Fallen Leaf Lake at dawn
Fallen Leaf Lake at dawn. Photo: Dan Starr/UC Davis

2022 MCB Training Program Retreat at Fallen Leaf Lake

Fallen Leaf Lake
Fallen Leaf Lake: blue sky, conifers, clear clear water, willows, cobbles. Photo: Arielle Hancko/UC Davis.

After nearly two months of editing our NSF GRFP essays, all five of the 2022-23 PREP scholars finally submitted our applications and immediately packed into cars and drove east to Fallen Leaf Lake.

We spent the weekend of October 14th-16th at the highly anticipated Molecular and Cellular Biology T32 Retreat. We'd been told that we would hear science talks from graduate students in the training program, network with other students and faculty, and explore the lake (situated about 1 mile from Lake Tahoe). 

The retreat took place at the Stanford Sierra Conference Center, an array of cabins surrounding a main building with a spacious dining hall overlooking the lake and multiple conference rooms. The designers really went all-out here and every room has design elements reflecting the mountains and lake. The stair railing brackets are shaped like trees, the lampshades create silhouettes of pine cones, the baseboards are carved into rolling waves, the windows span floor to ceiling to offer unobstructed views of the lake. Each meal was incredible. Several of us were also thrilled to discover that there was a seemingly endless supply of tea, apple cider packets, and hot water throughout the day [...but Dan, did they stock enough coffee for you?? -- Ed.]. 

The first night we got settled into our cabins, met and ate dinner with several first year PhD students, and listened to science talks then a poster session while we adjusted to the significantly colder temperatures and higher elevation.

Crystal Rogers selfie with scholars
A dry Johnny with a lab mate and their research mentor, Dr. Crystal Rogers. Photo: Crystal Rogers/UC Davis

The following morning began with a cold shock as we jumped in the lake at 7am. Johnny and Alex actually jumped in twice since Kiya and Arielle got there at 7:05 [yes, that's right: most of the cohort braved the frigid waters, while Director Emeritus Dan* has NEVER done this. -- Ed.][*Plenty of coffee, and still haven’t jumped in the lake in 20 years. I’m impressed Arielle did it multiple times! -- Dan]. While the air temperature was in the 30s, the water stayed at a wonderful 60 F. The water was clear and glassy at such an early time, it was a fantastic start to the day. Breakfast followed, then several hours of science talks, then lunch where PREP scholars sat with Dr. Aldrin Gomes, who kept us captivated with his stories and advice regarding graduate school and beyond.

The afternoon was free time and we really made the most of it. We started with kayaking and paddle boarding. Angel and Johnny tried kayaking for the first time, and Johnny got a lot of unanticipated practice of re-entering a kayak after flipping. We went along the shore and looked at the surroundings while Alex kayaked laps around the rest of us. We then jumped off the dock and swam in the lake again. By now the air was much warmer (70+) and the water was its consistent 60.

Student next to a waterfall in the Sierras
Alex and a cascade of water in a geologist's playground. Photo: Arielle Hancko/UC Davis.

Kiya and Angel asked the center staff about good hikes in the area and we headed off with some general verbal guidance on landmarks. Within 10 minutes of leaving, we came across a large rock face with a cascading waterfall. We scrambled up the side then traversed the river bank for another 15 minutes. We raced pinecones down the stream and did our best to avoid any unplanned swimming adventures in the river.

The day ended with a fancy dinner with napkins folded like roses, then more science talks and a workshop on balancing research and resilience. Outside, there were so many stars and we even saw some very bright shooting stars. 

Arielle jumped in the lake again Sunday morning. Sunday was a half-day and after breakfast we listened to the last few science talks before lunch and headed back to Davis.

PREP cohort of selfie on a hike
All of us, mid hike. Photo: Arielle Hancko/UC Davis.

We all really enjoyed the retreat. There were so many different research topics discussed, we noted various communication styles that we may implement with our own science talks in the future, and we formed connections with students and faculty in the MCB department and beyond.

It was an excellent weekend filled with science, networking, and a much-needed vacation. 



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