Category Archives: BSURF 2018

Blogs for the Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Fellowship 2018

This is long overdue…

I know, I know, this is really late. I am just now getting time to ponder of the experience I had this summer, but words cannot express how thankful I am for being able to participate in BSURF this summer. The friends I made, the faculty talks, and the research experience all made this summer very special and one that I will truly cherish. I was honestly so nervous beginning this program. I was so nervous about not being smart enough and I was nervous that I was not going to enjoy research. But with all new experiences, I believe uneasiness can be a good thing. It’s good to come out of your comfort zone, and the fact that participating in this new experience initially made me uneasy (but excited of course) meant that in some way, what I was about to do was important for my growth as an individual. I can happily say that this program did cause me to grow– in academic knowledge, confidence, knowing my strengths and weaknesses, and setting new goals for myself. Furthermore, BSURF has definitely influence my career endeavors because research is definitely something I want to do again in the future.

As I elaborated on in my previous post, one aspect that I really enjoyed about BSURF was the faculty talks. I really liked how the faculty not only talked about their research interests, but their own career paths–the ups and downs– and how it got them to where they are. This was really influential to me because I was able to see and understand that although things may not always go as planned, life works its way out.

I just want to give a special thank you to the people in my lab for making me feel welcome. I also want to thank my mentor, Connor, for teaching me about different aspects of research and allowing me to work on your project. Furthermore, I want to thank my PI, Dr. Calakos, for letting me obtain this initial research experience from your lab. Finally, I want to thank Dr. Grunwald and Jason for this summer and for facilitating my, and my fellow peers, ability to make connections with professors and important faculty in the various fields of biological sciences. Man, this was such a fun summer and I hate to see it end, but I know this experience is only the beginning and has provided me with a clearer lens of what I want to do in the future. 🙂

Final Stage: Thank You

During the poster presentation Friday, someone approached me and told me that he had read many of these blogs and liked my style, applauding my writing. Before I could really grasp that he was not simply after the 30-second rundown of my poster I had laboriously perfected the prior night, he continued through the parade of posters ephemerally as I squeaked a meek ‘thank you.’

I say it so dreamily because it certainly was one of the most touching experiences this summer, right with seeing my entire lab flood into the hall, looking around for me and Christine (who also presented under the Summer Neuroscience Program). It was somewhere in that moment that I realized they had become my family- a clutter of familar voices cutting through the mob and somehow I already know what they’re saying. An ineffable feeling that Dr. Colton is in front, like a flag-bearer in her blue blazar, and somewhere lagging behind is Hui Fang glancing around. Stuart, now unaddled by the broken A/C of the lab, is out of his lab coat and in a buttoned shirt- plaid -and shorts as things should be, and notices me first along with Angela. Joan wastes no time walking closer, steering the group in my direction, including Kendra undistracted by all the other flashy posters. Like the 5th grade science fair where your parents came despite having work, except with so, so many more questions about the science and not the closest bathroom. As BSURF concludes, I realized how many memories and experiences I have tied to this summer, and how many people I wish to thank beyond a 10′ by 5′ poster corner could.

Thank you Dr. Grunwald and Jason Long. I think you both are entirely aware of how impactful this program can be because you watch it happen every year, but for repeated emphasis, this summer has been LIFE-CHANGING. Perhaps not in a existential manner, but definitely in a navigational one. From working behind the scenes with food, finances, and fun to arranging informative experiences and talks, both of you have helped us tremendously to stay on track while still being so tolerant and flexible. I really enjoyed getting to know both of you these two months, especially in this environment where your mentorship skills really thrived. Interviewing with Dr. Grunwald had me in complete admiration from the start- both from his office’s many reptilian tanks and his scientific authority -and this has only continued to grow around your charisma towards students, and Jason’s welcoming and attentive chats. Although I had some trouble with my chalk talk, there was no dip in support, and in that atmosphere, how could I not learn to improve, to present, to communicate.

Thank you to Dr. Colton and my lab. Everyone has been incredibly friendly and helpful these two months: answering endless swarms of questions, guiding me towards what goals I should have, casual conversations and parties, and tireless jokes about my sleeping habits in and out of lab. Quite honestly, this has been the undergraduate lab experience I dreamed of, an appropriate balance of independence and mentorship, fascinating research topics with several directions that convene regularly, mellow lab environment without pressure to perform, and meetings to reinforce professionalism and ambitions while remaining friendly. I do mean it quite seriously when I claim everyone as like family, and that includes our now-gone, infant (or perhaps fetus would be more accurate?) Taylor (Good luck on college applications and the SAT/ACT!). I have picked up much from being around everyone, such as how to interact with lab members and the path to designing one’s own project about a topic. Even the finer nuances of the lab like project timelines, lab presentations, reagant costs, and technical tips and tricks to spitting out 5 Westerns in a week. I have so much more I’d like to attribute to everyone, but there will be plenty of time for me to pester the lab with them, since I will be sticking around for three more years to further look into UK114 🙂 See you in a month!

