It is hard to believe that these 10 weeks of summer research have already come to an end! Although the summer has flown by, thinking back to the first few weeks I recognize how much I’ve learned and grown as a scientist and student since the beginning of the summer. Throughout the course of the summer, working in the lab full time, I have really solidified my understanding of my own research and mastered the laboratory techniques that I use regularly. I feel even more comfortable working independently and tackling new projects and procedures. It really has been so valuable to engage in science on a full-time basis because it has allowed me to see the ins and outs of laboratory work and the scientific process.
In terms of my research projects, these past few weeks have had many ups and downs. After collecting interesting data from newborn bees fed double stranded RNA to inhibit the heat shock response of the parasite Nosema, I attempted to replicate the experiment to confirm the data. In the second trial of the experiment however, the results did not match those of the first experiment. Although disappointing, I’ve learned that replicating results is an important part of research, and when data does not repeat itself, you can reevaluate the experimental design and scientific rationale. Often these experimental disappointments can lead to new insights and questions for future research.
For example, I similarly attempted to use newborn bees replicate my experiments using eugenol to inhibit Nosema from transporting amino acids under heat shock conditions. Like the double stranded RNA experiment though, these eugenol treated bees did not show equivalent Nosema spore levels to those of bees in earlier experiments. Despite this frustrating result after three experiments with matching data, instead of giving up on the whole idea, Professor Snow suggested we consider if using newborns may have affected the experimental outcome. Although we did not gather the results we expected, we can still learn new things from the data to apply to future experiments and questions.
My final project, using flow cytometry to characterize Nosema developmental stages, has also both yielded exciting results and presented many challenges. After successfully extracting RNA from our sorted samples a few weeks ago, we attempted to increase the volume of RNA so that it would be detectable using quantitative PCR (qPCR). To accomplish this, we sorted more cells and put higher volumes of the sorted samples through the RNA extraction process. By altering this extraction procedure, we were able to extract appreciable amounts of RNA transcripts of the Nosema β-actin gene, measured by RT-qPCR. When attempting to do qPCR on other genes suspected to be active at different developmental stages, however, we had not extracted enough RNA for detection. We also tried to add a cell cycle dye to our procedure in order to further characterize each distinct life stage, but this didn’t quite work as expected. Although this is also a bit disappointing, procedures often don’t work on the first try, and, for me, trying to iron out the problems is one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of scientific research.
Despite the few minor setbacks with the flow cytometry project, I still had more than enough success and data to present this project at the Summer Research Institute poster session. Of all my projects, I chose to present on this one because of its exciting techniques, broad implications, and successful results. In making my poster, I had to consider how to best convey information to a wide variety of people including students, professors, and non-scientists alike. I learned how to interweave text, diagrams, and pictures of my research in a way that would engage an audience. The poster session itself was such a rewarding and valuable experience. I loved sharing the work I completed and progress I made in lab this summer with my peers, professors, and other attendees. Because of the differences in scientific backgrounds of the poster session audience, I had to be able to explain my research at many different levels. Thinking about how to best accomplish this type of presentation really helped me become a better teacher and scientist, while also solidifying my own understanding of my project.
Overall, this summer of research has been an invaluable and transformative experience. I am surer that science and education are fields that I want to pursue in my future and I feel far more equipped to tackle these paths. By researching alongside the other Barnard biology majors in my lab I have found incredible new peers who inspire me as a woman in the sciences. Looking forward to this upcoming academic year, I am extremely excited to continue my research in the Snow lab. I hope to keep making steps forward in my flow cytometry project, wrap up my other projects, as well as begin a new project! I am so grateful for Barnard’s Summer Research Institute and the Noyce Summer Internship for giving me this incredible opportunity! I feel like I have learned so much in just 10 weeks and feel more confident in my teaching, learning, research, and scientific skills.