I cannot believe that my internship is drawing to a close, I am not sure if it feels like it went by really quickly or if it feels like I have been here forever. Either way I learned a lot, and it was an amazing experience. I went from feeling trepidatious about working in the lab, to feeling so confident in my knowledge that I could guide others.
The summer has been filled with different projects and opportunities. We focused on Puerto Rican soil and leaves to learn about the effects of logging on forests and microbial communities. I saw that project from DNA extraction to pH analysis. From polymerase chain reaction (or PCR, where we make copies of the DNA) to sequencing the DNA. From results to conclusions. It was so interesting to see the whole process of the project, and to be involved in every step. The only portion of the project that I did not touch was the actual collecting of the samples. But as the summer progressed I would have the opportunity to do that as well.
We also finished up a five-year long project that looked at 10 specific green roofs throughout the five boroughs. Although I was not involved with the beginning of the project, I did get to finish it. As I write this we’re about to send the DNA off to be sequenced. By the time I return to the lab to work during the semester we should have results. I think my favorite part of working in the lab, besides for meeting and collaborating with amazing people and learning so many new skills, was the fieldwork. We set out in the morning with our backpacks filled with water bottles, hats, and sunscreen. We carried a bag full of sample bags, ethanol for sterilizing our equipment, and lots and lots of latex gloves. I walked down the street with a soil corer resting on my soldier. Even though it was hot and sunny and we spent most of the day walking or on public transportation, it was still my two favorite days of the summer. It was so lovely to be out exploring the city I have lived in my whole life. I saw pockets of Harlem and the Bronx I had never gone to, I even got to take the Staten Island Ferry for the first time in my life (I think we were the only New Yorkers onboard). I really felt like a scientist those days, somehow more than when I’m in the lab wearing my white lab coat (which at this point is more brown from all the soil I’ve been working on). I literally got my hands dirty those days, and it sure was fun.
Not only have I learned new lab techniques: pH analysis, PCR, the proper way to take a soil sample, but I have learned a lot about myself. I now know that I am trepidatious when I learn something new, afraid that I’ll mess something up. But once I have done something a few times I am confident, confident enough to teach these new skills to others. I also am a voracious learner, once I have learned a skill I want to learn a new one. My goal by the end of my time in the lab is to learn how to perform every type of analysis-I do not know if this is realistic, but I will keep plugging at it.
One of the reasons I wanted to intern in the lab this summer was to see if research was something I would want to pursue as a career. While I do not know if my question has been answered, I do know that I really enjoyed my time in the lab, and hope to continue doing research, at least for the next few years. Education is also something that interests me, and I did do a fair amount of teaching in the lab: teaching new interns how to do specific things. I have learned the importance of patience and organization, and of tailoring how you teach to every student you encounter.
It has been an amazing and informative summer, and I cannot believe that my internship is drawing to a close.
These past couple of weeks in the lab have been great, and I’m so glad that I decided to work here this summer. I was originally unsure if I wanted to spend almost the whole summer inside doing research. I’m interested in pursuing a career in STEM education, and I initially planned to get a job or internship doing something directly connected to STEM education. But then I was offered the chance to work in the Barnard Microbial Ecology Lab and take part in the Barnard Summer Research Institute. I have enjoyed being able to work full-time in a laboratory, which has given me the opportunity to immerse myself in research, but has also shown me what real research is like. I spend all day in the laboratory and have been able to experience all of the different things that happen in a lab, I have become very integrated with the research.
When you work in a lab a several hours a week, you get things done, but you do not get to see the big picture of the lab, as I do, working 9 to 5. Not only am I more integrated into the projects, but I am also more involved with the workings of the lab. I order equipment and have shown new students the ropes. Last week a new student joined the lab, and I offered to teach her how to do DNA extractions. We are currently working on a large project involving Puerto Rican soils, and we have close to 200 soil samples to extract. The DNA extraction process is not difficult, but it is lengthy and requires concentration and organization. To show the new student how to do the extractions I showed her how to do each step, and then observed her as she then did the step, offering suggestions as we went along.
This moment taught me about teaching and how important it is to interact with the student and understand what type of help they need. At the beginning, I was very involved and did a lot of staring over her shoulder, but as the extraction progressed, I watched her and realized that I could become less involved. It was important for me to read her, and understand, as a teacher, what she, as a student needed from me. Not only did I demonstrate the actual mechanics of the DNA extraction, but I also explained the projects we have been working on in the lab to her. This experience will lend itself very well to my teaching; I have learned the importance of watching your students and amending my teaching style to fit what they need.
I recently trained in PCR, which was something I greatly anticipated. I have not completed a whole reaction by myself yet, but hopefully by the end of the week I will be in the thick of it. Even though it has been very hot, I am still looking forward to doing some fieldwork. Dr. McGuire said that I might be working on a project that will be using soil from the Diana green roof, which would be fun and very convenient. In the coming weeks, I look forward to learning even more about the lab, finishing up projects, and starting new ones. Who knows, I might even have an independent project by the end of the semester—maybe I will even figure out what my senior thesis will be before my Junior year begins!
This summer I am working in the Barnard Microbial Ecology Lab with Professor Krista McGuire. The lab focuses on research involving microbes, such as bacteria and fungi, and how they are affected by their environments. Currently, the lab is working on several projects. One of the projects is focusing on land use in Puerto Rico, and how logging affects native microbial communities. Our lab is also very concerned with and focused on the Combined Sewer Overflow System of New York City.
This means that every time there is heavy rain in New York City the sewer system is unable to handle the excess water, so raw sewage ends up flowing into the bodies of water around the City. Because New York City is a concrete jungle with very little green infrastructure, there are too few plants to absorb the water, so almost all rain water washes of the sides of buildings and flows into the sewers. Green roofs can be used to combat this problem. They are space efficient ways to introduce more green spaces into the City. One of our projects is the Green Roof Assembly project, where we are looking at how microbial communities in different green roofs vary across New York City, with the intention of making green roofs more efficient and better water absorbers. I have been involved with work on both of these projects. For both of these projects, we have freezers full of soil samples. From each of these samples, we extract DNA, then do PCR on the DNA, check the pH and do nutrient analysis of the soil.
Having now spent almost two weeks working in the lab full time I definitely better understand what it is like to be a researcher. Over the semester, I worked in the lab, but this is very different. I can now do longer projects, and I am able to have more say in what I get to spend my days on. I get to budget my time. I also recently received my first lab notebook for this lab which is making me feel very official and that I am truly a part of the lab. There are also many projects being worked on in the lab, and some days I work on more than one. My days are varied, I extract DNA in the morning, then archive soil samples later, then do pH, or I do it in a different order. There are things that need to be done and I can choose when to do them. There is also a greater sense of working as a team, which I really enjoy. We all meet in the mornings and figure out who will work on what. Because we are all in the lab at the same time we get to work together on projects. Science is a team sport and I’m definitely learning that this summer.
I am interested in science education and working full time doing research will help me with that. I now have a greater understanding of microbial ecology and am learning to think in new ways. I will be able to properly convey to my students what it is like to work in a lab and what the lab atmosphere feels like. None of my high school science teachers had spent a great deal of time doing research, and because of that, they were not able to truly explain what research is actually like. I have also learned many skills that I would be able to utilize in a lab period.
My goals for the coming weeks are to learn how to do PCR, which I’m very excited about. I am also hoping that in the coming weeks I will find one project that I am passionate about and be able to focus solely on that. I may have the opportunity to do fieldwork with a professor at E3B which would be exciting as I have never done fieldwork before. I also am looking forward to learning more and doing more research with my professor and peers.