Category: Living

Living at UIC: res halls (dorms), food, getting around campus.

Feeling Comfortable In Your Genes

I don’t have a TV, so I tend to fill my time with news (the NY Times is my chosen source most of the time) and other things of interest like podcasts (if you’ve never heard of Radiolab, it’s worth checking out) and a group of YouTube videos from a series of conferences called TED.

In a nutshell, the TED conferences get the smartest minds in the world together in one place to hear experts in any number of fields talking about pretty much anything.  Below are two of my favorites: The professional opera singer with idiopathic pulmonary hypertension (a progressive disease where the lungs stiffen for unknown reasons) and the Harvard neuroanatomist who has a stroke and lives to tell about the experience.

TED Talk: After a Lung Transplant: An Aria

TED Talk: My Stroke of Insight

And while things like this may sound esoteric, the lectures – which usually average around 15 minutes in length – never fail to inspire me to think, question, and wonder.  And rightly so, considering that the mantra of the series is “Ideas worth spreading.”  Hence: today’s post.

Several weeks ago I watched a TED talk about the future of medicine, given by a well-establish physician from Boston.  This doctor had recently gotten his DNA analyzed by a company called 23andme (, and was convinced that this new-found accessibility to our own specific make-up would fundamentally change the way we treat disease.  The fact is, the incredible advances in genetic technology over the past decades have made DNA analysis available at a price point low enough to be accessible to the average person, something which Watson and Crick could have only dreamed of when first pontificating about the nature of DNA.  If used properly, this technology can be a powerful tool, not only for medicine, but for getting to know ourselves more completely as humans.

I say that because not only did this analysis give the doctor details about predispositions for certain diseases, or other characteristics that are genetically linked; it also gave him detailed information about his ancestry, dating back eons, which helped connect him with others in the online community of people who had also used gotten their DNA analyzed, and who were genetically similar.

So, in a moment of complete geek nirvana, I looked into the site myself, and, given the endorsement in the TED talk, figured it was legit enough to warrant spending the $100 for the analysis. I had been sitting on some money I’d earned from a piano-playing gig for some time, and figured that this was as good a reason as any to spend it.

So I registered, and 2 days later received my sample collection kit in the mail – really no more than a specialized spit-collection tube with some liquid preservative – and donated a hefty sample of saliva (they do the DNA analysis on cells found in spit that have naturally sloughed off from your cheeks, so it’s completely painless).  I then shipped the kit back and waited the perfunctory 6 weeks for the results.

Earlier this week they finally came in.

Having what I’d say is a solid base of knowledge in genetics, I must say that the company does a very good job presenting the information on a number of different levels, so that it’s understandable to both the lay-person who barely knows what DNA is, and to a geneticist (or doctor-in-training) who can appreciate the details of the analytic techniques and scientific evidence behind the results.  That said, what I found was completely unexpected and fascinating.

To track maternal lineage (i.e. the ancestors from your mom, maternal grandmother, maternal great grandmother, etc) they use something called mitochondrial DNA, which is only inherited from the mother.  This is different from any other piece of DNA in your cells (located on your chromosomes), in which some comes from the mother, some from the father. That said, because this mitochondrial DNA comes only from the mother, it offers a way to continuously backtrack and look for differences in this type of DNA which suggest differences in origins.  For instance, certain patterns of mitochondrial DNA are seen almost exclusively in Sub-Saharan Africa, while others are prevalent in certain parts of Asia, the Americas, etc.  In essence, knowing your specific type of maternal/mitochondrial DNA means knowing genetically where your ancestors came from.

For me, this turned out to be a surprise.  Although I know the most recent generations of my mother’s family came from Europe (I had always been told Lithuania), the genetic analysis showed patterns associated with recent ties to the Middle East, most commonly seen in populations of Saudi’s, Yemeni’s, and  Ethiopian Jews.  This specific pattern is markedly rare in Europe, which I found odd until I came upon the caveat that this specific genetic marker is also found in a small number (about 3%) of Ashkenazi Jews, the ethnic branch of Judaism usually associated with the European continent.  I always knew that I was an Ashkenazi Jew, but always assumed that it was of some non-descript Eastern-European subset.  What this data suggests, though, is that my ancestors have the most recent ties to the Middle East out of the Ashkenazi ethnic group, and are genetically more closely related to the peoples of the Arabian peninsula than those of the European continent, something I found completely fascinating.  My vanity also make me wonder if that’s the reason I seldom get sunburns and tan easily… but then again, maybe I’m stretching.

