Since deciding I wanted to pursue chemistry in high school, I have looked forward to the day where I entered the lab and began doing hands-on research of my own. That day finally came at the start of the summer and it’s been everything I imagined and looked forward to and more. There have been days where I worked straight from 9-5, racing to complete timed parts of experiments at the exact time, analyzing results if I had time to, and scratching notes for myself about what I did to make sure everything eventually made it into my notebook. Other days were less hectic; I would have one thing to do that took a few minutes and later something else, but a lot of downtime in between. On those days, I would organize my notebook from previous days, analyze data further and organize the files, work on writing my final research report or my poster or the SRI session, or read related literature. I would also discuss my results with my lab mates and Professor Sever. This constant change in the energy of the day was something that I loved. I always considered myself a person of routine, with a set schedule of when I focused on specific subjects and when I relaxed. Not having a set schedule this summer, other than knowing that I would be in the laboratory from 9-5 every day, made each day more exciting. The first few weeks there was more downtime than usual and reading literature was incredibly difficult after two hours. But as things picked up and reading literature was spaced between experiments, it became much easier and more enjoyable. I learned that I am very much a visual learner and struggle when information is solely dictated to me. On several occasions, one of my lab mates or Professor Sever would explain something to me but it was not until I saw it written down or drawn out that I fully understood.
I also felt myself improving as an educator throughout the summer. As I had hoped, each week group meeting became easier. I learned how to present the data in a concise and smart way and how, sometimes, the data could speak for itself. Conversations with friends about what I was doing were much easier as I could finally explain it all in terms that they could understand, despite not being biochemistry majors. I found that I could still be as passionate about the material as I have been previously while being intelligible, a balance I couldn’t previously find. Before, when I explained what I was doing I would get too excited and start using terminology people couldn’t always understand as well as mixing my words together. When I would try to slow down and explain more clearly, I would lose the passion and become fixated on proper phrasing. Now, I feel confident when presenting, passionate about what I’m saying, and that I’m able to articulate the material.
I look forward to continuing doing research in the lab. I have loved running my own experiments and having the ability to plan what I would be doing under the guidance of Professor Sever. It has also been wonderful to see two new professors join the Chemistry Department as I was able to see how new professors get started at a new school and with setting up their laboratories. I also enjoyed seeing how professors operate outside of the school year. There’s a lot of behind the scenes planning, budgeting, and work that goes on. Going into this internship, I wanted to pay attention to the professors since I’m so seriously considering that career path. As the summer pulls to a close, I’m still very serious about pursuing academic research. I love running the experiments, I love explaining the results, and I love learning more about what others are doing as well as what I’m doing. This summer has been a wonderful learning experience, met with challenges and the development of new skills, and I am incredibly grateful for that.
In the past month, I have continued to enjoy my work in the Sever Lab. I confirmed that my plasmid DNA was correct and what I desired, I learned how to incorporate it into embryonic kidney cells, took luciferase readings for the first time, and have gone on to do many more experiments using the reporter. Working closely with Professor Sever, I brought up four cancer cell lines from liquid nitrogen storage. Two are now thriving and being experimented on, as well as another cancer cell line provided to me by a coworker. The other two are just beginning to proliferate at a greater rate and will soon be ready for experimentation.
The day-to-day has shown a lot of repetition, which I was prepared for. Last Friday I realized that what I was doing that day was an exact copy of what I had done the previous Thursday. Instead of being exhausted or bored from doing the same thing, as I worried I would be, I was incredibly proud of myself because I got it all done in less time, with fewer mistakes, and with much more confidence. Certain experiments and procedures that took me an hour to learn how to do, with shaky hands and constantly confirming that I was doing the right thing with either my coworkers or Professor Sever, now take me a few minutes. I have done a dozen transfections at this point and each time I write less and less on the paper that I tape to the cell culture hood, to the point where it is now merely my calculations of amounts specific to that transfection. I have also learned how to analyze and organize my data in ways that are both clear and concise.
