Bootcamp, maggots


                Bootcamp. The name itself is pretty heavy. Images of physical exercise, drills, and hazing pop into my head whenever I hear that word. Thank you Stanley Kubrick. Unlike the dramatic yelling that Pvt. Pyle endured in the first half of Fullmetal Jacket, however, the UCSD Neuroscience Bootcamp proved itself to be a lot more laid back and fun.
Science stuff, look at it!
                The Neurosciece class of 2016 met early on a hot September morning, half of us naïve, caffeinated and excited, the other half relieved to know that this was the beginning of a break from the insanity that is medical school. While we all came from different walks of life, one thing brought us together, our unhealthy and borderline obsessive fascination with the squishy mass of tissue inside everyone’s skull.
                Yeah, the brain. First, however, we needed to get our feet wet with the motions of graduate school. Each one of us had a different concept of what the next 4-6+ years would entail. I personally went in with the idea that I’d experience a wave of emotions that would build my self-confidence as fast as they would tear it down, much like learning how to surf, I’d imagine, if I ever try it. The Neuro program at UCSD recognized that the transition into graduate school can be difficult for many. Some of us moved halfway across the country, others had taken year-long breaks from school after graduating, and we all had to remind ourselves again that while we considered ourselves “smart”, we were back to square one surrounded by the best of the best in Neuro. Behold, Neuro Bootcamp!
                The idea behind Bootcamp is that we’d undergo two weeks of 12-hour-a-day learning, sleep be damned. Our days would start with 5-8 faculty talks where labs looking for rotation students would highlight their research. You can imagine how this could get tedious after the first few mornings, especially when most nights we would get little sleep, but if you caffeinated and kept your attention span up you ended up with a cool introduction of what the school has to offer in terms of techniques and research directions, although this was only scratching the surface due the great multitude of Neuro affiliated faculty at UCSD. Talks would end with a lunch in which 2-3 members of our class would do chalk talks summarizing a previous project they had been involved in, or a neuroscience concept or technique they liked to teach.
                Lunch was followed by labs! The entire first week was dedicated to doing day-long bench experiments to introduce us to techniques that many of us had never used. For example, one day we did electrophysiology on leech ganglion cells, another day we set up a rig to do recordings on live mice while we manipulated behavior with optogenetics. After each new day and technique learned, we would summarize the data we collected and presented it the following day. Talks, free food, lab work, free beer, powerpoint slide, “sleep”, REPEAT.
The talented ladies of 2016 Neurograd Class
                The second week things got a little less hectic. While morning talks still happened, the afternoon part of the day was dedicated to specialized projects. Groups of 2-3 of us would sign up to work with one of six gracious faculty who were willing to host us in their lab. These projects ranged from computational data analysis, to spinal cord recordings, immunohistochemistry, behavior and optogenetics. I ended up signing up with the optogenetics project due to how essential the technique can be if you want to find cellular mechanisms behind cognition in live animals. The two weeks were capped with presentations of the data collected during that week, and a delicious brunch near the beach! Oh, and a costume party in which I dressed up like Ash Ketchum for the 5th time.

Team CAT!

                While learning new stuff is nice and productive, I think the real point of Bootcamp is socializing with your cohort. It was very effective. I love my cohort, I am seriously impressed by the talent and potential in each and every one of them. The greatest part is that we’re nerds that like to party, it didn’t take long before comfort barriers were broken and we began talking like we were longtime friends. I mean, even if you’re introverted, if 12 hours a day for two weeks won’t do that, then you might be a bit anti-social. The constant exposure in and out of the lab setting meant we got to know each other’s sense of humor pretty well, which is something that I think we would not have developed had we been like any other graduate program where people meet for the first time at a dry orientation, or maybe the first day of class. The Bootcamp context meant we had to work together and respect each other as scientists, the lunches, dinners, and beer runs meant we had to know each other as human beings with quirks and unique personalities. I am looking forward to getting to know them more, as friends, and as each other’s sources of support during the difficult journey that is graduate school.
We cool

About Christian

Neuroscientist at UC San Diego

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