You can read the full report and learn more about mitochondrial DNA here.

Regardless, this information gave me an interesting sense of self-awareness with regards to my cultural roots, as well as my place within the human species a whole.  Furthermore, stepping back and looking at the diagram geneticists use to map this type of information, the common ancestors and inter-linkage make me wonder why we are so quick to jump to divisive measures, when we are all so closely related.

Look for next week’s post on the medical aspects of the analysis, and in the mean time check out the TED videos linked above, and the full report on my maternal DNA pattern (haplotype).


**I have no financial ties or vested interest in 23andme, and did not receive any incentive for including their company in this post**

“Think Globally, Act Locally”


A busy past few weeks it’s been– went kayaking, played intramural basketball, studying for exams, while supervising JST Staff and DJ for Krome Radio.

Kayaking vintage photo before departing for the 6-mile trip

Kayaked down Chicago River. Enjoying the evening view before watching the Navy Pier Fireworks

Another exciting seminar I went too, Dr. Brundtland travels to UIC to raise awareness for global climate change and how to move towards a brighter, secure, and more sustainable future.

Former Director General of the World Health Organization, Prime Minister of Norway, and now serves the United Nations for the Special Envoy for Climate Change, Dr. Brundtland

She emphasized taking a more proactive role locally in helping global sustainability, putting forward research and funding and opening roadways to allow policies that will help achieve a greener future.

Top 3: Tips to Survive Exam Week

3. Make your schedule revolve around studying
Always put your schoolwork first. Work, hanging out, fun activities, etc. can always wait. Grades first!
2.  Survival of the Fittest
It’s important eat and rest well. In addition, get as much help as you can get to give you an edge on the exam– Office Hours, Study Groups, etc.
1. Sleep!
     Pulling “all-nighters” are very dangerous. What’s the point of studying late, if you can’t think straight. A rhyme I learned during ROTC.

Thank you for reading and I’ll catch you next week!


QUESTION OF THE WEEK: If you had one movie to bring to a deserted island, what would it be?

ANSWER FROM LAST WEEK: I would play Call of Duty with my idol.

TOPIC NEXT WEEK: Top 3 Chicago Events to Look Forward to This Fall!








Excited for Some Quality Dr. Who

My brother is coming home for the weekend, which means I can catch up on Dr. Who and continue working on our iiclothing stuff! Even though each day this past week felt so long, the week actually went by crazy fast and it makes me wonder how I’ll feel by the time I’m done with school and having my own family (well, if I ever do haha)!

My mom went to Taiwan Wednesday to go see her family. I never really thought about what it would be like to have your family in a whole different country (immediate family) and you with your spouses family like your whole life. In the Asian studies class, it was pretty common and I’m sure it’s still common today where the woman basically is brought into the man’s household and the woman’s family loses her as an asset. It must be really sad for her because the only family she has here through blood is my brother and I. Well, I hope she has a good time there and makes them feel more at ease.

Hmm…there’s nothing going on besides the fact that I have exams coming up again (ahhh!). I’m worried, but not that worried. Weird. I met my WISE mentee Tuesday and we have a lot in common! I can’t wait to see her next week so we can talk more. It’s fun being a mentor, although sometimes it can be a little tough if you’re only a year older than if you were two years older. With age comes experience I guess.

Sorry for the brief post! My brain is all over the place because there’s just so much to do and think about. I would complain, but there are so many more things that could be worse. Taking a step back always makes me appreciate things more than before. Ack. October already? My goodness.

Teenage Patients, Personal Hurdles: A Week on Adolescent Medicine

It wasn’t THAT long ago that I was a teenager… at least it doesn’t feel like it… or at least it didn’t used to.  But this week, counseling teens on the adolescent medicine service, I feel like I’m really starting to show my age.

The idea behind adolescent medicine, which as a field is very young, is to address the issues, both medical and psychosocial, that can affect a young adult’s health, all the while trying to establish a positive patient-doctor relationship such that they don’t fear coming to the doctor in the future.  It’s a novel concept, and is admirable for a number of reasons, top among them being the incredible amount of time and personalized attention each teen gets.  The average interview lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and focuses on elements of the patient’s life that are seldom addressed in other fields of medicine.  And this is with good reason, as honest discussions early on about a number of health topics such as contraception, substance abuse, eating habits, depression, etc. can have a significant impact later on.

