Learning Lab Life Lingo

That’s a lot of L’s.

Not to worry, the L’s are an unfortunate pattern, unrepresentative of this blog post. If you can think of synonyms beginning with, let’s say the letter, W, feel free to comment below.

At this point, I’ve grown much more accustomed to lab life and the basic, daily lingo. Four weeks ago, if someone were to ask me, for example, to split a certain cell line 1:10 onto 3 plates, passage cells once they attain 90%-100% confluency, or, as I perform a western, to dilute a primary antibody 1:5,000 because it produces relatively brighter bands, that person would receive a blank, somewhat bewildered stare. These fundamental concepts of lab life have already become so ingrained into my brain that my lab mentors trust me to do various activities independently such as taking care of my cells and performing western blots. There have even been days where they let me loose the whole day to conduct experiments they had previously taught me. Of course, as the learning process works, I would still ask little, clarifying questions, but I felt like a real scientific researcher confidently walking around with protein samples in hand, instead of following around another lab member.

I’ve never done the same exact activities in lab that I’ve done in a previous day. That is a beauty of research. I don’t go to work expecting to perform the same routine from 9am to 5pm every day. The timing is dependent on the experiments planned for the day. Future experiments are also determined by the results of experiments I do now or have done in the past, and that is exciting. Unpredictable in a sense, which makes lab life exciting. Yes, there are some activities involving taking care of my cell lines that I must attend to every day. However, even the timing for cell passaging and changing media varies day to day, depending on the times that other lab members sign up to occupy the hood.

Something special I’ve noticed about the culture of my lab: we help each other out. I experience this nurturing culture not only in the weekly 2-hour lab meetings, but also in the day-to-day scene. If a lab member working primarily with breast cancer cells needs a lung cancer cell line, another lab member who works primarily with lung cancer cells freely provides a plate of cells from the desired cell line. If a lab member needs to split transduced cells over the weekend, another lab member who has to come in during the weekend anyways graciously offers to split the transduced cells so that the other lab member can take the weekend off. If a lab member needs to leave lab for several days for personal reasons, another lab member is happy to take care of his or her mice in spite of all of the deadlines that need to be met or experiments that need to be run. Cells, reagents, antibodies, and information flow freely throughout the lab. Sometimes while I’m just sitting at my desk, the postdoc in the lab casually says, “Hey Kristie, want a pathology crash course?” or “Hey Kristie, want to watch me harvest mouse lungs?” One minute later, he is showing me on his computer cross sections of the left lung of a mouse that had pneumonia, explaining the versatility of the organ of the lungs, or teaching me the scissors dissection technique of separating tissue by opening the scissors, not cutting down.

The thing about lab life is, I could see myself doing this every day. Working in a lab 10-hours a week during the school year really is not the same as the immersive experience of a summer of research where I can experience every step of the research process. The research I conduct in this lab is still, surprise, fascinating! It is incredibly intellectually stimulating. The excitement from obtaining results and being the first to analyze them is an unparalleled sort of excitement because the reality is, researchers often deal with new information that no one other than themselves has ever produced before. As a researcher, I am not bound by strict time constraints or the same routine every day, but rather I am free to explore the unknown and continually learn and share new, up-to-date knowledge. I could get used to the exciting life and open community of scientific researchers. I really could.

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