The summer after my freshman year of college, I applied to a program called EBICS (Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems) and received the opportunity to participate in paid undergraduate research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for ten weeks in Boston.
I worked under a P.h.D candidate at MIT in a biosynthetic lab in the bioengineering department. The entire experience was exciting from start to finish but as I had just finished my freshman year of college, I was still very new and not really knowledgeable in the type of science that was being worked with in the lab. A clear memory I have from my time there was hearing MIT’s president talk at an event where he used the analogy of the amount being taken in by a student there is like being hit with the water pressure of a broken fire hydrant. I related to this quite strongly. I had no idea how to read genetics on paper. Each part of a gene has a different symbol and name that consists of blocks, triangles, arrows, and various colors. Along with reading 10 page articles, I had to learn what each symbol meant and how to recognize them as well. Aside from the literature, I also learned how to take care of cells and lab techniques. However, I didn’t just work with any kind of regular cell line. I was given stem cells. These are some of the hardest, most expensive, and fragile cells to work with as they are in a state where they can become any kind of cell before they develop into their assigned function, also known as differentiation, in scientific terms. My mentor named this cell line tamagotchi. I had to feed them, nurture them, let them grow, and most important of all, not let them die, just like my own baby tamagotchi. The countless hours spent in that lab every day for those 10 weeks was enough for me to run PCR in a blindfold. My lab skills improved dramatically and became an ease to the point that when I went back to school the following semester, I was the designated lab technician for my science classes at Agnes Scott. At the end of the 10 weeks, I was able to present my work on a poster and attend the EBICS conference in Chicago and also SPArC at Agnes Scott.
I really enjoyed this experience and the opportunity to do such important and prevalent work. I believe that this experience helped me decide to become a Neuroscience major. However, it also helped me realize that this path of wet lab research is not for me. The long and usually lonely hours with just you, the cells, and machines whirring around you are not for me. I prefer the clinical side of science and medicine, which is just as important but has more human interaction. This has allowed me to focus more on working in hospitals, clinics, or private practice settings to acquire more experience this way earlier on in my medical career and in the fields of work that I enjoy.
SUMMIT Learning Outcomes associated with this reflection:
- 4. Communicate effectively through writing and speaking
- 5. Recognize, analyze, and evaluate arguments
- 7. Recognize, analyze, and evaluate arguments
- 8. Identify and assess one’s values, interests, and abilities
- 10. Interpret quantitative information or demonstrate the methods of inquiry appropriate for investigating the natural world
- 12. Cultivate and maintain interpersonal relationships and networks
- 14. Practice continual improvement of one’s whole person and seek and utilize feedback
- 16. Demonstrate honorable and ethical behavior and civic engagement