The difficulty, however – especially for a medical student— is being the one to start these discussions, only to then walk a fine line between compassionate professional and concerned peer.  Admittedly, there are points when the conversation completely consumes me, momentarily taking me back to the mindset I had when I was their age.  But then I snap out of it, and find myself wanting to give advice, all the while constantly fearing that I will sound like I’m lecturing them.  At the risk of oversimplifying the matter, being the one wearing the white coat is intense.

After all, many of us did things in our youth that would/may have been advised against by a medical professional or other authority figure at the time, and it’s hard to embrace the hypocrisy and assume that authoritative role.  Sometimes you want to yell at them; sometimes you want to laugh and dismiss an issue that doesn’t seem all that significant, because you’ve been through something similar, and well, you turned out alright, didn’t you?; and sometimes you just want to hug them and share parts of yourself as freely as they are doing with you.

But at the same time there is that distance and professional decorum that you have to maintain.  You have to remain calm, because a lecture is seldom as effective as a discussion; you have to take every issue seriously, because different context means that what was insignificant for you may be life-altering for them; and although compassion is good and necessary, it ultimately can’t be so excessive that it impairs your objectivity in treating them.

Anyone who made it through the rigors of high school and lived to tell about it knows that the extremes of adolescence are just that: extreme.  And as if it weren’t exhausting to go through the first time, it’s just as tiring to experience through these young patients.  To make sense of why they’re behaving a certain way or understand exactly what they’re thinking I have to suspend the logical reasoning, introspection, and foresight that I’ve garnered over the past several years of adulthood and put myself in their hormonally-charged, peer-influenced, teenage shoes for a hot minute.  Unfortunately, this takes a lot more effort than I ever would have guessed, and has led me to the disconnect that I mentioned at the beginning of the post.   I may be the closest one to their age in the office, I’ve never been more keenly aware of the fact that I’m no longer a teenager.  I guess the title of student doctor is finally starting to shift more towards the “doctor” part… I mean, it was bound to happen at some point, right?

Bye September– Hello October!!

Hey Flames!!

Activities are rocking the Quad on East Campus. Just like the one below of UIC Concert Band.

Director David Morrison and the UIC Concert Band

An exciting event in Campus Housing titled Waka Wake Guac N’ Talk where UIC Honors College where invited to interact with residents in James Stukel Towers’s Tower Lounge B.

Dean of Honors College Bette Bottoms, Faculty in Residence Brandon Valeriano, and JST Residents

So here is my article based on bathrooms I’ve been to on campus.

Top 3: Awesome Bathrooms in UIC No One Knows About 

3. UIC Student Organization’s Bathroom (SCE 3rd Floor)
It’s just an overall nice bathroom.

2. Basement Bathroom for Courtyard’s Atrium
This bathroom is best know for it’s privacy. Not many students know of it’s existence and it’s conveniently placed next to the Residence Hall Association office.

1. JST Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Bathrooms
The bathroom is so big you can literally fit a bunk bed. Some showers include a seat and a shower head with huge cabinets.

This week’s question of the week comes from Krome Radio. Tune in to me and DJ Rome 8-10pm!
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What video game will you play with your favorite idol?

ANSWER FROM LAST WEEK: Approximately 27,000 attend UIC of which 3,800 live on campus.

TOPIC NEXT WEEK: Top 3: Tips to Survive Exam Week

Not Sure What to Title This Week

Each week at UIC is jam-packed with so many events it’s hard to catalog them all here, although a glimpse of my phone calendar might scare people. For brevity’s sake, I’d rate my performance in school with a B+/A- so far (although after that organic chemistry test, it might shoot down a bit). Bleh that test was so intimidating. I think if we had more time in class I could have worked out at least one solid answer for each problem, I mean come on, we had to draw a fischer projection of glucose! Yeesh.

My other classes have been okay. I did one point lower than the average score in cell biology, which was disappointing so I am going to study a lot harder on the new material for the second exam. For some reason I tend to do better on the harder biology tests (for most biology classes here, the first test is always the easiest to popular belief). I think I tend to do dramatically better because I freak out about failing the class with a B so I study extra hard. For sure I’m going to pick up my game with organic chemistry because my quiz tests are outrageously nasty.

