Coming into this program, I wondered if I would be able to contribute anything to the McClay lab’s work with my extremely limited knowledge, and wondered precisely how many things could (and would) go wrong along the way. I wondered if research was something I even wanted to work in, or if it was simply a lofty ideal stuck in my head, filled with distant figures in white coats. Throughout the summer, though, I got the opportunity to meet people who have gone through this exact struggle, and were compassionate and understanding in helping me answer these questions on my own, even if they didn’t know it at the time.
On one level, I’ve seen that research is not something anyone does alone. Some of the most valuable moments in the lab this summer have started when one person has an idea, thinks about it for a while, and then walks over to someone else to get their perspective on it. While the resulting conversations are certainly products of extreme intelligence and experience, they are also filled to the brim with creativity, which I’ve learned is essential to progressing the frontier of knowledge. This creativity, though, goes together with failure, and that’s ok. Many times, someone will say “Well, that might not work, because…” but then they work together and use their creativity to come up with yet another way to test their idea! Sometimes the failure is only realized at the bench, and then it’s simply time for another great conversation, and probably another few weeks of experiments. Best of all, these conversations have their fair share of funny comments and playful jabs along the way. Then, once the conversation’s finished, people ease back into the privacy of their thoughts to continue designing experiments to satisfy their wonder about a biological system, even if only for a moment.
These conversations, combined with the awesome faculty members that have come to talk to us through the summer, have also shown me an interesting juxtaposition in science: modern science is intrinsically collaborative, but it is also self-driven and critical. Generally, us students are used to other people pushing us forward, like teachers, parents, or coaches. But over this summer, I’ve discovered that no one has to push you in research. Not once did Dr. McClay look over my shoulder to make sure I was reading articles. Not once was I told to sit down and question everything I knew and had read so I could realize how little I didn’t know. Not once were any of the PIs that came to present to us told to be energetic and committed. Yes, research can be a glorious, collegial atmosphere of amazing scientific advances, but I realized that it is also largely what you make of it – a prospect at once daunting and invigorating, and one that I know I will continue to encounter and hopefully improve on in my career, no matter the direction I take. Essentially, this summer taught me that scientific research sits at the intersection of drive, creativity, failure, and most of all, wonder. Given all I’ve learned and still have yet to learn, I can’t wait to come back in the fall and get back into the awesome environment that is scientific research, and maybe even go to graduate school and become a professional researcher. I know the path is hard, because I’ve talked to people that are traversing it right now, and there will certainly be moments of creativity and perhaps years of failures or faltering drive. Through it all, though, the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met this summer have taught me to make sure I keep doing one thing: