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Not Farewell but See You Soon

The past 8 weeks here at Duke this summer have been some of the most rewarding, challenging, and inspirational in my entire life. I cannot express my gratitude enough to the BSURF program, to Jason and Ron, and to my amazing mentors and lab. To anyone looking to pursue a career in research or to simply become exposed to the field, the program is an incredible summer opportunity to discover yourself and your own passions in life.

It is clear to me now that research is not for everyone as it comes with its own unique set of challenges and obstacles. It is also clear that you have to be willing to work hard and push forward in the face of failure and adversity. If you do decide to continue down this path, as I have decided, I believe the outcome is worthwhile. Seeing the work of all my peers and seeing all of our hard work come to life in the form of our posters, I know that we have reaped all of the rewards this summer had to offer. And with that said, I look forward to continuing with the lab and my studies in science as I have enjoyed every minute of this summer. I cannot wait to be back soon doing what I love most.

Time Traveling back to Week 1

When we came into this program, one of the first posts we wrote was about our expectations for the program. With this available, I thought it would be useful for me to reflect back on that post now, 8 weeks later and see how I felt these expectations were accomplished.

The primary desire I wrote about having was seeing some actual germination which is really quite funny to me because there was so much germination over the past couple of months and the germination began probably 2 or 3 days after I wrote that post. And was that as satisfying of an expectation to have been made a reality as I thought it would be? Why yes, yes it was. As I’d mostly hoped the germination was satisfying because it meant I actually got measurable data, but also it was satisfying because it meant I got to have baby trees and shrubs, and in many cases even planted them in the greenhouse which was probably my favorite part of the physical tasks I did over the summer.

I also briefly mentioned hoping to become more comfortable and familiar with my lab setting and I would definitely give that task a check mark too.

Also, I went on to share that I hoped my research experience would extend past the end of the program, which happily enough, it probably will. Me and Dr. Wright have been discussing the specifics of these plans, but I probably hope to do an independent study. During this time I would likely replicate my own work, this time faster and cleaner now that I am very familiar with the process. Eventually, he mentioned to me that I might be able to take the sprouts I have been planting and carry out a new experiment with the actual plants, and I would test salinity effects in some way with them as well. I am quite excited to see where this leads.

Finally I wrote about hoping to gain more insight into my academic and career goals. One of my main specific hopes under this category was to determine what major I might be interested in between Environmental Science and Biology (with a focus in ecology). I did decide, based on my experiences in the program with conversations and more exposure to the science that I want to major in Biology, which seems to have more classes and course requirements that meet my interests. I think keeping knowledge of policy and being connected to the career resources that the Nicholas School has is also important so I also intend to pursue an Environmental Science minor. It seems like I have enough space and enough overlap to perhaps double major, but I will start out pursuing a minor and evaluate further after this semester. The second specific goal I had under this umbrella was determine if lab research was something I was particularly in love with. I did come up with more clarity on this too. I definitely think lab research is useful and important, but I decided that this kind of research is not where my primary interests lie, and I do not expect to have a lab in my future. Just because I don’t see it in my career though, doesn’t mean I don’t see its importance, which I believe lies in understanding that lab work is where much of our current scientific knowledge comes from, so for these reasons among others I hope to continue doing research in school.

Overall, I thought BSURF was a very rewarding experience. The scientific curiosity I had satisfied, the direction for my future, the social experiences I had with my fellows on and off the clock, and even my enjoyment of central campus living all equated to me being a happy ecology nerd this summer. Also field work was really fun.

BYE

 

Week 8: Final Reflections and Future Plans

I’ve had an amazing experience this summer in the B-SURF program. Before starting my research, I knew it would be an eye-opening experience one way or another, but I am ultimately still surprised by how much knowledge I’ve gained this summer, whether it’s in the form of lab techniques, C. elegans and genetics terminology, or simply communicating my work to both my peers and members of my lab. I’ve also discovered new things about myself that I wouldn’t have expected otherwise: for one, I enjoy working with worms more than I thought I would, and I also enjoy working with my hands. I was never really one for hands-on application of concepts from the classroom in high school, but I found myself enjoying it immensely in the lab as I did tasks like helping my mentor begin the process of setting up crosses and thinking of what sorts of genotypes the offspring would have based on Mendelian genetics.