Tuesday was SFP Induction for the new members, mainly freshmen. I had to dress up that day and it felt so weird wearing a skirt. I guess I enjoyed some of the attention, but I would much prefer sticking to my t-shirt and jeans look! Haha, I should really get with my feminine side…anyway, the induction went really well and a lot of people signed up for HAC (Health Activism Committee) which I lead for the spring semester. Since we have so many people interested, though, I think I might just start this fall semester too! I’m so excited that so many people want to work with me and go to high schools to inform students about health topics like drugs/alcohol and nutrition. It’s going to be so much fun, hehe. Although, I really got to get the logistical things down ASAP. I also have to edit the banner for SFP because we changed our theme (which I came up with mwahahhaha) and just a load of other things for HAC.

I went to the dermatologist for a check-up and looks like the best option for me to decrease my eczema flare-ups and allergies would be getting allergy shots. I’ve heard of the concept before and I’m really excited because the medical student who was in rotation (there’s always three people who examine me: resident dermatologist, medical student observer, and the actual dermatologist) said he got it and his condition improved so much. Apparently allergy shots are the closest thing to a cure for allergies. I just hope it’s not too expensive…luckily CampusCare makes things really cheap. Normally my co-pay for the dermatologist in the suburbs would be $30-$50 dollars but at UIC it’s only $10. Best insurance ever.

So behind MRH is basically a huge outdoor gym where you can play tennis or baseball etc. I decided I needed to get my butt off the couch from studying and exercise! I eat right and all but it’s still not considered healthy if I’m not active. I guess walking from class to class does something, but not as much as running each day. I usually don’t exercise much because my eczema gets really bad, even though in high school I was always in a sport (I miss basketball the most and regret not doing it sophomore-senior year). But maybe if I take it slow and build-up a routine to exercise, I’ll start to like it and maybe the endorphins will help block out the pain or itchiness from eczema. I’m going to run once a week Thursday evenings with my roommate and hopefully start to increase the amount of days overtime (erm, that plan might fail if it starts snowing actually).

I’m going home for the weekend and I’ll probably just study like a monster. I have so many things to coordinate and plan. Can you believe October is coming up? That means I will be turning 19 soon. Eek.

Krome Radio!!!

Happy Thursday UIC!!

You feel the breeze this morning!! It’s turning into Fall!!

Last week was our kick-off show for UIC Krome Radio! I’m honored to DJ with the legendary Rome as we lead Krome into Season 3 to listeners everywhere!!

In case you missed it– Krome Radio plays a variety of popular Asian music, such as K, C, and J-Pop. Each show has an awesome theme so get pumped for our guest and events. Krome goes live from 8-10pm every Thursday on UIC Radio so stay tuned! (

First UIC Radio DJ meeting of the year. Hosts and DJs from all different programs.

As I promised, here’s my Top 3: Things Not To Eat During Class
(And yes, these are based on true stories) 

3. Chips and Sub Sandwich
Yes, I can hear the crunch from the chips and the crinkly wrapper sound from your delicious sub sandwich
2. Sushi
I love sushi. However, I can smell that and the soy sauce from across the lecture hall.
1. Burrito
If it’s falling apart and getting messy to the point its all over your notes, then I’m sure you’ll impress the professor.

–That’s all folks, Darren out!

TOPIC NEXT WEEK:  Top 3: Awesome UIC Bathrooms That No One Knows About 

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: How many students attend UIC this year?

I Miss Chompy

Chompy on the Rock

I caught him basking on his favorite rock. Unfortunately he is getting too big to fit below it.

I went home last weekend and visited my family as well as my baby Chompy. He’s gotten so much bigger, probably two or three inches in diameter! The tank looks a lot smaller now, and I want to upgrade him into a more spacious living quarter, but my dad says there’s no place to put a tank like that in the house, even though we have plenty of bigger sized tanks. My dad wants me to let him go and be free, which of course is where turtles should be…but he’s so young! Winter will come soon (this morning was seriously forty degrees) and he’d be defenseless. Perhaps next summer I will, but not now. =(

This week has been fair. I had my cell biology exam and it was easier than I thought it would be, but not that easy that I could do it in my sleep. It just required insanely careful reading of each question, and I mean insanely. I’ll probably get a B or barely an A. Now, all I have to worry and study my butt off for is organic chemistry! The exam is only a few days away and it won’t be an easy one at all.

