Education, Science

How to Read Scientific Journal Articles

During my researching and reading for my thesis project proposal (which I should finish soon!), I’ve come to realize that my ability to discern whether a given paper will be useful has improved a lot since I began graduate school. Before, I would have to read a paper in its entirety to figure out if I need it or not, which puts quite a few hours of valuable time down the drain.

My first semester in the program, I had a lot of papers to read each week for two reading-heavy courses, and I found myself struggling to keep up some weeks more than others. I spoke with professors and classmates and did some Googling to get some ideas of how to read long and/or dense papers more quickly without losing understanding of the material, but the biggest teacher has really been simple: just read more papers. This was one of the first pieces of advice I received, but at first, I wasn’t convinced it was very helpful. Why would reading more papers help if the sheer number and length of papers I had to read was what I was struggling with in the first place?

Continue reading “How to Read Scientific Journal Articles”

Education, Science

What Undergraduate Biology Laboratory Courses Don’t Teach You

Hello again!

I apologize for the lack of posts as of late. I have been adjusting to a new routine of lab work in the summer, as well as working on a proposal for my upcoming thesis project in the fall semester. I went home for some vacation time – only 4 weeks – and I have been slowly plodding through a cold I managed to catch (probably while I was traveling).

Since returning to the lab (more regularly at least than during the previous spring semester), I have come to realize that learning in a lab is different now, as a graduate student, than it was when I was an undergraduate student. That’s what I’m going to talk about in this post!

Continue reading “What Undergraduate Biology Laboratory Courses Don’t Teach You”

Education, Science

“I’m not a scientist, but…”

I haven’t talked about politics on this blog before, but in light of the disconcerting anti-science trend that has been on the rise as of late, I think it’s a good time to start.

I recently finished reading a book titled Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science by Dave Levitan. As a science student, I have a deeper understanding of science than the average person, but I am not very politically-literate. I picked up this book hoping to learn about how to identify, evaluate, and debunk the scientific-sounding claims that politicians make.

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Education, Science

Top 10 Tips to Boost Your Learning

Back in 2015, I took an online course on Coursera called “Learning How to Learn” but didn’t get a chance to blog about it. It’s a wonderful course; it taught me lot about how the brain works when you’re learning something. In light of my current pursuits in neuroscience, learning is one of the many topics I am interested in (along with neurodegenerative diseases, mood disorders, and motor neuron diseases).

The course is free, and you can check it out anytime! I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to improve their ability to learn new things.

I made PowerPoint slides for each of the four weeks in the course to help me take notes on the course material. Instead of sharing these slides here, I decided to put together a short list of the most helpful bits of advice.

Here we go!

Continue reading “Top 10 Tips to Boost Your Learning”

Education, Science

So You Want to be a Scientist

I began my graduate school program in August of 2016, and I’ll be finishing at the end of the upcoming fall semester this year, in December 2017. I’ll be graduating with a Master’s degree, in Neuroscience.

In this post, I’ll be talking about what I have learned in the program so far, in terms of skills and things I have had to get accustomed to. I’ll also briefly list out some reasons why I decided not to go to medical school.

Continue reading “So You Want to be a Scientist”

Education, Science, Sketchnotes

How to Sketchnote Science


I have been researching and working on my own sketchnotes for quite some time, and I’m still trying to get the hang of it. Last semester, I tried sketchnoting to help me study in my cellular metabolism class. I kind of went through an “evolution” of sorts, where my formatting and style completely changed as I tried new things.

Check out the gallery below to see my progression!

Continue reading “How to Sketchnote Science”

Education, Science

Biochemistry Manga? No Way!

In light of my newfound interest in biochemistry, I decided to find some books to read so that I can learn more about the subject (namely to study for the MCAT). There are dozens of books on the subject, I’m sure, but I find that when it comes to chemistry, I need something more than an ordinary textbook. (The only exception to this is Dr. George Klein’s two-volume organic chemistry book series, “Organic Chemistry as a Second Language” and his organic chemistry textbook. I highly recommend these to all organic chemistry students; they are a life saver!)

I recently came across  this manga guide series that features titles like “The Manga Guide to Physics” (wish I had this last semester!) and “The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology.” There are others as well, including “The Manga Guide to Biochemistry,” which particularly excited me! Naturally, I went and got my hands on a copy of this manga-style guide for the notoriously difficult subject of biochemistry. Not only does it introduce the reader to biochemistry in a slow and easy way, but it also covers the basics and leaves room for the knowledge-hungry student with enough starting material to search for more information and deepen their knowledge of the subject. (Like me!)

Once again, here is another topic of interest that relates to something I was exposed to in my university course, “Science in the Day of a Life,” which started this blog: using comics as a means of teaching children! With this manga guide series however, I believe this idea can be – or rather, it has already been – extended to older students who would like to (or should I say “have to?”) learn about subjects that are otherwise difficult. If learning can be made into something fun, then it becomes easier, right?

Here’s a sample page from “The Manga Guide to Biochemistry!”

I’ve already discussed how important it is that we find new ways to teach future generations of children, especially since the education paradigm is changing with the advent of increasingly social and information-laden technologies. Kids these days want to master these technologies for themselves, so why not take advantage of this interest in technology and make it a learning tool in classrooms everywhere? There, these technologies can encourage these kids to learn important skills and be able to apply them in the innovative ways that future employers will be looking for. Although comic books have been around for ages, it wasn’t until recently that the graphic novel or manga was introduced to the Western world. As a result, kids are growing up reading manga volumes (like me!). Why not use this passion for reading stories within manga and help kids learn and have fun while learning?

