Category Archives: Week 1

Of Mice and Men

Me in the lab

Making the long walk from French Family Science Center to Genome Sciences Research Building II into the Yin Lab for the first day of BSURF, I felt nervous about my first day in the lab. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d spent a few weeks in chemistry lab during one summer in high school, but I knew this experience would be different— I’d never worked with live animals before, a component integral to the research being done in the Yin Lab.

During my first week in the lab, all of my reservations about being in the lab over the summer were put at ease. The postdoc with whom I’m working, Francesco, helped me every step of the way, showing me how to handle, feed, weigh, and train my 8 mice. My project relates to the mechanisms of operant learning in the mammalian brain. To analyze this pathway, we’re using a technique called optogenetic (light-based) stimulation in the mice brains. Essentially, when we illuminate the implanted region of the brain, it’ll either be stimulated or inhibited. Then we’ll try to see if that effect hurts each mouse’s ability to learn how to press a lever and receive a pellet reward.

I’m extremely excited about this project and my summer in the lab. I’ve already met tons of insightful and experienced individuals in both my lab and in the BSURF program. I’m coming into this experience with an open mind. I have two goals this summer: learn lab skills and meet people to learn about them and their science. The BSURF program is well-structured for both of these goals. I’m loving my time this summer, and I’m excited for what’s to come.

Brennan’s Super Ultra Radical FResearch (BSURF)

Hello readers! Welcome to my weekly stream of consciousness blog about my research experience as part of the BSURF program! I just completed my first week of research in the Pendergast Lab, and it has left me excited to begin week two. My first week was spent reviewing my two projects for the summer, getting acclimated to the lab, and planning my experiments for the next week. I also did some thinking and writing about what I hope to gain out of this summer experience. As someone with some previous research experience, I decided that my goal for the summer is to develop as an aspiring scientist. In more concrete terms, my goals are to achieve a higher level of independence in the lab by planning and completing my own experiments, as well as troubleshooting by myself first (before asking for help) when my experiments inevitably fail. I have already begun to develop a close relationship with my graduate student mentor, Jake, as well as many of the other members of the lab. When I can’t figure something out on my own, or when the guidance of a graduate student will aid my work (which I expect to be very frequent), I plan on using Jake and the other members for advice and help when I need. I hope that I can gather data and develop my skills as independently as I can while still successfully completing my two projects!

More about my projects. I am beyond excited to gather data in a largely unexplored territory in the field that we are studying. Earlier in the spring, Jake and some other members of the lab found a list genes that appear to be upregulated in some cases of  the brain metastasis line that we are studying along with the kinase that is the focus point of our research. Some of the targets have already been explored by other members of the lab, but there are still many left to be analyzed, so one of my projects is to dig deeper into some of those genes. I can’t wait to see what we can find out about the 30 or so genes I chose to investigate. Who knows, something really cool could be hiding there! My other project is to replicate a series of experiments that successfully worked earlier in a different cancer cell line. Hopefully this will be a relatively straightforward way to show that the promising results found earlier can be applied to other cancer cell types. With these two projects on my plate, I have plenty to plan and execute!

As I look forward into the next week, I feel nothing but excitement. I am already planning to learn two new techniques (at least), gather some impactful preliminary data, and work towards my goal of improving my autonomy in the lab. My next post will be a week from today, and I expect to have some interesting thoughts and new perspectives to share! See you then.

Pictures coming soon!


A Whole New World (of microglia, imaging, and research)

A year ago, I had no idea what doing “research” meant. The idea, concept, and process always seemed incredibly abstract and foreign, the word eluding to images of sterile rooms filled with people wearing white lab coats seriously tinkering with mysterious liquids in shiny tall beakers. While this vision may seem to hold true upon quick glance at a research lab, stepping into the world of research and joining a research team has been a stark contrast to my previous stereotyped belief of what research is. While lab benches are filled with rows of various liquids and solutions yet unknown to me, the Bilbo/ Eroglu team which I have been working with is filled with approachable, kind, and funny people. One of my hopes for these next few summer weeks is to become integrated into the lab dynamic, gain greater independence, and be viewed as a worthwhile contributor to the project.