There’s nothing too much going on besides the SFP Induction ceremony on Tuesday, which I have to talk near the end! I’m not too good with public speaking. I recently got paired with a mentee from the WISE Mentoring Program, so that was awesome. She e-mailed me and right now we are figuring out a time to see each other. Luckily, she lives on campus and we are in walking distance so making time should be easy.

Hmm, nothing else besides that. I took a picture of my USB that I use when I go to the machine for qPCR when I do research.

qPCR machine from research

I got the Hello Kitty charm for my USB from my friend that I met in the Taiwan volunteer trip.

Man, that machine has made me angry lately. Sometimes it doesn’t work, or sometimes someone comes late and takes up your some of your time slot so you end up waiting longer than you thought you would. It costs $20 each time I go, and an hour and a half of waiting time. Research can be tedious.


Research is crazy expensive too. I use this when I do qPCR and one of these 5mL bottles cost over $300!

I’m almost done watching “Hi, My Sweetheart.” It’s so good I just keep crying in every episode near the end! Ahh I will need to get a tissue box for the last two episodes left, I’m sure. Oh, and is anyone bothered by the sudden change in weather? I am indifferent for some reason. I like the cold because I like wearing more clothing to cover my skin, but at the same time it’s not very pleasant when you walk out and immediately start shivering! Brrrrrr.

Postponing Article


Unfortunately, I am unable to provide this week’s article as I am at a hospital helping my dad recover from an illness.

In addition, a tribute to 9/11 this weekend I wish to pay respects to those who have passed and to salute those serving our nation in a time of need.

Thank you all and god bless,
-Darren Ujano

Already Anticipating the End

I know it seems a bit too early to be thinking about next semester and the summer following that since we just started school, but I think I have already gotten so routine with my schedule right now that the time will pass by even faster than I imagine. I mean, we get out in December and that’s only three months away!

Smiley Cut

One of my eczema patches on my hands looked like a smiley. It was both entertaining and itchy to me. It's healed now though...

I had my nutrition exam this past week, and it was pretty easy. I think she made it that way so we could get used to the questions, but regardless of her intentions I hope I do well in the future tests if they are like this.

My cell biology exam is Thursday, and I need to study insanely hard for it! We had a quiz this past Tuesday and it caught everyone completely off guard. You would expect the quiz to be a multiple choice or short answer type format about the material we covered, but it was not even close! We were given the abstract and first paragraph of a research article, and from that information we had to design an experiment and explain why it would work. Miraculously I got 5/6 on that quiz (more like free-response essay), but if I did not do research on campus and did not have journal club with my research lab, I would have probably gotten a 0/6. Application of the things we learn is so crucial, so I guess I was kind of excited she gave us such a quiz to keep me on my toes, but at the same time I was terrified I would not have answered the prompt correctly.

Eek. I don’t even want to think about organic chemistry! I get the majority of the iClicker questions correct on lecture, and it all makes sense during lecture, but when it comes time to be on my own and understand the material, I get a little lost. The organic chemistry exam is four days after my cell biology exam, which I pray is enough time for me to really nail the material, but whatever happens I’ll be sure to practice more problems in this subject! Oh chemistry you will be the death of me.

Anyway, to keep things a little more happier, I went downtown yesterday with a bunch of AAMP (Asian American Mentor Program) people. Of course, I’m not in the program, but it wasn’t an official outing so anyone was welcome to join. There were a lot of us though! Eventually the group just split up, and I went with some close friends to Chipotle, and then FreshBerry, and finally a quick stop to Jimmy Johns (I’m a hungry one). I was sad Jimmy Johns ran out of their 50-cent bread. That was really the only thing I wanted…ah oh well.

Jazz in the CTA

When you're waiting for the CTA, there's almost always someone performing music! I think I've seen this Jazz guy perform all over downtown.

FreshBerry Froyo

I got split a large Green Apple Frozen Yogurt with my friend. It looked a lot prettier before we indulged in it...but here's a glimpse! I put gummy bears, rainbow mochi, and kiwi for my toppings.

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