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!