Thank you to my audience! This includes my peers, other researchers, and yes, those reading my blogs! I know how long these posts are- apologies -but I would like to ramble a bit more on how grateful I am for your support and future interactions. It is somewhat strange for me to process that my vehicle for transcribing my thoughts and project directions has actually been reviewed by a professional audience, and apparently enjoyed. Those small moments really are both moving and exciting, alerting me to just how interactive a community research can be. I hope to continue working hard to impress those looking on without deviating too far from my current style.

Weekly Highlights

“What is your name?”- a random PI grabbing a drink at the same time I was at the BioCore symposium whose name I unfortunately did not catch
“Oh, Dang”-Dang
“And where are you from, sir?”-PI
“South Carolina?”-Dang
“Oh are you from MUSC? (the Medical University of South Carolina)”-PI
“OH! Oh no. I am an undergrad.”-Dang *strangely explaining that he is not a medical student for the third time this year*

“IT’S FREEZING”-Stuart running around in lab coats for warmth trying to find out how to fix the thermostat

“Hey, Hui Fang, do you want to join a luncheon for my program?”-Dang
“What? Really?”-Hui Fang
“Uh, yeah”-Dang
“Really?!”-Hui Fang

“Good morning?”-Joan opening lab at 6 am
“Good morning Joan :)”-Dang cracking open his third Western gel
“…How long have you been here”-Joan
“I never left”-Dang

“You should sleep more Dang!”-Christine
“I feel so rested though!”-Dang
“You fell asleep three separate times during the talk”-Taylor

“What is that green ice cream?”-Marilyn
“I think it’s green tea?”-Angela
“It’s got some weird off green color. Oh Dang got some, how is it?”-Stuart
“…it has…like…no real flavor?? It is green tea I think”-Dang on his third bowl of it

“So like, no ulterior motive or anything, but could you hypothetically drink the 200 proof ethanol?”-Dang with serious but innocent inquiries
“Uh, I think? I think I asked that question when I was new too.”-Stuart

“Stuart what would weird black orbs in your culture mean?”-Dang
“Oh, is there an infection? What do they look like?”-Stuart
“Well I think they’re yeast, but they’re like orbish and black. Really round. Here let me show you, I caught it and cultured it in a well”-Dang
“You what”-Stuart
—-later—
“So, I accidentally treated the same well with hydrogen peroxide meant for one of my experiments, so I think I killed them all”-Dang
“What? Are you sure they weren’t debris or anything?-Stuart
“Yeah it definitely wasn’t! There were a ton of them and they were all different sizes!”-Dang
“Hmm, well show me if you find them again I guess?”-Stuart
—later—
“So, it turns out Stuart, that they were just bubbles”-Dang
“What the heck haha you had me worried. You were trying to grow bubbles?”-Stuart

SUMMER BLOOPERSHIGHLIGHTS

*in the midst of Lefkowitz’s talk about his career*
“Oh god I left the hot plate on”-Dang as he nervously begins staring at the clock for when he can run back to lab

“Oh thank god it didn’t explode”-Dang finding the hotplate still on with the bowl of water completely evaporated
*bowl shatters*

“zzz”-Dang asleep while waiting for chemiluminescent exposure time
*Hui Fang softly knocking outside the locked imaging room for 5 minutes*

“Now just carefully….”-Dang cracking open his first Western gel
*gel case shatters*
“…stab the gel with shrapnel…”-Dang
“How did the Western go?”-Hui Fang
“Did you learn how to solve jigsaw puzzles in your other lab?”-Dang turning around with 5 scraps of gel

“Wow we’re back at lab already?”-Dang
“You were snoring right after we left Dr. Colton’s house”-Joan

Are you a student here?”-a high schooler touring through the Bryan Research Building
“Yes, I am! A rising second-year”-Dang
“Oh wow, where did you go for undergrad?”-high schooler
“Oh, um. I actually am still an undergrad…Do I look that old?”-Dang

So you’re only a first-year?”-Dr. Colton
“Yup!”-Dang
“Well, our lab is always open to having medical students onboard!”-Dr. Colton
“Oh. Oh no. I’m an undergraduate.”-Dang’s first interaction with Dr. Colton ever (actually in October)

Funding provided by Duke University Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. THANK YOU BSURF!!!! 

B-Surf? More like A+Surf

Up until last semester, I viewed science in one context- to learn science. I had never been exposed to the other spectrum- to do science. While we “did scientific experiments” in high school labs, it just felt like I was following instructions on cookbook. It wasn’t until I got to Duke that I actually felt like I was attempting to answer questions that hadn’t been asked before. This summer, I got to feel the satisfaction of not only asking interesting questions and even successfully answering one of them. This summer, I got to do science and nothing but science.

Funny enough, it wasn’t the doing science that I will cherish the most about this summer. The most invaluable moments are the 20 minute weekly philosophical talks about science by mentor, Mariano.

I would say one of the greatest lessons I learned this summer is that there is no capital T Truth; there are only many lowercase t truths that can suggest a capital T Truth. I knew about this saying, but getting a first hand experience of trying to reveal a truth cemented these words in me. I began to question not only if my truths were sufficient enough to infer about a Truth, but also if other things I thought were True were ever only true. I am a very trusting person, and before this summer, if you were to tell me something is science was True, I would probably shrug my shoulders and believe the Truth. Now, however, since there isn’t a Truth, I am able to critically think about whether there is even enough truths to even suggest a Truth.

