All terrible puns aside, I’m so excited to be a part of this program and work in Dr. Mooney’s neurobiology lab. Coming into this summer, I had minimal wet lab experience– if you asked me to differentiate a mouse and a rat I would sweat nervously and give you an awkward smile. This past semester, I worked in a psychology lab, which really opened my eyes to the importance of precision in research and the lengthy scientific process. But although psychology research is certainly valuable, I wanted to try something new and push my boundaries. So with my trusty Vans, a heavy backpack, and an open mind, I walked into Dr. Mooney’s lab at 10:30am on Monday, ready to start my scientific journey.
That all sounds really romantic. Truthfully, I was terrified. I had a whole summer of research ahead of me and I had no idea where to start. I was surrounded by machinery, wires, mice and birds, and people buzzing all around me. But Dr. G’s pep talk at the opening breakfast reminded me of my true purpose in the lab: to advance the field of science, and for me to learn. I’ve probably asked a million questions already, and I definitely anticipate asking many more. Fortunately, my postdoc Tom has also been patient and reassuring with me from the beginning. That first day, we had one task: to dye the female mice so we could tell them apart from the male mice, since they’d be in a chamber together. I expected we’d use some high-tech, fancy dye that wasn’t available to the public. This is Duke Neurobiology we’re talking about, right? Serious stuff! So Tom reached into the cabinet and pulled out a box of … Revlon Colorsilk Platinum Blonde. This was the moment I knew that this summer, I will have to expect the unexpected, which is the core of science. A seemingly easy task may turn out to be quite difficult. Some mice might be shy and not vocalize much, not giving us many results to work with. The Matlab programs for data analysis might hit a bug and unexpectedly error out. But at the same time, hard tasks will become easy. Some mice will be great vocalizers, giving us amazing data (thank you, mouse #44!). Sometimes we’ll rewrite some code on a whim, and all of the sudden, the program will run. It sounds cliché, but the beauty of scientific research is not knowing what’ll happen next.
This summer, I can’t wait to experiment with new methods each day, troubleshoot new challenges, and learn as much as I can about the research process and techniques. In five hours on that first day, I learned how to do so much I had never done before. From handling mice for the first time and getting over my uneasiness around animals that aren’t cats or dogs (mice are actually really cute!), to anesthetizing and dyeing the mice, that first day cemented the idea I had thought about for so long: I want to be a scientist.