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