Category Archives: Week 1

It’s about comfort and a feeling

I’m not sure what exactly to expect from this summer, but I do know what I would like to get from it. I’d like to be able to follow lab protocols independently, and gain experience that will contribute to a degree of comfort and confidence in a lab.

Going into this program, I thought that I would only be in this lab (Molecular Genetics and Microbiology department) for the summer because I planned on returning to my previous workplace, Duke Molecular Physiology Institute, during the school year. Little did I realize that it is possible to work in two labs. Thank goodness! I am in love with both places and I’m very excited for what they will teach me about lab technique and procedures, and the opportunities they can provide for my own research interests. I feel completely honored to be able to actively engage in revolutionary research.

There is so much that DMPI has taught me that facilitated my transition into my new lab this week. I find it so beneficial and reassuring that across two different yet closely related fields- microbiology and molecular bio- there are protocols and technology that are parallel in structure. And I am so appreciative of the tools my introductory microbiology class has given me this past semester, especially with such a short timeframe.

Even during my very first meeting with my mentor, postdoc, and grad student, I was introduced to the possibility of one day going to grad school, and using lab work as a means of getting a degree. It’s a thought that reccured in my mind throughout the week, when I felt at ease and almost a giddy feeling while working. My experience so far already has me considering applying to Program II so that I can major in Microbio and Molecular Cell Bio. And maybe I will pursue a PhD in microbiology….

So for this summer, I expect, overall, to start shaping the way I view research and the career choices it could mean for my future, wherever I may be.

 

No such thing as a dumb question

What a reassuring phrase.

Especially this first week of conducting research in the Pendergast lab, I set out to ask without fear because yes, a minuscule part of me encountered fear: fear that, coming from the only undergrad in the lab, my questions would seem unintelligent, fear that lab members would not have time for me to pester them with my questions, and even fear that in response to my questions, my mentor would discuss complex processes in a way that I did not understand by quickly dropping unfamiliar concepts and large words into every other sentence.

My fears vanished after the first couple of days in lab, not by the assistance of one mentor, but two. My wonderful and enthusiastic PI, Dr. Ann Marie Pendergast, had assigned two mentors to endow me with the knowledge and tools I need to carry out my research project. These two people, along with several other lab members, have not hesitated to assist me in any of my needs or to explain more difficult concepts to me. Sometimes I receive several responses to the same question. Dr. Pendergast has even made herself available to speak with me and guide my project, even in the midst of her very busy schedule full of meetings.

Quick rewind to the beginning of summer break.

It all began with a stack of papers and a textbook titled, “the biology of cancer.” The expectation was that I would have the knowledge level of a graduate student before I began my research in the lab. The fact that I faced this daunting task only invigorated my eagerness to understand the concepts behind my project. Granted, I may have felt utterly lost as I walked into the first lab meeting on Monday as a lab member presented his data, speaking a language filled with various combinations of letters and numbers squished together to represent distinct words. Although my brain swirled with words to look up later, I quickly shook off any feelings of uncertainty as my two mentors introduced me to the wonders of cell culturing and western blotting. I was fascinated.

An accurate word to describe myself this week: fascinated.

Even looking at the product of a western blot I have done fascinates me: straight lines of a variety of sizes indicating the quantity of a specific protein in various cell lines. How will I ever get tired of entering the dark room in anticipation of viewing the Western results of a full day’s work? My lab members could probably answer that question…but that is beside the point.

Of course I had learned general concepts behind basic experiments such as western blotting, but let me tell you. Actually conducting the experiment feels much different than imagining the method as you read through a textbook. I was and still am fascinated using tools and techniques that my fellow lab members probably find monotonous. I remember the first time I observed one of my mentors using the electronic pipette controller. What a cool, sophisticated tool! In addition, the multichannel pipette I observed one of my mentors using for CellTiter-Glo only increased my amazement, along with viewing almost 100% confluent breast cancer cells through a microscope and learning the ways of cell culturing. May I never cease to be enthralled by an electronic pipette controller. What a lovely device.