Another similar (almost depressing) lessons I learned about is the vastness of the unknown. In ecology, there is what happens in the lab, what happens out in the field, and what happens in nature. No matter how hard we try, there is just no way that we can simulate exactly what happens in nature in the lab or out in the field. This hangs over each researcher’s head, because there is just isn’t a way of knowing exactly what’s happening in nature. There is no way of even predicting how much of the unknown is there. This is a scary thought, but finding comfort in the vastness of the unknown is solace in and of itself.

Honestly, I think I will remember these lessons more than the specifics about the inheritance of Arabidopsis thaliana.

I guess I would kind of say I figured out that I not only loved doing science, but almost liked learning about the drawback even more. These lessons helps to put science in context of the natural environment, and I love nature all that more after realizing the breathtaking immenseness of its complexity.

Thank you so much to Dr. Gurnwald and (future Dr.) Jason Long for allowing me to learn and do so much science. Thanks to the Donohue lab for being the kindest people.

Although I won’t be continuing this lab during the semester (I realized I am more interested in the molecular side of things), I am beyond grateful for the experiences I have had.

Also sorry for the title. I can’t help myself sometimes.

ByeSURF!

My BSURF experience has been incredibly enjoyable and rewarding.

Having grasped certain techniques, as well as a bigger picture understanding of how to plan out experiments, I now feel that I can independently ask and answer a pretty wide range of scientific questions in my lab. Considering how dependent I felt on my mentor at the beginning of the summer, this achievement seems very special indeed.

As a whole, the summer gave me a small taste of the mixed emotions that I imagine all scientists experience: the frustration that comes with a series of negative results, and the great satisfaction of finally making a significant breakthrough. After several weeks of optimizing my techniques, it started to seem as though the link I was exploring – a regulatory connection between ABL kinases and SLC7A11 – might not exist after all. Eventually, after I had convinced myself that I was most definitely wasting my time by continuing to pursue this project, I was able to show that ABL kinase inhibition does in fact cause a reduction in SCL7A11 protein levels, confirming the connection. This experience showed me the importance of sticking with a project even if you get discouraging results along the way, rather than immediately replacing it with something new.

I am very grateful to have participated in such a well-organized program and to have worked in such an outstanding lab. Thank you to Dr. Grunwald and Jason for giving me this opportunity, and for all their support throughout the summer. And of course, thank you to Dr. Pendergast and my mentor, Jill, for guiding me through my first real research experience. I look forward to continuing to work in the Pendergast lab next semester!

Goodbye BSURF

I am beyond thankful to have had the opportunity to be apart of the BSURF program. I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing researchers. I got to hear talks from amazing faculty members. I have also gotten to form bonds and make memories with the other students in my program. I am sad to see these 8 weeks come to an end.

When I first started in my lab, I was very nervous about how everything would work out but I was open to the learning experience. Over the course of the summer, I realized that I truly do enjoy working in a lab. I enjoyed planning and executing experiments. Over the summer, I had to help create a protocol and it is cool to see results come from the protocol I worked on.

Over the summer, I had to present my topic/data multiple times. Learning how to properly present data to an audience is crucial if I want to work in research in the future. Though I was nervous each time, having a solid background in my topic and tips from our program directors made me feel more confident in my presenting abilities.

As I said before, I am thankful for the opportunity I was given this summer. I would like to thank Dr. Hammer for having me in her lab this summer. I would also like to thank my mentors, Nourhan and Hsin-I for working with me and making my experience in the lab enjoyable. Finally, I would like to thank the directors for the program, Dr. Grunwald and Jason Long, for their guidance and support over the summer.

My mentors and I at the final poster session

BSURF Series Finale

I came into this summer initially wanting to focus on being able to ask tough questions in order to further myself as a scientist. When I originally came up with this goal, I thought that I would be coming up with some grand paradigm changing question, but I found that the questions I learned to ask this summer were even more valuable. I learned how to question myself at every stage of the protocol in order to understand not just how to do something, but why I was doing it, providing me with better insight into this project. So while I was not coming up with earthshattering questions, learning to critically evaluate myself and not just the world around me has increased my ability as a scientist.

Over this summer I have also learned that failure is not the end all be all. In the lab, I learned that while experiments may not always go the way that I think they should, I can still learn from them by seeing how this experiment failed, and in turn improving myself my learning how to fix it. From the talks, I learned that while some of these scientists experienced setbacks in their early years, they were still able to lead amazing careers because they did not let those setbacks define them. That has been a hard lesson for me to learn as whenever something does not go right in my life I obsess over it and think that it reflects my shortcomings as a person. But I have learned that science is built more on failure than it is by success, and a failure can be significantly more valuable than a success if you are able to learn from it.

Overall, this has been a fantastic summer and while my project did not go as expected, I still learned quite a bit in the last 8 weeks. I would like to thank Dr. G and Jason for allowing me to even be part of this program, and I would like to thank everyone at the Murphy lab for putting up with me for these last 2 months.

