From Theory to Practice

Having completed a year at Duke filled with science classes including biology labs and papers on genetics, I thought I had a decent grasp on what research involved. After a week of preparing an especially large experiment (studying germination in Arabidopsis thaliana) in the Donohue Lab, it’s quite clear that a few pages of a paper cannot fully convey the level of dedication needed for researchers to perform experiments. What may be a single sentence in the methods section of a paper may involve months of planning and work. My first day in lab, I was told that over 2300 plates of agar needed to be prepared for the upcoming experiment. At the time, I was oblivious to the hours of mixing, microwaving, pouring, and bubble-popping that such a number entailed. However, it will surely be exciting to witness the progression of the plates throughout the experiment and the results that they bear, as well as actually participate in the process myself.

Overall, I hope to discover what research is like for myself. Although I hear about it every day from my professors, other students, and papers during the school year, I’ve already realized this week that nothing can really compare to your own experiences. Since I’m rather (read: greatly, ridiculously, hopelessly, etc.) undecided about my future and weather I want to pursue research (genomics, bioinformatics, or something else?) or engineering (biomedical or electrical?) or most preferably some combination of the two, I hope that this experience will help give me some sort of indication. As I’ve already begun to see from the speakers this week—and hope to continue to see in the remainder of the program—scientific research isn’t so cleanly cut along divisions. It can involve multiple disciplines and require an array of skills that necessitates cooperation among scientists and those from other departments, which I hope to continue to hear about in the future.

While the research projects themselves are certainly a big part of this program, I expect that the weeks to come will offer even more insight into the world of research. Whether listening to seminars from Duke faculty, discussing projects both formally and informally with other students, forming connections with our mentors and hearing how they got to where they are today, or just learning general skills (both in and out of the lab), I’m sure that this summer will be a remarkable experience day in and day out.

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