Tag Archives: RF2017-Week8

Farewell to my PFD

Canoeing on the Eno River this summer was such a fun albeit exhausting experience. A term that I learned, courtesy of Dr. Grunwald, is PFD: personal floatation device, a.k.a. life vest. (Being a swimmer since my youth I’d have expected myself to know the acronym, but I didn’t.)

Rebecca and I preparing to canoe with our personal floatation devices! (We did not flip over!)

For me, BSURF was a little like my PFD for research— a constant that I could allow myself to lean on and return to while I was dipping my feet in the waters of research: Jason’s wonderful breakfasts, inspiring faculty talks, daily seminars on how to ask good questions and communicate science with integrity, reassuring friends who, more or less were on the same shallow shores that I was. Coming into the program, I relied heavily on this PFD to explore a new avenue I’ve never dove in before. There existed in me an optimist who was unsure of what to expect but was eager to learn as much as I could, but I was also shadowed by the fear of the ever-present pessimist, crafted from the lack of knowledge of what I wanted to do in the future.

Each body of mind was proved a little bit right and a little bit wrong. No, I haven’t finalized the main mechanism of Traumatic Brain Injury or calculated a new head injury criterion, but yes, I have learned so much about the ongoing conversation in this field and have immersed myself in tools like LS-DYNA, LS-PrePost, and the SIMon model that allowed me to understand TBI more. Yes, some days were slow and sometimes stagnant, but other days with pig dissections and drop testing prep were incredibly exciting.

I pushed myself to tackle challenges, ask question, be vulnerable, and most importantly, find joy. I found joy in lab, listening to the many jokes that Dale always makes during lab meetings and being touched by the genuine care and crazy intelligence of lab members. No matter where I end up in the future, the aura of this lab, this biomechanics family, will always set the standard anywhere I work. And I found joy outside of lab, making wonderful memories with old and new friends whether playing games late at night, teaching kids about snakes at the Eno River Festival, or going out on food excursions across Durham.

I want to thank Dr. Dale Bass, Chris Eckersley, Jason Luck, and the rest of the biomechanics lab for being wonderful, inspiring mentor figures and co-workers during my time in lab. Also, I’d like to thank Dr. Ron Grunwald, Jason Long, and everybody in BSURF for being a part of my PFD in the entrance to the large and rather scary ocean of the future. Now that eight weeks have passed filled with rises and falls and a lot of learning, I believe it’s time to say farewell to my PFD. Coming in with only a broad idea of what I want to do in the future, BSURF has given me so much insight on which paths I want to start pursuing as I grow older.  I am grateful for everything that BSURF has provided me with; such opportunities and privileges, though I say farewell, will never be forgotten.

My fabulous poster! Also, shout-out to Dale for the iPad videos idea!

Things that I learned this summer

  1. Science can be slow. And that’s the way it often is. When I started out this summer, I thought I would complete all the 3D modeling needed for my spines within two/three weeks. So when I found myself one month in, still banging my head on the keyboard and trying to figure out how to make the program do what I wanted, I felt incredibly frustrated. I thought that I was the problem, that I was taking too long to learn the material or figure out the software’s ropes. But time and time again, my mentor Jacob reassured me that this is how science goes. A large part of research is spent reading around, absorbing information, and troubleshooting experiments when they don’t work (which they often don’t). And the thing is, the more you tweak and redesign your experiment, the more you learn about your own project, and the better your understanding about your topic becomes. I guess as a newbie, I didn’t really understand the time span involved in doing research. But now I understand that a lot of time is needed in order to produce good work.
  2. Labs can be a community. Back to that point about Jacob reassuring me when I felt frustrated: I feel like the people you’re with in a lab can also make a difference in your own attitude and performance. My mom studied biochem in college, and she once told me this horror story about a lab that was so cutthroat, they wouldn’t allow undergrads to attend meetings because the atmosphere was simply “toxic.” On the other hand, every Patek lab meeting I attended involved listening to the presentations of various lab members while munching on lunch, and were always filled with meaningful feedback and questions sparked from genuine interest. Before BSURF, I imagined research as a mainly solitary activity, where minimal interaction with other human beings occurred. It’s true that majority of the day, everyone in the Patek lab works on their own thing. But there is also a definite sense of community as well. If you have a technical question, you can ask your neighbor about it; if something in your project makes you laugh, you can call everyone over to see. I’m sure not every lab is like this, but now I realize that community and atmosphere is something I greatly appreciate, and that I’ll take into account when figuring out where I want to go in the future.
  3. I’m still not sure what I want to do. Modeling and testing my own spines was a fun challenge, and I loved the way it made me think harder about the way biological structures are shaped in nature. But at the same time, there were also moments when I peered over a graduate student’s shoulder to watch him film the behavior of ants, or watched a visiting high school teacher paint 3D-printed finches for a class, or commented enthusiastically on a popular science video posted in the lab’s casual chatroom.  There are so many ways a person can contribute to science, from research, to education, to communication.  And in research alone, there are different paths you can take, whether you want to study morphology, behavior, both, or something else entirely! I’ve still got a long way to go before figuring out what I truly want to do, and that’s okay. If anything, my experience this summer has shown me that there’s multiple things that can get my mind whirring, which means I have a lot of options to explore. 🙂

A HUGE thank you to the Patek lab for having me this summer, and to Jacob and Dr. Patek specifically for all their guidance and help.   I had a great time!

And of course, thank you very much to the BSURF program for making this eye-opening experience possible!

Throwback to week one…thanks you guys!

(B&W edit by Annika Sharma)

More questions than answers…

As we wrap up the program and I mentally prepare myself for the 30-hour journey back home to India, I’ve been thinking a lot about how this summer has gone. BUSRF definitely didn’t go as expected—I had to change labs halfway through (for reasons I won’t go into here) and ended up working in Dr. Brian Hare’s Duke Canine Cognition Centre. Although having to start over was frustrating, the opportunity to experience two very different lab environments in two very different departments made the experience all the more valuable. Never underestimate the importance of good mentors (and a good mentor-mentee fit) in navigating the research world! Navigating science is just about as messy as the science itself.

Halfway through last semester, I had pretty much decided I was going to study neuroscience. Now, I’m not so sure. Dr. Hare insists that there is a way to merge my passion for animals and studying animal behavior with my interest in understanding the workings of the brain, a field he has termed evolutionary neuroscience (a behavioral/non-invasive approach to understanding the human brain by studying species such as chimpanzees, bonobos, wolves & dogs). As I leave with more questions than answers, I’ve promised myself that I will take the time to explore before settling on a field of study.

Next year should be exciting! But first, a much needed break awaits…

I can’t wait to see my dog Cinnamon (and relax like she is)!