Category Archives: Week 8

Until August…

If I tried to summarize everything I’ve learned this summer, about complex scientific techniques, about careers in research, and about myself, I think this blog post would be a novel. 

My mentor, Dr. Trisha Vaidyanathan, was the key component in making my summer experience as incredible as it was. She went beyond teaching me what I needed to know for our summer project–encouraging me to attend lab meetings, lab social events, and planning for me to shadow others in the lab to learn about their respective projects and paths.

Being able to shadow others made my summer experience all the more unique and beneficial. I was able to expand my experience further by working with techniques and model organisms different from those used in my project–ranging from in-vivo 2-photon imaging of astrocytic calcium activity in mice to breeding transgenic zebrafish. I even had the opportunity to attend a thesis dissertation by a member of the Eroglu lab!

As for my path in research, this summer has been incredibly useful in learning which aspects of science I enjoy most. Specifically, after experiencing both behavioral and molecular work, I find myself more drawn to questions at the molecular and cellular level. I intend to continue working in the Bilbo lab this coming semester, and hope to be able to further explore the molecular and cellular techniques being performed in the lab.

Outside the lab, through our BSURF programming, I learned not only about the breadth of research being done at Duke, but also about the various paths through academia, and the day-to-day lives of those who’ve chosen to pursue research. 

I’m incredibly thankful to the Bilbo Lab for welcoming me and making sure I felt comfortable in a new and intimidating environment.

I don’t think this blog post would feel complete without also talking about my BSURF friends. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of friends to spend the summer with– from our nightly group dinners, movie nights, and spontaneous Durham excursions, I always knew I had something to look forward to coming home from lab.

Oh, the places I’ll go (next)!

With all the incredible experiences I’ve been able to have this summer, both inside the lab and out, it shouldn’t surprise me that everything came to an end so soon (time flies, and all that). It still feels unbelievable to me, though, just how much I was able to cram into my brain in such a brief yet rewarding amount of time. Today, I am able to run procedures and use machines I had never seen or heard of prior to BSURF without a second thought. (What I like to call my) scientist’s intuition for understanding and interpreting data has grown beyond my wildest dreams; I no longer rush to turn to Julia for help interpreting an electrophoresis gel image, I get to tell her what I think happened and we can discuss together next steps. My understanding of new procedures, (even the ever so complicated Western Blot) is high, and I can infer what each step is doing or make an educated guess that Julia can help confirm or adjust. My brain has never been this full of scientific aptitude, and my excitement to continue to apply what I’ve learned in lab settings has only grown.

My renewed excitement and passion for science is all thanks to a number of people who were able to guide me along the way throughout this program. Julia, my mentor, of course made every day easier than the last with her helpful explanations and direct answers to all of my questions. She is a fantastic graduate student to learn from, and inspires me every day to not be afraid of making mistakes, but to be excited to learn from them. Because what fun would research be if everything went perfectly, anyways? Dr. Tenor and Dr. Perfect are some of the kindest people I have ever met and their vast knowledge of the science world and community baffles me, but I aspire to know as much as they do someday. I am grateful to them for welcoming me into the lab and for showing me the way to a bright future in research. Of course, Emily, my lab partner in crime, was so much fun to spend time with this summer and I can’t wait to see her in lab again in the fall!

Lastly Dr. Grunwald and Dr. Harrell, many thanks to you for putting together such a wonderful summer research experience, especially for the sophomores who couldn’t do it last summer. My disappointment and anger at COVID-19 for ruining my summer last year was completely overshadowed but the scientific joy and gratitude I felt this summer, making up for lost time. Your commitment to promoting good science in undergraduates really shines through in all that you do, so thank you so much for the opportunity you’ve given me and the doors you have opened.

Though it’s sad to leave now that the program is over, I will hold onto all the knowledge, skills, and memories from these past weeks for a long time, many of which I’m sure I’ll carry with me after graduation, into my career, and beyond. So for the head start on a long journey through undergraduate, graduate school, job-hunting, etc., I am eternally grateful. See everyone in the fall!

