An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Renee Estephan | September 16, 2016

There are many important “firsts” in everyone’s lives—the first time you ride a bike, the first time you buy a car, and even the first time you learn about the life of a graduate school student. This week was filled with important “firsts” for me and the rest of my incoming 2016 graduate class, which proved to be just as important as any milestones in our lives. The following are a few highlights of the first week.

Let’s Get Ethical: I had never been taught how to deal with ethical dilemmas in and out of the lab until this week in the “Responsible Conduct of Research” class taught by Dr. Sleeth. So far, we have learned about the ethical use of humans in research and the role that the Institutional Review Board (IRB) plays to regulate research with human subjects. We also learned about scenarios in which conflict of interest could arise and impede the progress of a research project. As an undergraduate, I never had much experience dealing with these ethical dilemmas and had no clue how I was to handle these situations once I began rotating in various labs. However, it was very useful to discuss case studies that contained the very same ethical dilemma topics we discussed in class. Having an expert (e.g. scientific writers, attorneys, IRB members) walk us through our reasoning of each case study provided useful information to deal with these types of dilemmas confidently in the future.

Safety First: This week also provided me with my first full-length lab safety course in which I learned how to improve my laboratory “self-esteem”. Our instructor, Dr. Chuck Pickering, was highly entertaining and engaging when explaining the often-times dull safety regulations of the lab.  It was really cool to see all of the newest advances in lab safety equipment, like an ergonomic pipette (appropriately named the “bionatural” pipette) and NASA-inspired gloves that prevent dimethylmercury from seeping onto your skin. I had never heard of the term “Garanimals” until Chuck mentioned that it was a kids clothing line which taught them how to dress themselves by matching up similarly colored pants and shirts. This was his cheeky segue into placing chemicals with similarly colored labels and properties with each other. The highlight of the course was the star-studded safety video featuring COH staff and graduate students.

Meet and Greet: To be honest, I was overwhelmed by the amount of new information provided and the expectations set forth by the administration. But the current graduate students—who already have been through this orientation and more—were so gracious and helpful in breaking down expectations and information about the program. The graduate student mentor program is an awesome program for first-years which has provided me with a student mentor (shout out to Michelle Ho!) who has helped me digest the plethora of material covered during the first week. Besides meeting current graduate students, we also got a chance to meet a few of the deans/faculty of the graduate school. Dr. RJ Lin gave us some tips to select rotation labs and Dr. Adam Bailis discussed the importance of the Individual Development Plan (IDP), which is a requirement for all graduate students. Meeting the members of the incoming graduate class for the first time was also a treat, as they all had unique backgrounds and experiences.

To sum it all up, the first week of orientation was filled with tons of new information. However, I now know more about the place which I will call “home” for the next couple of years, and I cannot wait to see what the future will bring.