B-SURF 2020(+1)

If there’s one thing COVID-19 has taught us, it’s to be amenable to change.

When I first came to Duke in August of 2019, I had three big goals in mind: to act in a play, to find a close group of friends, and to start working in a research lab in the spring. No part of my imagination would have thought that a far, far away virus in Wuhan would so fundamentally change my reality just eight months later.  I still remember getting a phone call from my parents in January,  informing me about how they had bought masks for family members in the mainland and telling me to be careful about Chinese New Year celebrations on campus.

At the time, I was meeting with some PIs across Duke who had been gracious enough to respond to my initial cold emails, selling myself as a slightly awkward germ nerd with no prior lab experience outside of being a complete klutz in organic chemistry lab. I learnt a great deal about the interesting work being done to understand the human microbiome, fight antibiotic resistance, and engineer microbes to synthesize useful products such as biofuels. Despite going into this search process anticipating a wet lab position, I ended up at Prof. Xiling Shen’s lab, working in the computational biology space to analyze 16S RNA sequences and put together a new analysis tool for microbiome data. Lucky for me, the pandemic did not put a stop on my work there, and I have learned a lot since.

One of my favorite things about Duke is the multitude of opportunities to explore, challenge, and build upon your research interests. This summer, I hope to ask many questions, learn from my (hopefully not too many) mistakes, and gain experience with many of the basic wet lab techniques used to address abstract scientific questions, and I am grateful to the Lynch Lab for  giving me the opportunity to continue growing as a student and scientist. I also want to gain some insight into the day-to-day life of an independent scientist (which will help inform some big career decisions in the near future), and hope that the experience will be a good complement to my computational background. Sure, it’ll take some time to get used to troubleshooting experimental set-ups as opposed to debugging Python code, but to borrow a quote from the late Chadwick Boseman, “the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose”.

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