On the first day of lab, I was greeted by the familiar weight of the heavy steel-rimmed doors, the luminous glass windows lining the lobby, and a never-changing view from the sixth floor of the picturesque Chapel, but something felt different. Walking down the hall towards the Ji Lab, my fingers felt a buzz and my heart felt tingly because I knew something was going to be different. Despite the rush of familiarity, there was a new, expansive world of science out there that I needed to see. Scientific discovery was never something meant to be reached or completed, only approached asymptotically, but I was excited for the chase this summer more than ever.
With research as a singular goal, I expect this summer to be a time of deep immersion. During the school year, I was involved a bit already in Dr. Ji’s neurobiology lab. However, I was limited to shorter, more flexible tasks. With research as a focus now, I am excited to try more time-intensive and complicated experiments, such as animal behavior experiments, this summer to contribute to the lab in novel ways. This past week for the first time, I was able to perform Von Frey assay, which measures the ability of mice to detect pain using thin hair filaments as stimulants. More than just learn how to perform new lab techniques, I hope to gain an understanding of the science behind the methods and why they are used, and I want to not only learn how to answer scientific questions but also how to ask them. By working closely with my mentors, I can hopefully understand their thought processes and how they fundamentally approach science.
Professor Patek’s faculty discussion on her journey in finding her role in science really invited me to think deeply and critically about my own relationship with science. How can worth be measured in the world of science? Is an inherent interest not enough to justify a particular field of work? Can countless hours of transferring liquid really amount to any real substance? And so, a personal, yet essential goal I have for this summer is to continue to redefine what science means to me and to discover new meaning in the science I do. What initially drew me to pain research was the agonizing pain that cancer patients often experience, a constant reminder of the fear and stigma surrounding cancer–that cancer equates to death. This heightened sense of mortality is frightening, but also deeply humanistic. Understanding the intersection of cancer and pain holds power to address emotional dimensions of care and pave way for humane treatments. As I learn more about microglia or ion channels and the potential and limitations of science this summer, I expect these reasons to shift and change but hopefully, eventually I can find personal meaning in the work I do that excites me as both a scientist and human being.