High Performance what now?

After just one week in the Kuhn lab I can now officially say I am an *expert* in high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) protocols. Well, not really. Actually, I can’t because I’m not. But that sure is one of my many goals and expectations for the summer. So, let me just start out by talking about exactly what I hope to learn, gain, and do this summer

When I first found out I was admitted into BSURF, I had a literal meltdown in the middle of my common room and my friend snapped me out of it by saying “Martín, it’s not as if all the success in the world is going to come from this.” I thought about it then and I thought about it on the car ride to Duke West Campus. I realized he was right. I needed to have realistic expectations about this summer, the summer of my first significant research experience. So naturally I made list of goals to accomplish or at least start on by the end of the summer.

From a completely technical and academic perspective, I want to become fluent in some important techniques used in pharmacology laboratories, learn more about the field of pharmacology and topics relevant to my project, and familiarize myself with the environment and expectations inherent to the lab workplace. I’m so happy to say that I’ve already had a start on all of these goals in my first week. From the mound of research paper to a neuropharmacology text, Dr.Kuhn has already given me a place from where to dive nose first into her field. She has elucidated on to me that my summer project will revolve around the HPLC analysis of the tryptophan levels in rat brains (more on that later….). My helpful lab supervisor, Zack, has already managed to train me on the HPLC apparatus and has even guided me through my first run all by myself! He even introduced me to one of the most important lessons of the professional lab environment: always check your email in the morning. The lesson took place as I awkwardly waited in lab for a half-hour for him to show up only to realize he wouldn’t be there.

Apart from the work I’ll do in the lab, I’m also interested in what growth I’ll make over the summer, as a person and as a member of the scientific community. To my surprise, we’re actually running a small experiment in lab entirely concerning a question I asked. A total accident if I do say so myself but exciting nonetheless. In the future, however, I don’t want my questions to be accidents. I want to reach the level of maturity and knowledge in my field where I’m able to propose important questions that might be used to kickstart major projects and contribute to scientific progress. Within that realm of personal development, I want to become more ambitious and goal-oriented. There is a reason this is my first research experience: I didn’t really look for lab work my freshmen year. Most of it was out of fear and naivety but also laziness. After getting a taste of lab work, I know I don’t want to stop anytime soon. There might be some major hoops to jump through in the future just to continue research but I hope I have to the constitution to continue what I’m beginning to think is something I want to do for the rest of my life.

There is so much to do in a summer that has just started and I could not be more excited for what this summer holds for me.

My biggest disappointment in lab each morning is going to the fridge to get what looks like a pint of ice cream but is actually just a container filled with HPLC standards.


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