19. August 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: PhD

As the summer is coming to a close, I’ve finished my last week of my third lab rotation at BU. I loved my six weeks in the fish lab and have chosen (and thankfully have been accepted) to stay! This means that I will complete the three years of my PhD work in this lab on the BU medical campus. Working in science is a peculiar thing. It takes a collection of support, mental tools, and clever tactics to successfully complete a research project or degree. Luckily in my lab, I have been training with an amazingly helpful PhD student who has become a mentor to me. With my mentor’s help, these are some of the tools for success I have learned so far:

-Treat everyday as its own accomplishment.

In science, a fifty percent success rate on your experiments is typical and can be a very pleasing statistic. When you are working on something you don’t understand (which is why it is science, you’re the one solving the unknown), of course, it’s not going to go perfectly. Your goals and results are unknown! You are probably going to be surprised by what you find. The trick is to not get down about a failed experiment. Let those twelve hours or three months of preparation roll off your back if something is not going to work out. Daily life in the lab must be treated like a job. You show up every morning, you do your best, and eventually (because you didn’t stop trying) something is going to work.

-Be actively involved in your environment.

This is why doctors and researchers are always reading new journal articles in the field of interest. You have to keep up with new findings, new techniques, and what direction your field is going in. If you read or hear about a technique, a new transgenic model, or any aspect of science you’re unfamiliar with, pursue it. Find out what you don’t know. Admit ignorance. Little bits of great ideas can be pieced together to add to your own project. Take the best of what’s around you and you’ll be a well-rounded professional.

-Like the people around you.

What can make your workday one hundred times better? Working with friends. It’s essentially the same concept as getting along with your roommates. Yes, you all are different, and no, they aren’t going anywhere. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn about other people’s cultures, lives, and personalities. And certainly take advantage of the opportunity to like the people you work with. I am fond of everyone in the fish lab, but even if you are somehow inexplicably opposed to making friends with a particular person you meet, try to get over it. It will be much more enjoyable to work in a friendly and pleasant atmosphere. You will probably discover that everyone can be a great friend and resource at work.

Those are the first of my reflective thoughts on my last summer rotation and future research lab. I think they are applicable to almost anyone in the workplace, though. I hope everyone has a great rest of the summer!

07. August 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: PhD

Even when I get to sleep extremely early (for a 24-year-old’s standards), I still find it extremely hard to get up in the morning. I hit snooze on my multiple alarms for at least 30 minutes every morning before I can drag myself onto my feet. That habit of mine will probably not change. What is new in my life is that once I am up, I LIKE going to work. I cannot recall being happy to go to work before. Granted, I do have limited job experience as I am a perpetual student, but I am sure not everyone likes going to work.

Working in the fish lab is fun. It’s academic oriented, thought-provoking, involves some manual labor, and provides satisfying work. In my previous lab experiences I have always used cell lines, and although you do need to “feed” and clean the environment the cells live in, you obviously cannot see or interact with the cells as you care for them. In the fish lab, I get to observe my model organism, visibly appreciate my work, and find amusement in their behavior.

Typically in labs that use animal models such as mice, the lab has a separate animal care staff that feeds the animals and maintains their health and cleanliness. In our lab, every lab member (undergrads, masters, and PhD students) shares a small part in the total maintenance and feeding responsibilities, so that our fish are easily cared for and expertly handled. One of the clear advantages of this setup is that the people who study and experiment with the fish are actually taking care of their own scientific interests. This most likely leads to better care of our fish because we are personally and professionally invested in their well-being.

Another perk about working with the zebrafish is that I get to keep a very manageable work schedule. When I was working with cell extracts that are simply frozen until needed, I could do my experiments at any time that I was physically in the lab. In the zebrafish lab with an emphasis on circadian rhythms, every fish is kept on a precise light/dark schedule. The lights are precisely set to come on at 8am and go off at 8pm, everyday. This means that unlike working with solutions and machines where I could stay as late as 9:30pm to acquire some data, I am officially on the zebrafish’s sleep schedule. So I can only work (including experiments, feeding, and any maintenance needed) when the fish are “awake,” i.e. lights are on. No late nights, no super early mornings. I must say they are doing good things for my sleep schedule.

This week my mentor, another lab member, and myself started on a new project. Up until this week, I had been completing my training using my mentor’s experiments involving a component of the visual system (the optic tectum) to perfect my new skills, like using the confocal microscope and general handling of the fish for experiments. Now we started exploring a different angle on studying the neurological responses of the zebrafish and I hope to continue to develop this project throughout the rest of my summer rotation here.