As I observed my mentors conduct a variety of experiments related to their own projects, I found myself furiously scribbling notes in my handy dandy notebook. With two mentors, I could note the differing techniques each used and the reasons behind each method: the benefit of two mentors instead of just one.

So, based on my first week, what do I expect from my summer research experience?

I expect to ask questions and questions, and more questions. It is truly a great way to learn.

Of course, I also expect to learn new techniques. I hope to apply my current and future knowledge to fully understand and analyze the results of each experiment.

With limited research experience, I expected to be disappointed frequently, whether it was with resulting data or messing up a crucial part of an experiment. On the contrary, fellow lab members have only encouraged me, especially my two very patient mentors, Jake and Courtney. After all, who wouldn’t be encouraged by hearing, “you’re a pro” or even “you ask good questions.” The second compliment is my personal favorite of the week. Maybe my all-time favorite compliment in my academic life.

Furthermore, I expect to grow in confidence as a researcher as I become more familiar with my surroundings over the 8-week period.

I hope to make a contribution to the scientific world this summer from both my expected and unexpected results, no matter how minute or grand the contribution.

And finally, I expect to grow meaningful friendships with the people in my lab and my research fellows this summer. Here’s to a bright and fascinating summer.

My desk ft. my handy dandy notebook

Running and making gels at my lab bench. Can you spot the electronic pipette controller? It’s much cooler in action.

Get through the un-sexy before reaching the Sexy

BSURF began this week and throughout the week I’ve been thinking about what my ultimate goal was. I was thinking about what exactly I want to get out of my experience.

One of my dreams is to come up with my own research and maybe get published one day. I am hoping that this experience will give me more of an idea of how to go about doing that. How to think of an idea, design a way to collect evidence for my hypothesis and then figure out the tools I need to conduct my experiment.

So far I have learned so many things in my week already. I’ve learned how to score experiments, put rats through experiments, I have learned how to even perform some surgeries. But I think one of the most important things I have learned so far is that research is a very slow process that requires a lot of patience. Research and finding new information is sexy but in order to get to that sexy part, you have to do some of the not-so-sexy things.

You have to spend time feeding the rats, weighing and marking their tails, and cleaning out their poopy cages. You have to spend time figuring out which rats to move into separate cages if they don’t seem to be striving with other rats in their cages. You have to be okay with getting bitten sometimes when you’re taking the rats out of cages to conduct the experiments. You might even be peed and pooped on a couple of times. However, all these things are necessary in order to make new discoveries. I am very excited to see what other things I learn.

No Rest with Arrestin

Starting research in the Caron lab has been an exciting, yet terrifying experience. As the recipient of prestigious awards such as the Lieber Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Schizophrenia Research, Dr. Caron has set the standards high for his lab.

Upon first arriving, I was thrown in at the deep end and expectations were high. I witnessed many procedures and took notes as I watched, hoping that I would be able to replicate the techniques on my own when needed. Such is the case with transfecting and splitting cells, which is how I spent most of my time in lab this past week. While my mentor, Tom Pack, no longer has to overbook the hood for me (though he still does just in case), I find that I still have much to learn in the next 7 weeks.

As the summer progresses, I hope to not only increase my technical proficiency in lab, but also gain a greater understanding of GPCR signaling and the lab equipment that exists for studying it. While my current focus is on arrestin signaling following dopamine receptor activation by ligand, I believe I will be branching out to new topics and hope to gain as much exposure to the workings of lab as possible in 8 weeks time. I also hope to have my research experience guide my undergraduate experience for the remainder of my time at Duke.

High Performance what now?