Seeing myself improve so rapidly over the course of several weeks in regards to bench work, reading papers, communicating with my mentors, etc. was immensely gratifying. Although I entered this summer worried about how quickly I would (or would not) gain independence from my mentor, I became increasingly able to carry my own weight in the lab. After a few weeks, I felt like I had finally contributed information of worth to the projects I worked on and my lab in general. Consequently, I felt more and more integrated as a proper member of my lab both intellectually and socially as I became more independent, which greatly contributed to my overall enjoyment of my experience over time.

Something that has never failed to surprise me this summer is thinking about how truly little I know about biology and research, even with all of my improvements over time put into consideration. Compared to the other members of my lab, who have been there for years, I still know barely anything about C. elegans. Thus, every week brings with it novel experiences where I encounter new problems or new techniques and concepts that I have to ask many questions about before I can begin processing the new information. There is a steady learning curve for everything, including physical bench work, communicating with other lab members, scientific concepts and techniques, and so on. Although it has been difficult to constantly be subjected to new ideas or problems just as I began to feel comfortable, it also made my experience in the lab much more exciting and made me really start to try and think like a scientist.

As much as I enjoyed research, however, I’m not entirely sure if I’d like to pursue it as a career just yet, though I know that I’ll definitely be immersing myself in research over the course of my undergraduate studies at the very least. Even if I ultimately choose not to continue doing research in the long run, I’ll carry with me a great appreciation for scientists and all of their hard work for the rest of my life after experiencing research first-hand. Ridiculously cheesy as this is, the end is only the beginning, after all.

Thank you to Becky Kaplan and Dr. Ryan Baugh for being wonderful mentors this summer, and thank you to Dr. Ron Grunwald and Jason Long as well for organizing this program. I wish all the other B-SURF fellows good luck for whatever they may be pursuing in the future, research or otherwise, and I hope all of you have a great rest of the summer!

Farewell

Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought. -Albert Szent-Gyorgy

Approximately 8 weeks ago I was sitting in an airport in Hyderabad, India wondering how I was possibly going to catch up on a week’s worth of lab experience that I missed. I was worried that 7 weeks was not enough to get any data and that I might have just missed the most important week of the program. Well I sort of did, I missed a wonderful Opening breakfast and faculty talks. However, my first meeting with my mentor allowed me to understand the pace at which the rest of my summer would go as she set out the goals she has for my project. Considering I was still very jet lagged, all I heard was kinases, PfPK9, and Pf…something and phosphorylation. I had a feeling it had something to do with malaria considering this was the main research interest of the Derbyshire lab. I immediately realized that I eventually had no option but to read the folder of papers sitting in my inbox. This opened up a whole new perspective for me. On top of the daily lab work, reading the papers gave me insight to the way scientists think, perform experiments, and present their work. In some papers, I even felt their passion for research and especially treating malaria through their words.

After becoming fully engaged with the literature, the lab’s goals, and my own project, I hit my first stumbling block. For a whole week’s worth of work, none of my experiments worked. I questioned my competence but most of all, the process of science. It took a while to understand that I can allocate all these resources and time to an experiment and it is still very possible, in fact likely, that I will end the week at the same point in which I started. My fear came true, however, as this was the result for the remaining 7 weeks. Often times, it seemed like a tug of war where if I express PfPK9 well then somehow cleaving it would destroy the protein. Despite this, there were many small victories and these are what made my entire experience worth it. Being able to purify just a few more microliters than the week before, seeing cleaner and darker bands on a Western blot, getting the chromatography machine to work in order to batch-bind overnight, and laughing our way through the mistakes with my mentor.

I though BSURF would solidify and reaffirm my career choice. Though this would have been the ideal outcome, I am leaving BSURF with more questions than answers. I am more sure than ever that I want to pursue an MD degree but now I am faced with the knowledge that I enjoy asking questions and I can see myself entering the world of translational research. Dr. Lefkowitz said, we should look forward to not knowing where life will take us and that is what excites and motivates me.

I would like to thank Trinity College for funding my summer research experience, Dr. Grunwald and Jason for ensuring everything ran smoothly, my mentor, Amber Eubanks and the Derbyshire lab for being patient with me, and lastly my peers in the BSURF program.

The end of BSURF is only the beginning…

It’s the end of the program, but only the beginning of my scientific journey. In the past 8 weeks, I have made my first steps into research – and it’s been an amazing experience. During what felt like such a short amount of time, I’ve grown so much as a scientist.

Before the program, I didn’t have an accurate picture of what research was like. Now, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of and appreciation for science. From learning how to clone DNA to understanding the mechanisms of heart regeneration, from reading scientific papers to experiencing the lab environment, from working on an independent project to hearing Duke faculty share about their research, I have a much better understanding of what a scientific career is like. It is something I definitely want to continue to explore.