We have continued our weekly group meetings, presenting our results and explaining our next steps. My first presentation that had a lot of real data was met with many suggestions for improvement, which I listened to. I now feel much more comfortable when creating Powerpoints as well as in presenting them. Realizing that I am no longer nervous going into group meetings has been amazing and made me feel confident that I will be able to present my data to a larger audience at the end of the summer. I have also found it much easier to read the literature related to my research given to me by Professor Sever or that I found online. I still have trouble articulating what I’ve learned or discovered in my research, which came to my attention earlier this week as I wrote the introduction to my research paper. I am incredibly grateful that we are turning drafts into Professor Sever this early and will be working together with her and my lab mates to edit my paper and poster before submission.
In the upcoming month, as summer research winds to an end, I plan to continue the experiments that I am currently working on as well as start working with the two remaining cancer cell lines. I hope to continue to expand my knowledge of the material that I am studying, as well as to improve my ability to explain it to others. I look forward to the poster session at the end of July where I can put my presentation skills to a test, but until then, I am appreciative of the ability to practice and improve with my lab group.
Two weeks ago, I woke up with nervous jitters about starting my first day at work. For many years now I have known that I want to do laboratory research and finally having that opportunity was so exciting. Upon coming to Barnard College, I learned of Professor Sever and her research on cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s. My interest in joining her lab was immediate, and to be offered a position working with her this summer was more than I could have ever imagined when I was a first-year. I had been talking about it for weeks, and it was so exhilarating. But it was also nerve-wracking. What if I had no idea what I was doing? What if I made a mistake on the first day and embarrassed myself? Two weeks later, I still wake up with some jitters, but with much more excitement. In this short span of time, I have learned so much, both about biochemistry, about research overall, and about myself.
I immediately learned that it’s okay to ask questions, even ones that you feel may have answers that you should have known. I also have appreciated having the guidance of Professor Sever, my research adviser, as well as the three other women in my lab with me. Instead of answering my questions directly, they would talk me through something and then ask me what I thought the answer was based on my previous knowledge. Thinking about why I am doing something instead of just being told what to do is a major change from many of my previous experiences. It has allowed me to remind myself of material that I already know while also teaching myself the new material. Two days ago I made the mistake of switching which plasmid DNA went in which gel, but luckily it did not ruin the experiment. Professor Sever asked me why what I had done was technically wrong and talked me through it. I was pleased by how quickly it made sense to go over the laboratory procedures that way. My embarrassment turned into a learning experiment, and I was left feeling better about it all in the end, not ruminating on making a mistake, as I previously would have.
On Tuesdays, we have group meetings in which everyone presents. This week we all presented background information about our individual research projects as well as what our summer plans are. Professor Sever gave notes to each of us on how to better our presentations and make them both more formal as well as more accessible to a larger audience. She noted specific terms that needed explaining and also gave tips on how to make diagrams and pictures that helped in explaining the material. In the upcoming weeks, we will continue group meetings, switching between explaining our project and process, and sharing a research paper that we have recently read. I look forward to these group meetings as opportunities to both practice my presentation skills as well as to learn more about my coworkers’ research and advancements in biochemistry.
These past few weeks have involved transforming E. Coli to include two different vectors previously synthesized for me. I have now purified and separated those two vectors into the desired fragments and, hopefully, combined them to create a new plasmid DNA. In the upcoming weeks, I will incorporate that plasmid into E. Coli and then into embryonic kidney cells, testing to make sure that I made the desired plasmid. I will achieve this goal by working closely with my professor and co-workers to learn the experimental methods that I do not yet know as well as have a sounding board for analyzing my data and results. I also hope to work on better explaining my work and other biochemical topics so that I may educate others about this fascinating field.
If these past two weeks are any indication of what’s to come, which I believe that they are, I have an exciting eight weeks ahead of me. Eight weeks filled with learning and sharing and doing groundbreaking research that I can share with the world.