The End of an Era

And just like that, B-SURF is over. These past six weeks I’ve learned a lot about myself and the things that interest me. I came into this program not knowing what I wanted to do in science, just that I wanted to be a scientist. After spending six weeks hearing about my colleagues’ struggles in the lab moving small amounts of colorless liquid from tube to tube, I’ve decided that wet-lab isn’t for me.
At the beginning of this program the general vibe I got from people was that they felt sorry that my lab work was all virtual. Now, after going into the lab twice to make nanoparticles, I can say that I prefer coding over staring at tubes any day. I also didn’t have to deal with the frustrations of cells/organisms dying on me the day before data was ready to be collected, or the monotony of pipetting samples for hours on end. Throughout this program I was constantly engaged with my work. It was up to me to design the software pipeline for my project. I was given a task by my mentor, and it was on me to implement the features he wanted. One of the challenges that I’ve struggled with most being a self-taught programmer was finding confidence in my coding abilities. I knew that I knew how to code and problem solve, but other than stock problems I had no means to apply my skills. This program was exactly the push that I needed to give me the confidence in myself that I can accomplish problems put in front of me. As the second half of summer, and a condensed semester of organic chemistry, looms ahead of me, I am excited to say that I will continue with my project in the Reker lab. I still need to implement a machine learning model that will hopefully accurately make predictions in nanoparticle formation for me. I’m excited to see what the future holds, and I’m thankful for this experience allowing me to narrow down my search for what I want to do.

Growth and Gratitude

Over a year ago, I was met with the news that BSURF would be canceled because of the pandemic. While many things have changed between then and now, I am grateful to have still been able to be a summer research fellow. In these past eight weeks, things have continued to change for me; I’ve grown, not only in my knowledge and research skills, but in my confidence, communication, and passion for science. 

I remember my first day in Dr. Sherwood’s lab like it was yesterday: looking at flies under the microscope, learning about our project for the first time, and cringing every time I had to handle a fly vial. My first larval dissection took me about twenty minutes and looked horrendous. Now, I can do some in under five minutes and make them look better than my first. I also get embarrassingly excited when one of our crosses finally starts producing larvae, or when it’s finally time to look at my dissections under the microscope. Simply put, I have fully embraced the experience of being a fruit fly biologist. My time in the lab also came with the development of my personal skills – no longer being afraid to ask “dumb” questions, owning up to my mistakes without shame, and effectively communicating my science. 

Despite not being able to get to every aspect of our project in these eight short weeks, my enthusiasm for our project is unchanging. I am beyond excited for what the future will hold for our lab, especially considering our results that remain to be analyzed. While research tends to be more failures than successes, the breadth of information I learned, and the valuable mentorship I received from Dr. Sherwood, are more than enough to compensate for the drawbacks of our research. I can’t wait to get back to BioSci in the fall and keep up the wonderful work we do!

Thanks BSURF!

My final blog post. Wow.

I went from having not ever used a pipette to using all sorts of lab equipment, talking about antifungal targeting and gene phenotypes, and conversing with post docs about Cryptococcus! I’ve been introduced to the science world this summer, and with so many resources and tools that have helped me along the way, I just feel extremely thankful to have been apart of such a generous program. I now feel like an insider.

I think back to the start of it when I was feeling really worried about my lack of experience and limited knowledge. It feels like so long ago. Working in the lab made me realize how much of science is a collaborative effort. There’s mentors, peers, and journals to turn to. And because there’s bound to be an area you’re not the most confident in, it’s expected you will receive help and sometimes even give help yourself. One thing I always hear is that everyone is still always learning, even having been in the field for 20+ years. It’s just made me have so much to look forward to in terms of what more I will be exposed to in the coming years and the people and perspectives I will be given the opportunity to see and hear.

