Working in Professor Snow’s lab has been eye opening for me in so many ways. It allowed me to truly understand what it means to work in research and how the root of successful work is to allow yourself to make mistakes, ask the difficult questions, and to be creative. This creative aspect of science really caught my attention. Before this experience in the lab, creativity is not one of the first words that would pop into my head when I thought about STEM or science in general. While science is revolved around fact and truth, discovery of science and the exploration of it is derived from a place of creativity. Scientists need to be able to ask creative questions and come up with new and inventive ways to test these questions.
This new understanding of science has inspired me immensely for my upcoming sophomore year. I am looking at my upcoming science classes with more eagerness, as I am genuinely excited to learn the material and to understand it completely so that I can be a creative scientist who can ask real questions. My role as a student is more than to just successfully complete my courses; I, as a student, am eager to understand this material, and I cannot wait to apply more of my scientific understanding in a practical lab setting. Working in the lab has also altered the way that I look at myself. I definitely feel that I can call myself a bona fide scientist. In the past, I always saw myself as a STEM or pre-med student, and never really felt that I could truly call myself a scientist. I feel now that I have earned that title, and I wear it proudly.
Throughout this research, I have learned in depth how to perform RNA extraction, reverse transcription, and qPCR. I have also learned about the Nosema ceranae infection that plagues honey bees, as well as the physiology and eusocial behavior of honey bees. Professor Snow also taught us about their specific cellular pathways in depth. Some of the pathways we learned about were the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR), Heat Shock Response (HSR), and Oxidative Stress Response (OxSR). This lab has definitely made me completely positive that I want to major in Cellular & Molecular Biology at Barnard, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. It was incredible to learn about these pathways because it gave me some perspective about just how complex and magical organisms are. These pathways are present in all eukaryotes, and it is just mind-boggling to me to understand how many components there are in a single pathway, and that there are countless amounts of incredibly complex pathways in all eukaryotes. It is also intriguing to me to think about how these pathways interact with each other in these systems. In the Snow lab, we are asking how these pathways, specifically Heat Shock Response and Oxidative Stress Response, are related to one another. We also wish to look into if these pathways differ with the age of the honey bee. For example, we intend to research younger nurse honey bees and older forager honey bees so that we can compare how these pathways affect the expression of certain small heat shock protein genes. My latest project has been to look into which genes the honey bee expresses when exposed to oxidative stress in order to see if the genes they express are the same or similar to that of Drosophila. We tried to induce the oxidative stress response by treating the honey bees with Paraquat as the oxidative stressor for either 6 or 24 hours. We then performed RNA extraction and qPCR to analyze which genes were expressed as a result of this.
Currently, I am working on performing qPCR on honey bee midgut samples that were treated with Dithiothreitol (DTT). DTT is a reducing agent and is supposed to cause an imbalance in redox components of the honey bee systems. Therefore we want to try and induce the oxidative stress response through the treatment of DTT to see if it causes expression of certain small heat shock proteins. By testing this, we will have a better understanding of the characteristics of the oxidative stress response in the honey bee, specifically in terms of what genes are expressed as a result of its induction.
The poster session this past Friday was such a unique and rewarding experience. It was a very prideful moment to be able to see our poster printed out and to be able to actually explain our project that we have spent so much time on to people. It was so much fun to describe our project to people who were equally as intrigued and invested in science as we were. Having the opportunity to do this made me realize just how different the roles of teacher and student are. In the past, it has generally been my job to learn the material that my teacher would explain to me, and it was interesting to have the tables turn and to be the one who was sharing knowledge with others who also have such a firm understanding of science in general. While I was able to teach what my project was, it still felt like a conversation with peers because we would bounce ideas off of one another and ask questions that would get me thinking about my own project in ways that I had never thought of before. It was also such an amazing experience to see what our peers have been working on this summer. I became even more proud to be part of STEM and this amazing scientific conversation with such intellectual women.
A main lesson I have learned from working in the lab is being able to learn from my experiences and to have the confidence to carry on even when I make a mistake. Mistakes should not be something to be ashamed about, but rather they should be embraced because I can honestly say that I have never made the same mistake twice during the time that I have worked in this lab because I have remembered what to do next time because of them. Mistakes are a major stepping stone to becoming a better scientist, and while they may be difficult in the moment, they always become a learning lesson later on.
I am so grateful to NOYCE for funding me to be part of this amazing lab. This summer has gone by so quickly, and I have learned so much about both science and about myself as a scientist and student. This experience has instilled within me an even more fervent enthusiasm for the upcoming semester and all of the science classes I will be taking. I sincerely hope to continue being part of the Summer Research Institute and NOYCE next summer.