 

 

BSURF 2018

In my BSURF application, I wrote that I hoped to use this summer to explore a new field of biology and to connect with animals that I had not worked with before. Now at the end of the program, I feel so grateful looking back and seeing that those two things are exactly what the experience has enabled me to do. I found so much satisfaction learning neurobiology, linking animal behaviors to the underlying neural mechanisms. I found so much joy working with mice (except when SuperFiesty bit me, jumped away from my hand and almost gave me a heart attack). During the first week, I felt nervous, unsure, overwhelmed. I remember looking at the schedule for eight weeks and thinking to myself what a long journey it would be. Retrospectively, it was indeed quite a journey. But I can’t say enough how happy I felt with every little step I made along this way, whether that is a deeper understanding of the experiment, progress with the habituation, increasing familiarity with the techniques or simply nice conversations with the people in my lab and with the amazing friends I got to make. Thank you to Dr. Grunwald and Jason for giving me this chance. It has been a valuable learning experience. Like what Dr. David said, I just started to feel so comfortable operating on my BSURF schedule and here comes the graduation. But that’s okay, because every time I walk into the lab again, I’ll remember how all this began.

Yesterday, I told my mentor that when I first looked at the mouse brain on the confocal, it felt like I was looking into a galaxy. In a sense, that’s true for the summer, because I am starting to see a whole new world of ideas and possibilities.

It is with great excitement and gratefulness that we cheer to a future with more science, more friendships, and of course, more mice!

Week 8 – This Summer Has Been Great

Well… Great is an understatement. My time this summer has been enlightening and better than I could have imagined.

At the start of the program, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue a career in research. I also didn’t know what type of research interested me, nor did I have any prior research experience. Throughout the last 8 weeks, I learned valuable skills that I can continue to use in the future. With my mentor’s guidance, I learned and improved the technical skills necessary to conduct the hormone research done in the lab. Some of these skills include drying, aspirating, and pipetting samples, all while handling radioactive and biological specimens. Aside from the technical skills needed at the bench, I improved my communication skills. Although I was aware of what constitutes an abstract, I learned how to effectively communicate through informal talks (like a chalk talk) and a poster thanks to my mentor, Dr. G, and Jason.

One of my favorite parts of BSURF was listening to the various experiences scientists had throughout their career. The faculty talks showed the diverse range of research being done at Duke in different fields. From extremophiles to neuroplasticity to the microbiome, hearing from all the PIs during the faculty talks showed the variety of topics an individual can focus their research on. The faculty talks also provided the opportunity to learn about the decisions the PIs made to reach the current phase in their career that they are in now. These experiences, along with the experiences of my mentor and PI, have increased my awareness of how I could proceed in scientific research following my undergrad.

I greatly enjoyed my research experience this summer, and I look forward to delving more into my scientific interests. Working in the Alberts Lab deepened my interest in evolutionary anthropology, and I plan on taking classes in the department to learn more about primate social behavior.

I am truly grateful for all the knowledge I gained from my mentor Dr. Laurence Gesquiere, my PI Dr. Alberts, Dr. G, and Jason, along with my fellow BSURFers. This has been a truly amazing opportunity and I’m so grateful to have had this experience.

11 Faculty Talks, 450+ hours of lab, and a unquantifiable amount of fun later…

I have had one of the most worthwhile experiences in a long time. I got to continue to work full time in a lab that I love, meet amazing faculty speakers with all different experiences, and really work on my skills as a communicator of science. These 8 weeks have gone by so fast and I can’t believe how much I have accomplished in such a short amount of time.

Even though I was not able to clone and successfully amplify all the genes I wanted, I was able to get promising data for not only my project but another project my lab is working on. I was able to deepen my understanding of developmental biology and have begun to truly love the topic. I am so thankful for having Dr. McClay and Ray be such amazing mentors and guide me throughout my 8 weeks and hopefully the rest of my undergraduate career. They have both given me the reigns on my own project and what I want to do from very early on and I am so grateful that I was able to get so much autonomy when doing my experiments because I grew so much from it.

The faculty speakers have also broadened my knowledge of the possibilities after college as well as the importance of things you usually won’t associate with science. Science communication and networking was brought up on many talks and I am so glad that I got to learn ways to communicate my science better and tips to network with other people in the sciences and form collaborations. In fact, I hope to continue to post on my science-specific Twitter account (follow me @Michael_Wen_) as well as participate in more science outreach like how I helped out at the Eno River Festival booth for the NC Herpetological Society. I actually applied to be a tour guide for the Lemur Center to take concrete steps to improving my network and science communication.

After hearing all the faculty speakers and realizing that I love being in the lab, this experience has affirmed that I want to continue doing research for the rest of the time I am at Duke and hopefully go into the route for academia once I graduate. I am so happy how I now have a better understanding of what I want to do in the future and what I don’t want to do.

Thank you so so much to Jason and Dr. Grunwald for being such great mentors and for planning such an amazing program for up and coming scientists. Thank you to all my fellow peers for making this summer such an enjoyable one.