After just one week in the Kuhn lab I can now officially say I am an *expert* in high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) protocols. Well, not really. Actually, I can’t because I’m not. But that sure is one of my many goals and expectations for the summer. So, let me just start out by talking about exactly what I hope to learn, gain, and do this summer

When I first found out I was admitted into BSURF, I had a literal meltdown in the middle of my common room and my friend snapped me out of it by saying “Martín, it’s not as if all the success in the world is going to come from this.” I thought about it then and I thought about it on the car ride to Duke West Campus. I realized he was right. I needed to have realistic expectations about this summer, the summer of my first significant research experience. So naturally I made list of goals to accomplish or at least start on by the end of the summer.

From a completely technical and academic perspective, I want to become fluent in some important techniques used in pharmacology laboratories, learn more about the field of pharmacology and topics relevant to my project, and familiarize myself with the environment and expectations inherent to the lab workplace. I’m so happy to say that I’ve already had a start on all of these goals in my first week. From the mound of research paper to a neuropharmacology text, Dr.Kuhn has already given me a place from where to dive nose first into her field. She has elucidated on to me that my summer project will revolve around the HPLC analysis of the tryptophan levels in rat brains (more on that later….). My helpful lab supervisor, Zack, has already managed to train me on the HPLC apparatus and has even guided me through my first run all by myself! He even introduced me to one of the most important lessons of the professional lab environment: always check your email in the morning. The lesson took place as I awkwardly waited in lab for a half-hour for him to show up only to realize he wouldn’t be there.

Apart from the work I’ll do in the lab, I’m also interested in what growth I’ll make over the summer, as a person and as a member of the scientific community. To my surprise, we’re actually running a small experiment in lab entirely concerning a question I asked. A total accident if I do say so myself but exciting nonetheless. In the future, however, I don’t want my questions to be accidents. I want to reach the level of maturity and knowledge in my field where I’m able to propose important questions that might be used to kickstart major projects and contribute to scientific progress. Within that realm of personal development, I want to become more ambitious and goal-oriented. There is a reason this is my first research experience: I didn’t really look for lab work my freshmen year. Most of it was out of fear and naivety but also laziness. After getting a taste of lab work, I know I don’t want to stop anytime soon. There might be some major hoops to jump through in the future just to continue research but I hope I have to the constitution to continue what I’m beginning to think is something I want to do for the rest of my life.

There is so much to do in a summer that has just started and I could not be more excited for what this summer holds for me.

My biggest disappointment in lab each morning is going to the fridge to get what looks like a pint of ice cream but is actually just a container filled with HPLC standards.

 

Mice Mice Everywhere

When presented with the opportunity to experience full-time research for the first time, expectations run wild. My excitement leads to visions of me in a lab coat conducting successful experiments every day and makes it difficult for me to ground my expectations in reality. Clearly no Nobel Prizes will be won this summer; I will not suddenly become the perfect scientist, and it’s unlikely that I’ll be running many experiments by myself. This summer is about learning, about growing, and about experiences that will mold my undergraduate career.

One of my more realistic expectations is to learn. After my first week in lab I truly believe that if I entered sleepwalking I would still manage to learn something. Learning in lab is different from learning in lecture in ways that you must experience. I didn’t learn where the mouse amygdala is by looking at a lecture slide; I saw the mouse amygdala! There’s nothing more exciting for me than getting to experience science by doing science and witnessing other talented people do science. My primary expectation this summer is that I will learn about neuroanatomy, the neuroscience of psychiatric disorders, and learn ways to properly use animal models to study models of human psychiatric disorders.

My scariest expectation is my expectation that I will grow (not literally) and change due to my participation in this summer program. For the first time, I get to try on my scientist hat and participate in real scientific questions and discoveries. I get to think of myself as a growing, learning researcher and discover all that that entails. I expect to grow in my knowledge of what it means to be a scientist. Do I like working in a lab? Do I like working with animal models? Do I fit in with my lab’s culture? Do I even genuinely like neuroscience or do I find more interest in a project conducted by one of my peers in this program? I hope to have answers to these questions by the end of the summer, and because of answering these questions I hope to grow.

