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The Graduate Student Education Committee seeks to raise the level of awareness of graduate education at McGovern Medical School with the goal of contributing to the long range development of the student and ultimately, the early career researcher. In conjunction with the MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Committee fosters and encourages the creation of educational and networking opportunities.

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Springtime Gardening April 1, 2014

by Germaine Agollah, PhD Candidate, Immunology Graduate Program, Center for Molecular Imaging, Institute of Molecular Medicine

Spring is finally here! Usually at this time of the year, I get to indulge in one of my favorite hobbies: gardening. I’m especially excited this year because Houston was colder than usual as we had a semblance of a winter season. There is something soothing, maybe even primal, about getting my hands dirty and nurturing plant life throughout the season. It is one the best stress reliefs with the added bonus that I get to create something that I enjoy most of the year, weather permitting of course. More often than not, it is my decompressing time, a quiet activity that takes my mind away from the rigors of graduate school.

You don’t need to be an avid gardener nor have a green thumb to enjoy gardening. If you don’t have a backyard, a few houseplants or potted plants on your apartment balcony will do the trick. A quick trip to the garden center of a home improvement store will have the necessary tools to start your garden: potting mix, fertilizer, planters, seed or transplants, gardening gloves, cultivators, pruning shears or shovels. If you are new to this and don’t know how to get started, there are plenty of web resources that are available. For example, the farmer’s almanac has good information on the basics of starting a vegetable garden. Life on the balcony has great DIY ideas, including how to make your own decorative containers. Another local source of inspiration is the Japanese Garden at Hermann Park that includes a tea garden and a stroll garden.

Taking up gardening as a hobby typically begins with deciding what kind of garden you want: herbs, flowers or vegetables. The easiest are herb and flower gardening and are great options for beginners since they are low maintenance. With flower gardening, there are two options when choosing plants: annuals that last one season and will need to be replanted or perennials that survive through the winter and come back the following year. Another consideration is the type of look you are striving for, whether you want to mix different plants for a more colorful bloom, growing both flowers and vegetables or one versus the other. However there are some common pitfalls that come with gardening which should be avoided. Like most things, moderation works best: overwatering, overcrowding plants in a small space or using too much fertilizer will unfortunately kill your plants. There are many payoffs of a well nurtured garden, whether you just want to enjoy a beautiful seasonal bloom, healthy harvest from your herbs and vegetables or even if gardening is simply a way to relax after a long work week.

As graduate students, our pendulum typically swings from endless experiments, to negative or uninterpretable data, to panicking about the next committee meeting. We are in need of different ways to unplug and relax, so consider gardening as your next hobby. Get out of the lab, enjoy this beautiful weather we are having and take time to smell the roses, literally.