Dr. McClay, my PI, during the BioCoRE Symposium Poster Session

Ray Allen, my graduate student mentor, at the BioCoRE Symposium Poster Session

 

The End of the Road

Before my journey at Duke began, I never thought I would do research. I saw research as just working with mice 24/7 and doing menial tasks, not anything special at all that I would enjoy. And yet, something in my head told me to try it anyway. I thought, I go to Duke, a university with so many opportunities to cash in on. What kind of student would I be if I didn’t do exactly that, and see if research really was all that I expected it to be? And next thing you know, I became apart of BSURF for the summer.

For one, research was not what I expected. First, I worked with flies and not mice (which was great because I still have yet to get over my slight fear of mice). Secondly, the tasks I did were in fact meaningful and were always important to my overall project or someone else’s. Also, everyone in my lab was welcoming and easy to speak to, which created a fun environment for me to make myself at home in the lab.

I learned a lot about myself and what I like and dislike about science. For example, while I do think the research I’ve done is interesting and will make an impact on humans someday, I realized that I do still love neuroimmunology and I think I would enjoy research that was more medicine related. Additionally, I want the research I do to directly affect patient lives in relatively short time spans (not sure what that really entails yet).

But overall, what I will take away from BSURF is that it’s okay to not know. In the beginning of this program I hoped that by the end I would have an answer as to whether I want to pursue research as a career alongside becoming a doctor. And now that I am at the end, I still don’t have an answer. However, by hearing from various faculty speakers, especially doctors that have been in my position, I realized that I just have to roll with the punches of life and take everything one step at a time. I’ve accepted that I won’t figure everything out now, and maybe with more experience  with research, my path in life will become more clear.

All in all, I appreciate the summer I’ve had. Although I have  more questions that answers, I don’t regret my decision to participate in BSURF and I’m glad I got to be surrounded by great scientists all summer.

A big thank you to Dr. Grunwald, Jason, my lab (especially Dr. Volkan, Bryson, and Ambika), and my fellow BSURFers for making this summer a great one! Thank you to Trinity College for funding my research. And of course, thank you to everyone that has taken the time to read my blog posts. 🙂

The end of the chapter

At the beginning of the program, I made some goals, and fortunately, I reached those goals.  As a refresher, here were my goals I wanted to accomplish:

  1.  I would like to learn to make mistakes.
  2.  I would like to learn to be patient.
  3.  I hope to be able to communicate and learn from the community around me.

The first and second goal go hand-in-hand.   I did make some mistakes during the program.  I did not use the correct amount of DNA, I made a mistake during a presentation (i.e. mixed up some background information), produced blots where the positive control failed ( I’m not sure what went wrong), and produced blots where the IPs did not show up, when the inputs did (again, I am not sure what went wrong).  However, I’ve learned to troubleshoot, and I am continuing to learn to troubleshoot and accept that things do not always work and you have to keep trying.  On the same note, cell cultures (especially when starting with single cells) grow very slowly, western blots with IPs takes approximately 4 days, so you need to be patient.  If the science does not work, you will have to start again taking even more time, thus, science takes patience and is all about delayed gratification.

The third goal was also achieved.  Through BSURF led by Dr. G and Jason, my peers and I were able to listen to amazing talks, give chalk talks, and will give a poster tomorrow. Through my lab, I was able to present what I have accomplished in the summer, and learn from others in my lab.  I feel very lucky to have been able to communicate about my science and learn from others as well.

I am really thankful for this experience, and I truly feel that this experience allowed me to see what it is like to do research full time. The BSURF program makes me feel excited about the possibilities of attending graduate school but continues to leave the next step beyond graduate school open.  What do I want to do?  Do I want to go into industry? Do I want to try to start a startup? Do I want to go into academia?  What are my options?

I am excited to continue my work in this lab, to build strong relationships, and to learn more about my next steps.

Thanks for experiencing this program with me!

”So long, farewell…goodbye

This was the final blog post.

Episode 8- The End of Season Finale

It’s almost hard to believe that 2 months can seem to go by so quickly and yet have been filled with such a variety of ideas, people, and experiences. It’s really helped to put into perspective where I want to go with my future career plans, though I still imagine that they’re liable to change.

Most importantly, I think, is that this summer has really solidified the idea that I want to continue doing research into the foreseeable future. One of my worries was what I’d do if it turned out that being in a lab was more a nightmare than a dream, even though I was pretty certain that a laboratory environment would be the one for me. Luckily, I was correct and I found it to be great, particularly that I’m only really working closely with a small group of people with an overall goal, but each part of the goal is handled fairly independently by each person with some overlapping reliance on others. The flexible schedule with some routine but enough variation to keep things from becoming stale is also an appealing aspect.

