Jason McSheene

An Outlet for Thoughts, Ideas, and Discussion


Secular inspiration to motivate you to acheive

Day 3: Enjoying the Empty Space

I remember having the original Game Boy by the age of 7 or 8. I received my first Walkman when I was about 10 or 11 years old. From that point on, I always had the ability to fill my downtime with music. In other words: I was never bored (unless I was out of batteries).

Now I have audiobooks and podcasts constantly playing in the background in my life. Sure, I pay attention to them and synthesize my own thoughts sometimes. Unfortunately, being constantly entertained from before puberty, I wonder just how much my brain developed with that program. Now I have the constant urge to stay occupied instead of simply just “be”.

On the other hand, I’m grateful to have noticed this about myself and actively take steps to create the empty space in my life, if just for a few minutes at a time. The most important reminder is when I treat myself to Chipotle and I am waiting in line. What is more obvious than each person in queue on his/her smartfphone? Solitary or in groups, young or old (but especially young). Take a minute to stop and smell the burritos, my friends.

Day 2: Gratitude

I am among one of the most privileged people to ever walk on the face of the earth. Odds are, you are too. Many of us live lives only kings used to dream of: cold beverage on-demand, a diverse menu of food available at any given moment, all of the information in the world at our fingertips, an understanding of Germ Theory and medicine, etc.


However, it’s easy to lose track of this point of view. I believe that I do a great job at keeping this in focus, although it can be draining if done constantly. For myself, the key is to devote time to remembering how lucky I am to live at this time in history, how loving my family & friends are, and how much potential I have for the remainder of my life. With this time of gratitude set aside for the appropriate settings (meditation, fellowship, journaling) , I give myself space to pursue purpose and intention for the rest of my life.

American Society for Artificial Internal Organs- June 18-21, 2014

This a follow up to my entry from last month entitled “Conference Networking”.

ASAIOLast month I took my first steps into the industry in which I plan on spending my career. To do this, I joined the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO) and attended its annual conference. I had been to a couple of academic biology conferences alone before, so I was not very concerned with being by myself. And as I outlined in the previous post, I had my clear goals for learning and networking:

  1. Identify current research
  2. Introduce myself to everyone
  3. Investigate the companies/institutions doing the work

I am happy to say that I made great progress on each of those points! Not only did I walk away from the conference knowing much more about the work being discussed, but I made a few contacts and I scouted out a few companies.

Additionally, Richard Wampler, MD, Associate Prof Surgery at Oregon Health Sciences University gave such a fantastic and inspiring keynote speech which felt like it was aimed directly at me. The morning before, Kurt Dasse, PhD, President & CEO, GeNO LLC gave an overview of the society that was both welcoming and motivating. ASAIO just felt right as an organization to which I can contribute.

This motivation was essential to my enjoyment of the conference due to the lack of tissue engineering. I was surprised to see that most of the talks were about mechanical heart pumps. Sure, there was a good amount of work being done with artificial kidneys but the meeting as a whole was quite bioengineering heavy. Thankfully the talks were all pretty good and I picked up the engineering problems and solutions quickly.

However, not everything was as expected. First, this conference was a large mix of engineers, business leaders, researchers, and physicians. Being used to a broadly academic crowd, this new group of people felt a bit more closed off, guarded. There are definitely differences in the cultures of all those groups. I made it a point to introduce myself to as many people as possible, including groups. Some groups, like a small group of Yale medical students was friendly while others were very dismissive.

Another unexpected point was the lack of diversity. Biomedical research, speaking broadly, felt very diverse when compared to the ASAIO membership. I immediately felt how helpful it is to have someone who merely looks like you in a position of power or authority. Perhaps it was a lack of familiarity with the field, but I felt a bit less secure when a vast majority of the talks were given by white males over 45.

Thankfully, ASAIO facilitates a subgroup called fyi (for young innovators, under 35). This group is amazingly diverse and was a true fresh breath. The students, postdocs, and leaders I met in this group were very interesting and passionate. I hope to interact with them further. The ASAIOfyi group held a couple of luncheons to help the new generation interact with those who were more experienced. This definitely helped!


In summary, while the meeting did not help me directly find a job or a very helpful lead, it did lay the groundwork for my career path. I learned that there is a ton of room in the tissue engineering field and that the companies out there (as a whole) really have been focusing only on mechanical solutions. I believe hybrid biological-mechanical devices will produce the best results in long-term replacement artificial organs and therapeutics.

If I met you at the meeting, thanks for stopping by the site!

Conference Networking

I am not naturally a very outgoing person. However, that does not negate one important thing I learned: it is important to put on a good game face, be social, and talk with as many people as possible (i.e. NETWORK!).Ep009_card

This week I will step out of my comfort zone by attending the American Society of Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO) conference in Washington D.C. I will not know anybody there and the field of artificial internal organs is brand new to me, as I have no direct experience in it . So why even go? 

  1. Comfort is the enemy of progress. This is a perfect opportunity to push those boundaries and grow. As mentioned before, going to the ASAIO meeting will force me out of my comfort zone. It is easy to go to a meeting with a bunch of your co-workers and close yourself off to new experiences. Instead of doing this, I encourage everyone to keep themselves open to communication.Go to the talks that might not directly relate to your work but sound interesting to you. Ask a “stupid” question. Talk to that person who seems intimidating.
  2. The meeting is the perfect opportunity to learn! What is the current state of various technologies? Where is research and production being performed? Who is on the cutting edge? How can I position myself for entry into the field?
  3. Networking. If you listened to Episode 9 of the PhD in Progress podcast, you understand the importance of networking. Because I’m in the process of career exploration, meeting new people and learning about their career paths is vital. It will help me understand what some companies expect and how I can better augment my skills and experience.

With all of this, it’s also important to set goals and expectations. It would be a huge mistake to wander around for a few days just expecting to get the most out of the experience. So here is what I hope to accomplish at this meeting:

  1. Identify current research. Obviously, I will going to each talk session and poster session in order to learn more about the field. It is entirely possible that my future work will be related to something I hear at the conference.I will learn about 20 technologies in-depth and develop follow-up questions for each.
  2. Introduce myself to everyone. Alright, not every single person, but I should not be sitting quietly by myself for more than a few minutes. This, without a doubt, will be the most beneficial yet draining goal. I want to hear about what people think, what they do, and what their own goals are. By initiating conversation, I’ll create opportunities for learning, teaching, and helping. Plus I might have a few new friends to enjoy a drink with at the end of the night.Besides, interacting with hardly anyone for 3-5 days is never fun. I did that at a meeting in Montreal once. Never again!I will start a conversation within the first 2 minutes of down time.
  3. Investigate the companies/institutions doing the work. At the end of the week, I want to know the major players involved in bioengineering of biological tissues. I should be familiar with the companies, understand their products and/or services, and have the contact information people who work in R&D there. While I am doing this for my own career search, it should be a goal of anyone trying to improve their position within a field of choice.I will be very active at poster sessions and networking events by asking about the research itself, the employees, and the companies.

The key for me is that people universally want to feel valued, helpful, and interesting. Additionally, people do not want to be bored, unimportant, or invisible. By initiating conversation, you give someone the chance to fulfill all of those needs and quench those concerns.


Claiming My Life

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI spent the previous year training: training to find best practices, training to myself to make connections, and training myself to be better overall.

In preparing for my big job push, I’m flooded with all the advice I obtained… and it is a lot. There is such a thing as being “over prepared” but I do not think this is the case. Instead of being completely nervous, I’m actually quite excited.

From the world of academia I learned:

  • Patience
  • Teamwork
  • Humility

Through independent reading and listening to the materials of business leaders, I learned:

  • Value
  • Fulfillment
  • Strategy
  • Understanding

It is important to constantly self-assess and make corrections, so I have become very intimate with some of my weaknesses and continue to work on them. I’m not perfect (and I do not strive to be ‘perfect’, as it is an enemy to progress). However, in synthesis of many life lessons over the past 5 or 6 years, I did assemble this undeniably corny and oddly motivational acronym: CLAIM.

  • Contribute a healthy body of work to the human race by focusing on my strengths.
  • Leave a legacy for my decedents: Financially, ethically, philosophically, emotionally, intellectually, physically…
  • Appreciate the brief time I have and was granted; Do not waste time I did nothing to deserve.
  • Integrate my body and mind as fully as possible: exercise, meditation, self-awareness
  • Mend as many as possible by helping everyone defeat their struggles.

I think if I struggle in at least one of those themes in everything I do, I can die happy. Not everything will be a clear success, but as long as I incorporate CLAIM into each action, nothing shall be a complete failure. I will claim my life and help others in the process. Let’s see how it goes!

Podcasting Mini Milestone


EP005_card_aPhD (in Progress) Podcast Episode 5

Episode 5! A small but important milestone for me. They say “You haven’t made it until episode 10”, so we’re halfway there!
Also, this continues a major theme in our show, which is the important of self-direction and self-management.

There are plenty of resources out in the world geared towards professional development outside academia/grad school, and even a few focused on grad student issues. However, I think we provide the best show that captures the spirit of the (at least our collective) grad school experience. Sure Nikhil, Abigail, and I are a bit more STEM-centered, but we really do hope to reach out to others along the way.

It has been a lot of work and much fun putting together this show, so I’ll continue to work on it as much as I can in my “free” time. Episode 6 is already recorded and about to do part of 7 tomorrow. Keep pushing!