I have been interested in manga for quite some time, and have enjoyed many different series since I started reading them. I also love learning, and since it is my dream to become a successful physician, what better way to learn those tough subjects than a manga that is not only informational, but fun to read? What a great idea! (I’m on my way to mastering carbohydrate structure and naming! Woohoo!)

If you’re interested in learning more about how comics can be used as a teaching tool (not just for science, but for any subject!), check out these resources!

Clay Crafting, Final Project, Science

Polymer Clay Science Presentation

Here is my final presentation about polymer clay and the science (mostly chemistry) behind it. My shareable component for my presentation can be found here. (It’s my polymer clay crafts blog, where I post inspirational creations, tutorials, videos, and pictures of my own work!) Also, here is a PDF with my references that I used for this presentation.

Click on the slide to go to the presentation!


I made this presentation on SlideRocket. It’s free to use, and easy as well. (Although I must admit, the number of available themes were lacking.)


Clay Crafting, Final Project, Science

Polymer Clay Science, Part 3: Let’s Get Baking!

Continuing my previous posts about polymer clay science, this post is about how to bake polymer clay, and why it requires baking in the first place.

First off, it’s important to remember that polymer clay contains plasticizers, chemicals added to PVC in order to make it soft and pliable. In order for polymer clay to become hard, these plasticizers must be removed. How? The answer lies in baking! The baking process involves high temperatures, which is necessary for removing the plasticizers from the clay. (This is in fact why polymer clay doesn’t completely air dry — because it requires baking in order to fully cure.)

Baking polymer clay is indeed a science, and depending on the brand of the clay, different temperatures and baking durations are required. For example, FIMO clay bakes at 265 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes, whereas Scupley clay bakes at 275 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes. In addition, it is critical to not overbake or underbake the clay. Underbaking results in the clay crumbling, and overbaking can result in burning the clay, which releases toxic hydrochloric gas fumes as the plasticizer molecules are removed via heating.

Here’s a great video that shows you how to bake polymer clay (among other baking basics!):

There is an alternative to baking polymer clay in a kitchen oven, if you’re concerned about baking food in the same oven.


This is a craft oven, which is specifically designed for baking polymer clay. There are various brands, but I found that this one was one of the best. (There are many reviews about the oven on YouTube!)

That’s it for this post! Stay tuned for more clay science!

Clay Crafting, Final Project, Science

The Chemistry of Polymer Clay

Since polymer clay is synthetically made, what is it made out of? After doing some research, I learned that polymer clay is made out of two major components: PVC and plasticizers. Let’s go through each of these separately.

PVC, also known as polyvinyl chloride, is a rigid plastic that’s used in a variety of applications, namely construction (do PVC pipes ring any bells?). PVC is synthesized in a chemical reaction called radical chain polymerization from its monomer (basic building block), vinyl chloride.


The little “n” indicates that there are a bunch of vinyl chloride molecules (which are monomers) connected together in order to make the larger polymer, polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

The mechanism of this reaction is based in organic chemistry, which will be in my presentation. (It’s the best part, right? Gotta save it for last! Unless of course, you’d rather learn about it before-hand. If so, check out that link!)

With that established, what are plasticizers?

A plasticizer is a substance that’s added to PVC to make it soft (you can’t have soft polymer clay without it!). There are two main kinds of plasticizers — phthalates and adipates — and the former is most commonly used in polymer clay. There have been some medical concerns and debates about the safety of adding phthalates specifically in polymer clay, and polymer clay brands have been known to reformulate their clays to reduce the amount of phthalates (such as Premo clay in 2008). However, if you follow the directions on the packaging and take care to wash your hands after handling the clay, there shouldn’t be any health consequences. (Here’s a really thorough article about polymer clay safety!)

The reason why plasticizers make polymer clay soft is simple, and has to do with how plasticizer molecules interact with PVC molecules. Between molecules, attractive and repulsive forces exist. The attractive forces bring the molecules closer together, and the repulsive forces push them apart. The forces between molecules are called intermolecular forces. The reason why plasticizers make PVC soft is because the plasticizer molecules fit in between the PVC molecules, preventing them from having strong attractions to one another. (These attractions are based on charges! Remember that opposite charges attract, and same charges repel.)

Here’s a little diagram that shows this. (It’s a larger version of this diagram.)

plasticizer diagram

The circle represents the plasticizer molecule, and the rectangles represent PVC molecules. The pluses and minuses represent electrostatic charges, which attract and repel each other (the negative and positive charges attract each other, and “like charges” repel each other).

The plasticizer molecule interferes between the strong electrostatic forces between the individual PVC molecules, which means that the PVC molecules are less packed together. As a result, the overall PVC material is more flexible!

Here’s a cool video that shows what happens when you heat a PVC pipe. (This pipe is being installed for a swimming pool.)

So what happens when you heat polymer clay? Unlike air-dry clays, polymer clay requires heating in order to harden (cure). The reason for this can be explained by the properties of PVC and plasticizers. As you saw in the above video, after the pipe was heated, it turned into spaghetti. It became extremely flexible, which is how the plumbers were able to install the pipe around the pool so easily. After the pipe cools down, however, it becomes rigid again. This flexibility is due to the plasticizers, and the rigidity due to the PVC molecules. However, there’s an important distinction to make note of here: heating a PVC pipe does not get rid of the plasticizer molecules, but heating clay does. (I’m not sure why this is. I think it’s because polymer clay contains a specific plasticizer that is permanently removed by exposure to high temperatures?)

Anyways! I hope you enjoyed this post! Stay tuned for “part three” of this polymer clay series — all about baking polymer clay!