As I sit to write this reflection, it is like two months breezed by, and also like I have been on the island forever. So much has happened! I figured it would be best to break this blog post up into three categories that have broadly defined my interactions: (1) culturally, (2) socially, and (3) scientifically. I have already learned so much, and made so many connections I will carry with me forever.
Cultural Highlights, Scenes, and Visits!
During my first four weeks of being on the Island, I tried to get out and see the country as much as possible before the business of my academic coursework ramped up! I was fortunate to have had my Mom come over for a week to help move me into Trinity – and we made the most of the visit exploring Dublin (Grafton Street, Guinness Storehouse, the Old Stand Pub) and Kerry (Killarney, Waterville, Sneem). My favorite part was going out West, where we found a local Chris to drive us along the Wild Atlantic Way and tell us his stories of growing up in Kerry. While we were walking in Killarney National Park, my mom kept saying “this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been” and that constantly reminded me of how lucky we are to be here. Ireland has its own unique and special beauty – the land feels spiritual in a way. It is an honor and a joy to explore it. I can’t wait for our trip to Dingle in May!
I’ve also had another visitor recently! My boyfriend Ben flew over for his fall break from law school, and we took advantage of the time by exploring Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, and the Burren. We were very lucky with a stretch of clear weather – and when we went to the Cliffs – they said it was one of the clearest days they have had all year! I enjoyed showing Ben the scenery, my favorite pubs and coffee shops, and my favorite parts of life in Ireland. Ben is a knitter and enjoyed getting 14 spools of Aran wool for his various knitting projects – befriending a local shop owner whose family helped design the costumes for The Quiet Man along the way (https://www.omaille.com/). He is counting down the days to come back!
On my own, I often find myself wandering into St. Stephen’s green and soaking in the moments of quiet, and watching the ferocious Dublin seagulls. I also love walking past the buskers on Grafton Street – Keywest is my favorite busking group! If you see them in Dublin, you should stop and take a listen, they are amazing.
One of my favorite parts of this experience so far has been the lifelong friendships that have been forged. Within the Mitchell group, I feel like I have gained such wonderful, supportive, kind, and brilliant friends. After all of our formal Mitchell events, we would always hang out, whether it was going to dinner or hanging out in the Graduates Memorial Building kitchen. It is a home away from home. We have each other’s backs (literally and figuratively). I am constantly amazed at house easy it is to laugh and talk and hang out with the Mitchell’s and I am constantly amazed at who they are as people. Just yesterday Rabhya came over and cooked dinner! Theresa is always leaving sweet treats with notes. We have played the most fun card games, taught to us by the board game master Zach. We (the whole group) have bonded over dinners, in hospital waiting rooms playing crossword, on hikes, playing games, and learning about each other’s lives, hopes, dreams, fears, interests, and stories.
I have also been blessed with the nicest housemates in the Graduates Memorial Building – we have become like a little family! Aside from the Mitchells – living with us we have Tom and Leon (two Irish physics students on Schols who are incredibly smart and kind), Nancy (a physics PhD student), and Jim (a 72 year old former Wall Street trader, former oyster farmer from Cape Cod doing a Master’s in history)! If there is one person in the kitchen, you can always count on another one of them popping in to say hello or hang out. We cook together and bake together, and we always find ourselves getting into philosophical discussions ranging from “what is the meaning of life and happiness” to “what store truly makes the best chicken fillet roll” (the answer is the Spar on Dame Street). I have especially enjoyed learning more about Irish culture through the eyes of Tom and Leon. For example, a few weeks ago Theresa and I went to Trad Soc’s jam session at Doyle’s (the student pub) where we learned Tom heads the entire group. He’s always in the kitchen singing and playing trad. They have welcomed us into their stories, and past, and culture, and for that I am incredibly grateful.
As a student cancer scientist/hopeful oncologist one day – being in Ireland and my master’s program has been transformative. I have learned more in the two months of my master’s in Translational Oncology program than any other course in my life. While it is intense (7 hours of lectures 4-5 times a week) – I know what I am learning is going to make me a better scientist and oncologist. I am currently in the process of publishing a literature review on a novel oncogene that started as a class assignment, learning how to do clinical workups of cancer patients, and am connecting with patient advocates to learn how we can dually strengthen the translational care pipeline in both the U.S. and Ireland.
Ireland is looking to centralize their cancer care program, and looking at the U.S. as a model for this. I am starting to get into some health policy work – bridging the International Inflammatory Breast Cancer Consortium to Ireland.
Starting in February I will be back working in a lab, likely focusing on breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer (two highly linked cancer burdens in Irish women). My professors and advisors are excited to become professional colleagues post-Mitchell – and I have a very good feeling that I will be collaborating with them over the course of my career. I was also informed that my previous research from undergrad was accepted for an Oral Presentation at the Irish Association for Cancer Research Annual hosted in collaboration with the European Association for Cancer Researchers and the American Association of Cancer Researchers in February! My mentors and collaborators from Duke will be flying over for it, and I am so excited for everyone to connect in person. We are making plans to start sharing biobanked tissue and work on joint preclinical drug trials – opening up so much research possibilities for the next few months.
The experience of cancer is universal, and the cancer burden is a highly heterogeneous and complicated problem that requires our collaboration and friendship to design even better diagnostics and personalized therapies. That is the way of the future. Whether I am in the clinic, in the lab, in class, or talking to patients, knowing that I can make at least a small difference in working on this problem drives me every day.