This little, enriching taste of what it’s like to work in the lab has enabled me to confirm that this line of work- asking questions and discovering more about life on Earth little by little- is exactly what I want to do. Seriously identifying this passion has been another substantial piece to my enjoyment this summer. I can literally envision myself in a hospital lab working in micro and running tests on patients’ samples. So, again, I want to say that I really enjoyed myself this summer and am extremely thankful to Dr. Harrell and Dr. Grunwald for providing me with this opportunity. Certainty feels really good.


Opportunity, Firsts, and a Thank You

Way back when this program started, I wrote on my expectations for this summer. TL;DR I was excited about the chance to really tryout research for the first time in my life. This once far off and mysterious world was about to become my present reality. As the program wraps up, I am again asked to reflect, now on how my expectations compare to reality. My answer: I couldn’t have imagined how truly wonderful a world hid behind the doors of research!

As I look back on these past eight weeks, I am really stunned at everything I have learned and done. While I was certainly excited about mechanobiology before this summer, getting the chance to actually dive into this field has stoked a passion in me. While I knew a little bit about scientific techniques, getting to go hands-on and do my own research has greatly expanded my toolset to investigate and explore the biological realm. While I had learned a little bit about what a career in science was like, getting to see the lives and apprentice under passionate researchers who actually live in the magnificent world of research has deepened my understanding of what it means to be those who dive into the unknown and expand mankind’s understanding of the biological world.

All in all, I feel like I have finally entered this “aquarium” of research and my wonder has only grown since I stepped into its waters. And while I am still eons away from being a full researcher and there is still a lot for me to learn, I am fired up about being a researcher and am ready to bulldoze through the trials of this path to achieve this dream of mine. And so, to Curtis for his truly incredible mentorship, to Professor Hoffman for his guidance and encouragement, to Dr. Grunwald and Dr. Harrell for offering me this opportunity and strengthening me in walking this path, and to everyone who has helped me along the way, all I can say is thank you.

The Beginning?

As I reflect upon the past 7 weeks, I realize just how fast time has progressed. I feel like the first two weeks I was thrown into the deep end, immersing myself in the exhausting cycle of learning and digesting the various novel laboratory techniques I’d been exposed to. As I finally found my bearings within this cycle, I noticed my vision had broadened and I could see much farther regarding why I was doing the steps I was and how they impacted the growth of my cells. And within these processes I felt supported by the indelible questions and answers that led to the development and creation of the tools I used. The culmination of question asking and answering: this was science. I realized the the purpose of researchers was not to bombastically pierce into the unknown but to elevate the current understanding piece by piece to leave no gaps in our knowledge. And this Summer I was given the opportunity to leave my mark on this foundation.
In the future, I take away with me not just the techniques I learned, but the approach to questioning I learned from my amazing mentor Torie this Summer. Asking the right questions and knowing which directions to pursue is one of the most critical abilities and although I’m just a neophyte at it, it’s a skill I’ll definitely continue practicing in my future.
For me, BSURF has opened a door to the possibilities of a career in research and although I know not where life will take me I see this experience as the beginning of something great to come.

The Value of Communication

While I have only worked in Dr. Mooney’s lab for a short time, I feel like I have learned an amount of knowledge far vaster than what I expected from a brief eight weeks of lab work. From learning lab techniques like injection surgeries, histology and immunostaining, and confocal microscopy to studying the neural circuits behind song learning and vocalization, this summer has been one of the most intellectually stimulating periods of my life.

Something that I came to truly realize in the last two months was how incredible nature is, specifically relating to how some biological systems are conserved throughout life. The fact that we are able to use model systems, like zebra finches, to discover and study systems within the human body is indicative of the efficiency and organization of nature. Thus, I believe it gives these organisms an innate value which deserves the respect of researchers and scientists. 