Speaking of the project I’ll be working on, for the next two months I’ll be spending my time characterizing the normal developmental pattern of excitatory synapse formation in the anterior cingulate cortex region of the brain, and working towards assessing if and how prenatal exposure to combined stressors alters this development. What this means is I’ll be staining brain tissue obtained from developing mice to be able to image using a confocal microscope then performing image reconstructions to allow for quantification of synapses over various time periods. Plainly said: mark up, image, enhance, then count. So, this week I have been getting familiar with the necessary techniques, machines, and softwares – getting as up to speed as I can. It’s really exciting to think about the novelty of this work, and to think that my data could describe something which has never before been known.

Dipping my feet into work which those who I’m joining in the lab have been studying for years continues to be daunting – it took me nearly the whole first week to really understand the questions I’d be attempting to answer – but I hope that over time I’ll be able to speak confidently about all things brain tissue, microglia, and imaging. I hope to obtain meaningful data, and decipher what the value of doing research will mean, to me.

I’m looking forward to whatever hits in these next few weeks. Welcome to the blog!

Me with one of Dr. G’s (non-venomous, and un-named) snakes!


Science smells like blue cheese?

I can’t remember how many times Dr. G said, “Your first experiment is going to fail,” at our first two meetings.  These words went right over my head, and I definitely didn’t understand what he was talking about until Wednesday, when I was finally allowed to do something in lab by myself.  After two full days of following my postdoc around and being shown so many new techniques my head was spinning, I was told to repeat the first procedure I was shown, creation of a culture medium for E. coli.  Equal parts excited and terrified, I marched off to the cell growth room, dumped 37.5 g of agar in six flasks, added 1.5 liters of water, and autoclaved them.  I was proud that I successfully navigated the autoclave, a huge, intimidating machine that generates a lot of heat.  An hour later, when I removed my flasks from the autoclave, I noticed they were a funny color and producing bubbles.  Hmmmmm.  I asked my postdoc about it, but he thought everything was fine.  The next morning, I came back to a huge mess.  The flasks, which should have contained a light brown liquid, were cloudy and full of clumps of agar.  My postdoc quickly realized my error: I had used LB agar rather than LB broth.  Both bottles are stored in the same cabinet and filled with powder of the same consistency, color, and smell, and I had picked the wrong one.  Uh oh.  Now I had created a huge mess and couldn’t grow the cells from the preculture I had prepared.  All was not lost, however, because I borrowed some media from another lab member.  Long story short, the E. coli I placed in the borrowed media grew too slowly at first and then so quickly that they became overgrown and had to be bleached.  My first experiment had failed before I even got past the first and easiest step.

This early failure revealed a lot about what lab work is like.  First, I’m going to make many, many mistakes.  I’m incredibly fortunate to have a really kind and understanding postdoc.  His patience with my endless questions and general cluelessness about everything in the lab amazes me, and I could not appreciate it more.  As long as I learn from these mistakes, they’re not time wasted.  I can promise you that I will never, ever use LB agar instead of LB broth again.  Second, science doesn’t always work in real life like it does in the textbook.  Sometimes bacteria won’t grow for hours and then multiply too rapidly for reasons unknown to us.  Sometimes you’re working with a “fussy” protein that doesn’t behave the way it should.  Sometimes a protocol that has worked 50 times in a row fails.  There’s a lot more trial and error involved than I was expecting, but again, I’m lucky to be working with a very patient postdoc who has created well-tested procedures.

Two of my goals for the summer are to learn from my mistakes and embrace the uncertainties and questions that accompany research.  I also want to be patient with myself.  I have learned an insane amount of techniques and procedures in the past week, and I forget the details almost immediately after I learn them.  It will take me at least two or three tries (probably many more) before I feel really confident doing something, and that’s okay.  Finally, I want to get to the point where I can walk into the cell growth room without feeling knocked off my feet by the overwhelming stench of bacteria, something that smells to me like bad blue cheese.  All of these goals will be accomplished with increasing hours spent in the lab, and I am ready to have an exciting, surprising, educational, and stinky research experience!


