Only through being a student at Barnard and getting funded by the Noyce Scholars Program, was I able to spend a large portion of my summer in the city. I have had the chance to conduct research at a highly renowned academic institution, as well as explore the best city in the world. These past 10 weeks I have been surrounded by numerous mentors in my school community, as well as many other bright, motivated STEM students. Now I will start my sophomore year much more conscious of the existing STEM community at Barnard. Very often there is a tendency to feel that STEM classes aren’t collaborative. From even just 10 weeks in SRI, I came to see that there are students at Barnard that are ready and willing to work with their peers. Through SRI I have started to find the people at Barnard that I can lean on for support and guidance as I move my way through my undergraduate experience, and even on to medical school. Science is about collaboration and teamwork more than it is a race to the finish line. I watched my PI interact with colleagues often; even if it doesn’t pertain to his research specifically, it is still essential to foster a community. In addition, I have also been lucky enough to have the chance to attend all of the guest faculty lectures that SRI provided. I listened to professors in the neuroscience and behavior department, chemistry department, and even the President of Barnard, talk passionately about their lives, their work, and their ambitions. Entering in this intellectual dialogues with the professors at Barnard makes me excited to come back in the fall.
There was so much preparation for the poster presentation, so when the day came to finally present I was excited to stand in front of my work and demonstrate that I had become the expert on my procedure. I also greatly enjoyed the chance to teach a large variety of people something new. By catering my presentation-- for example, the specific points I highlighted-- to each individual I realized that a good teacher should cater their communication style to the person they are trying to reach. The best kind of science is accessible by a large variety of people. The more that I can make the information understandable and pertinent to someone else, the more likely that I am able to start a conversation, make a change, and even secure funding. Another important part of the SRI poster presentation session was the ability to see the work of my peers. I remember talking to my fellow R.A. about how amazing it was to be surrounded by some of the brightest and most motivated young women in STEM. The majority of the students are the poster presentation were were fellow Barnard women who chose to take the time out of their summer to pursue research in their perspective fields. The passion with which everyone talked about their work made me very excited to continue my research.
Throughout my experience in Professor’s Snow lab I have learned so much about research in general. Although, some of the most important lessons that I have learned have been the ones not explicitly spoken. For example, on the surface Professor Snow teaches us the specifics of the protocol, as well as the rhythm at which the lab operates. We absorb the information that he teaches us, and then try to teach it to someone else. This “learn and then teach” model has been very effective in forcing me to confront the information that I don’t know as thoroughly, as well as improve on my communication skills. Yet, under the surface, while working independently, I have learned the importance of thoughtful redundancy and quick problem solving. Many of the procedures that we do in lab on a daily basis-- RNA extraction, cDNA synthesis, and qPCR-- become second nature; it is very easy to go on autopilot and make stupid mistakes. From the few small mistakes I have made, I learned the importance about staying mentally engaged in even the most redundant tasks. Everything in lab should be done deliberately and thoughtfully, in order to yield the most accurate results. Working in this lab has shown me the importance of paying attention to details all along the way. At the same time, humans are prone to make mistakes and this is totally fine. At the beginning I would have been very quick to sound the alarm and panic when I made mistakes. By the end of the summer, I found myself calmly reacting when I made mistakes and thinking about solutions before asking my PI for help. By the end of the summer I became much more confident that I had access to all the information that I needed to think for myself in order to solve a problem. There are still moments when my heart skips a beat, but I have become much more creative about how to bounce back instead of wallowing in the fact that I made one. It is very important to never make the same mistake twice.
Another thing that I learned in the Snow lab is that research itself is a very creative process. I initially thought that conducting good research was about following the rules and simply building off the knowledge of those before you. Now I more clearly understand that while research is all of the aforementioned things, there is a great amount of creativity that is required to get from point A to point B. By consulting the literature and being very fluent in the science, one has all the tools at their disposal to make those connections. While it is essential to have all of those materials available, it takes determination, innovation, and passion to make connections and figure out explanations that others haven’t thought of before. Watching Professor Snow in his lab, as well as hearing all of the other Barnard Professors during the guest faculty lectures, has demonstrated to me that for one to be good at what they do, they need to love it.
