What does a virtual lab look like? In short, my days are whatever I make them out to be. Every Wednesday I meet with my mentor Zilu in the new Engineering building and we construct a game plan for the week. Sometimes before our meeting he’ll have me complete a short quiz to familiarize myself with the concepts I’ll use in the coming week. We then go over the quiz together while having a deeper discussion of the concepts covered. This usually takes around half an hour, so for the rest of the day we split off and get to our work for the day. We’re both doing a mix of coding and simulation analysis, so it’s challenging to have an over-the-shoulder mentor relationship. On days where I’m not in lab physically, I either work in the library on East, the library on West, or in my building’s study room. One of the perks of living in the digital age is that Zilu is just a Zoom call away if I need help debugging my code.
I’d say that I have a love-hate relationship with coding. There’s nothing more satisfying than code working exactly how you intended it to, but that almost never happens. The bulk of what I do is trying to comb through the files I’ve made or scouring forum sites trying to make sense of the error messages I generate. I’m always learning while I work. As this program is going on I find myself running commands without even thinking of them. In the beginning I had to reference my “cheat sheet” for almost every line. Now I can generate .tsv’s and .pdb’s with my eyes closed. Everything I do follows a systematic path. It’s kind of repetitive, but since I’ve done the process hundreds of times now it’s second nature. My days are spent at my keyboard listening to jazz with my fingers dancing away at the command line. Getting in “the zone” is one of my favorite parts of this job. One of my favorite memories so far was when I had a Eureka moment at 3am. The night before I had been struggling with a bug in how to specify the parameters of the simulations. I went to bed grumpy, stewing over the red screen I had been staring at for hours before when inspiration struck. I woke up, grabbed my notebook, and then poured everything out of my head onto the page. After inspiration faded, I went back to bed and then implemented all of the features I had dreamt about in the morning. The most beautiful part? It worked like a dream.