Summer Fellow Jack Chang: Thank somebody today

A guest blog by Jack Chang
Mr. Chang is a Regeneration Next Summer Research Fellow in the Karra lab at Duke’s Division of Cardiology. In this blog post, he shares his research experience and reflects on how success depends on more than just individual effort.

My name is Jack Chang and I’m one of the RNI Summer Fellows this year. I’m a rising senior studying biochemistry at the University of Texas at Austin and plan on attending medical school to become a physician. This summer, I’m working in the Karra Lab studying mechanisms of cardiac tissue regeneration in zebrafish larvae, and it’s been an incredible experience. My project involves analyzing the interaction between TGF-b and vegfaa signaling on cardiomyocyte proliferation. To accomplish this, I’m using a confocal microscope to examine the hearts and the software Fiji to quantify cardiomyocytes. By the end, I expect to improve my understanding of the mechanisms of cardiac tissue regeneration in zebrafish and how this can be applied to human hearts.

In lab, I’ve grown tremendously as a scientist. I’ve been able to refine my laboratory research skills, increase my knowledge of the cardiovascular system, and learn how to better assess research. Every day, I learn something new, which is exciting. Being at Duke has been amazing as well. I love interacting with all the bright people I meet and hearing about the amazing accomplishments that have happened and are happening here in Durham.

Chang (Left,white shirt) with Ravi Karra (left, blue shirt), mentor Diana Chong (right, blue shirt) lab members at a celebratory lunch. Photo courtesy Paige DeBenedittis, lab manager (front, purple shirt).

With these highs, however, also come lows. Research can be frustrating and draining. When experiments don’t work, it’s discouraging. Before this program, I had an idealized perspective of research. I expected experiments to run accordingly and for data to be conclusive. But I’ve learned the grinding nature of science and how often finishing an experiment leaves one with more questions than answers. Adjusting to working full-time took time as well. Coming from undergrad’s easy pace, I often came home both physically and mentally exhausted. Being away from friends and family back home is hard as well. I write this to show that there are two sides to every coin and acknowledge that we all go through trials, even when it appears we’re having the time of our lives. So, if you’re feeling down, you’re not alone. Talk to someone about it. Odds are they’re able to empathize with you.

This past week, I got this fortune from a Chinese restaurant. It read:
“People make plans; fate makes the plan successful.”
Agree or disagree?

Initially, I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, when I first read it, I was appalled by this proverb. I posted on social media asking my friends their thoughts and the majority dissented as well. But one friend, whom I respect tremendously, agreed with it. I was confused as to how someone so wise would concur with such a statement. But that got me rethinking if there actually was any truth to it.

If not fate, what makes plans successful? Hard work? Talent? Fortunate circumstances? I think most people would agree that hard work brings success. But I don’t think anyone could argue all of their success in life has come from their own merit. To be fair, hard work does favor success. But how about the times when we got lucky? Or things just seemed to fall into place? For example, me being accepted into this program and coming here wasn’t all because of my own doing. Sure, I earned good grades and sought out research opportunities back home. But I’m fortunate to have friends who encourage me and great role models from my family and professors. Success isn’t dependent on just oneself. It involves factors like privilege, the actions or non-actions of other people, and even some luck.

This summer, I learned how research wasn’t an exception to this idea. To get research done, there was collaboration within a lab, as the PI, lab manager, postdocs, and even undergrads discussed ideas. Information was also shared between labs. Whether it was a joint lab meeting between two groups at Duke or reading a paper written by a lab in China, every day I saw how interwoven science is. PI’s are even dependent on grants to fund their research. With many publications and awards, it’s easy to become arrogant. But research is a team sport, with one piece of evidence being the many authors on a paper. It certainly takes more than an individual effort to account for success.

Being at Duke has been formative not just for my research skills, but also my appreciation for the people around me. Some of the skills I’ve learned include using a confocal microscope and sectioning with a cryostat. But without the guidance of the people in my lab, I would not be as fluent in these techniques, and I’m grateful for the mentors who’ve dedicated their time to training me. Above all, this experience has helped me appreciate how special every day is. I’m lucky to be at a great institution doing research and to work with people who help me be the best I can. Life isn’t just about me, but rather the people who have shaped me to the person I’ve become.

So, thank someone today. It can be your boss, co-workers, or even the cashier at the cafeteria. Show your appreciation for them and acknowledge the role they’ve played in your success. Reflect on the good has happened to you that has helped you reach the success you have today and strive to be that good to someone else. And while there is an “i” in science, you can’t spell it without the other letters.

Stay humble, be grateful, and appreciate the awesome life we all live.

Jack is always down to hear what other people are doing with their time: jack.chang@duke.edu.

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