Tell us about a typical day at your co-op. How do you spend your time? What motivates you to do this work?
I work side by side with graduate students from the Harvard virology program. THis means that there are people in lab at all times of the day. My schedule typically reflects theirs as it is subjected to the experiments that are beign done that day. Alot of what I do revolves around tissue cultures and experiments derived from the cells grown. Western blots are used to look at protein presences, time courses are used to observed phenotypical effects post drug induction. It is very time sensitive work and often requires early mornings and late nights.
What I greatly appreciate about this process is what it allows me to learn. I am able to a biological pathway from many different areas and using many different techniques. My motivation in doing all of this is my insatiable desire to learn.
In what ways is CaNCURE contributing to your personal and professional learning objectives?
Objectively, I am learning how to conduct research. Although it starts with a question, it can get very complicated incredibly quickly. One question soon turns into six with many experiments that are needed to be done. My experience here is teaching me how to properly conduct these experiments, the necessary controls that need to be included, what to test for, and more importantly, how to look at and think about data critically. Granted these are skills that are not mastered in a short six months but the exposure is enough to get the ball rolling. It is something that I have not had previous exposure to.
Describe a challenge you have encountered during your co-op. How did you approach it? What did you learn from it?
One of my projects during my time here at Dana has been to transform bacteria with an empty vector plasmid and to maxi-prep the DNA. Empty vectors are incredibly difficult to transform. The vector that I was given was also incredibly difficult to work with and would not transform. The bacteria would simply die instead of transform. Despite working in parallel with different veterans of the lab alogn with the advice of others, the transformation would not work no matter what variable was manipulated.
What I learned here was that sometimes science is not cooperative and requires some outside-the-box thinking. The end result of this project was that it was deemed too difficult to transform the empty vector by those around me and a different vector was used.
What opportunities have you had during your co-op to apply skills and/or knowledge that you learned in the classroom?
During my biochemistry class, I was able to learn about various techniques used in lab to study biological processes. These are the techniques that I am using in lab today. I was fortunate enough to put into practice what I learned in class and really begin to understand the details of different assays. My prior knowledge ebtter equipped me to begin working in the lab, something that I had never done before.
What new skills and knowledge have you acquired during your CaNCURE experience? What additional skills and knowledge would you like to acquire and why do you need them?
CanCure has been a unique opportunity for me in the sense that it had allowed me to be introduced into the world of research. I have never done basic lab research before and being in a position where my major does not teach me the skills necessary, it was a hard position to be in. My time with CanCure ahs introduced me to a variety of techniques, but most importantly how to ask the right questions, how to design a proper experiment, what good controls look like. I have learned how to do a majority of the techniques to perform basic lab research through my time here and I would call my time here invaluable.
This experience has been a complete one where I have learned everything that I would have liked to. The only thing missing is more time to continue working on my project.
How is your typical day different from the start of your co-op? Have any of your motivations changed? What new motivators do you have?
My day now involves a lot less shadowing. I have a great understanding of the question that I am trying to answer and I find myself armed with the tools necessary to answer it. I design my experiments with my mentor and then I set off to do them, mostly working independently with input when necessary. This is much different than my time in January, where I was mostly shadowing and working on basic skills, such as loading samples into a gel for a immunoblot.
Revisit the challenge you described in April. Having had the experiences you had since, would you approach it differently today? Why / why not?
The challenge I had in April was to transform an empty plasmid into bacteria and maxi-prep the DNA. The project failed in my hands and in the hands of others in the lab and it required the use of a new vector. Despite the failure, I was able to learn from this experience. It taught me that there are always ways around failures. If something does not work no matter what it is you do, then find out how to do it a different way. In this case, a different plasmid was used as a control for the experiment.
Describe an ideal future co-op experience. How will it be different from and/or build upon your CaNCURE experience?
An ideal future co-op for me would be one that combines the lab research and patient contact. It would most likely have to be in a lab that works on clinical trials for different drugs. I feel that I have the skills and confidence necessary to perform such tasks in a lab. Such a co-op will help continue to build my skills as a scientist as well as allow me to interact in patients and help find the best treatments available for them. A combination of the two would be the most ideal co-op.