I’ve learned that science is a lot about asking questions. Whether it’s asking why is this important, what does this do, or how does this work, the root of science is asking questions and striving to find answers. Science is intricate and tricky in this sense. Sometimes, there’s no clear-cut answer. And when there is an answer, it doesn’t always come right away. It’s the scientist’s job to try to crack open this mysterious puzzle, a difficult but highly rewarding task. I think this is what makes science all worth it. You are able to discover things that no one knows, test your curiosities, and contribute to society in meaningful ways.

Walking in to lab on the first day, I’ll admit I was nervous. Here I was, in this room full of expensive, fancy machines I didn’t know how to work and intelligent scientists performing complicated procedures I didn’t understand. Now, however, I’ve gained a sense of confidence and comfort. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a ton of things I don’t know how to do. I’m still learning. But, every day, I came into lab, excited to work on my project. And every day, I walked away learning something new. Whether it was the new skills I’ve learned, knowledge I’ve gained, or relationships I’ve developed, this experience has been truly valuable. It’s the last day now, and I’m no longer nervous. Instead, I’m more curious, eager, and excited to continue to discover.

I am so grateful to Dr. Grunwald and Jason for all their hard work to make this experience possible for us. I also want to thank the entire Poss lab, especially my PI and my mentor, for giving me the opportunity to work with them and for all their patience, support, and guidance. This experience has truly been a great gateway into research and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me.

Farewell…

BSURF has been a great summer experience for me.  Prior to this program, I didn’t really have a substantial research experience and didn’t know exactly what it was like to go to lab every day and do experiments to answer scientific questions. I knew I wanted to become a scientist, but I didn’t know what was expecting me. Thanks to BSURF, I have a much better understanding of what the life of a researcher is like.

At the beginning, Dr. Grunwald told us that there are 4 fundamental components of science: Asking thought-provoking questions regarding the direction of research, doing craftwork (techniques, designing experiments) , communicating the work (poster presentations, chalk talks) and lastly doing all this under the frame of work ethics. After 8 weeks of being involved with all of these components, I can easily say that I have progressed significantly in these areas. I asked a lot of questions to my mentor about our project, I learned many great basic craftworks such as doing PCRs, running western blots, doing transfections and so on. I communicated my work by giving a chalk talk to my fellow BSURFers and presenting my poster. Lastly, I learned more about scientific integrity and research misconduct to make sure that I was doing everything in the right way.

Overall, I had a great time with all the enjoyable and informing seminars, daily lab work, and sharing my experiences with my peers. I thank the Trinity College for funding, Dr. Ron Grunwald and Jason for planning this great program, Dr. Chay Kuo and Dr. Khadar Abdi for their mentorship with my research, the faculty members who all gave great talks and my peers for the great time we spent together. I wish you all a great summer and hope we keep in touch in the future.

Cells, Confluency/Counting, Contamination, Chores, Confidence and Career Choices: My Summer Research Experience

I have learned a lot this summer about a variety of different things, most of which began with the letter C (as you can probably tell from my title).


Cells

Learning about cell culture has been an interesting experience. I had the opportunity to work with stem cells as well as primary cells in both sterile (changing media and passaging) and unsterile (immunostaining and fixation) conditions. Everything requires specific techniques and careful practicing in order to avoid cross contamination between cell lines. It was definitely stressful at times, but was super exciting when we got results.


Confluency/Counting

I have come to recognize confluency as one of the most important factors in cell culture. If a plate is confluent, it basically is completely covered with cells. This can be a good thing, such as when we would grow cells for differentiation and end up with around 20 million cells. However, it can also be a bad thing, as contact between cells can sometimes cause weird differentiation of cells, which causes them to be unhealthy and unfit for use. It took a while for me to be able to gauge how confluent cells were, but it was one of the most prevalent things I remember from this experience. Along with confluency, the ability to count cells is an extremely important skill for plating and passaging cells. Getting used to the hemocytometer and being able to tell if a cell was really a cell or just debris, were a few of the challenges that came with this. It was one of the more time consuming activities in the lab, but was also one the ones I feel most confident about coming out of this summer.


Contamination

One of my biggest fears going into this summer was that I would do something to contaminate everyone’s cells and ruin weeks worth of research. Fortunately, that did not happen. There were a couple times I thought my cells were contaminated, but I was being over cautious (aka they were fine). It was good for me to see that while I failed (although not as much as my mentor would have liked), it didn’t always ruin everything.


