If there is one thing that absolutely amazes me the most each day about working in Christine Ann Denny’s neuroscience lab at the New York State Psychiatric Institute—in addition to the fascinating work I engage in—it’s how the hours seem to vanish, whiling away without my noticing until I am reminded by the light that the sun is setting. This fact in itself is not what elicits my amazement; it is what takes up those hours, and how I have busied myself into an invigorating frenzy of science and innovation that makes me excited to delve further into the field of neuroscience research.
Transitioning from working 12 hours per week during the school year to full-time 40 hours per week during the summer has been both challenging and thrilling. Throughout the semester, I relied on Christine and the lab’s technician, Nikki, for assistance and guidance. Nikki trained me on a number of microscopes, had taught me how to run PCRs and gel electrophoresis, and had even brought me through the elaborate strategic technicalities of breeding and caring for transgenic mice (of which Christine has developed roughly 12 lines) in the animal room. Often, I would go into the lab to see a list of tasks to accomplish.
Yet, during the summer, I received the shocking knowledge of Nikki’s planned 3-week absence to Spain. Suddenly, I was to be in charge of keeping up with all of the lines in the animal room, and seeing each experiment through from start to finish, from breeding the mice to genotyping, performing behavioral tests, cutting the brains, conducting immunohistochemistry on the brain slices, and analyzing the data.
Christine, of course, aids me along the way. But, I took it upon myself to learn about the best strategies for breeding, to pore over the protocols written by other lab members, and to check and double check all that I am doing (for, as a beginner, my susceptibility to mistakes is perilously high).
It’s been a great, though quick-paced, few weeks. Soon, we are to start on optogenetics on our mice, a recently developed technique of flashing light on the brain to enhance or delete cells of interest. Behavioral tests and injections of tamoxifen are in line for these next couple of days. In short, there is plenty of work ahead of me, and I’m prepared to take on the challenge.