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.