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.