In working with the neural circuits behind learned vocalization in zebra finch, I have gained a new appreciation for the complexity behind communication. How we learn to communicate, from a neuroscience viewpoint, is perplexing and necessitates years of future research and study. But on a larger scale, my time in BSURF has emphasized the importance of good communication. As scientists, it is vital that we can communicate our findings, no matter how complex, in a way that is accessible to diverse communities and larger society. Educating others that our experimental findings are important and worth studying is what gives value to our research. For me, the intersection of my BSURF experience and working in a lab that studies learned vocalization and communication has set me down a lifelong commitment to exploring all facets of communication: the scientific and practical aspects of effective communication.

Time Is Weird. Isn’t It?

You could tell me that the beginning of this program was 6 months ago or yesterday, and I would believe you.   It feels both like I’ve been here for forever and yet somehow just arrived.  While this may make the idea of hopping on a plane instead of the C1 shuttle seem odd, I wouldn’t rather it be any other way.  

On one hand, I’ve learned so much in these last 7 weeks.  Whether it be surgical procedures, data analysis code, or imaging techniques, it is crazy to think about how many skills I have acquired.  From this perspective, it feels like I’ve been in the lab forever.  Simply, the depth of exposure I have gained in the lab does not seem like it would have happened in such a short timeframe.  It’s been a wonderful experience to be fully immersed into the lab culture, and by becoming a part of the lab I feel as though it has also become a part of me.

On the contrary, where has the time gone?!?  I could have sworn that, just yesterday, I was picking up a pipette for the first time.  I guess people are not joking when they say “time flies when you’re having fun.”  Especially after a year of being virtual, I really enjoyed learning hands-on in the lab.  Moreover, I find the questions we’re asking fascinating, and getting to be a part of answering them has been incredibly rewarding.  The overall atmosphere is truly one where intellectual curiosity thrives.  I came into knowing that I would be challenged, and that is what made every day exciting. 

I am immensely appreciative of my mentors who made this such a wonderful experience.  I now have a more profound understanding and appreciation for research, but I know this is only the beginning. Although this program may be over, I know my time working in the lab is everything but.  I’m incredibly grateful that the Glickfeld lab has allowed me to continue working with them in the fall.  I can’t wait to see not only how projects I’ve been working on develop but also how I will continue to grow as a researcher.



Coming into this program, I wondered if I would be able to contribute anything to the McClay lab’s work with my extremely limited knowledge, and wondered precisely how many things could (and would) go wrong along the way. I wondered if research was something I even wanted to work in, or if it was simply a lofty ideal stuck in my head, filled with distant figures in white coats. Throughout the summer, though, I got the opportunity to meet people who have gone through this exact struggle, and were compassionate and understanding in helping me answer these questions on my own, even if they didn’t know it at the time.

On one level, I’ve seen that research is not something anyone does alone. Some of the most valuable moments in the lab this summer have started when one person has an idea, thinks about it for a while, and then walks over to someone else to get their perspective on it. While the resulting conversations are certainly products of extreme intelligence and experience, they are also filled to the brim with creativity, which I’ve learned is essential to progressing the frontier of knowledge. This creativity, though, goes together with failure, and that’s ok. Many times, someone will say “Well, that might not work, because…” but then they work together and use their creativity to come up with yet another way to test their idea! Sometimes the failure is only realized at the bench, and then it’s simply time for another great conversation, and probably another few weeks of experiments. Best of all, these conversations have their fair share of funny comments and playful jabs along the way. Then, once the conversation’s finished, people ease back into the privacy of their thoughts to continue designing experiments to satisfy their wonder about a biological system, even if only for a moment.

