your girl has a masters degree!

Behold, my posse from the past 2.5 years of getting educated!

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For some reason they opted to hold my graduation ceremony in the most poorly-lit area ever, so there are virtually no good pictures. Fortunately, there are lots of excellent memories, hahaha, so this will be a tell-don’t-show post, for the most part. (Can you spot me? I’m center-left, striped dress, head down).

OK, yes, let’s address the fact that I had high hopes of blogging eagerly through my NICU internship but I just… didn’t? It wasn’t like I was crazy busy- my days had a fairly consistent pattern of work-gym-Netflix (Monday-Thursday), then Friday-Sunday I was back in Carrboro doing Carrboro things (and working from home on Friday on data analysis which WHOO IS JUST A TREAT).

But anyway, I didn’t, and that’s the long and short of it. But now I’m in a brain space where I’d like to reflect on the fact that WHOA GUYS I HAVE A MASTERS DEGREE. (And I did a lot to get it, which will be my next post).

Here’s the moment in which I crossed the (again, poorly lit) stage to be pinned, by my lovely professor Amanda. The pin has the seal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics which has like 10,000 symbols on it, all of which symbolize something important about my new profession.

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In the back you can see the title of my master’s paper. People did all kinds of cool things for their masters papers including:

  • a media content analysis of lead poisoning in Flint, MI
  • a study of nutrition education (or rather, the lack thereof) in medical schools and how to improve this in the future so doctors can better aid their patients in improving their nutrition and thus lowering their nutrition-related disease outcomes
  • a case study of hepatocyte autophagy (basically, liver cells eating themselves out of starvation) in a patient with anorexia
  • an analysis of the nutrition environment in the Dominican Republic (my badass classmate Taylor is actually moving there this year to start a nutrition program for Kids Alive, a nonprofit for which she’s been volunteering for years)
  • a literature review of artificial sweeteners in patients with diabetes

As for little old me, I helped my preceptor create a manuscript for a study she did. Basically, we looked at very low birth weight infants (VLBW= less than 1500 grams at birth, or about 3.3 lbs) and wanted to see whether getting breast milk improved their brain development.

We looked at the proportion of human milk they got in their feedings (in other words, babies could get 0% human milk- babies who were fully formula fed- or 100% human milk- babies whose moms were absolute heroes and managed to pump enough that their NICU babies got all maternal breast milk- or somewhere between those two things.

Past studies have looked at volume of human milk babies got (in milliliters [well actually in mL/kg/day but that is not meaningful to yall so lets just say milliliters]), but the problem with that is that teeny teeny tiny babies (like 23 weekers, some of which we had in our hospitals) obviously get teeny teeny tiny feedings (we start them as low as 1 mL every three hours. 8 mL a day. To give you some context, 30 mL is an ounce. 6 mL is a teaspoon). And teeny teeny babies tend to have a tougher time of it and are more likely to have adverse outcomes. And unfortunately are also more likely to have impaired brain development as a result.

So our study looked to see whether even babies who got teeny teeny amounts of feedings showed a difference in brain development if they got human milk for those feedings.

And the babies got tested using something called the Bayley Scales of Infant Development when they were between 1 1/2 and 2 years old. And that showed their mental and physical development.

And long and short of it the answer to whether human milk affected development was:

  • maybe?
  • but it may be more likely to be affected by other things related to moms who give human milk (moms who give breast milk are more educated, less likely to be on Medicaid, more likely to be white with all the social privilege that entails, etc. etc.) which also help improve brain development (educated moms may put more into their infants’ education, wealthier families have more time/money to devote to helping their babies’ mental development, etc.)
  • and it may also be related to the babies’ gestational age- in other words, were they born at 24 weeks? 34 weeks? BIG DIFFERENCE in terms of brain growth.
  • and our sample size was really small, unfortunately, so true differences were tough to tell
  • but an interesting tangent is that when you excluded babies who from the moment of birth showed that they already might have had some brain impairments (they had a low Apgar score, they had a brain bleed), or babies who got really sick in the NICU (they got necrotizing enterocolitis, or a brain bleed, or chronic lung disease) that human milk makes more of a difference. In other words, while moms of the smallest and sickest babies get beat over their heads that their milk is liquid gold and they should do everything they can to get as much of it as they can into their babies, IN FACT it may be just as important, and in fact more important, for moms whose babies look healthier on the outside to get that human milk. Because those are the babies in which it can make a big difference in their brain development.

Anyway, more on the NICU to come.