Keep Calm and Kick Astrocyte

My first week of research in the Eroglu lab has been filled with a lot of information. Having done research before, I didn’t quite expect to find myself spending so much time as the student. However, I have learned so many new techniques in just 5 days. These have started to quickly reshape my plans for the summer. I’ve already started to see how scientists in the Eroglu lab go about investigating a new protein, like I will be doing for PTPRZ1. First, we thinly section brains into 20 um slices, stain these with fluorescent antibodies, and look and image them with a microscope. This process can be repeated for different kinds of mice, like individuals of different age, sex or genetically engineered strains. I expect to repeat these methods many times over the summer to try to get a better idea of what PTPRZ1 might be doing.

Another exciting part of my research has been learning how the different members of the lab go about their work and learning how to plan experiments. Katie has already done a good job of showing me how the whole process of experimentation works and I hope to build on the things we are able to learn each week in order to come closer and closer to understanding PTPRZ1.

I’ve also already started making plans with Katie and my PI Dr. Eroglu to continue my research when the semester starts so I hope to be able to learn a good amount of techniques so that I can easily flow into doing work over the semester. I hope that I am able to make good progress over the next 7 weeks so that I may have a better idea of where PTPRZ1 is acting and can focus on figuring out what it is doing by the time the semester starts.

My first week of research in the Eroglu lab has been filled with a lot of information. Having done research before, I didn’t quite expect to find myself spending so much time as the student. However, I have learned so many new techniques in just 5 days. These have started to quickly reshape my plans for the summer. I’ve already started to see how scientists in the Eroglu lab go about investigating a new protein, like I will be doing for PTPRZ1. First, we thinly section brains into 20 um slices, stain these with fluorescent antibodies, and look and image them with a microscope. This process can be repeated for different kinds of mice, like individuals of different age, sex or genetically engineered strains. I expect to repeat these methods many times over the summer to try to get a better idea of what PTPRZ1 might be doing.

Another exciting part of my research has been learning how the different members of the lab go about their work and learning how to plan experiments. Katie has already done a good job of showing me how the whole process of experimentation works and I hope to build on the things we are able to learn each week in order to come closer and closer to understanding PTPRZ1.

I’ve also already started making plans with Katie and my PI Dr. Eroglu to continue my research when the semester starts so I hope to be able to learn a good amount of techniques so that I can easily flow into doing work over the semester. I hope that I am able to make good progress over the next 7 weeks so that I may have a better idea of where PTPRZ1 is acting and can focus on figuring out what it is doing by the time the semester starts.

 

 

Fish are friends, not food.

Finding Nemo: a movie I would watch with my beloved family members nestled in the cushions of our couch. A nostalgic family memory often includes gathering around the couch, yet this carefree, happy memory became more harmful as I grew up. I was always intrigued by our environment growing up as I spent most of my times playing outside with my cousins, yet I had never considered the relationship between myself and the environment. After learning that couches are made of flame-retardant materials that are carcinogenic, I want to continue exploring the relationship between health and our surroundings.

This brings up the subject of ecotoxicology: the study of contaminants and their effects on the ecosystem. Over the next few weeks, I will be researching in the Di Giulio Lab, an ecotoxicology lab focused on nanomaterials and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both of which are ubiquitous in our everyday lives. My research aims to characterize the embryotoxicity of modified PAHs using zebrafish models.

Out of my experience, I’m hoping to learn more about toxicology and myself. After an amazing experience working in a neighboring lab, I’m excited to continue my study at the Di Giulio Lab to learn more about this field. I’m also hoping this experience will help me learn more about which career path I’d like to pursue after college. Coming out of high school, I was pretty set on medicine; however, after learning about the field of environmental health sciences and working in a lab setting, I’m considering a graduate school track.

The environmental perspective of health is often overlooked. Many people think of eating a balanced diet or exercising regularly when maintaining a healthy lifestyle, yet surroundings can play just as great a role. I’m hoping to learn more about this with my fish friends.

Start to a New Era

The first day I met Dr. D’Alessio and his lab, excitement ensued. I was presented with an opportunity to be engage and learn from a great lab! I was really excited for this opportunity because I had no previous research experience and the summer is a great time to get started. What also made the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute a good fit was everyone’s openness to teach me about research.

When choosing  a lab this I think the first thing that comes to mind is finding a good fit. Ultimately you want to feel a part of the lab, engaged in your daily tasks, and become more informed about the content of your lab. I would say that is what I expect from my summer research experience. I hope to make relationships with these scientists. From learning about their background, interests, and learning the ropes from them.  I can’t wait to successfully aid in glucose tolerance testing and have almost nonexistent error bars.  I expect myself to become more comfortable with the literature out there regarding what my lab is working on.

I also hope to learn more insight about the life of a scientist. Lots of the individuals at the DMPI are at different stages of their academic career: from undergrads like me, to post docs, MD’s, and MD-PHD’s. I expect this summer to  solidify to me future academic pursuits. I also expect through this summer to develop new friendships through BSURF and become an expert bike commuter!

Prepping for the islet cells!

What am I doing here?

Coming into BSURF, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I’ve never worked in a lab before, but I have thought for a while that I would like to work in one. I mean, one of the reasons I chose to go to Duke was because they have so many research opportunities, even for undergraduate students, and I knew I would want to do research in college. It is a little weird, though, that I still didn’t really know much about what doing research even entailed, even when I was contacting my PI for the first time to set up a meeting about working in his lab over the summer. I wanted to do research because that was where new discoveries were being made and new technologies were being developed. I am majoring in biomedical engineering because I want to take my love of science and make something out of it. BME labs are developing the medical technologies that are proving means of dealing with medical issues. I suppose my main goal of the summer was to get some hands-on research experience by diving right in so I could figure out if doing research was something I really wanted to do, and if it was, then learning ways to stay involved for the next three years of my college experience.

Now that I have spent a week in the lab, I have a little more of an idea what working in a lab involves, so I know a little more about what I should expect from the next 7 weeks in the lab. At first, I was very overwhelmed because I felt unprepared and like there was no way I was going to understand what they are doing in the lab with my freshman knowledge of biology, chemistry, and engineering. But through asking questions, I quickly started to learn and now I feel like I sort of know what is going on. This summer, I expect to learn more and more about how to do common lab protocols, such as cell culturing and histology. I expect to become more and more educated in the field of immunoengineering so that reading journal articles in this field will no longer be so confusing. I also expect to make new friends through the BSURF program and learn more about doing research from their experiences as well. Finally, I expect to learn a lot from the faculty seminars during our morning meetings about the many different things going on at Duke. I am very excited to keep learning in the next 7 weeks.

Many Ways to Study IBC

I came into the program with enthusiasm, I was excited in the sense that I would be able to continue doing research which is something I was unable to do during my first year at Duke. I was lucky enough to get into Dr. Devi’s lab which is centered in studying inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). With any research experience, there is background reading that must be done to have a good understanding of the project you might be working on. The papers I’ve read were fascinating, they revolved around different proteins that have been identified to help IBC cells, the difficulties in treating IBC, and different environmental factors that may aid IBC cell growth. Reading research articles are never easy, new content is thrown at you but over the week by asking questions and rereading the articles, I now have a greater understanding than I did before.

Not only did I read research articles but I also shadowed other staff members working in Dr. Devi lab which is Ph.D. student, Risa Gearhart, and Dr. Xuhui Bao. I shadowed Risa cell culture SUM149, which is the cancer cell lines we are using to experiment on IBC. Furthermore, she counted the cells of the culture she created via a microscope and cell seeded them. The culture she created was treated with different concentration of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) which will be used for tumor emboli experiments. Unfortunately, there was a computer malfunction that occurred which enable us from imaging the process of the tumor emboli, so this experiment will be redone next week. Risa is also continuing a previous experiment which involves the usage of western blot development on MDAMB231 cells which is another procedure I saw her perform.

Dr. Bao is still focused on IBC but one of his experiments is centered on in vitro mice models. On Thursday, he showed me the mice that were being tested on and the window chambers that were placed on them to allow him to see the progression of the IBC throughout the lymphatic system via a microscope. Unlike other breast cancers, IBC forms no one solid tumor mass but instead forms characteristic diffuse tumor cell clusters. Therefore, he is imaging the spread of these IBC clusters on mice to better understand the flow of these clusters and what allows such cancer to do so.

Since there was a computer malfunction, I have spent some of my time writing up an introduction to my project and gathering results from experiments done in the past. The first half of my introduction focuses on giving readers an understanding of what IBC is, it’s unique characteristics and findings that Dr. Devi’s lab has made in the past. I am excited to see what project I will be working on this summer, Dr. Devi has given me the freedom this week to explore different aspects of her lab and see which project I will be interested in working on. Since my interest lies in pharmacy, I have been considering doing more research on IBC and DSF-Cu, or testing different treatments on IBC and seeing the effects that certain treatments will cause. Again, I’m excited for the work I will be doing, and I’m eager to see where my project goes.

Printing Things and Poking Stuff

When I found out that I had been placed in Dr. Sheila Patek’s lab for BSURF, I almost burst with excitement. As a scuba diver who has grown up swimming around the islands of the Philippines, I’ve fallen in love with marine life, and with animals in general! The Patek Lab is one of the few labs on Duke’s main campus that studies marine animals, studying things such as the acoustics and fast-movement systems of the amazing mantis shrimp, as well as other organisms like fungi and trap-jaw ants. Coming in this summer I already had a broad idea of what I might be doing for my research project: studying the spines* of mantis shrimp and other animals, and seeing how the structures of these spines affect their puncture mechanics. In other words, printing model spines out and poking ballistic gel.

One of the things I hope to do this summer is gain more technical knowledge on the procedures I use in my project. For example, my project involves a fair amount of 3D modeling and printing, neither of which I had ever done before. However, for the past week I’ve had the good fortune of being able to practice operating the Patek Lab’s Makerbot 3D Printer, and try my hand at a few different modeling programs. This meant that by Friday afternoon, I was grinning down stupidly at a 2-inch lionfish spine that I had isolated from a CT scan and printed out myself, and my initial doubts about my ability to handle my project had been sizably quelled. I’m hoping that I’ll continue to make progress in learning different scientific and technical techniques; and in the end, I hope to come out not only with a toolkit of skills that I can use in future projects, but also with more confidence in my ability to conduct research.

Left: my work at the lab’s computer.  On the display you can see a lionfish skeleton and an isolated lionfish spine ready for printing. Right: The spine has been printed!

I also hope to gain a better idea about what life is like in the lab, both in terms of working with other lab members and in terms of workload. The discovery of new knowledge about the natural world is an inherent part of research, and this enticing prospect is what causes me to seriously consider research as a career path. However, I don’t believe that I can dive into research without at least making an effort to learn about how it may (or may not) change my work habits, work-life balance and other aspects of life. By interacting with/observing my fellow lab members and asking lots of questions, hopefully I can gain a more accurate picture of what it means to be a research scientist, and decide whether that is truly the life for me.

Overall, through BSURF I hope to learn more about methods for exploring science, learn more about a living a life dedicated to research, and in the process, learn more about myself and my capabilities as a scientist. And no matter what I discover or decide by the end, I hope that this summer will be a fun and eye-opening one!

The Patek Lab members (+ the two Patek kids) over at Dr. Patek’s for dinner last Friday!

 

*The stabby bits, not the backbone 😀

Fecal Samples!