It’s also helped me really consider where I want to go with my education in biology. I thought that perhaps I would find my love for genetics once again by being in the lab I’m currently in, but I’ve found that maybe that won’t be the case. Actually, during the summer I’ve looked into other subjects thanks in part to the speakers we heard throughout the summer and I really think I might want to learn more about microbiology, behavior, and the application of biology in industry. While I know that’s bound to change again, this summer has really renewed and invigorated my love for science. I do plan to remain in the lab I’m in to see if maybe I need more time and exposure to the ideas central to the research since it is fairly interesting and two months doesn’t seem like enough time to really come to a sound conclusion (and also my somewhat distant feeling about the research might come from the lack of progress over the past two months. It can be a bit difficult to engage a subject when you’re main exposure to it has been its stubbornness to cooperate).

As far as my ideas about science, I can’t really say how they’ve changed in any particular way. There have been no real “ah-ha!” moments over this past summer, but it’s not as if those moments happen particularly often. Many of the ideas I’ve heard this past summer have been ones I’ve heard before said in a slightly different way or from a different perspective, but with the same central idea. However, that’s not to say that my ideas and perspectives haven’t changed. They have, but in a way that is more nebulous and hard to express concisely. It’s like when you look back over the past year or so of your life and you know you’ve changed and grew since then, but the growth is small across such a variety of aspects that each by itself seems like hardly anything and there are too many to really spend your time considering each one, but together they seem to produce some sense of change. But overall, I can say that I feel closer to what makes science, science, whether it be because of the people who have changed it, understanding its principles, respecting its power to bring forth knowledge about our world, just from being able to be a small, small part of it for a short time, or a number of other things.

Science is amazing, and even though sometimes I, like many of us, need a bit of a break from reading and thinking and talking about it, I hope I don’t ever lose sight of that.

Endings and Beginnings

When I first applied to BSURF, I had no idea what to expect. I had no experience working in a research lab, and the thought of dedicating my entire summer to it seemed daunting, to say the least. I felt thoroughly unprepared for what was to come (and that feeling probably carried on with me until Week 3). But as the program started and I began immersing myself more in it, my fears were replaced with enjoyment. I am confident to say that these past couple of weeks have been amazing, and I would not have wanted to do anything else with my time.

From technical laboratory skills to presentations of research, the program has allowed me to learn a lot on my path to becoming a scientist. Under the guidance of supportive mentors, I have gained skills like learning how to run an ITC or plating yeast colonies. Besides technical skills, working in a lab this summer has taught me several life skills as well. The most important one is patience. Sitting for hours on end, waiting for a centrifuge to spin a sample down to a desired volume is a boring task for anyone. Having to do that for every single protein purification made me realize the importance of being patient in science. Results or methods do not appear or finish immediately. Yes, I had to wait more than 6 hours for it to get to the desired volume, but hey, it ended up being worth it as my purifications were successful. Another valuable life skill that I learned was accepting failures. For the past 6 weeks, the data that I was getting from the ITC (calorimetry) instrument was not usable. Sharp changes in a baseline that should be flat, small differences in values between the blank and sample runs, and overnight equilibration that resulted in no run were some of the setbacks I experienced when using the instrument. While I was not able to get the data I needed to get this summer (I’ll try again during the year!), each setback allowed me to learn more about potential problems in our method and potential solutions. Under the guidance of one of my grad students, we were able to fix some problems and have been able to get it to somewhat work recently. Finally, I think this experience has given me direction. I was not 100% sure about wanting to work in a lab in the future, but after this experience, I have realized that research is for me. Whether in industry or academia, I want to continue on my path to become a scientist. This summer was a rigorous, but enjoyable experience that reinforced my goals of being a scientist.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of disappointments (but productive ones!), discoveries, and delights. I am sad that the experience is over, but I feel like I have a lot more direction on what I want to do in the future thanks to the program. So while this summer is ending, my time in research is only beginning.

The End

Summer 2018 is one of the most memorable summers I’ve had in my whole life. I’ve gone to Disneyworld, travelled abroad for a couple of weeks but I can never say I recieved as much as I did from this Summer compared to the past. More imporantly, I feel that I have changed personally and that I have a better understanding of what I want for my future. As of today, I can’t imagine being fully satisfied with myself without investigating some sort of question. As much as I’d like to claim that I’m going to apply to medical school or graduate school I’m not sure where I’ll end up. I do know for sure that I will performing research whether that be in a wet lab or dry lab.

In consequence to this, I’ve agreed to continue to participate in the lab I’ve worked in for the summer. My mentor, Jenny, has been supportive and helped along my mistakes and taught me how to learn from them. Moreover, I was surprised at how willing other members of the lab were to help me when I needed it. In a way, I had something to learn from everyone in the lab-not just my mentor. I am very pleased that they asked me if I wanted to continue to work with them because there was a part of me that felt I was a nusiance for having no idea what I was doing. It was through this that I learned that part being a scientist means being willing to train others in your science or trade. Otherwise, the story that you’re attempting to construct cannot possibly be continued.

In terms of me changing personally, I will attribute this to Dr. Greenwald and the program itself. I feel that I’ve become more open-minded to things such as animals and public speaking. After volunteering at the Eno Festival, I have more empathy towards snakes and feel a need to defend them when someone speaks ill of them. I have also come to understand the relevance of presenting data verbally in the science community. To be honest, I’m naturally very shy and I’ve been waiting my whole life to understand why having public speaking skills was relevant to me. After doing my chalk talk earlier this month, I understand why being able to present effectively is useful and essential for my career.

