Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Baking...Hobby


WARNING: This post has lots of pictures. I’m sorry if you start salivating.
Anyone who’s lived around me in the past 3 years knows that I have developed somewhat of a baking obsession hobby. In particular, I've taken a liking to cupcakes. Whether it’s because the cupcake scene exploded with reality baking shows like Cupcake Wars and Cake Boss or I just love seeing the look on co-workers, friends and family’s faces when I bring a box of cupcakes into a room, I’m not sure. All I know, I got sucked in with everyone else.
I’ve always been somewhat of a baker. I made chocolate chips cookies from scratch with my mom and participated in the brownie and rice crispy treat making during holidays. (I will never EVER be able to perfect my mom’s rice crispies, even though she’s told me her secret!) And in college I was totally the roommate up at 3am making pink frosted birthday cupcakes in anticipation of a grand bash the next night for my fellow roomie. (This was one of the best parties we had in college. We blew up life size pictures of all the roommates and the birthday girl and posted them around the house. Awesome.)

Mmm S'mores.

Anyway, I found that I liked making cupcakes the best for a few reasons.

1. A lot of people have really bad attitudes about cake. I’m not sure what it is, though it normally centers on some bad experience with horrid frosting. People are much less skeptical about cupcakes. Also, I HATE super sweet frosting.

2. Cupcakes are easier to grab-and-go. This is especially important for work place situations. People like to dine and dash or rather grab the goods and head back to their desk without being caught in the break room slicing off a piece of cake and feeling guilty when someone walks in. More importantly it’s not always a big deal taking the 1st slice, but it’s when you want to go back for seconds that you need an easy escape route.

3. They are more personal. It’s just you and that cupcake and it’s all yours. You don’t have to cut anything or share!

Banana Split.
I often get inspired by different cupcakes based on random cupcake blogs on the internet. (Yes, these exist.) I rarely copy recipes completely, but instead take an idea or flavor from them (like S’mores) and just add whatever I think will taste yummy. This does not always work out, but most of the time it does and I can call it my own receipe! Holidays are my favorite inspiration, including birthdays. I love trying to incorporate someone’s favorite candy into their cupcakes. Not only is it fun to experiment with something new, but people totally appreciate that you made something so personal.

My Top 5 Cupcakes:

1.        Burger Cupcakes
2.        Banana Split Cupcakes
3.        Sheep Cupcakes (Fondant Heads credit: Noah Firth)
4.        Reindeer Cupcakes
5.        Whiskey Frosting Cupcakes

A few people have heard me joke about opening a bakery, and I have most definitely added it to my life goals list. Maybe when I’m done with all this real-job stuff, I’ll venture into the sweets business. I would also be up for a friend opening a restaurant and I’d gladly oblige to be the cupcake supplier. (Hint, Hint, friends) For now, I’m quite content spoiling my friends and family.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Magic in the Work Place: Passion

I’ve been working since I can remember. I started babysitting at the age of 10 and refereed for the local soccer leagues starting at the age of 12. When I turned 16, I began working at the local recreation center part-time after school and on the weekends. Following high school graduation, I landed a job weeks before school even started my freshman year of college and continued to work at the same place until the end of my senior year.  I’m no stranger to this working girl thing.

So, when I landed my first job as a research associate on a psychiatric research team at the University of Michigan’s Medical School within weeks of college graduation, I was ecstatic and happy to keep my whole being-employed streak going. Of course this was my first “real” job and it paid little (like, very little), but it had something that I will hold all jobs to in the future: it had amazing, passionate people. During my time there, I knew the people were different than anyone I had worked with before, but I don’t think I understood at the time what a difference incredible coworkers and a great environment can make.

I'm talking passion, but not, well... Tom Cruise passion.
Oprah looks terrified.
I had always loved psychology and was clearly interested in research, as my undergraduate work showed, but I wasn’t entirely sure what direction I wanted to take following school. To give you some background, I mainly worked with 3 psychiatrists and a team of research professionals including one close co-worker who shared the same responsibilities with me. The doctors I worked with and my direct supervisor made it a point to help me develop my skills, not only within the realm of research, but also in my interests with specific psychiatric conditions. My fellow shared-responsibility coworker happily took on new projects and jumped into opportunities with me. Everyone was in it together; there was a real sense of team. There were constant opportunities to attend seminars, monthly “round-tables”, and presentations on new research being conducted in the field of psychiatry. In addition, I was encouraged to attend monthly patient interviews where I took my own notes and evaluated the patient on my own, followed by a detailed discussion of the doctors comparing notes and their own diagnoses, which I could then compare mine to. The educational opportunities were endless, as was the support to work on presenting the research team’s progress at a conference held yearly, and a continued, open discussion of what would help me further my skills. Most encouraging though, was the passion that everyone I worked with had on that team. It’s been unparalleled to any team or group of people I have worked with to date. It was so much less of a job, and so much more of a learning experience.

