I spent a little over a year after college working for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health. There are 27 Institutes and Centers, mostly located in Bethesda, MD – I however was at one of the outliers (sometimes I joke that it was the “reject”) located in Research Triangle Park, NC. I look back at that time fondly, where I lived in a tiny apartment in south Durham and visited Jeff on the weekends when he was a 1L at Wake. It was a good gap year, filled with the moderate stress of applying to dental school and the milder stress of learning to be an independent adult.
Under my Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) I had several different projects in the Darryl Zeldin lab, the main one being a randomized control trial to look at reducing dust mite allergens in the homes of allergic children. This required spending hours driving all over eastern NC pre-GPS, vacuuming up dust from peoples’ homes and administering lengthy surveys whose questions I asked so often, I almost had them memorized.
Melanie (who visited us last summer) was my trusted companion during these sometimes long trips (and sometimes stalkerish ones – we had to wait outside a lot of houses until the participants finally showed up). We were a perfect match: I was applying to dental school at the time and she was applying to physician assisting school, we both had a love of public health, we both were in long term relationships (and ultimately end up marrying those boys), we could spend hours in the car lost in rural North Carolina and not panic and we both loved to detour to Krispy Kreme whenever it was close by.
Also, it was fun to have another girl to escape the lab with. When I wasn’t out sucking up dust from beds and carpets, I was analyzing it in the lab (using ELISA mostly). My fellow IRTAs were two guys: Will who is now a orthopedic resident and Chad who is a laboratory equipment rep (and for a time sold the brand of pipettes I use the most, so I think of him every time I pick one up).
I learned some great lab skills while there – skills I honestly thought I’d never use again. Sure, in dental school we had a microbiology lab, but that was only one quarter and it was pretty easy and as far as lab skills go, it was amateur stuff. Now that my research here at UW and SCH is picking up finally, I’m in the lab once more, processing samples to analyze them later for bacterial DNA, saliva pH and buffering capacity and little proteins called antimicrobial peptides which fight cavities. It’s appropriate that I’m once again working with spit because that was my other main project at NIEHS: collecting saliva samples and seeing if kids who had more cavity causing bacteria had lower rates of asthma and allergy.
I’m a little slow right now, but things should start to pick up soon as I get more used to the new process and new environs. It’s good to be back.