I am so thankful to have been funded by the Noyce Scholars program. This experience at SRI has helped me figure out that I am definitely going to be pursuing an M.D. in the future. I love the work that I had done here and I am sure that I can apply all of the lessons I have learned in lab to future professional endeavors in the STEM field. Becoming a researcher has taught me how to effectively problem solve, learn from and teach to my peers, as well as think creatively. I am proud to say that I truly see myself as a scientist.
So far I have completed approximately six weeks of my internship in Professor Snow’s lab. While every day is full of work, I have enjoyed every second of my time in this lab. After six weeks, it is only natural that we have all settled into a routine. First thing in the morning we check the bee cages to make sure everyone is fed and all the dead bees are cleaned out. Once we have established that all the experimental set ups are good to go, we branch off to our respective projects. Most mornings I try to quickly debrief with Professor Snow, so that I can clarify most of my questions for the procedures of the day. Since we are all working on different facets of the bigger picture, our work has become a lot more independent than it was at the beginning of the internship. When we started there were two new members of the team and three more veteran members, but at this time in SRI everyone is operating together like a while oiled machine.
At the beginning of the internship I was examining whether or not a change in RNA half-life could be the source of the heat shock response for honeybees and Nosema ceranae. Since that plan didn’t seem to pan out, Professor Snow switched gears and gave me a new angle to investigate. Now I am looking to see how various modifications at the N-terminus of a protein contribute to protein regulation in honey bees and Nosema ceranae. One of the specific N-terminal modifications that Professor Snow wanted to focus on was that of the MetAps methionine aminopeptidases, which is destined to co-translationally remove the initiator methionine in the case of a favourable second amino acid (Varland, 2015). Another mode of protein quality control as a heat shock response that we were going to examine was the RAC (ribosome-associated complex), NAC (nascent polypeptide-associated complex), and the RQC (ribosome quality control complex). By conducting RNA extraction, DNase treatment, cDNA synthesis, and qPCR with various primers we can try to target different aspects of these control systems to try to understand more thoroughly what is going on in both honey bees and Nosema ceranae.
While it is obvious that I am learning in great depths about various homeostatic systems in eukaryotes and the various scientific protocol that surrounds those types of investigations, I am also learning a lot about the rhythm, pace, and life of the lab. While Professor Snow’s lab does not reflect the pace and status quo of every lab, I feel that from the 4 months that I spent in this lab in the spring semester and the additional 6 weeks that I spent in the lab this summer, I have a much more realistic understanding of what it means to do research. Professor Snow engages very rigorously in the science; he does a great job in making sure that we actually understand the science of what we are doing instead of simply just understanding how to execute the procedure correctly. In addition, Professor Snow, as any good scientist should do, uses the previously established body of knowledge as a huge stepping stone off which he can base his experiments. From my experience, conducting your own research is a lot of learning and reading about other colleagues’ work, and then figuring out a way in which to use that previously established knowledge to answer your own questions. The fact that I have changed the focus of my project a few times demonstrates the ever changing nature of research. If things don’t seem to be panning out, sometimes you need to know when it is time to call it and switch your focus to something else. If the general question is about heat shock response, and it doesn’t turn out to be RNA half-life, and it isn’t protein modification, then it is time to take a new approach. While it is very easy to get attached to the work that you have put in, it is also very important to have the detachment from your work to be able to make executive decisions like that.
In addition, working in Professor Snow’s lab has taught me the importance of the learn and teach model as well as the challenges of independent work. He jokes that he is the Siri of the lab and that as we build on our body of knowledge and get to know the procedures by heart that we won’t have to consult Siri for every decision that we make. It was also very advantageous that we had two new members of the lab, as well as three people that had been here since the spring semester. Having two new people that needed to learn the experimental procedures and working details of the lab meant that we would be forced to actually teach to others what Professor Snow taught us himself. By having to describe to someone else the “right” way to do something meant that I had to very directly confront my own knowledge. Teaching something to someone else really solidified my own knowledge of the subject matter at hand. I know in the future I can apply this lesson to all of my classes in STEM, as well as all of my other classes in college.