I’ve often wondered what made the group dynamic work so well, or why that group of people seemed so much more passionate about their work than anyone I’ve worked with since. Some would probably argue that this is simply the difference between working within an academic institution versus an independent, for-profit company. Some would also say that the docs I worked with were just more inclined to be super awesome because they were connected with a teaching hospital and just had the right mindset to encourage and mentor the people they worked with. (Or maybe it’s just because I was at the University of Michigan and people are cooler there). While I think there is truth to all of these points, I know there are other groups of passionate, enthusiastic people in other industries. So what gives?

Since leaving that job, I’ve longed for the collaborating connection with co-workers that proved to make such an impression on me. Luckily, I think I may have found the magic again at my newest employer. The debate can hardly be settled though since the group of people I work with are involved in both the for-profit side of the industry as well as having connections and teaching privileges at Johns Hopkins University.
So, what makes people come to work everyday and continue to be motivated while creating a stellar environment for both them and their coworkers? Is it the nature of the job itself, is it all about the people, or is it something else?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pharmaceutical Drug Research: What the hell do I actually do?

So, what the hell do I actually do?

Since moving, I’ve met a lot of new people. And usually one of the first questions I get asked is “So, what do you do?”. Well actually, the FIRST question is usually, “Are you in the Air Force too?”. I don’t mind when people assume this. On any given outing, 95% of the people I’m with are either in the Air Force or associated with the government in some way. My canned response to the typical career question is simply, pharmaceutical drug research. The top 5 responses I get back include:

  1. You test medications on people? (And with this they usually have a weird look on their face as if I tie people down unwillingly and subject to them to torture.)
   2.  You test the drugs yourself, like on you? (No, that would not be OK with the FDA.  You may 
         have heard of them. They have a few regulations.)

  1. Do you have access to investigational drugs…? (Yep, but again, regulations. We aren’t giving these away people.)

  1. Do you get those paid vacations from the drug reps? (No, but I do get free lunch from drug reps pretty much every day. Not because I’m in research, but because the office I work in has doctors that sit through trainings, new drug updates, and guidance throughout their lunch. )

  1. That’s sounds cool. (I agree, and that’s why I like it!)

Jake Gyllenhaal in Love and Other Drugs. I wish my drug reps
danced like this. Most people hated this movie. I appreciated it.
So, what do I really do? In the industry my job title is a Clinical Research Coordinator. Side note: I once told someone that and he responded with “So…you don’t actually really do the research, you just coordinate...” To which I wanted to respond, “So, you actually really have no idea about the industry and shouldn’t try to insult people you are just meeting”. Followed by a promt punch in the face. Anyway, I digress.

Let’s start with the basics. The pharmaceutical industry is a billion dollar industry, but it is not an easy business. Most drugs wills spend approximately 10-12 years in the start-up and research phases before they ever make it to the FDA’s desk for approval. That doesn’t even guarantee approval! A company can literally spend millions of dollars doing research and development that never amounts to anything.

There are many phases in a compound’s life. Initially the compound is tested on animal models, followed by smaller non-risk populations, and finally larger populations (thousands of people in one study). The larger scale studies can last upwards of two years alone to compile data and follow patients.

The studies test the compounds for safety and efficacy, and also against existing medications and even placebo at times. This is where I come in.

I work for a research site that is one of many that pharmaceutical companies go to in order to carry out the different phases of research. Big pharma will come to my company and show us the protocol. The protocol tells us exactly what we have to do during a study (how many visits are needed, what procedures have to be performed, etc). I help decide if we can safely and efficiently execute what they want and if we are interested or have the right access to the patients that will be needed.

