Things that I learned this summer

  1. Science can be slow. And that’s the way it often is. When I started out this summer, I thought I would complete all the 3D modeling needed for my spines within two/three weeks. So when I found myself one month in, still banging my head on the keyboard and trying to figure out how to make the program do what I wanted, I felt incredibly frustrated. I thought that I was the problem, that I was taking too long to learn the material or figure out the software’s ropes. But time and time again, my mentor Jacob reassured me that this is how science goes. A large part of research is spent reading around, absorbing information, and troubleshooting experiments when they don’t work (which they often don’t). And the thing is, the more you tweak and redesign your experiment, the more you learn about your own project, and the better your understanding about your topic becomes. I guess as a newbie, I didn’t really understand the time span involved in doing research. But now I understand that a lot of time is needed in order to produce good work.
  2. Labs can be a community. Back to that point about Jacob reassuring me when I felt frustrated: I feel like the people you’re with in a lab can also make a difference in your own attitude and performance. My mom studied biochem in college, and she once told me this horror story about a lab that was so cutthroat, they wouldn’t allow undergrads to attend meetings because the atmosphere was simply “toxic.” On the other hand, every Patek lab meeting I attended involved listening to the presentations of various lab members while munching on lunch, and were always filled with meaningful feedback and questions sparked from genuine interest. Before BSURF, I imagined research as a mainly solitary activity, where minimal interaction with other human beings occurred. It’s true that majority of the day, everyone in the Patek lab works on their own thing. But there is also a definite sense of community as well. If you have a technical question, you can ask your neighbor about it; if something in your project makes you laugh, you can call everyone over to see. I’m sure not every lab is like this, but now I realize that community and atmosphere is something I greatly appreciate, and that I’ll take into account when figuring out where I want to go in the future.
  3. I’m still not sure what I want to do. Modeling and testing my own spines was a fun challenge, and I loved the way it made me think harder about the way biological structures are shaped in nature. But at the same time, there were also moments when I peered over a graduate student’s shoulder to watch him film the behavior of ants, or watched a visiting high school teacher paint 3D-printed finches for a class, or commented enthusiastically on a popular science video posted in the lab’s casual chatroom.  There are so many ways a person can contribute to science, from research, to education, to communication.  And in research alone, there are different paths you can take, whether you want to study morphology, behavior, both, or something else entirely! I’ve still got a long way to go before figuring out what I truly want to do, and that’s okay. If anything, my experience this summer has shown me that there’s multiple things that can get my mind whirring, which means I have a lot of options to explore. 🙂

A HUGE thank you to the Patek lab for having me this summer, and to Jacob and Dr. Patek specifically for all their guidance and help.   I had a great time!

And of course, thank you very much to the BSURF program for making this eye-opening experience possible!

Throwback to week one…thanks you guys!

(B&W edit by Annika Sharma)

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