Because it was 3:30 am and I had exhausted the contents of cute kittens on the Internet, I found myself on PubMed. Just for fun, I decided to type in the name of a common medical condition that a family member has to see if anything interesting had come out on it.
I couldn’t believe how much I could glean from the dense titles. Not only did I recognize individual terms, but I understood larger concepts about why those terms could and should be related in the first place. All of a sudden, I had context. I could recall a few characteristics about a certain physiologic condition, a few underlying mechanisms about a cell signalling pathway, a few cytokines, a few relevant diseases.
This is the first time I have ever understood anything on PubMed unrelated to very narrow research projects.
“Leukocyte adhesion deficiency.” “Subclinical left ventricular dysfunction.” “Population-based cohort study.” “Fumarates.” “Hyperkeratosis.” “Thrombocytopenia.” “Ankylosing spondylitis.” “Serum IL-16 levels.” “Suppression of VEGFR2 expression in human endothelial cells.”
Now it is 4 am and I feel that–despite the doubts–something indeed has happened to my brain this past year. My classmates and I moan how much we have forgotten about the little we seem to have learned–and that there is still so much out there that we don’t have the slightest clue about. This may still be true. But the frustration over the details I have forgotten is now outweighed by sheer amazement as I interpret the cumbersome jargon-y titles that had been out of reach to me mere months ago.
Interestingly enough, this insight did not come after an exam, during a lecture or discussion, or even during regular hours. It snuck in, on the tails of cute kittens on YouTube, on a quiet Monday night/morning.
I still cannot fathom the day when I will ever be an authority on anything. But then I consider the 16-year-old me who began her first research experience in a laboratory while taking AP Biology. I committed hours of (often fruitless) background research on PubMed–wading through foreign and incomprehensible knowledge and concepts, lost and lacking any way to distinguish what was relevant and the big deals from the smaller ones. From that vantage point, breaking into a literate scientific circle seemed decades away.
Thinking about that version of me, I still cannot quite believe where I am now either–breaking in.