogs don't let me be for more than a couple of hours now, they certainly won't do so when I'm home all day.

Time for a study break. Harry is giving me his best "come hither and tug with me" eye and Mimi is impatiently waiting for any twitch of my body that might indicate that I will grab some toys and play.

I wrote a short paper for my animal genetics class on genetic data used to examine dog evolution (when, where, how often). I had quite a bit of fun poking holes in "origin myths" which nearly all breeds have and which are rarely based in anything more than fantasy. The second part of my paper dealt with so-called "village dogs" which some researchers believe are some sort of ur-dog, ancient and pure (another origin myth!). Since I have a village dog (Azza), I included a picture of her in the paper. My own interpretation of the village dog genetic data (I happen to know what eigenvalue analysis is and how to interpret data displayed in those terms) suggested that village dogs are more hybridized than, say, a smooth fox terrier, not less. It was fun debunking ur-dog theories too.

Here's a picture of my very own village dog.