I am feeling pretty confident about the things I have learned so far. After the duration of time that I have spent in Professor Snow’s lab I am sure that I would be able to conduct myself in any kind of lab in the future. I have had my experience with different kinds of tools-- centrifuge, micropipettes, dishwasher, autoclave, bunsen burner, Thermocycler, qPCR machine, and even beekeeping tools. My ability to use these common place machines in the lab will be helpful for any future positions I want. While I don’t know the fine details of all of the science by heart, I know enough to understand what I am doing as well as the big picture. Even though I am far from an expert on the material, it is great to be constantly thinking about the cell bio that I learned this past semester in order to make sure that the concepts stay fresh in my mind.
In the next few weeks I hope to continue to make progress on the specific project that I am working on. I know that science is simultaneously composed of the process, as well as the results, but I would love to yield some significant data that could help Professor Snow draw conclusions. In addition, some time next week we need to submit the abstract for our final poster presentation. As of right now, I am not totally clear how we want to approach the poster, but with the help of two of the other students in my lab I am sure that we will figure something out. Another one of my goals is to further learn about the process of poster making as well as the right way in which to engage with the people in the room when giving your presentation. If I am going to be continuing to do research at school I want to make sure that I continue to sharpen my poster presentation skills. When Professor Snow comes back to the lab I am going to organize a time to sit down with him and the other students working on the poster with me in order to figure out the plan for the poster and our abstract.
Varland, S., Osberg, C. and Arnesen, T. (2015), N-terminal modifications of cellular proteins: The enzymes involved, their substrate specificities and biological effects. Proteomics, 15: 2385–2401. doi:10.1002/pmic.201400619
These past few weeks I have been working in Professor Jonathan Snow’s lab at Barnard College. He is investigating the cellular stress response of honey bees to various stressors in the environment. By characterizing different cellular pathways in the honey bee, we can learn the fine details of these pathways in order to best protect them from an impending decline in their population. Fortunately, I worked with Professor Snow this past spring semester, so I was able to start this summer already with a rough idea of the basic logistics of the lab. During the spring semester, I would come into the lab for three hours once a week. While all time in the lab is valuable, those three hours were not enough to gain momentum or conduct an experiment to completion. Now I spend eight hours a day, five days a week in theSnow lab, so I am able to complete my projections in one day all the way from bee collection to the actual analysis of the data.
In terms of basic logistical things, I have learned the importance of keeping an orderly and safe lab. There is procedure and protocol for everything. I enjoy organization, so I relish this structure. I have learned how to refill, restock, and keep clean the lab; the more time that is put into preparation and organization, the easier it is to conduct successful experiments later on. Everything we do here has a purpose and a place. These kinds of “housekeeping” skills contribute to my skills in STEM because now I feel very confident that I could walk into any lab in the future and competently conduct myself.
A defining characteristic of the Snow lab is its work with honey bees. Overtime I have become more acquainted with the bees, but it was a gradual process. We regularly go up to the hives above Barnard Hall to check on the queens, collect foragers for experiments, and to split the hives in order to avoid swarming. I have a newfound respect for our insect friends. Bees deserve the same kind of personal space and consideration as any other person would. By respecting their space, they respect mine; it is that simple. In addition, I have learned so much about the basic logistics of the hive as well as the eusocial behavior of the bees. Throughout a bee’s life they take on various specific jobs in the hive. Each bee knows exactly what to do to improve the overall fitness of the hive. In a succinct manner, the bees organize themselves atop the honeycombs. They are substantially more intelligent and perceptive than we assume. Bees are the third most important agricultural animal right after cows and pigs, and before chickens. Honey bees provide critical pollination service for humans in both agricultural and ecological settings (Snow).