Chores

During the summer the undergrads in the lab had the assigned lab chore of filling and autoclaving micropipette boxes every few weeks. This showed me that research is not always glamorous, and gave me a better appreciation for lab resources. It also was kind of cool to use the autoclave, even though it kinda smells.


Confidence

I went into this summer with very little confidence. My only background in working with cells was a bench top lab in my Bio201 class, and that was more about genetic and molecular assays than cell culture. I had no previous research experience. I was uninformed, and that scared me a little bit. However, as I was thrown into changing media, counting cells, and performing assays, I quickly became acclimated to the work environment and gained confidence in my abilities to care for cells. My confidence was probably boosted by the amazing support everyone in the lab gave me. I could always ask anyone when I was looking for something or unsure and they would try to help me.


Career Choices

I applied to the BSURF program with the idea in mind that I would try out biomedical engineering and research before I decided to pursue it completely. I can definitely say: Mission Accomplished. I loved being in the lab this summer, being able to work on a cutting edge project and watch my mentor work with 3D modeling systems. Although it was stressful and frustrating at times, the good most definitely outweighed the bad. My mentor also gave me great advice on the different routes you can take after graduation. As a result, I am now strongly considering going to graduate school post-undergrad. I think it would be incredibly rewarding and that I would enjoy it. From there, who knows? I’m just glad I don’t have to decide right now.

That’s a wrap!

This summer has certainly been one of amazing opportunities and surpassed expectations. Coming into this program, I’m not 100% sure what I expected, but one this if for sure, I definitely didn’t think I would enjoy going to lab like I did. Even at the beginning when I was just doing safety tests and practicing lab math, I thought that I would spend the summer having my hand held through a reasonably simple project. But that was so far from reality. I found that the two weeks I spent practicing what I considered relatively easy tasks was so beneficial when I actually began my project. Every skill my mentor had me cultivate helped me when I began to work more independently. My actual project I found to be so much fun. I got the opportunity to learn so much about a virus that I was, and continue to be, very interested in, which just helped to reaffirm the current career plans I have for myself. In addition to getting to know my project, I got to know so many amazing people in my lab. I had the pleasure of learning from two awesome mentors and three amazing lab technicians, in addition to speaking with multiple postdocs. If I gained nothing else from this summer, I am content with the quality of relationships that I developed.

However, I did gain something else this summer. A lot of somethings, in fact. It’s so easy to say that I just gained research experience this summer, but the reality is I gained so much self-confidence. This summer was transformative in my ability to approach people, ask questions, and make connections.  I also learned that I can effectively communicate to groups of people without crumpling under the pressure. Above all else, B-SURF helped me with the existential crisis that so many of us suffer from in which we wonder whether we are smart enough, good enough, to be surrounded by so many smart and successful people. There were times that I looked down at a mg/ml conversion problem, or down at my 384-well where literally nothing had titered and even my negative control was showing binding activity, and I thought that maybe I just wasn’t smart enough. But the reality is 1. everyone makes mistakes (and in this case, it wasn’t even my fault), 2. that experiments rarely 100% according to plan and 3. that you can easily make a spreadsheet that does all of your math for you.

Clearly, this last lesson was the most important of the summer.

*Special shout out to Dr. G and Jason for being amazing human beings and blessing me with one exceptional summer. Also thanks to Trinity College for the $$$

Adiós

I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate in BSURF this summer. As a person that did not have any research experience going into the program, I am pleased by how much I have grown as a scientist and as a problem solver. I believe the most valuable aspect to me was learning about how science works, and how knowledge is produced. I’m also extremely happy with the relationships I formed with my other peers in lab, and in BSURF. Fortunately, I will be able to continue to work in my lab throughout the semester, and am eager to continue to learn, improve, and ask questions.

I also wanted to comment on how much I enjoyed the weekly seminars. Having scientists come in from several departments at Duke to introduce us to their research and to tell us about their path through science was incredible. It really showed me that you never know what you might end up doing with your life, no matter how set on a goal you are.

Lastly, I wanted to thank Dr. Grunwald, and Jason Long, for their work in running the program, and Trinity College for funding the program. It would not have been possible without your support!

