Reflection upon a passed qualifying exam

Today in lab we were calling each other “champ”. My mom calls me Jeff. I passed my qualifying exam last Friday. Instead of providing you the blow-by-blow of my lively discussion on what sequence features determine pioneering activity, I will reflect. I hope to convey how positive an environment a lab can be.

As an MD-PhD student, I completed two years of classroom medical school prior to starting my PhD. During those first two years, I took many exams. Each exam was a real battle – from memorizing each drug used to treat heart failure to understanding how the kidney uses a litany of channels to filter our blood. By design, these two years were me against the knowledge base. Indirectly though, it was me against my classmates as we vie for a limited number of spots in competitive specialties. The result was that at times the crushing individualism led to lonely isolation.

What a difference the Cohen lab has been. A tradition of committing ourselves to each others’ crafts defines the lab, and defines the research environment at WashU. As my talk rose on the horizon, my lab mates gathered around our cozy conference table and spent hours helping me hone my ideas and sharpen my arguments to send me towards my QE. And as I stepped out of the room as my committee deliberated, there was Clarice down the hall with a wide grin on her face welcoming me back into the arms of the lab.

While the day-to-day life of medical and graduate school differ greatly, each focuses on the pursuit of knowledge. In my experience, one goes about that individually and one goes about that collaboratively. And I thank the cloning gods above that I found myself amongst the champs of Barak’s lab.