Science Fiction: An Inspiration


I’m the first to mention that I’m a huge nerd. Those silly 80s and 90s cartoons fueled my interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) even more than shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy or Mr. Wizard. What really got me excited was the prospect at participating in the development of the fantastical futuristic machines I saw in Transformers, Star Wars, and EXO-Squad. Just to aiding in the development of some helpful technology would mean success to the 9-year-old Jason.

Now, as I forge my own unique career path in bioengineering/tissue engineering, I am constantly analyzing my decisions. Thinking about the past too much gets one caught up in the webs. It’s way too easy for paralysis to trap my progress. As a graduate student on the edge cusp of earning his PhD, a piece of paper saying that I’ve spent 22+ years in school and made a little contribution to the body of human’s knowledge, I’m asked almost every day “What’s next?” When I mention that I’d like to help develop artificial limbs and/or organs, I inevitably end up launching into the brief story of my inspiration behind it.

And of course this reason is completely nerdy. One of the movies that really shMiles_Dyson_with_Original_Armaped the way I thought was… Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I was probably too young to watch it when I did and thankfully it did not ruin my life by creating an ultra-violent psychopath. What really gripped me was this scene: Dyson, a scientist/engineer (AND Black! I did not know at the age of 6 that this was considered rare) lead the creation of the tech that eventually lead to the human-hunting terminator machines. The “good” Terminator from the future, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger,  goes to Dyson’s house, sits down with the scientist and his wife, then… SLICES AND RIPS THE ARTIFICIAL FLESH FROM HIS ROBOTIC ENDOSKELETON! Oh man. I was fascinated. I got the chills. I still do when I see that. 1) It was freaking cool,  2) The scientist was able to see what his creation became, and 3) Seeing the robotic arm reminded me of a major current event that I was also too young to understand.

t2dThe Gulf War was wrapping up when I was in kindergarten. I really didn’t know what war meant. I knew our US soldiers were punishing bad guys with our “awesome” planes and weapons. Among all the types of footage I saw on TV, I remember only the night vision bombing videos and interviews with young men who returned home without arms and legs. That’s about it. “How cool it would be to make robot legs for these guys”. That’s all it took. During my particularly active childhood, I always thought about how our bodies moved while sparring with my brother. I always looked at the articulations in my fingers, hand, and wrist. Later in my high school Anatomy and Physiology class I learned the specialized joints between the radius and ulna allowed for the rotation (or “pronation” and “supination”, if you want to impress your friends). How machine-like our bodies are… it’s amazing.

This applies to our organs too, I began to understand. The highly specialized cells of the liver, brain, and skin, for example, all have specific functions. As I learned more biology throughout high school and college, I wanted to find out what caused cells to be different and how I, as a scientist in a lab, could push cells to become one type versus another. By delving into developmental biology, the study of how an organism is able to develop its distinct tissues and organs, I hoped to gain this knowledge. To a large degree, I have been successful. Now the scary part: what can I do to apply how nature deals with building specialized tissues to the development of products that can help people?

While I’m on my job hunt, I will do my best to remember what inspired me along the way.

If you ever do talk to me in person, you might notice pride when I talk about nerdery or geekdom. I’m always happy when others are able to celebrate what they enjoy and inform others about “topic x” as well. Some of my friends do the most amazing things because they are nerds. One nerd hacks together some of the coolest little computer programs and little machines because it’s fun for him. Another has spent so much time and energy inspiring the next generation to appreciate science. Another creates some of the most pleasing music I’ve ever had the chance to listen to. These people are inspiring. The people who dedicate the time to an art or practice they love. I always wonder what I would be dedicating my time to if I did not see Terminator at such an early age.

For the sake of everyone: be a nerd.

Start Recording: The PhD (in Progress) Podcast


Well friends,

I made a decision with my friend to start a podcast. After feeling left behind when I was not accepted into a certain program I was hoping to, I felt so down. Actually, I was angry. I never get angry but I was. I truly felt that I was an amazingly strong candidate who would return the investment 10-fold. This anger, however, turned into a new energy… an energy which reinforced my ambition, which had been lost in the day I was rejected.

As a life-long radio listener (well, close to 20 of 28 years) I was a quick podcast-adopter. After listening to such inspirational people like Dan Miller, Pat Flynn, and members of more “entertainment” style shows like IGN’s Game Scoop! and NPR’s Car Talk, I chose to start a podcast. What surprised me the most was how quickly this turned around.

I received the “bad news” March 17th.

I resolved to produce a podcast on March 20th.

I assembled a trio (including myself) of hosts, outlined a first episode, and came up with the name on March 30th. Purchased the domain two days later.

By April 8th, our first episode was published on iTunes! PhD (in Progress) Podcast aims to help former/current/future grad students improve their educations, careers, and lives. Grad students, PhD’s in particular, encounter somewhat unique experiences and obstacles, therefore our goal is to provide guidance and education.