These conversations, combined with the awesome faculty members that have come to talk to us through the summer, have also shown me an interesting juxtaposition in science: modern science is intrinsically collaborative, but it is also self-driven and critical. Generally, us students are used to other people pushing us forward, like teachers, parents, or coaches. But over this summer, I’ve discovered that no one has to push you in research. Not once did Dr. McClay look over my shoulder to make sure I was reading articles. Not once was I told to sit down and question everything I knew and had read so I could realize how little I didn’t know. Not once were any of the PIs that came to present to us told to be energetic and committed. Yes, research can be a glorious, collegial atmosphere of amazing scientific advances, but I realized that it is also largely what you make of it – a prospect at once daunting and invigorating, and one that I know I will continue to encounter and hopefully improve  on in my career, no matter the direction I take. Essentially, this summer taught me that scientific research sits at the intersection of drive, creativity, failure, and most of all, wonder. Given all I’ve learned and still have yet to learn, I can’t wait to come back in the fall and get back into the awesome environment that is scientific research, and maybe even go to graduate school and become a professional researcher. I know the path is hard, because I’ve talked to people that are traversing it right now, and there will certainly be moments of creativity and perhaps years of failures or faltering drive. Through it all, though, the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met this summer have taught me to make sure I keep doing one thing:


Looking Back

At the beginning of this program, I remembering feeling nervous about my lack of experience in a lab setting. I was worried I wouldn’t understand the complex planning and decision making that occurred in research, and that I would get lost in all the information. Over time and after some trial and error, I’m glad to say I have been proven wrong.

I was able to learn so many different concepts through the guidance of my mentor and hands-on experience, allowing me to apply these ideas in our project. It was definitely hard when first starting, but I quickly adapted and gained a passion for our research and its applications. This experience has given me a newfound confidence in participating in scientific research and discussion. It also showed me how much I enjoy research and introduced me to topics I found fascinating, and hopefully in the future I will be able to continue my work in the Chilkoti lab.

This summer has been one of the most fun and fulfilling I have ever experienced, and I look forward to my future work in research!


I began this program with goals of growth, and I have grown more than I could have imagined. When the pandemic started, I initially struggled with my curiosity in virtual lectures. Being in the lab, however, has helped me find my curiosity and passion again. From nervously awaiting experimental results to asking any question that I had, this summer let my passion shine through. While being sick close to the end of the program was a challenge for me, I still made a poster I was proud of, and I loved presenting to everyone. Despite past uncertainties about my career goals, I realized that I want to do science and am grateful that I found the career that excites me.

Beyond professional growth, I’ve also found time to grow personally. Specifically, I’ve grown in my confidence, which was another one of my goals at the beginning of the summer. While my confidence in my academic ability has improved, so has my personal confidence. Additionally, one of the most valuable aspects of this summer was working with Dr. Sherwood. Her kindness allowed me to be myself in the lab, so I could ask any question I had in a comfortable space. Dr. Sherwood and I were able to develop a great relationship, and her lab feels like home. I can’t imagine a more supportive PI or a more positive lab environment, which is one reason I plan to continue working with Dr. Sherwood in the fall. This summer has been amazing, and I’m so excited for my future!

Demystifying the Research Process

This summer has been a whirlwind of highs (presenting my poster to faculty at Duke!) and lows (running incorrect models and wasting two whole days), but through it all my biggest takeaway is this: real people do research. It sounds so obvious– of course real people do research… But to me, it wasn’t.

In my mind, I thought that research was probably dominated by a bunch of uninteresting people with nothing to talk about but their gene or disease or phenomenon of interest. A sea of meaningless acronyms and esoteric vocabulary, perhaps, but not real people.

What I found, though, couldn’t have been more different. Obviously, people at the Alberts Lab are incredibly dedicated to our research, and accomplished, and distinguished. But, besides their academic and professional pursuits, they are still people with families and personal lives and pets. We are incredibly productive at the lab, but dogs are still welcome. We talk about specific oddities of baboon behavior and Dr. Alberts’ daughter’s dance recital.

For me, this atmosphere was incredibly reassuring. One of my biggest worries about pursuing research as a career was that it would be hard to find and make meaningful connections with others who were just as interested in science as I was but still enjoyed non-lab activities.