Recently, honey bee colonies in the United States and Europe have been dying off at increasing rates. This phenomenon is called Colony Collapse Disorder, and stems from a complex combination of issues--- nutritional stress, chemical poisoning, changes to normal living conditions, and infections by parasites and various pathogens (Snow). The work that Snow is doing to characterize the cellular pathways in honey bees that make up proteostasis and heat shock responses can help use learn how to continue to protect them. Recently, I was given a specific project to work on. Nosema ceranae are a species of microsporidia that infect honey bees and subsequently their colonies. While N. ceranae have a heat shock response (HSR), they do not display heat shock factors (HSFs), which is the typical HSR in eukaryotes. Thus, my experiment investigates whether the source of the HSR in N. ceranae stems from an increase in the half-life of their mRNA. In order to conduct this experiment, we will infect a sample of bees. Once the bees are infected, we will treat them with a RNA Polymerase II inhibitor. By blocking the RNA Poly II, when exposed to increased heat, we can see whether the rate of mRNA degradation increases or decreases. If the HSR of N. ceranae is indeed an increase in mRNA half-life, then when treated with a RNA Poly II inhibitor, the rate of mRNA degradation should decrease because the half-life of the mRNA still present would have increased.
Another experiment that we considered was whether or not temperature would have an effect on the efficiency of fumagillin—the most common drug used to treat against N. ceranae infection. By exposing a control sample and an experimental sample to the drug at different temperature intervals, we can look at the levels of Met AP2 (the target of fumagillin) to see whether or not the drug’s rate of reaction changes with temperature. The less Met AP2 there is, the more efficient the drug.
While it is great to feel very knowledgeable about the science and specific procedures in the lab, the most important lessons that Professor Snow has taught me so far have been about the theory of the scientific method and the field of research in general. While it would be amazing if every experiment turned out exactly as we predicted, science truly gets interesting when the results aren’t what you expect. Professor Snow told us that he loves cellular and molecular biology research because he loves problem-solving. You start out with an initial idea based off of prior research and knowledge, but then the innovations and the really great “outside of the box” thinking happens when you need to explain some kind of phenomenon that has never been explained before. You have all of the tools that you need to answer the question, or at least all of the knowledge to find the tools that you need, but a lot of science feels like small leaps of faith. I am still very intimidated by these leaps of faith, but I have to admit that Professor Snow leaps with the utmost tranquility and confidence.
Even after just around five months in Professor Snow’s lab, I feel that I have discovered a whole new field of science. In Professor Snow’s lab, we have an established rhythm and pace to the day. The more time that I spend here, the more comfortable I become with the terminology, science, and logistics. I am also so thankful for the amazing relationship I have with Professor Snow and the other students working in the lab. I have learned just as much from my peers as I have from Snow himself. While Snow teaches me about the science and the lab, my peers give me a safe environment to implement the things I have learned and work through the things I am not sure about. While it easy to assume that work in a lab is very individual, being in the Snow lab has demonstrated to me the paramount importance of communicating with your peers and advisors. By learning from them, talking to them, and making mistakes alongside them, I now see how science can be a community as well as profession.
I am looking forward to the rest of my summer in the Snow lab. Since we just started my experiment, I am looking forward to trying to finish it to completion. One of my goals is to continue becoming comfortable doing independent work in the lab. As time goes on, I hope to continue perfecting my technique and efficiency with RNA extraction, DNase Treatment, cDNA synthesis, and qPCR procedures to the point where I can teach them to others. Another goal of mine is to get to the point where I am familiar enough with the science that I can try designing my own components of the experiment as well. Also, no matter how comfortable I become with the biology or the lab, I never want to be afraid to ask questions. At the beginning it was natural to ask questions, but I want to never stop learning.
Many thanks once more to the Noyce Teacher Scholars Program for giving me this chance to spend my summer in Professor Snow’s lab.