Reflections on the summer

8 weeks ago, I stood in the airport on the other side of the planet, alone, with a 50-pound suitcase. I was kind of depressed, not only because I would again be 8300 miles away (I actually looked this number up) from home for 6 straight months, but also because I was nervous about the summer. I have to admit that Duke has been quite a stressful and challenging place to be in the past year, and I was not sure what this summer had held for me. Two parts of me kept debating: “You will be fine! You’ve had experience working in a lab before.” “I know, but it’s a totally different lab this time. I’ll have to build new relationships with people, and learn from scratch about the research my new lab is doing.” “Yeah, it takes time, but eventually you will feel as comfortable as you are in your old lab.” “What if I don’t understand the science? What if I don’t know how to present my work to other people? What if I just somehow screw up?”… Anyway, me at the airport had no idea how these 8 weeks were going to be, which, me sitting at my bench now, can tell her, the past 8 weeks have been absolutely the most relaxing and rewarding experience she has ever had.

My project itself was very interesting – I’ve always wanted to work on human biology, and my project involved looking at human genetic diseases with human DNA samples. It’s been much of an excitement for me to simply hold the box of DNA samples labelled “Bipolar DNA samples – NIMH” in my hand, not to mention the awe that struck me when I was actually looking at the sequencing results. I feel like I am delving into the cryptic codes that constitute of our bodies and minds, although I know they are too exquisitely designed to be fully deciphered. But through the experience this summer, I’ve become more certain of my interest in genetics. The more complicated genetics is, the more rewarding it is to be part of the “deciphering squad”. So I will definitely be looking for more opportunities to learn about this field after the summer.

Other than my project itself, I’ve also found doing research a very amazing and relaxing lifestyle. Of course, it’s fun when experiments work and you get data. However, even though experiments fail 99% of the time, I still revel in the process of troubleshooting. Sometimes after a long day in lab, I was looking up literatures related to my project. I would suddenly somehow get inspired and come up with a new idea that might improve the outcome of my experiment. And then I really became that “crazy scientist”, wishing that I could go in lab right away and try it out, if only I had after-hour access to my lab. Other times, I got my sequencing results back at night. Occasionally, just browsing through them, I would have a big discovery (aka a heterozygous mutation), and I again became very excited. I would send a screenshot to my mentor immediately, even though I knew he would not check email until the next morning. Life as a researcher involves lots of “moments of truth”. For instance, when you are looking at a gel for the first time through the little glass window on top of the UV gel reader, or after doing a bacterial transformation, when you are taking the plates out of the incubator the next morning. It’s just those little moments of taking a deep breath, praying “please work”, and then exclaiming “oh my god it worked!”, that always make my day. Working in a lab everyday means that I always have something to be looking forward to, whether it be getting the results from yesterday’s PCR, or just giving myself a little pep talk like “okay, I’m going to redo this experiment, and it is going to work this time.” and this is what I find absolutely amazing and enjoyable about doing research.

Of course, I will still keep my options open and keep exploring other career paths. But looking back, I feel extremely fortunate and grateful to have participated in the BSURF program during this summer. It has really created a stress-free environment for me to figure out if I truly like doing research, and to occasionally have the feeling flash on me that, oh, I’m actually doing great things.

Reflections

This summer has been truly excellent. I’ve really enjoyed my research opportunity, and have loved every moment in lab. I came into the program excited, but a bit uncertain as to what to expect. My laboratory experience surpassed my hopes and was extremely engaging, allowing me to learn a lot about microbiology and immunology, as well as taught me new lab skills involving genetics and cloning. I was able to form a friendship with my excellent mentor and have learned so much about the field of virology through his insight. Additionally, I’ve made several new friends through the program, and look forward to keeping in contact with them as the summer (and our lives) progress.

I feel as if this experience has strengthened my skillset and knowledge of research, and I am confident that I can apply that to future research opportunities. I’m planning on continuing to pursue research through undergrad, and am considering graduate school for a field in microbiology. This program makes me feel as if I would really enjoy the life of a grad student, and I look forward to potentially exploring that path.

Overall, I have had a phenomenal time with BSURF; it has been incredible opportunity that I am so glad to have been involved with.

Logistics and Heterogeneity

The faculty seminars were always brimming with new information, and not just on the speakers’ fields. Each offered advice to us as young scientists. The multitude of career paths by the faculty demonstrated the unpredictability of the future and helped to limit one of my greatest fears, wasting time working on a path that I will never follow to the end. Every talk reinforced the heterogeneity of the people who practice science, the types of research performed, and the methods used to answer questions.

The work in the lab itself was tremendously educational. I learned so many techniques from the ground-up. I gained easy skills that are necessary for basic biology, and others that are very unique for this project and require a lot of dexterity and practice. The work in the lab also made me realize how much work beyond the experiments is performed. Time spent on planning how a test should be run, adapting on the fly, and organizing the materials needed was just as critical to understanding how science is performed as actually doing experiments.

I wish I could say I have a definitive career path after performing research. I have enjoyed my time immensely and do plan to continue research in biology. However, I haven’t yet caught the ‘research bug’ and I still want to participate in other opportunities in similar disciplines. This mirrors the advice of what a lot of speakers pointed to. Experiment with experiences. Look for that potential path. Regardless of my path in the future, I am confident that my research experiences this summer, and in the future, will be extremely impactful on my ways of thinking.

Thank you so much to everyone who organized BSURF, especially Dr. G and Jason. Also, thank you to my lab mentor, Marguerita Klein, for having the patience to teach me so much, and to my P.I, Dr. Bohórquez, for allowing me to participate in a great lab. Finally, thank you to my peers for a great eight weeks and I hope to meet with you all again during the year.

The Summer in Review

I can’t believe that the eight weeks of BSURF are already over.  Although on a day to day basis it sometimes seemed like I wasn’t learning much, looking back over the experience as a whole, I realized how much I really learned.  I think the most valuable knowledge that I can take away from this experience is knowing what a career in science really entails.  Throughout the summer I came to the conclusion that having my own lab is probably not a path I want to pursue, but I have come to enjoy the process of research, the challenges of analyzing data and asking questions to better understand biological processes.  There were definitely challenges along the way, but I learned that is just part of the research process.  Very few, if any, projects go exactly according to plan, and the interesting part of research is figuring out new experiments and approaches to best answer the research questions.  Of course I also learned a lot about computational biology, although I still have so much to learn.

The other part of this experience that I enjoyed the most were the faculty seminars that we had three mornings a week. Although I loved hearing about the different types of research that is happening on the Duke campus, it was most helpful for me to hear about the different paths that each professor took to reach where they are now.  As someone who came into this fellowship hoping to get a better idea of what my goals are for the future, it was beneficial to get an idea of opportunities for researchers, outside of academia.  I also got to hear about subjects that I previously hadn’t considered much, such as evolution, and this has opened my mind to possibly pursuing a different field of study.  Overall, BSURF was a wonderful program that opened my mind and gave me a wonderful introduction to research.  Last of all, thank you to Jason, Dr. G and Trinity College for making this experience possible!

8 Weeks Later…

In the weeks before the beginning of the program, I was really unsure of what was to come, since I had absolutely no research experience. I entered Duke with an extreme interest in researching genetics, though I’m majoring in BME/ECE, so my academic goals are a bit in contrast to my research goals. Although I spent a significant proportion of the summer growing increasingly worried about what I wanted to do with my life, I think I’ve begun to accept that it’s all right to still be uncertain. If there’s anything I’ve learned from the faculty seminars, it’s that scientists don’t always plan on being scientists, and people don’t always end up where they expect to end up. So, even if I’m still a bit worried and unsure of my future as I’m writing this last blog post, I’m definitely more open to the idea of approaching the remainder of my undergraduate career without the rest of my life supposedly set in stone.

Throughout this summer, I learned so much about the daily life of researchers, and I feel exponentially more comfortable in that type of academic environment. Even though I’m initially intimidated by everyone with a Ph.D., my mentors have been extremely supportive and I now know that I can rely on faculty for great advice in the future. Personally, I think I’ve grown a lot over the summer, as well. Other than the fact that I am becoming more skilled at handling plates without dropping them, I am significantly more capable of doing work independently than I was before this summer. Honestly, after having to run statistics of data from five different variables in R (a program I’ve never used before, with no programming experience other than MATLAB, and no college-level statistics class as of yet) with what initially seemed like a million different interactions I could examine, I’m a bit more confident in my ability to face challenges that come my way.

Even though I really enjoyed this exposure to research and my introduction to genetics research, I wouldn’t say I’ve had anymore clarity on what I should pursue in the future. While I still want to participate in undergraduate research and think research in genetics is a possibility for me in the years afterwards, I’m still in love with being an engineering major. For now, I think I’ll hold on to the dream of combining both my interests in genetics and engineering (maybe gene therapy?), but I really look forward to possibly continuing my involvement with the Donohue Lab, if my dense schedule permits. Thank you so much to everyone who made BSURF possible (including Dr. G and Jason!), because I was able to spend my summer involved in amazing research, learning more about Duke’s faculty and more about myself, and it has definitely made an impact on my life. I also enjoyed learning from all of the other fellows and what their experiences were from the summer (like when I recounted how I filled 2300 plates with agar, and Demi responded with “oh, I just have a plate pourer to do all that work for me.”)!