In short, the BSURF program met my expectations and more. It has opened my mind up to the possibilities research provides and the many pathways I can take to getting there. I have an understanding of what research is and what it means to be involved in discoveries. I have learned biomolecular skills and background knowledge. Furthermore, I know what role I want to play a science. Thank you Dr. G, Jason, Jenny, Dr. Perfect and to my peers for making this a truly memorable Summer.

Much More to Discover and Learn!…

The past eight weeks in the BSURF program have truly been amazing. My time in the program and in the Brennan Lab has exceeded all my expectations coming into this summer. I remember that some of my most important goals coming into this summer was getting a better idea of what I wanted to study, do meaningful research, to build a bigger network, and lastly to bond with other students in the program. Although eight weeks is still a relatively short amount of time, I felt that I truly got to take great strides in these regards, if not successfully complete them.

Tackling the idea of figuring out what I wanted to study was something that was made more clear to me through my own research and also the guidance of my mentor and guest speakers. I’ve always felt that a lot of things in science were interesting and that if I set my mind on any one subject, I would eventually be passionate in it. During this summer, with the abundance of guest speakers, I sort of got to test that theory out. Listening to speakers investigating a wide range of sciences allowed me to get a better idea of what I wanted to study. I found that while certain topics of science were interesting, they didn’t quite align with the way my curiosity was urging me to investigate. Growing up, I had always been a visually learner. If I could see it happening and see the moving pieces of why it was happening, that helped me better understand a certain idea. This exact concept was practiced upon in the lab I worked on this summer. X-ray crystallography in the Brennan Lab was an interesting concept that while I had heard of, never had the chance to deeply explore until now. Working to build structures of protein and seeing how certain sites interacted with other molecules was really fascinating. And while my research this summer was attempting to progress towards possibly solving a structure, building from the very base of expression, this type of thinking gave me an idea of what I wanted to study in the near future: attempting to build structures and models of proteins and see how they interact with other molecules. This curiosity also steers my courses towards a more biochemistry focused schedule, somewhat clearing up my dilemma of what to study. I also still do believe that a scientist will go through many phases of wanting to learn about many different things, leaving the future with exciting possibilities.

I came into this summer unsure exactly what “meaningful research” meant. From an outside perspective, it seemed that all meaningful research had to be groundbreaking or on a “hot” topic. This summer has completely changed what I define as meaningful research. I’m sure this definition will change many times as my career evolves but currently meaningful research to me is simply research that allows me to deeply learn about a topic I find interesting. Hands-on work and visual work has always been a dimension of learning that I haven’t been able to experience outside the classroom, so through this summer my work has certainly been meaningful. Further, I will also add that working towards a larger goal, in this case solving a protein structure, certainly brings meaning in my own mind. Being able to possibly contribute knowledge to other and also learn to myself is definitely meaningful to me.

The variety of individuals in science I have met this summer has truly expanded my perspective and also my network. Even a simple conversation or listening to a new speaker allowed me to get an idea how different scientist think and approach their work. Throughout this program an emphasis has been put on communicating work and that ties directly into interacting with other scientists. The amount of researchers at Duke I have met this summer as definitely given me a better idea and perspective of the landscape of research as a whole here at Duke.

Finally, this summer has allowed me to build friendships with other students in the program. With everybody doing challenging research, getting lost in literature papers and being overwhelmed by lab protocols has definitely humorously brought us all closer together. This is possibly the most rewarding part of this summer as these friendships were certainly last as all of us continue our time at Duke.

I’d personally like to thank Dr. Brennan for allowing me to work in his lab this summer. It has been a wonderful experience and I am very much excited to continue working next semester. I’d also like to thank Grace for her mentorship and her patience to help me throughout my learning process. In addition, I’d like to thank all the members of the Brennan Lab for creating a friendly and learning environment and also for helping me whenever I asked a question. Dr. Grunwald and Jason were also crucial to my growth and experience this summer and I would like to thank them for their time and sacrifices.

And for the last time,

Thanks for reading!

 

Luke Sang

Episode 7: d-cas9

Of all the Nobel Laureates and Basically-Nobel-Laureates that came to talk to us this summer, none stood out to me as much as Dr. Anne West. The main reasons that I found Dr. West’s talk so valuable was because it provided me with clarity on where to go in the study of epigenetics. She outline how it was one thing to show that there is a correlation between environmental stimuli and epigenetic changes, but it is an entirely different thing to show a causative relationship between epigenetic changes and phenotypic changes. Her talk also helped me to think about the practicality of the way that we approach an ever changing field with technologies that are over 20 years old.  When Dr. West started talking about how d-cas9 could be used to provide specific modulations to various epigenetic changes, I was particularly interested because it provided isnight for me into how current technological advancements can provide new insights into what is actually happening epigenetically. For instance, if I noticed signifigant methylation changes at a CpG site in a gene, I could use d-cas9 DNA Methyl Transferase to replicate that change(and ONLY that change) in a controlled cohort of mice to see what the true effects of that change are on an organism. It could also be used to rescue epigenetic damage that could be caused by environmental stimuli, without causing the errant mutations that regular cas9 causes. In short, Dr. West showed me a practical next step that could be taken in order to expand on my lab’s epigenetic research while also pointing out the inherent flaws in our approach.