I have spent the past five summers working as a summer camp counselor, so the day to day camp routine comes as second nature. I’ve learned how to tackle many a camp-specific obstacle such as poop in the pool, a lost shoe/pants/shirt/towel/favorite stuffed animal, and an awkward conversation or two. Stepping into a lab, however, is a completely new experience for me. I have been working in the Alberts Lab since January and have enjoyed getting settled into the lab and beginning to understand how a lab functions. Twice a week during the school year, I weighed baboon fecal samples. Walking into the lab this summer, however, I still felt the nervousness and excitement other BSURF-ers had mentioned.

The Alberts Lab focuses on animal behavior, specializing in baboon behavior. The lab studies the behavior of and collects samples from a baboon population in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya. The project I will be working on this summer will be studying how hormone levels fluctuate during the rainy and dry season, and how this affects fertility. Three other students in the lab and I are extracting hormones from fecal samples collected in Amboseli.

Now that I have gotten into a new routine in the lab, the nerves have subsided somewhat and I am simply excited to see what I will learn this summer. I expect that this learning will not only be proper pipetting technique and lab protocols. I also hope to learn what being a professional researcher is like and the different paths one can take. During lab meeting and lunches with the post-docs this past week, I have heard stories about field research that spark my interest and curiosity. I look forward to more of these in the coming weeks! Another expectation that I have for the summer (which has already come true) is that I will make mistakes. I know mistakes are part of any learning process, though they are far from my favorite part. I also hope to create strong relationships with the people in my lab. Finally, I expect to continue the research I begin this summer during the school year, and feel very grateful to be able to spend a concentrated amount of time in the lab.

The Alberts Crew, 1 week done!

Trust, but verify

I started in my lab only midway through the week, and by then, the imposter syndrome had set in. Hearing about all the things that my fellow BSURFers were doing and learning, I felt incredibly incompetent. However, when I finally met Dr. Williamson (my primary mentor) on Wednesday afternoon, he assured me that mistakes and misunderstandings were to be expected and that his motto was always to “trust, but verify”. I still feel like I’ve been thrown into the deep end, but at least I have a life vest! I’ve realized that being a budding scientist involves living in almost constant and see-sawing states of confusion and exhilaration.

The Williamson lab studies the bidirectional role of gut microbiota on depression in preclinical mouse models (among other projects). In my first few days during my first real lab experience, a couple of things have quickly become apparent: 1) science involves a lot more waiting around than one would think – for example, the Illumina HiSeq DNA sequencer that we use takes 65+ hours to run! This leads to 2) how incredible the equipment and technology that exists today is, and 3) how single sentences in published papers often represent extremely elaborate and laborious protocols. Science requires patience and perseverance, and it demands knowledge and experience.

This summer I expect to get a glimpse of life as a researcher, I anticipate failing often while learning how to ask for help, I wish to feel the rush of an unexpected discovery, and, most importantly, I hope to foster relationships with my lab that I can build on in the future. I know that research often involves time-consuming lit review and data analysis, but I’m really looking forward to getting my hands dirty!

At our weekly lab meeting!

Shoutout to Tulay for giving me the coolest pen!!

And so it begins..

What would a person normally expect from a summer research experience? Probably meeting new people, getting to know what goes on in a research lab, maybe even being part of some exciting experiments. I guess I have similar expectations. I see this research experience as an opportunity to not only learn more about research and the process while also getting to know other people, but also to better myself as a whole. A bit cliché, but only the truth. I am a pretty reserved person with some self-doubt sprinkled throughout. I’m hoping that this research experience could help me open up a bit; not be too critical about the small, trivial details and become more confident as a person and as a researcher. I’ll also take this opportunity to gauge where my interests lie. Hopefully, by the end of this, I will still want to continue on becoming a researcher. However, I don’t really know what I should expect. It might be more accurate to say, I don’t want to expect too much. Unrealistic expectations can be dangerous.

