Well I was wrong. I have been ill with malaria countless times while living in Kenya and I never blamed anything but the obvious culprit, the mosquito. My expectation when I entered the Derbyshire lab was that I would be standing at a lab bench dissecting a ton of mosquitoes in order to study the plasmodium parasite. However, what I encountered instead were the intricacies and nuances involved in studying this disease that kills nearly 214 million people annually.
Upon entering the lab, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of equipment that was before me. I had never before worked with anything other than plastic pipets, a weighing machine, and a centrifuge in a biology lab. The fact that there were various refridgerators with varying temperatures, autoclaving machines, state-of-the-art PCR machines, and centrifuges bigger than the ones I had ever seen made me nervous. Would I ever acclimate to such an environment where everything seemed to be so meticulous? I was not sure whether I trusted myself and I certainly questioned why I was given such an opportunity in the first place. However, this fear was quickly replaced with an overwhelming sense of gratitude at the fact that someone believed in me enough to allow me to discover my interest in biochemistry research. The magnitude of the task in front of me seemed daunting and I struggled with suppressing any self-doubt when my mentor was explaining my project to me with much excitement. Although I was suffering a bad case of jet lag after returning from India the day before, I could not help but feel energized by the passion behind the research.
Why was I afraid of uncharted territory? My mentor repeated many times that this project is one that no one in the lab has previously worked on before. I immediately pictured spending hours in the lab only to end up with inconclusive results. However, I now understand that even if this happens, it will be a step in the right direction. I am looking forward to many failed attempts, not because I am pessimistic, but because I know that I will learn the most from knowing what did not work and the reason behind it. The fact that I will be studying a disease that has affected my family in unfortunate ways adds positive pressure and I am more motivated to learn the biochemistry involved. By the end of the summer, if all I will have learned are basic science skills, that will be more than enough to propel me toward an exciting future in tropical disease research. I am more than confident that after seven weeks, however, that I will have attained a greater confidence not only as a scientist in training, but as an African female in a STEM field.