First, let’s discuss my graduation party, which was SO NICE! I especially lovvvvved that card at left from my aunt Kathy and uncle Tom. In the front of the table you can see my fancy pin. And see that Carolina blue book? This was PRECIOUS- my friend Sam, who’s a returned Peace Corps volunteer, told us that she and her Peace Corps buddies had created their own yearbook to commemorate their experiences. She suggested we all do the same for grad school and of course we loved that idea! So we did pics, and superlatives, and it was all very silly and fun.

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As for the party itself, most of my school buddies had already skipped town, so it was mostly my friends from outside of the program, as well as family! My mom came down for graduation, Malindi came, my aunt Michele came, and my cousin Sophia and her husband Mike and their sweet baby nugget came! All parties should have babies 😀

In the future, I definitely want my mom to come down to NC and cohost all of my parties because everything ran so beautifully with her help!

For awhile we were contemplating getting it catered but then I decided I just wanted all the tasty things from Trader Joe’s, so that’s what I did.

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  • Lots of wine
  • Lots of cheese
  • Tempura shrimp
  • Mini samosas
  • mushroom tartlets
  • various dips
  • various carbs to dip into various dips

And of course the dessert department, which included these:

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My godmother and dietitian mentor, Teresa, is the coolest. She was the one who taught me dietitians can and should eat like normal human beings (not restrictive psychos, as, alas, so many seem to be). And she introduced me to the greatest recipe for chocolate chip cookies in the land, which I can share for all who need it. Key components include ground up oatmeal for part of the flour, and an EXTREMELY high ratio of chocolate to batter.

Anyway, everyone enjoyed the cookies and it was just a lovely party. My friends brought their two year old who was clad in the most adorable little red velvet dress with white faux-fur trim and looked like a sweet Christmas elf. My other friend’s dad enthusiastically joined in our discussion of feral cats. My friend Shaylen who has an MPH of her own geeked out with me about the statistical drama of my paper.

And because I’m rubbish of taking pictures of people, I lack any of those from the graduation party. I can, however, recount some delicious eats throughout the graduation weekend.

I was unfortunately recovering from a rather horrifying bout of food poisoning the night before my paper presentation (so fun right?!) so I didn’t have much booze, which was probably a blessing in disguise 😉 But I ate tasty food!

The night after our graduation ceremony, my mom treated me, sis, and sis’s boyf to an amazing meal at Glassshalffull. We just got small plates and shared (I’m having to describe this so I remember the meal, which I was too giddy and disoriented to photograph after the rush of the graduation ceremony):

  • COCA: crisp Spanish flatbread with caramelized onions, goat cheese, preserved figs, shallot, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, and arugula 
  • CARAMELIZED ENDIVE AND BUTTERNUT SQUASH SALAD: granny smith apples, feta cheese, toasted hazelnuts, and radicchio served over mixed greens with a maple shallot vinaigrette
  • MINI LOBSTER ROLLS: Maine lobster salad on three warm, herb buttered house-made rolls  
  • ROASTED LOCAL ROOT VEGETABLE HASH with a Turkish spice blend, brown butter, preserved lemon, and sunflower shoots
  • SAVORY N.C. CORN CAKE served with a mixed pepper and corn chow chow, cilantro basil crème fraîche, and a frisée radicchio salad

It was SO GOOD!

Then Malindi and I both got dessert, a sticky toffee pudding for her and a Mexican chocolate budino for me that was so rich, so intense, I wanted to weep with joy.

Saturday, the day after graduation and the day of my party I was rather nonchalant about things so my mom and I went to Hillsborough for a bit of fun Christmas shopping and I took her for a tasty lunch. I got a soup, and this salad which was so delicious I later recreated it for Christmas dinner (details forthcoming).

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Then we went to Matthew’s Chocolates, and my mom got me this rather life-changing confection which had spices and sesame seeds and crystallized ginger and was just outrageously good.

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So a final note is that throughout all these festivities I had my wonderful friend and classmate Camille staying with me on and off, and we had so much fun! Taking the bus to campus together for presentations, sitting around talking in our jammies.

On the last day of her visit, Sunday, we walked to my fave coffee shop together and then bought huevos rancheros from the dimey food truck operators outside. It was nice having a little detachment period where I got to reflect with a friend who’d just gone through the same stuff I did about what was coming next for us, and what was exciting, and what was scary. Also, it’s a real bummer that a sizeable chunk of my friend group has left town, so it was nice getting a few extra days with her before she took off too.

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So that’s the celebrating. More posts to come about how I got there!

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