On the first day of lab, I was greeted by the familiar weight of the heavy steel-rimmed doors, the luminous glass windows lining the lobby, and a never-changing view from the sixth floor of the picturesque Chapel, but something felt different. Walking down the hall towards the Ji Lab, my fingers felt a buzz and my heart felt tingly because I knew something was going to be different. Despite the rush of familiarity, there was a new, expansive world of science out there that I needed to see. Scientific discovery was never something meant to be reached or completed, only approached asymptotically, but I was excited for the chase this summer more than ever.

With research as a singular goal, I expect this summer to be a time of deep immersion. During the school year, I was involved a bit already in Dr. Ji’s neurobiology lab. However, I was limited to shorter, more flexible tasks. With research as a focus now, I am excited to try more time-intensive and complicated experiments, such as animal behavior experiments, this summer to contribute to the lab in novel ways. This past week for the first time, I was able to perform Von Frey assay, which measures the ability of mice to detect pain using thin hair filaments as stimulants. More than just learn how to perform new lab techniques, I hope to gain an understanding of the science behind the methods and why they are used, and I want to not only learn how to answer scientific questions but also how to ask them. By working closely with my mentors, I can hopefully understand their thought processes and how they fundamentally approach science.

Professor Patek’s faculty discussion on her journey in finding her role in science really invited me to think deeply and critically about my own relationship with science. How can worth be measured in the world of science? Is an inherent interest not enough to justify a particular field of work? Can countless hours of transferring liquid really amount to any real substance? And so, a personal, yet essential goal I have for this summer is to continue to redefine what science means to me and to discover new meaning in the science I do. What initially drew me to pain research was the agonizing pain that cancer patients often experience, a constant reminder of the fear and stigma surrounding cancer–that cancer equates to death. This heightened sense of mortality is frightening, but also deeply humanistic. Understanding the intersection of cancer and pain holds power to address emotional dimensions of care and pave way for humane treatments. As I learn more about microglia or ion channels and the potential and limitations of science this summer, I expect these reasons to shift and change but hopefully, eventually I can find personal meaning in the work I do that excites me as both a scientist and human being.

The (Action) Potential of Research

Coming into B-SURF, I had very limited experience working in labs outside of the structured step-by-step procedures I followed in the lab section of my science courses. I was even less familiar with the research and the process behind the countless scientific discoveries that appear in the news. I expect that spending these 8 weeks with the B-SURF program will give me the new and exciting experience of working in a research lab and familiarizing myself with all that goes on in carrying out a formal experiment. I hope to have a better understanding of the bridge between the science we learn about in class and the ground-breaking discoveries we see in the headlines. I hope to get to know what happens behind the scenes by not only listening to what my peers are doing in their labs and observing others conduct experiments, but also by answering scientific questions myself.

I expect that I won’t understand everything that is going on in the lab at first glance and that I will be confused and make many mistakes. But I also expect to be okay with making mistakes, own up to them, and transform them into learning experiences. I expect to work deliberately to keep an open line of communication with my graduate student mentor and PI in order to make our collaboration a meaningful one. In particular, I hope to ask a lot of questions and really make sure I understand the purpose of the experiment that I will be contributing to and where my work will fit into the broader research project. I want to learn about all aspects of the research community, ranging from the inspiration of the experiment to the equipment used in collecting the data to the process of publishing a paper.

While I expect to learn a lot of new concepts, techniques, and skills in lab, I also expect to learn a lot outside of lab, through the people I meet and the stories we share. I hope to meet many new people, both in the B-SURF program as well as in the lab, and form meaningful and lasting relationships with them. I hope to have exciting, mind-opening conversations about the work we are doing and listen to the stories and motivations behind their work. I expect to create these connections over the course of this summer, and I hope to keep the relationships going even after we leave and go our separate ways.

Picture in front of my lab building

99%Q & 1%A

We’re sitting in a classroom in French. It’s 9 in the morning. With coffee and nervousness in our veins, we’re listening to Dr. Grunwald as he discusses what is to come in the next eight weeks. “Science isn’t just moving colorless liquids from one tube to the next.” Dr. Grunwald continued, “Science is about communication. Collaboration. Integrity.” And with that, he releases us to go to our labs.

I expect a lot.

This summer I’ll be working in Dr. Adcock’s lab in the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, with my mentor being grad student Abby Hsiung. Her current project is on curiosity, examining how the human urge to close an information gap can be modulated by factors such as engagement, uncertainty, and complexity. With my raison d’être being effective positive impact, it’s incredibly exciting to see where our research could be applied—education, memory, and so on.