In fact, it’s just the reason I’ve decided to stay with my lab; I need the balance that the Alberts lab provides. I’ve also learned that I enjoy explaining research and presenting my findings to others who are genuinely interested in it. While I wasn’t originally looking forward to the poster session (or the rain I had to walk through to get to it), it was one of my favorite parts of the program. If I had to sum it up, I think I would say that I’ve learned that research might just be for me.

Past, Present, & Future

It’s time to reflect. Looking back at my first blog post, I originally emphasized the traits that would make me a more capable future scientist: independence, confidence, collaboration, and skepticism. I believe that, while there is plenty more room for improvement in each area, I managed to develop each of these traits throughout my summer.

I became more independent by mastering protocols, learning to be more organized/efficient, and taking on more and more work as the weeks progressed. I became more confident in my abilities through reading papers, analyzing data, and putting my own ideas out there. I was able to collaborate with my amazing lab and even with those outside of it, learning both from and with them. Finally, through the amazing mentorship of both my PI, Dr. Silva, and my mentor, Vanessa, I was able to think through aspects of my project, ask questions, and overall become a more critical student.

Regardless of what the future holds for my career, BSURF has confirmed that I enjoy the research process. As I move forward, I expect that research will continue to be in my life in some way or another, whether it be to solve a problem or to learn more about our world. More immediately however, I’m excited to continue my work with the Silva Lab this fall. Thank you to all who contributed to this wonderful experience!


Well, here we are. In less than 48 hours, I’ll be boarding a plane headed home, signing off on a summer that has proven extremely toasty, challenging at times, and full of pleasant surprises.

Six weeks ago, if you had told me that I would be building tree objects in a setting outside of a computer science class, I probably would have retched a little on the inside, having completed my fair share of awful tree-building assignments in MIPS, Java, and C. My sleep-deprived and Zoom-fatigued brain would have called it quits even before almost screwing up a Western Blot on Week 3. Yet, here we are. 500+ lines of code and dozens of bugs crushed for some promising preliminary data. A forty-minute long, unscripted, lab meeting presentation that really should not have lasted more than twenty. Turns out presentations can be fun when you’re excited about what you’re talking about.

Through it all, I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to pursue interesting questions, learn new things, and befriend many of my colleagues in the process. I’ve found what Bob Lefkowitz described as a “calling” in his faculty talk: a charge to prevent a major public health disaster like COVID-19 from ever happening again. While it’s not clear what the answer to that charge might look like, I know that it will be the challenge that gets me out of bed every morning. Maybe I’ll continue working on developing better antivirals, or pivot to something entirely different. All the same, I look forward to meeting new mentors, finding new opportunities, and continuing to discover my purpose.

In the words of Chadwick Boseman, “Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history”.

All good things come to an end… or do they?

Now that BSURF is coming to an end, it’s time to reflect on these past 8 weeks. This experience has been an incredible one. I expected to learn a lot, but ended up learning much more than I could have ever imagined. The funny thing though, is that the more I learn, the less I feel I know. That’s the beauty of science: there’s always so much you don’t know. Once you answer a question, 10 more arise.

I came into the lab very nervous and afraid to mess things up. I came in afraid to ask questions and not confident in my abilities at all. Now, I ask tons of questions on the daily. Now, I am confident in my knowledge of the assays I have learned to run. Now, I know that mess-ups are expected, and even encouraged – how else are we going to learn what works and what doesn’t?

Being in my lab this summer has definitely solidified my interest in research. I always knew I wanted to try research, and now that I have, I definitely see my future self doing research I wasn’t sure if graduate school was something I wanted to do, but this experience has definitely changed my mind.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed research at the Hargrove lab this summer, and am incredibly grateful for the opportunity. I feel sad to leave the lab, but I feel better knowing that is only a temporary end. I’m excited to continue research here in the fall!