Tag Archives: RF2021-Week4

A Day in My Life

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.

My exciting life in the field was interrupted by surgery

My daily life in the lab took quite the untraditional turn when I developed lower abdominal pain on Tuesday, May 25th. It started off as a pain that was barely there–it didn’t restrict my movement at all. I was able to make it to the BSURF faculty talk, learn about mating signals, and then talk to friends on the bus without noticing much pain. However, the pain became more intense right as I was about to sit down and read some papers for my lab.

On any regular weekday before this pain started, I would’ve sat down to read papers and practice learning how to use R studio for 2-3 hours. Then, I would’ve met with my graduate student mentor Jonny Bherens and a senior lab assistant to go out and do field work. Much of our work involved taking samples of aquatic insects at different levels of the river ecosystem. First, we’d take samples at the riverbed, then we’d set emergence traps right above the water, and finally we’d set up sticky traps in the branches. We did this for all of our river sites. We even went out to collect the spiders that eat these insects. On one of these spider-catching trips, we canoed up the Flat River, stopped about a hundred meters below the dam, and collected our specimens throughout a 60 meter area along the river channel. This work is perfect for me and I loved every second of it. Here are a few pictures from my field work:

Emergence traps at Ellerbe Creek

Hard at work: Me setting a stake in Ellerbe Creek! 🙂

A beautiful picture of the Flat River from my canoe

Unfortunately, May 25th was not a regular weekday. I tried my best to focus on the paper I was reading, but my pain got in the way. I wanted to believe it was something to do with needing to go to the bathroom, but that didn’t help at all. The time came for my regularly-scheduled field work and I wanted to tough it out because I love being in the field and I wanted to make the most out of my time. That’s why I decided to ignore my stomach pain and walk to the River Center to meet Jonny.

To make a long story short, the pain didn’t subside, so Jonny took me back to my dorm to rest. It wouldn’t go away no matter what I tried, so I went to the ER at 1 AM and had an emergency surgery. I could barely walk for a few days, but now I walk well on stable, horizontal surfaces. I missed out on almost two weeks worth of research which makes me feel overwhelmed when I think about catching up. However, I’m looking forward to presenting an awesome chalk talk despite my setbacks.

As for how my daily life in the lab will look like, I will not be able to do field work for the remainder of my research. This is pretty sad but I’m still excited knowing that I’ll be able to do field work again in the fall! From now on, I’ll either be in the lab or working from home and focusing on walking better each day.