The lab I work in uses fruit flies in their experiments. My previous research experience is limited to one small research project done with my friends in high school based around plants. I’ve never done anything with living organisms. I usually swat at flies – not exactly the best thing to do in this lab. So, I’m also hoping to learn a bit about fruit flies; maybe even develop a likeness to them. Maybe I’ll even learn to understand them! (that might be a stretch).

Like mentioned before, I don’t have much experience in research; all of this is new to me, so I’ll look forward to everything that comes my way. Also, very cliché. I was told that despite what happens, I’ll learn from everything, even the mistakes. Actually, especially the mistakes. The one definite thing that I expect is to make mistakes. All in all, hoping for the best and looking forward to some tasteful mistakes.

Attempting to sort through a group of fruit flies

CT Scans Aren’t Just for Doctors

A textbook can give me the equation for principal stresses and the Young’s Modulus for a 6061-Aluminum shaft, but it can’t give me the experience of working with cervical spines and human brains. Joining Dr. Bass’ Injury and Orthopaedic Biomechanics Laboratory, I was at first apprehensive of what I would exactly be doing, but excitement and fascination quickly consumed any nerves as I witnessed Micro CT scanning in action and learned the basics of the LS-DYNA finite element analysis modeling program.

The optimist residing in me hopes to reap results that will be new, fresh, and add to the ongoing scientific conversation in this biomechanics field. There is always the exciting dream of discovering the true mechanism behind concussions, or designing a program that can take individual measurements and parameters and custom-make football and military helmets. The realist in me doesn’t expect to even come close to those long-term goals by the end of my BSURF summer, but definitely wants a deeper understanding of the parameters that affect head injury; be immersed in several new terms, tools, methods, and skills that will allow me to fathom how linear and angular velocity and acceleration play into mild traumatic brain injury. And of course the pessimist exists, though ever so tiny, always the fear that I don’t have enough knowledge to experiment, program, and actually gain results and make even the slightest difference. Already, I have experienced the frustration of modelling and switching up the slightest of parameters just to have the program fail again. All three bodies of mind comprise my expectations and aspirations for my summer research, and ideally their balance will mold an eventful summer.

After this first week, I think I’m finally getting my head wrapped around how much failure or stagnation in research can be constant and prevalent, and I think I understand what the meaning of research entails. There is no step-by-step lab manual given, no known value to try and match, no black and white; there is simply the unknown, the questions, and the scientists brave and vulnerable enough to chase after answers.

On a less technical note, I want to find as much joy as I can. This is my first real college research experience, and I want to make the most of it, regardless of the results I get. I want to make connections with lab and Fellowship members and  gain life advice and experience from coworkers, mentors, faculty, and friends. Having fun, crafting timeless memories, and making lifelong friends are always at the top of my agenda!

Using LS-DYNA and LS-PrePost to analyze a brain model for head injury!

Start of a New Chapter

A little less than a year ago, I was filled with anticipation as I was about to begin my first year here at Duke. I was starting my college career and was filled with so many questions and expectations as how the year would end up turning out. Looking back at my first year, I realize how much I have learned. From learning how to do my own laundry to the fundamentals of linear algebra and everything in between, I have realized how much learning can be done in such a short period of time.

Fast forward to this summer and once again I am filled with so much anticipation over the amount I am about to learn with the start of another new chapter: this time in research. I have never had the opportunity to do research before and am more than excited to discover what it is all about. This summer I will be working in the Collier lab, a biomedical engineering lab, with my mentor, Nikki Votaw. The Collier lab does research with self-assembling peptides to aid in therapeutic immune responses. Nikki has already taught me so much and I can’t wait to see where this summer takes me.

I hope I come out of this summer not only gaining confidence working in a research environment but also learning how to start posing my own scientific questions and improving my critical thinking skills. Furthermore, I hope this summer is a chance to be able to take my learning to the next level beyond the classroom experience.