 

An honorable mention for favorite talk would of course be Dr. Noor’s, as she showed me how awesome biological research could be even if a lot of people do not feel that way because it does not have any “practical applications” (see: Nobel Prize).

A Reflection on Dr. Lawrence David’s Talk

Over the last two months, we’ve had many different speakers come to give us talks. It was surreal for me to be in the same room as many people who have conducted breakthrough research (even one Nobel Prize winner!) and accomplished so many things in their lives. It was exciting for me to learn about their work and how their projects and questions evolved. But so many of the pressing questions I had for our speakers regarded what paths they took to get to where they are now and how they found their way. It was really encouraging for me to hear about what their experiences were like at my age and allowed me to be less intimidated by them and relate to them more.

One of the talks that will stick with me is Dr. Lawrence David’s. Dr. David is a fairly new professor at Duke and was hired 5 years ago. His lab studies the microbiome in the human gut and how what you eat affects it. He was the only researcher whose work involved humans as tests subjects, which I thought was really cool. But his talk didn’t focus primarily on his research, rather it focused on how he got to where he is today. He talked about his time at Columbia as an engineering student, at MIT as a Ph.D. student, and at Harvard as a junior fellow. His discussion was peppered with funny anecdotes about things like the time he spent two months eating street food in Thailand as part of his Ph.D., seeing how it affected his gut’s microbiome. He also had a very earnest discussion with us about the frustrations of research, questioning the graduate school route you choose, trying to fit into the world of science, the times you feel like you don’t belong and don’t know what you’re doing.

Some of his lessons were:

  1. Research is going to get weird – that means a breakthrough is coming
  2. Not everyone in the room is smarter than you. A third are but aren’t interested in showing it off and want to be your friend. A third are about as smart as you and can be considered friends as well. Another third isn’t as smart as you but want you to think they’re so much smarter than you are.
  3. The moment you think you know what you’re doing is the moment you’re given your next challenge (graduation).

I think self-doubt is something everyone struggles with when they’re trying to find their way and it was really nice to hear him address than and talk about how even now there are times when he wonders if he should have gone to medical school. I felt like I could relate to some of Dr. David’s experiences and that was really exciting to me. His story emphasized the importance of an open mind, trusting yourself, and welcoming change. His talk is definitely something that I won’t forget and his words of wisdom will continue to resonate with me as I continue on my journey into science. I feel so grateful to have had this experience and hear from so many brilliant, fascinating people. I’ve taken so much away from their talks and they’ve given me a lot of perspective.

Dean Klotman’s lessons from a successful career as a physician-scientist

Over the course of the summer we have had the opportunity to hear from a wide range of exciting and inspirational scientists at Duke, from up and coming faculty members such as Dr. Lawrence David and Dr. Amy Schmid to well-established ones like Dean Nowicki and Dr. Lefkowitz. Last week, Dean Mary Klotman of the Duke School of Medicine spoke to us about her career in clinical medicine and research.

One of Dean Klotman’s first pieces of advice was to ensure that you receive the very best training in each field you wish to pursue – something that she has certainly done throughout her career. She completed her undergraduate degree, medical degree, and her clinical residency at Duke, before moving to the NIH in order to be trained in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Gallo. She also spoke of the importance of using your connections to access new opportunities, which reminded me of Dr. Grunwald’s advice to build and maintain a strong network of scientists as you proceed through your career.

Dean Klotman has spent her research career studying HIV-associated nephropathy, the development of kidney disease in association with HIV infection. She demonstrated that the human immunodeficiency virus, although typically only associated with cells of the immune system, caused the disease by essentially ‘hiding’ inside kidney cells and thereby causing focal scarring of the kidney. Her work led to the successful use of antiretrovirals to treat this once-baffling disease.

Dean Klotman emphasized the advantages of being a physician-scientist, which I found particularly interesting seeing as I am considering pursuing an MD PhD. She argued that her medical training gave her an enhanced perspective on how scientific advances can be translated into improvements in the treatment of patients. Additionally, she explained how physician-scientists can use their patients to gather scientific evidence. For example, a significant breakthrough in demonstrating the link between HIV and focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) came when she found a remarkable improvement in the kidney function of one of her FSGS patients upon treatment with antiretrovirals.

Due to her background in infectious disease, I asked Dean Klotman about the threat of antimicrobial resistance. She emphasized the gravity of the issue and laid out several clinical approaches being taken to tackle it. These include a campaign against the unnecessary use and overuse of antibiotics, the improvement of infection control mechanism, and cooperation between healthcare institutions like Duke Health and the pharmaceutical industry to enable the development of new, effective antibiotics. She suggested that bacteriology would be an interesting field to go into given the current threat posed by antimicrobial resistance, and the need for novel methods of treating bacterial infections. Perhaps this is something for me to consider!