The End

This summer has been a really enjoyable experience, and time has flown by so quickly. It feels like just yesterday that I moved into my apartment in 2015 Yearby, nervous about starting my first day of research and worrying about screwing up the experiment. I had worked in the SJR lab during the year as a research assistant autoclaving tubes and making media, so it was nice to actually be involved in research there and learn what research involves on a day to day basis. Although I’m a neuroscience major, I’ve always been fascinated by genetics, so a yeast genetics lab fits perfectly with my interest.

Besides enjoying my time as a researcher, I’ve also learned a lot and worked very hard. I didn’t expect to find out that coming into lab on the weekends is not a rare occurrence, especially when yeast forms a colony in 2 days. I’ve realized that as much as failure is daunting, it’s something that happens in lab whether you made a mistake or not. Results aren’t always what you expect to happen either – and even though you might want it to be a mistake, you double check and confirm that those results are right. Furthermore, I’ve seen example after example that really do prove that working hard is the only way to achieve your goals, and I plan to continue working hard in the future.

While I know I’ll have to work hard in the future, I’ve also been thinking about my career path. I’m strongly considering getting an MD/PhD, not just an MD or a PhD by itself. I didn’t expect to like research as much as I did, but I’m happy that things turned out this way. I can’t wait to continue researching in the fall!

(PS A huge thank you to Dr. G, Jason, and the Trinity College for giving me this opportunity this summer, I really appreciate it!)

Final Thoughts

The last eight weeks here at Duke have been incredibly rewarding, and I’m shocked that the summer gone by so quickly. I’m grateful for a lot of the things I learned about research this summer, as I had no idea what I was in for when I first entered lab mid-June. Even now, at the end of the program, I still don’t know exactly what I want to do in the future career-wise, but I’m fine with that because I know that my experiences from lab this summer and my future experiences will guide me in the right direction.

One of the biggest things I learned this summer was how biomedical engineering research was conducted and how the things I learned in classes could be applied in a lab setting. I value a lot more some of the classes I have taken and now even look forward to the ones in the future, as I know that the material can go hand-in-hand with what I do in the lab. Overall, I’m very interested in seeing how this experience will change the way I learn more about science.

It has been an amazing 8 weeks here. I was able to experience research in my field for the first time, and I finally have a better idea about what research entails. I definitely would like to thank Dr. G, Jason, and Trinity College for making this all possible. I’m excited to see everyone’s posters tomorrow!

Thoughts on the Summer

Wait, it’s week eight already? NO!! Stop! Wait! I want to keep going. . .

This summer has been such a valuable experience. I’m just going to list some of my favorite takeaways and such, based on my experience in lab and listening to the wise words of the faculty speakers:

1. I’ve been reminded that being obstinately persistent and hard-working will consistently serve you well.

A book I recently read, aptly titled Lab Girl*, sums this up nicely:

“Any sign that the newbie regarded his or her time as of any value whatsoever was a bad omen, and the loss of so many hours’ work was a telling trial of this principle. As a corollary, clear your mind and go home, distract yourself for the evening, and come back fresh the next day to start over. The other is to immediately resubmerge, put your head under and dive to the bottom, work an hour longer than you did last night, and stay in the moment of what went wrong. While the first way is a good path toward adequacy, it is the second way that leads to important discoveries.”

A woodpecker doesn’t drill a hole into a tree by poking at the bark once or twice then taking a two hour break. Hacking and pecking and picking at a problem or question while it’s still fresh in your mind is the best approach to making any progress. This is good news for me because I have used this method in school and extracurriculars for as long as I can remember, having a tendency to obsess over things, losing sleep and pulling my hair out until I figure them out. It’s not always fun, but when you finally, finally solve your problem, the satisfaction can’t be beat. It was encouraging to have this program drive that point home in me again.