Even before I began, I expected a couple things: to get lost in the literature, to get mixed up while reading code, and to ask a lot of questions. These all came true. After a week of reading more background literature, getting access to the testing room, training on the ethics of human research, and marginally increasing my data science skills, I felt more comfortable—getting used to the rhythm of the lab environment as well as mentally accustoming to the workflow. I was able to come up with a project that incorporated my own specific aims, building off of Abby’s work. She helped me streamline my thoughts and build a more cohesive plan for an experiment, and next week, I’ll present my proposal at our lab meeting. That both thrills me and terrifies me, but that’s research—leaping into the unknown to discover an answer, or more likely, discover more questions to propel even more thinking.

I expect to run into some problems throughout the summer, such as realizing I left out some critical component during my first trial or forgetting to manipulate some important variable during data analysis. But I also expect to learn a lot. To be taken by surprise. To make sense of my data. To fail. To get back up. And in the greater context of things, to find out if research is for me. To find out why science isn’t just benchwork or lines of code. To realize what Dr. Grunwald meant by communication, collaboration, and integrity.

I expect a lot. While it’s unknown whether or not these expectations will be fulfilled this summer, well—that’s research in itself! And like research, I’ll find an answer. But if I’m left with further questions, I expect that I’ll find even more meaning in it.

Proposal planning with my friend, the whiteboard!

When Things Start to Glick(feld)

I applied to BSURF in hopes of a hands-on research experience that would allow  me to explore the mechanisms of the brain. I sat at my desk and wrote about my fascinations in the subject. I typed away about neurons and different brain cortexes, or in other words, the very basics of neurobiology. My background in neurobiology was little to nothing, and to be honest, I was a little worried to enter the Glickfeld Lab.

However, I must thank Lindsey Glickfeld, the principal investigator, and Jenny Li, my mentor, as they provided me with informative papers and articles on both general and specific neurobiology discoveries. I was initially overwhelmed with the neurobiology jargon, trying to understand terms like LM vs PM, surround suppression, receptive fields, and more. I knew these words were familiar to the current members in this lab, but completely foreign to me. In my attempts to read each paper, I felt like an imposter, utterly confused on every other word. However, Lindsey and Jenny have sat down with me to discuss each article and have encouraged me to ask questions throughout this process. They draw helpful diagrams on the walls or on napkins, and it is not just them; other lab members come over to help me dissect through confusing data or puzzling procedures.

Although my level of neurobiology knowledge is nowhere near the level of my colleagues, I would argue that it has slowly been on the rise. Things have started to click . . . hence the title. I will admit that it does takes me a relatively long time to read each paper, but I have become more comfortable with the language and am developing a better grasp on neurobiology itself.

Here in the Glickfeld Lab, I am eager to learn from my mentors and lab members. I hope to get to know my colleagues better than the mutual hi in the hallway or the smile and nod in the elevators. I am excited to research something that falls under my interests without the lurking stress of academics. Furthermore, I know I will struggle (I already have!), and I know I will make mistakes. But, I will do my best to power through and learn from these obstacles. I expect to fail, but I also expect to stand back up with the help of my lab. I am grateful to have strong support in the Glickfeld Lab, and I cannot wait to spend my summer here learning under extremely bright minds.

Me in front of the Bryan Research Building!

Mice to meet you all!

Me with Miss Pika! I dyed a lightning bolt on her back!

All terrible puns aside, I’m so excited to be a part of this program and work in Dr. Mooney’s neurobiology lab. Coming into this summer, I had minimal wet lab experience– if you asked me to differentiate a mouse and a rat I would sweat nervously and give you an awkward smile. This past semester, I worked in a psychology lab, which really opened my eyes to the importance of precision in research and the lengthy scientific process. But although psychology research is certainly valuable, I wanted to try something new and push my boundaries. So with my trusty Vans, a heavy backpack, and an open mind, I walked into Dr. Mooney’s lab at 10:30am on Monday, ready to start my scientific journey.