After months of paperwork, planning, recruiting potential patients (there are usually upwards of 50 different criteria that people must satisfy to participate in), and a million meetings, I start the study. On a typical day, I will see patients for approximately 10 studies for various illnesses, diseases, and conditions. During the subjects’ visits, I complete vital signs, ECGs, questionnaires, cognitive testing, blood work, administer medication, etc. My site then reports all of this information back to the pharma company including any complaints and reported side effects. Where do you think those laundry lists of side effects come from in the drug commercials? Also, did you know that Viagra was originally indicated  for high blood pressure? During studies they found there was a very common side effect…

I’ve worked on drugs for Depression, Bipolar disorder, OCD, Alzheimer’s (Please eat your Omega-3s. This study was scary beyond belief. Also, check out Lumosity. ), Tourette’s syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, Tardive Dyskinesia, and Schizophrenia. I’m hoping to work on additional indications in the future such as Parkinson’s and Epilepsy. Last year, a drug I worked on was approved for depression and it was incredibly rewarding to see the commercial on TV and know I had a part in that. I also saw a lot of my patients do very well with it.

Many of the people that participate in studies do so because they are legitimately interested in looking for new ways to treat their condition and are also interested in contributing to science. Sometimes patients are compensated for their time, and sometimes they aren’t. In most cases, the intense care and monitoring done in a clinical study is more extensive than a normal visit to the doctors. For most that is enough for them to want to participate. For others, it’s a way to educate themselves further about their condition.

If you are interested in learning more about clinical trials you can check out all the current active clinical trials at In addition, there may be clinical research sites located near you if you are interested in participating or have family members that may benefit (Google can help with that).

In the end, I enjoy what I do. It’s a fascinating industry and I have access to a lot of “cutting edge” science (that may not be available for a long time to the general population). It can be incredibly stressful and overwhelming to know your patients are taking investigational drugs or that the FDA can come audit you at any time (yes, I’ve been audited) but, the biggest reward is knowing I’m aiding people in their search for better healthcare and a better quality of life.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Running: It's Totally a Thing

Is it just me, or are running events totally a thing now?

If you want to crawl in mud, have paint splattered at you, be chased by zombies, run bar to bar taking “pub run” to a whole new level, listen to rock bands, act like a Spartan, put yourself through hell and call it “Tough Mudder”, you can! You name it; they have a run for it. And you won’t hear me complaining because I’ve participated in my fair share of these races.

Pajama Pankcake Run

Now, I know I’ve always liked running, but somehow it seems that many people my age who were never “runners” are now into it in some way, whether they are willing to try a 5k (this is how the racing addiction starts) or larger races. Here’s my theory: we miss team sports. No, not the local dodge-ball kind of sports, the Friday night high school varsity (insert sport here) type sports.Don’t get me wrong, running is certainly an individualized sport. And no one but you is going to make you put on your running shoes and go for a run when all you want to do is sit on the couch and catch-up on the latest episode of Game of Thrones. BUT, there is something about training for an event (or not, for those “do I really need to train for a 5k even though I haven’t ran in 4 months people) and getting dressed up in funky costumes with all your friends to do something athletic together. Who doesn’t want to craw around in some mud for a while and enjoy the great pictures and pitchers that follow?
Color Run

I’ve found that you can trick your I-hate-running-friends into fine-I’ll-do-it-because-I-don’t-want-to-miss-out-on-the-fun-friends with all the races available these days. This is one of my favorite things about the beer drinking, paint-in-your-face, tutu wearing, dress-up-as-your-favorite-superhero-runs! Your friends start to like running!

Not only do races provide that competitive fun that we miss, but there is a serious sense of accomplishment when you cross any finish line. In fact, a friend likes to call reaching the finish line crack cocaine (I agree). If you get a thrill out of a 5k, bump yourself to a half marathon and then tell me you won’t ever need to feel the overwhelming feeling of people cheering you on as you cross over the red tape (especially after feeling like you weren’t gonna make it at mile 6). This is one of the reasons I like getting people to try running. The feeling is almost unexplainable and I happily report that I have converted a few people into runners due to that feeling alone. Just to be clear, I’m not talking Olympic runners here, more like the walk-runners. Which is totally fine! (I’m happy to clear up any misconceptions that all people who do marathons run the entire thing. See this is me starting to make you wonder if you could do a longer race. Is it working?)
Finishing my first marathon at Disney.

