A steady tide of words flowed out in rapid progression. I spoke quickly, my hands flitting about as I attempted to describe the figures projected on the screen. Christine, my PI, stopped me politely and asked me to slow down, prompting me to attempt a more careful analysis of the graphs. It was the first time that I had presented on a scientific paper, and though the audience was small, the modest confidence I usually have while public speaking wavered a bit, given the topic. Condensing a dense Nature paper with a number of supplementary figures is a hefty feat, I discovered to my chagrin. It was a lesson in what I’d always said I’d wished to do: relay the jargon of science into understandable terms. Though I did not speak with as much grace and fluency as I had hoped, I was glad to have taken a step towards this goal. I was able to discuss with Christine what I did right and what I could improve upon, and I was renewed with a sense that I can tackle another presentation in the near future, but this time in front of the entire Hen lab.
Following conversation and planning comes the actual execution of an experiment, conducted in scrupulous detail. My days are often blocked by a number of different behavioral experiments to run with the mice allotted to the several projects I am currently a part of. Most notably, I have finally gotten up and running in experimenting with my Nestin mice that have the NR2B subunit of the NMDA receptor knocked out. I administered ketamine to these mice and am determining whether the NR2B subunit is necessary for the effects of ketamine. The first experiment I ran had a highly significant effect; the feeling of realizing that the data reveals a huge effect is like none other. I am continuing with this cohort to determine whether the result is even more robust with a higher sample size. In another experiment, conducted just today, I have figured out that the effects of ketamine have a prophylactic, or preventative, effect against stress. Seeing the results beautifully graphed on statistical analysis software caused my PI and I to squeal with joy.
When I am not running experiments, I am able to improve other techniques such as perfusions, brain slicing, mounting, and confocal microscopy. Usually, when someone begins to conduct something that others in the lab have not yet experienced, time is allotted so that everyone can be present and learn as much as possible. I’ve found that this emphasis on keeping everyone on the same page allows us to have a stronger foundation; there is almost always backup if something goes wrong or if one needs help in finding or completing something.
The world of research is so murky and dauntingly complex; yet, the spirit with which I’ve come to associate the pursuit for answers has gotten me hooked on the occupation. I am one who thrives on busyness, movement, constant inquiry and periodic reflection. Though I still cannot relinquish my penchant for leadership development and writing, I am finding it easier to find ways to intermingle my other interests with my central passion. My plan at the moment is to continue working in this lab through my college years, which includes completing my senior thesis. I am also beginning to look into grad school options and preparing myself to study for the GRE, which I am to take next year. It is both strange and exhilarating to begin thinking about how I can prepare myself to move forward professionally in the field of research.
One day, while observing my daily, inextinguishable enthusiasm, my colleague quipped: “It looks like you’ve found your calling.” Though my current outlook may be colored by the bright glean of new ambition, I was struck by the truth of this casual statement. Isn’t this what people speak of finding: the job that doesn’t feel like work, the enthusiasm pervading one’s daily environment? This summer has gone by in a frenzy, with so much bombarded on me and yet so much knowledge and skill gained.
It has, more notably, been a pleasure to have so much in common with whom those I work, whom poke fun at my clumsiness and can talk about restaurant week in between running around. This summer has summarily been defined by the daily succession of experiments and sometimes-unsuccessful scientific pursuits. Yet, I have found that I will most poignantly remember my summer days being invigorating, fun, and punctuated by the sparkle and buoyancy of laughter.