That all sounds really romantic. Truthfully, I was terrified. I had a whole summer of research ahead of me and I had no idea where to start. I was surrounded by machinery, wires, mice and birds, and people buzzing all around me. But Dr. G’s pep talk at the opening breakfast reminded me of my true purpose in the lab: to advance the field of science, and for me to learn. I’ve probably asked a million questions already, and I definitely anticipate asking many more. Fortunately, my postdoc Tom has also been patient and reassuring with me from the beginning. That first day, we had one task: to dye the female mice so we could tell them apart from the male mice, since they’d be in a chamber together. I expected we’d use some high-tech, fancy dye that wasn’t available to the public. This is Duke Neurobiology we’re talking about, right? Serious stuff! So Tom reached into the cabinet and pulled out a box of … Revlon Colorsilk Platinum Blonde. This was the moment I knew that this summer, I will have to expect the unexpected, which is the core of science. A seemingly easy task may turn out to be quite difficult. Some mice might be shy and not vocalize much, not giving us many results to work with. The Matlab programs for data analysis might hit a bug and unexpectedly error out. But at the same time, hard tasks will become easy. Some mice will be great vocalizers, giving us amazing data (thank you, mouse #44!). Sometimes we’ll rewrite some code on a whim, and all of the sudden, the program will run. It sounds cliché, but the beauty of scientific research is not knowing what’ll happen next.

This summer, I can’t wait to experiment with new methods each day, troubleshoot new challenges, and learn as much as I can about the research process and techniques. In five hours on that first day, I learned how to do so much I had never done before. From handling mice for the first time and getting over my uneasiness around animals that aren’t cats or dogs (mice are actually really cute!), to anesthetizing and dyeing the mice, that first day cemented the idea I had thought about for so long: I want to be a scientist.

Sea Urchins & Me: An Exposition

This is new to me. Everything here. My first research experience has been a whirlwind of pipetting and centrifuging and following protocol this past week–a routine of mundane tasks in the lab that, to me, have yet to seem so familiar. Walking into the lab every morning, I am a mix of feelings of curiosity and intimidation and excitement. The novelty makes it all a little frightening, and I’m not sure if I’m more scared or excited each day. But there’s something comforting in the work I’ve done so far in the lab. I enjoy how concrete it is. How grounded. Everything I do, I’m doing for a reason. Each step I take acts like little puzzle pieces that slowly, gradually, with effort and dedication, come together to form a bold and beautiful picture. 

This summer, I plan to leave this experience without regrets. I want to learn what it means to be a researcher. I want to be unafraid of asking questions, no matter how silly they may seem. I want to understand and contribute to our work, to come out of it feeling not as though I was temporary, but rather that I’d become an important part of the lab. I hope to build deep connections and lasting relationships with the members of the lab, and that I’ll be able to continue with them in the fall if all turns out well. Maybe, I might even be able to help discover something unheard of before. 

But overall, I’m looking forward to coming out of this experience with a greater knowledge of who I am and who I want to be. At the end of these eight weeks, being immersed in a snapshot of a life centered around research, I may realize this as the setting in which I belong or, on the other hand, where I don’t want to be. I might find new interests that will inspire me, or aversions that will deter me. I might draw new possibilities for myself, a blend of what I’ve wanted in the past and what I will have come to want afterwards. This summer will be dedicated to understanding the kind of things that I want to do, and the topics I am passionate about. Before now, without the proper experience, I’ve been blindly grasping at possibilities I think might stick. With BSURF, I’m excited to have the opportunity to truly get to know this part of me better. This summer may not turn out exactly as I hope but I’ll be grateful for it anyway, because whatever my experience will be–good or bad–it will have still have brought me that much closer.


Start of Something New!

I am so excited that I was able to squeeze a High School Musical reference in and even more excited to be starting my BSURF journey with the Sanders Lab. I can already tell from the first week back in Durham that this will be an amazing, challenging, and very hot summer filled with many new people, learning experiences, and good memories. I have very high expectations for this summer and for myself.

First and foremost, I want to learn as much as I possibly can in the next 8 weeks. I have never worked in a research lab before so I have a lot to learn. I have already started to learn about cell culture technique, DC protein assays, LCL protein extraction and western blots, things I had never even heard of a week ago. Using all of these techniques constantly to work on my research project, I hope to improve my lab skills. I have also been doing a lot of research about Parkinson’s Disease and the particular gene I am working with. The research out there is so interesting and rather overwhelming. It is obvious that so many good people are trying to figure out the causes of this debilitating disease to hopefully find a cure one day and I am glad to help.

I have also been learning from my mentors and my peers in the lab about the life of a researcher and about their path to this research in particular. On my very first day I think I got a good overview of the research process. There were some people handling brains, others working in the cell culture room, some reorganizing the laboratory, one working on a presentation of her work for a lab meeting, and everyone running through the halls celebrating when they got news that their grant had been chosen for review. I have also been learning about all of my coworkers, their education, their goals, and on a personal level. They’re really amazing people and I love working and joking with them.

Finally, I want to learn from and about my peers at BSURF. Even though all Duke students are amazing, it seems like the people at BSURF are some of the best. I am already enjoying getting to know everyone and making new friends. I am sure we will bond throughout the summer, whether it’s in our kitchens struggling to cook, in the lounge binge-watching the best of Netflix, and jumping into the pool immediately after climbing the 3 minute walk up swift avenue.

I am so excited to be here and to finally start BSURF. I know that I will learn a lot and have fun doing it. Here are a few pictures of my first time splitting cells by myself! What the HEK 293 cells?


I found the right room!

It’s a hot Monday afternoon. After my first day in the lab, I’m marinating in sweat and being roasted alive in the Durham heat when a girl at the bus stop approaches with a big smile and asks, “Are you a student here? What do you like about Duke?”

She’s a sophomore in high school touring colleges for the week, and I tell her I love basketball, the grass Duke works hard to keep green, and PBJ sandwiches from Div Cafe. And after that, I tell her about what brought me to Duke in the first place — how back in high school I’d always imagined myself doing research in college and how Duke is a Disney World of research opportunities.

I feel so blessed to be here this summer doing exactly what high school me had envisioned — learning really cool science from really smart people and working with a team to solve problems that matter. As part of a Bass Connections team working on the bioremediation of plastic pollution to conserve marine biodiversity, I’m excited to be working with people from all sorts of backgrounds who care about our planet and want to use science to protect it.

Here are a few things I’m anticipating to do this summer:

1. A TON of reading

While articles from PubMed have never been my go-to weekend reads, I’m learning to love dissecting papers related to my Bass Connections project. Reading scientific papers continues to be a challenge for me, and having to Google what seems like every other word can get awfully tedious. But it’s an awesome feeling to finish reading a paper and think, “Hey, I think I sort of get this…”

2. Learning that it’s okay to ask dumb questions!

Multiple times, if necessary. From previous experience, I’ve learned that nodding my head and pretending to understand when someone is explaining Thing A leads to major regret a few conversations down the line, when they start explaining Thing B under the assumption that I understand Thing A. I’m learning to be okay with not understanding things the first (or second or third) time they’re explained to me, and I’m learning to be comfortable with asking, “Can you repeat that?”

I love the quote, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.” This past week, it has at times been overwhelming to feel like the opposite of the smartest person in the room. But I am so excited that I’ll be spending my summer lab experience in the right room, surrounded by some incredibly bright minds and hopefully making some progress in our quest to care for Mother Earth.

Napkin Learning

My familiarity with the anatomy of the brain is extremely limited as is my knowledge of biology in general. During my first week when I was learning to use the cryostat to take coronal slices of a mouse brain, my mentor Bel was explaining that the ACC region of the brain is widest between when the ventricle and hippocampus become visible. On a napkin Bel drew the hippocampus as it would appear in a coronal section of the brain, and thus began a serious of educational events where a member of the Eroglu lab would explain something on a napkin.

This summer, I hope to take advantage of the positive energetic learning atmosphere of the Eroglu lab recalling and building off of the wealth of information available to me. By the end of the summer, I expect to be able to understand my project clearly so that I can explain it on a poster or even a napkin. Furthermore, I hope to discover how I can contribute to a lab now with very little experience. I hope to figure out in my niche in the lab, so I can contribute as much as possible in two months. From the lab’s PI Dr. Cagla Eroglu to the Postdoctoral researcher Dr. Krissy Sakers who drew a diagram of Sholl’s analysis on a napkin, I hope to establish positive relationships between the brilliant members of the lab, so they trust me to do certain procedures and speak up when I do not know something.