*highly recommended book, after just eight weeks in a lab I could relate to it in a way I never could have before and it made me laugh and think and look at plants in a new way. promptly obtain a copy and read it. this has been a PSA

2. I’ve started filling my toolbox of science-related skills!

At the beginning of this summer, I knew vaguely how to operate a centrifuge and had used a micropipette perhaps twice. Now I’ve collected a variety of lab skills and know-how: operating centrifuges of all shapes and sizes for cells and bacteria, using sterile technique and the cell culture fun that comes with it, dexterity in the operation of micropipettes, multi-channel pipettes, and motorized pipettes (henceforth rewarding myself the title of “Pipette Ninja”), PCR and gel electrophoresis, protein production and purification, western blotting. . . and blah, blah, blah. I’m just excited because this learning and acquiring new skills and using them to potentially generate new knowledge has probably been one of my favorite parts of summer. I want to keep going and filling my toolbox! And pipetting things. I love pipetting things. . .

3. The lab is not a glamorous place.

There’s a lot of work that happens that isn’t actually going to produce data. Instead, it just gets you one-sixteenth of a step closer to producing data. Take protein production and purification in E. Coli, for example: it’s a 3-day long process involving two liters of bacteria in LB broth that produces just one milliliter of proteins to use in your experiments (if you’re lucky!). Also, a lot of work isn’t actually going to produce data just because it isn’t going to produce data. Experiments fail often. Repetition is routine. There’s also a lot of waiting for things — waiting for cells to incubate or a gel to run or a film to develop.  Science is slow. Finally and most importantly of all, the lab is, overall, a smelly place. I’ve started a definitive list of Odoriferous Things in the Lab and I’m going to share it with you:

  1. E. Coli: Just disgusting. No words.
  2. Beta-mercaptoethanol: gasoline + hard-boiled eggs with a light touch of farty funk
  3. The mice used in experiments: pet store, ultra-concentrated
  4. The autoclave that day someone decided to throw some used mouse bedding in it: inside-out colon

Generally, one or more of these smells will assault your delicate olfactory neurons each day in the lab.

4. I still have no idea what I’m doing.

And that’s okay! BSURF has exposed me not only to real science in general, but also so many different types of science that are all so interesting. When I entered Duke, I, like 99% of everyone else, was premed. And I still am! Only now I’m also considering the merits of pursuing a PhD. And an MD/PhD. And still just the MD. I plan to just keep working hard and enjoy the ride, doing things I am genuinely interested in, and let things unfold. If the faculty seminars have taught me anything, it’s that no matter how certain you are about your future, it will probably turn out exactly how you didn’t think it would, but you still find yourself exactly where you want to be. So why worry?

((That’s a wrap! Before I close out my final blog post of the summer, I want to express my sincere gratitude to Trinity College for funding BSURF, and Dr. G and Jason for helping make it the experience it was: a rich summer of reflection, frustration, and late night laughter with awesome people. It’s been a blast!))

 

 

A Great Talk by Dr. Robert Lefkowitz

Throughout the BSURF, many distinguished faculty members from a variety of biological fields talked about their career paths as scientists and what kind of research they did. These talks helped me grasp the different aspects of different areas and what type of opportunities or problems I would encounter if I decided to become a scientist. Although each seminar was interesting in its own way, I think Dr. Robert Lefkowitz’s talk was quite fascinating.

Dr. Lefkowitz is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at Duke University. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012 for his groundbreaking discoveries about G protein-coupled receptors. He decided to become a physician when he was 8. He went to the Bronx High School of Science in New York City, a high school that has 8 Nobel Laureate alumni. He emphasized that only 11 countries in the world have more than 8 Nobel Laureates. After high school, he went to Columbia University where he majored in Chemistry and then got his medical degree. He told us that he loved doing clinical work but he wasn’t interested in doing research at all. During the Vietnam War, he was drafted by National Institute of Health (NIH) and did research for 2 years mandatorily. After that experience, he realized that he really liked working in a lab and delved into research more and more as the years went by. Now, he said to us that he hasn’t seen a patient in 15 years. When asked whether he regretted his medical training and sees it as a waste of time, Dr. Lefkowitz stated that the medical training helped him correlate his basic scientific research to applicable drugs that could treat diseases.

Dr. Lefkowitz told us that we could never foresee the future even though we plan it and go in a direction we decided. If it weren’t for the Vietnam War, he would have become a physician, not a scientist. He also said that most of the experiments, researches in science fail and the important thing is not the give up. As Churchill said, he quoted, “Success is the ability to move from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.”. He added that for an average scientist, one percent of his/her experiments succeed; for a world class scientist, that ratio could be as high as two percent!

I was inspired by Dr. Lefkowitz’s great story. I hope that one day, I could also have such an amazing story to share with young scientists.