My first week in Dr. Pendergast’s lab has left me eagerly awaiting the rest of the summer. The days have at times been overwhelming, but more than that they have been incredibly exciting. I was thrown in at the deep end with Monday morning’s lab meeting, during which members discussed the projects they are currently working on. The many abbreviations, graphs and diagrams made little sense to me, despite my having prepared by reading several of the lab’s recent publications in the weeks leading up to that point.
Luckily, my mentor Jill, who is a 3rd year PhD candidate in the lab, helped me make sense of everything. In fact, all of the lab’s graduate students have been very welcoming, and have made my start so much easier. They allow me to shadow them during their experiments, give me the opportunity to learn and practice new techniques, and take the time to answer my many questions.
My first week in the lab has largely involved coming to grips with the many techniques that cancer biologists use to answer the questions they pose. These include Western Blotting, Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction and Tissue Culture, among many others. As tempting as it is to delve straight into the bigger picture scientific questions, I have started to understand the importance of first mastering some of these techniques. They enable scientists to determine which questions can be asked, and how they can be most effectively and honestly answered.
Reading published papers gives you the impression that laboratory science is a very smooth and streamlined process, however actually being in the lab reveals that it can often be quite messy and imperfect. Scientists are not the flawless robots that we expect them to be. They are not all-knowing, they can make mistakes, and (perhaps most surprisingly of all) they have real lives outside the lab! However, the scientists with whom I have had the opportunity to work have all been truly impressive people, and hearing their stories about how they got into science and what they hope to achieve in the coming years is a big inspiration for me. I look forward to learning much more from them in the coming weeks!
My main goals for the summer are to determine whether I can see myself pursuing an MD PhD and eventually a career in science, to put myself in a good position to continue doing research at Duke in the coming years, and to make some contribution, however small, to a scientific question being asked by my lab.