Bsurf has established an incredible community of individuals outside of lab. The opportunities to hear from professors, researchers, and my fellow Bsurfers will communicate different exciting research avenues within the field of biology. In eight weeks, I can glimpse into what life as a researcher is like and become inspired by the passionate researchers working at the forefront of the field.

The hippocampus, Sholl’s analysis, and an astrocyte as shown in a microscope.


The Start of Something New

My ultimate career goal is to contribute to democratizing healthcare access, especially in low-resource settings around the world. I’m interested in how engineering and science can help me to reach this goal. There are many ways to do that, including working in industry and volunteering with an organization like Engineers Without Borders, becoming a device technician or field worker in a remote setting, or working in a lab to design cost-effective medical devices that don’t require lots of resources and infrastructure to operate. I didn’t know what specific path I want to take, so I applied to BSURF to see what it was like to work in a lab. I thought I could learn more about what being in a research lab looks like and if I was interested in pursuing research and lab work.

I know it’s only been one week, but I think working in the Chilkoti lab is fun. There are just so many things about the lab that are new to me. I have learned how to work with new tools and machines, polymerize a surface, and conjugate antibodies. After someone in the lab introduced me to all of the procedures and patiently answered all of my questions, I’ve had to practice doing these tasks on my own, which is equal parts daunting and exciting. This past week I successfully polymerized some slides, but the whole time I was so nervous that I was going to mess it up.

By the end of these 8 weeks, I’m hoping to be able to make a usable “D4” assay (more on what that means next week) on my own and to feel confident in my ability to contribute to the ongoing projects of the lab. I am sure there will be many mistakes along the way and asking questions with embarrassingly simple answers. But I know that with these less-than-ideal moments comes growth and knowledge. I look forward to what the rest of the summer has in store.

Me with some freshly conjugated antibodies.

What to expect from this experience.

This summer I was given the opportunity to work in Dr. Levin’s lab and gain valuable experience that I will use to further my goals of studying biology. My expectations for this opportunity are geared towards knowledge rather than anything else. I expect to gain knowledge regarding not only how to conduct myself in a lab, but also how biological related research works.

The innermost working mechanisms of a lab are, as I expected to be the case, very extensive and precise. To simply research the effects of Remifentanil on rat addiction requires a great deal of bureaucratic hoops such as drug purchase and DEA approval. Information like this will further my knowledge of how a lab functions and will help to inform my decisions regarding the path I will take in my carrier as a scientist. Knowledge on how to run a lab is very important as it will allow me to understand the different aspects of being a researcher beyond experimenting and data collection. Simply understanding how to run an experiment (something I learned how to do in high school) will not be useful if I do not know how a lab works in other aspects. Publishing work is another area that I hope to further my knowledge in as that is the most important part of being a scientist. By knowing to publish scientific findings I will put myself ahead of others looking to do research as I will have a knowledge base that can propel me forward in the scientific world.

Another area of knowledge that I hope to learn is how life of a researcher is and if it is as fulfilling as it seems or if it is mostly repetitive tasks that will drive me crazy over time so to speak. This again will help me make decisions on what path I should take carrier wise. What I believe to be the overall point of the BSURF program is to acquire hands on experience in laboratory setting. It should go without saying that this is an expectation of mine as I hope to gain action-based skills in a lab.

Here is me taking a picture of the building to make sure I was at the right place

Great Expectations

Summer is finally here, and along with it comes the heat, humidity and high, high hopes. As I begin my research experience in the Volkan lab, I hope to gain a new understanding of scientific research, take a closer look into the field of neurobiology, and find my place within it.

For the next 8 weeks, I expect to do science. This being my first research experience, I have never done science experiments outside the scope of classroom objectives. I have always walked into chemistry or biology lab with the goal of getting the lab done and getting the answers right. I am excited this summer to take a step away from that and begin to reason and question like a scientist. With the help of my mentor, I am already beginning to understand for my research project the important questions to ask that will lead to important conclusions or even more interesting questions. In essence, I would like to begin to think about science in a refreshing and novel way.

I also expect to learn more about the field of neurobiology and how I would like to be involved with it. I have always enjoyed learning about neuroscience in the classroom but I would really like to see how scientists go about uncovering the mysteries of the brain. In the lab, our model organisms are Drosophila, fruit flies, and we look at the mechanisms of olfactory neuronal development in the hopes of gaining some insight into the development of the complex circuitry of the human brain. Within the first week, I have already found it very interesting how scientists have approached the difficult subject in such innovative ways and employed genetic techniques to manipulate biological systems to learn something new. While working in the lab, I hope to use these techniques myself to contribute some meaningful data to the incredible work that those in the lab have already done.

Finally, I expect to discover how I fit into the world of research. During her faculty talk this week, Dr. Sheila Patek posed some important questions for us to consider that I would like to answer myself, such as what is important to me about research and what it means for research to have an impact. I hope through my work this summer, I come to find meaning and fulfillment in the lab, alongside my peers.

Diving in at the Deep End, but (Slowly) Learning How to Navigate

Day one of BSURF and I was diving in at the deep end with my first lab meeting at the Calakos Lab, where lab members discussed the projects they were working on. I was slightly intimidated by the vast array of jargon, diagrams and graphs that were presented, but at the same time I became even more motivated and excited to learn. As I introduced myself to my new labmates at this meeting, my Principal Investigator asked what I expected from my summer research experience. Put quite simply, I responded, “I want to learn as much as possible and make even a small contribution to the lab.” But let’s further unpack that. 

Prior to this summer, I had never had a serious research experience. Coming to Duke, I knew that research was something I wanted to try, but I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. One of my primary goals for this summer is to leave with no regrets and ensure that I utilize every possible learning opportunity. Even though right now a lot of scientific research on my topic goes right over my head, I expect to delve into the scientific literature on my project, and hopefully, get a better understanding of what I am trying to accomplish. In my first week alone, I have obtained so many new skills and learned so much from my mentors, but I know that this is just the beginning. I hope that as I gain an understanding of this field, I get a sense if research is something I want to continue throughout the rest of my undergraduate and professional career.

While I obviously don’t expect to find a life-changing discovery over the summer, I do hope to help out in the lab in any way that I can. I hope to establish a good relationship with my mentors and my labmates so that they can count on me to do what I am expected. I want them to know that I am eager and ready to help in whatever capacity that may be. Ultimately, I know that this first week might have been a bit of a steep learning curve as I get acquainted with the lab, but I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer holds and slowly, but surely learn to navigate this new world of science.

My First Time Doing PCR on my own!

Drosophila, the Lab, and Me

This past Monday I officially started in the Bejsovec Lab, a biology lab that studies molecular mechanisms for embryo development in the Drosophila or fruit fly model. After my first week in lab, I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of the progeny from my first fly crosses, which are expected to eclose (or hatch) tomorrow! This first week has definitely been filled with challenges as I grapple with understanding my project and how to think about the expected outcomes from the crosses performed. I have definitely made my fair share of mistakes this week but at the same time I have learned a lot pertaining to my project. I am excited to continue learning and begin (hopefully) making discoveries (big or small) within the scope of my project.


My hopes for my summer research experience with BSURF is that I get to learn about my research interests and how I can incorporate research into my remaining years at Duke and beyond. I think up until this point, I’ve had a narrow idea as what my future at Duke could look like. Many people talk about research and seem to know exactly which lab they want to go into and what working in a lab entails. However, I did not. In this first week alone, I’ve learned a lot about the pace of research and how the day to day life in lab can be so different when discussing my day compared to my peers. I anticipate that as the program continues, I will learn more about research in other fields as well as within my own lab’s field.


Finally, I hope to make mistakes and learn from these mistakes. As I mentioned previously, I’ve already made many mistakes this week alone. However, as Dr. Grunwald has mentioned to us throughout the week, we will make mistakes and hopefully we will learn from these mistakes to become better scientists. Thankfully, I’ve already owned up to what I don’t know and my gracious mentor and PI, Dr. Amy Bejsovec, has been more than accommodating and willing to explain concepts and ideas to me whenever I have questions. Overall, I am very excited to rise to the challenge that my lab presents me and contribute in any way possible.

Me at my desk in the Bejsovec Lab

I was working on the genotype and phenotype for the crosses I have in the incubator.