As May turned to June and I found myself on a flight back to Durham, I was nervous, apprehensive, excited, curious. I wasn’t sure what to expect–how I’d get along with the other students in the program, if I would fit in well with the lab, if I would be happy with what I was doing over the summer.
I remember coming into this program with the hopes that it would help me narrow down my list of possible career choices for the future. It did, in the sense that I got to experience a few weeks of being a researcher and had invaluable conversations with people hoping to become a Ph.D., people well on their way to earning one, and people who are already established figures in their field. There was a lot about a career in research that I wasn’t really aware of, and thus a lot that I got to learn about in these past eight weeks. I can’t say for sure that I now know exactly what I want, but I’m really thankful for having had this opportunity.
This summer came with its obstacles–there were nerves in the beginning, mistakes made, failed experiments. Though many had warned me going into this, including Dr. Grunwald, I was still caught off guard by these setbacks. Research is all about discovery, of course, but being so used to academics, where everything already has its own right or wrong answer, tackling the unknown had felt almost like blind grasps at nothing. Not being able to determine exactly what went wrong in our experiments, what to improve for the future, whether it was me making mistakes or possibly faulty materials or reagents–I was overwhelmed by the uncertainty of research.
But the beauty of research, and what I got to experience a little by the end of my eight weeks, comes with perseverance, embodied in the moment that ignorance turns to enlightenment. After your efforts pay off and you get results, seeing data that confirm your hypothesis or show you something novel or unexpected, these moments–of the euphoria of discovery, and the words of congratulations from your mentor or the surprise on your PI’s face when you inform him of your possible findings–dull every negative thought you might have once had. I’m relieved to have found myself really enjoying my first research experience, through all of its ups and downs, in a way I always hoped I would.
Looking back on my first blog post, I had a lot of other expectations, many of which might have been a little ambitious for just eight weeks. But I’m looking forward to checking off those boxes one by one as I continue my research in the McClay Lab into the upcoming year.
A big thanks to Dr. McClay, my mentor Esther, and Michael, as well as the rest of the lab, for being so helpful, patient, and welcoming this summer. Thank you, Dr. G and Anna, for the wonderful eight weeks of learning, working, and evolving. On Saturday, I’ll be heading home with a new mindset and greater clarity, coming away from Durham a little wiser and looking forward to the new semester and journeys ahead.