I want to thank everyone who has been inspirational. I’m glad I got a mad. I’m glad I now have a podcast. When I was a young kid, I would have DIED to work on a radio show. Now I can make one in a room with my friends and I have spent under $200 doing so.

More importantly, this is a platform to help others. Nikhil, Abigail, and I can now reach out beyond our university, beyond our friends, and even beyond our continent. From April 8th to May 8th, we have had over 500 downloads across 4 episodes and each new installment increases the audience. I’m so happy to have the support of my friends and family to help hundreds of others.

As the three of us examine our graduate school experiences, we’ve seen that there are endless topics to discuss and countless stories to hear. Let’s try to collect some of those in our show!

My goals for the PhD (in Progress) Podcast:

  • Improve the PhD experience for everyone
  • Relate interesting stories
  • Discuss issues that are maybe a bit taboo or hushed
  • Help reform the idea of what being a grad student means


As I continue this project, I wish you luck in your pursuits. Keep rocking it.

Format Change, But Don’t Worry

I have not updated in a bit but I am definitely not sorry about it! There have been great triumphs in the last couple of months that I’d love to discuss:

1) I began wrapping up experiments and have since had my final committee meeting. The committee (i.e. the professors who help me throughout my grad school experience) have agreed that I can defend my thesis and graduate at some point in early September! As such, I’ve been running around scheming how to finish collecting and analyzing the

photo 1

data I need to in order to submit my first-authored paper.

2) I launched a podcast and associated website called PhDinProgress.com . This has personally been very challenging for me. I have been a life-long radio fan and it’s almost mind blowing that I can now record an episode each day from my own apartment. Podcasting has made this possible. What is the most challenging is putting together formats for each episode and practicing my public speaking. I am in no way a natural speaker: I stumble over my words often and am not the most eloquent. However, this venture outside of my comfort zone has already proven very helpful in my personal growth.

3) Finally, I have seriously begun my career search. Part of this has been chronicled in the PhD (in Progress) Podcast but much of it will remain private until the search is done. Regardless, I look forward to what my life has in store for me. I’ve spent 22+ years in school, so I’m very ready for the next chapter. I am also ready for this new job to be yet another opportunity for me to grow professionally and personally.


Because of all of these factors, I decided that this blog will become more of personal blog for my friends, family, and those who share my mindset or are interested in my views. The professional/career growth material will be shared on PhDinProgress.com , where you can also find my podcast. The contents of this blog will likely be migrated to JasonMcSheene.com as a dedicated site to my thoughts and interests of all sorts. There I will keep track of my personal PhD experience, personal anecdotes, and commentary on different religions/faiths which I am learning about (one of my favorite topics)! I’m excited, so pardon the dust as things begin to move around and migrate. It’ll be worth it.




Crafting the Perfect Presentation: A Failure

Getting pied in the face for charity. (It's a lot like getting pied in the face for not-charity)

Getting pied in the face for charity. (It’s a lot like getting pied in the face for not-charity)

Not long ago, a former colleague who is currently teaching at another university in NJ invited me to give a guest lecture. At first, I was incredibly honored then instantly scared. Who am I, a lowly graduate student, to give a talk to a university genetics class? I struggled to frame the type of talk I would give, never having given an hour-long lecture before. Iteration after iteration of my outlines then slides yielded the perfectly sculpted talk. It put into context human genetics, human disease, and transitioned beautifully into my specific field of study, which is left-right patterning in the zebrafish model. All my hard work on this presentation gave me the confidence to be that super smart scientist in the front of the room, defeating all the 40-layer deep Imposter Syndrome I typically suffer. Skillfully I summarize my talk and thank my colleagues. “Questions, anyone?”

“NO!” screamed the silence of the room, composed of 2 or 3 biology professors, fewer than a dozen students, and a math professor who had an hour to kill. The content went way over their heads. The students hadn’t quite learned about transcription (how RNA is made from a DNA template) yet when my whole talk displayed data in the form of photos marking where RNA was in my multitude of normal and mutant embryos. The professors asked a couple of helpful questions but I had failed. I thought my content was perfect but what the audience could have really used was a presentation discussing the basics I take for granted.
Science nerds like me need to remember that the knowledge of which we are exploring the frontier is not always the science we need to communicate. I know, I know, it’s so cool and interesting and there is hardly anything else in the world worth studying. However, after all the education we’ve gained, we have so much worth sharing. Try to be there for the audience, not yourself.
It really wasn’t a huge disaster or anything, but it did help shape my expectations for myself and my audience. As they say, don’t worry about making mistakes but don’t make the same one twice.

Do you have any particularly memorable fails or awkward moments that you thought were going to be your time to shine?

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