I can’t possibly mention the ending of a race without touching on the beginning. It’s almost as exciting as the end! There’s an electric feeling in the air, especially for half marathons and marathons. Everyone is giddy with excitement and nerves as they prepare to embark on a journey for some that will last two hours and others seven. It’s the countdown of the corrals as you inch towards the starting line, the Jock Jam-esque music blaring through the speakers and the crowd counting down while holding signs for loved ones. It’s re-creating the excitement of a Friday night game under the lights against your rival high school that I so dearly miss from time to time. 
                                                           Races give me a little piece of that.

Warrior Dash

So, if you get tired of your after-work kickball league and want to step-up your game, grab a couple friends and challenge yourself to 13.1 or 26.2 miles.  But, don’t blame me if you have to make way in your budget for more races in the future. I warned you about the possibility of contracting race addiction.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Locus of Control

Aha! I have tricked you! I bet you didn’t know I was about to give you a quick inspirational pick-me up and get your act together speech! Quick, you still have time to bail and “x” me out before your interest gets the best of you.

Locus of control is one of my favorite terms in psychology. Often, it’s something that I take notice of immediately when meeting people with respect to their personality. It also determines how much I will eventually like the person (jk,..kinda) Let’s run through the basics. An internal locus of control means exactly what it sounds like. YOU are in control. Meaning, you take responsibility for your actions and the outcomes in your life. You take charge and don’t rely on “fate” or blame others for your mistakes or misfortunes. While I was waiting for my layover in CA last Sunday, a young man I was talking to mentioned that he was having a hard time nailing down a job after college (not the first time I’ve heard this). He didn’t blame the economy, being unlucky or that he was “over-qualified”, he mentioned that maybe he just wasn’t looking for the right position that fit him or maybe he didn’t have great interview skills and needed to practice. It was incredibly refreshing to hear someone take charge and admit that maybe they needed a bit more work on their resume or interview skills rather than blaming someone/something else. (I’m certainly not saying that the economy has been kind to people in the unemployment market; however, there is something to be said for just realizing you need to be proactive and may need to rethink your approach when you aren’t successful. I also plan on posting about job success and interview techniques in the future.) 

Pop Quiz: Internal or External?
As you can imagine, the opposite of an internal locus of control is an external locus of control. People who have an external locus of control tend to believe that the situation was out of their hands and fate took over (for good or bad). They tend to find excuses for situations or reasons why things didn’t go their way. These are the “complainers” of the world if you will. “The teacher was out to get me”, “my boss hates me”, “why does this happen to me”, “the refs we’re totally paid off” people. (I’ll admit, in a heated sports game, I’ll shamefully use that last one). I’m sure you know who they are (you might even be one!). Stop it. The cards aren’t stacked against you, and you aren’t getting sympathy from me (or anyone else that you happen to make listen to you).

Sometimes external people also have the problem of not giving themselves enough credit. A friend who was admitted to an amazing grad school program told me, “I guess there weren’t that many good candidates”. HELLO! Maybe you’re just AWESOME. Instead of attributing his success to hard work, he looked outside of himself for an explanation.

Where do you fit in? Maybe you have an external locus only while focused on some parts of your life, but not others. Maybe you didn’t realize that you have a sucky attitude and need to pull it together to get where you want to be. Maybe now you know why your friend drives you crazy when they blame everything under the sun for their misfortunes. Or maybe you just know a bit more about psychology. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

New In Town

New to this game called blogging, but I'm ready for the adventure. This won't be fancy, life changing, or filled with big words I looked up in a thesaurus. It may just be one new hobby I like for... approximately 2 weeks and then move onto something else. BUT, should it stick around, my hope is for it to be filled with my thoughts, humor, tales of the amazing people who are my family and friends, and my ongoing experiences in navigating the pharmaceutical industry.

That's me. Feeding a dolphin.
 I'm into baking (which is totally science), DIY stuff (& doing it sorta right), the brain, psychology, learning Deutsch (constantly since 9th grade, don't judge-it's hard!), drug research (I'm pretty sure very few people understand what I do everyday), learning about wine (meaning drinking varying amounts on a Saturday morning and calling it a "tasting"), and awesomely fun people! So, here's to a blog about all of the above and then some. Basically, I plan on talking about whatever I want.

I'm all about learning new things. I guess you could say I'm into researching life.