Quick Update 10.30.12

It has been a while since I have posted. Since I last posted a week ago, nothing much has changed. To be honest, this week felt like it went by extremely slowly. I had an exam last week along with a paper due and four or five quizzes (too many to keep track of). Aside from that all, research has just been getting more and more interesting; each day I learn something new and each day I see the results of what I am working on. This is truly a rewarding experience.

For example, just yesterday, I inserted a TEV plasmid into E. coli competent cells and after growing overnight in an incubator, there were colonies on my agar plate. As weird as it sounds, the colonies are really pretty. I don’t know what it is about the small things of this research — growing colonies, seeing bands on the gel, extracting plasmids — but I am absolutely in love with what I am doing. Sometimes, I wish I could just skip classes and run tests all the time. Sure, there were a few hiccups here and there during the first couple of weeks where the bacteria didn’t grow properly or the plasmids weren’t extract or inserted into the cells, but these are minor compared to the end goal. To know that I have been matched with this lab and to be able to truly see the words transform into the laboratory is more than I could ask for.

But for now, this is all I have to say. I am just going with the flow and taking everything one step at a time. Nothing in life can’t be overcome; I just have to keep a positive mentality and just keep pushing forth.

Advertisements

Seeing Results: A first successful experiment

I started a little over a week ago at my lab. I haven’t received my own project yet as I am shadowing a post-doc in the lab, learning the techniques that are employed when conducting actual research projects.

To start, I was asked to transvect three different plasmids into E. coli and then extract these plasmids from the bacteria, linearize the samples, and obtain the linearized DNA to save for future use.

My first attempt in transvecting these bacterial cells with the plasmids didn’t go as smoothly as planned; after regrowing the bacterial culture with the transvected cells a second time, the plasmids were successfully extracted from the cells and concentrated so that all I had in test tubes was plasmid DNA. With this circular DNA, I got to linearize them using restriction enzymes and then proceeded to perform PCR to allow the DNA to amplify. After PCR, the products were run on a gel to check and make sure that the samples indeed were linearized properly and that the bands were of the right length.

Then, when all this was done, I expected to start on a new project, to learn a new skill. But I was wrong. Yes, I learned a new skill but I was not given anything new to work on. Instead, the post-doc showed me how to, after imaging the gel, extract the DNA from the gel and proceed to obtain this linearized DNA only. Even though I used a pre-made kit in order to extract my DNA from the gel, it was fascinating to see how all this is done. I never thought that I could do anything with the gel and the DNA bands that are produced. In the past, after imaging, the gel was discarded and that was it. The DNA was never saved. But I have always wondered, how do labs get such large quantities of linearized DNA of a specific vector if the only way that a vector can be amplified is by transvecting bacteria? Well, I have my answer.

I love lab. I love learning, how hands-on the entire process is, and how everything that I have learned in my past classes are actually coming alive and are applicable. I am glad I chose the major I did. I absolutely love it. And I can’t wait to learn more as the year goes on.

[Sorry for the lack of coherency in some parts. It is a pretty stressful week with several quizzes, a midterm, and a midterm paper due for me. Hopefully, I will begin to write more after all this is over and write with more finesse and eloquence. Thanks for reading!]

Starting from simple tasks.

They told me that as an undergraduate, all I would do is wash their used dishes and pipette microliters of substance a thousand times over. They told me that I would not ever do any meaningful research and that professors despised undergraduates.

Whoever told me this, I didn’t want to believe them, but I did. Rumors, they were.

I am glad that I kept an open mind going into my junior year. By doing so, I was able to meet somebody who knew a professor who was looking for an undergraduate to research in his lab and it just so happend the work the lab is doing relates to my interests.

I have been in the lab for a week. I have gone in three times now. Each day I have done something different. I have prepared bacteria to be transvected with a plasmid and grow, I have extracted plasmids from the bacteria that were grown, and I have made broth in which bacteria can grow. Each task, as simple as it may seem, has been a learning experience. I have not had to wash any dishes. I have not had to pipette micro quantities a thousand times over. What I have done is followed protocols. I have followed instructions given to me and been left alone to complete them. The post-doctoral student I am working with this quarter has helped me each step of the way, explaining why things are the way they are and then leaving me to do what i need to to. Nobody watches me like a hawk. And yet I am entrusted with the most basic yet critical tasks for running future experiments.

WIthout the work that I am doing now and the techniques I am learning, I will not be able to perform any future projects. It is critical (at least for the research the lab is doing) that bacteria can grow in large quantities and that plasmids are available in large quantities to work with and manipulate for future studies.

Everything I am doing has meaning. Everything I am learning has value. Nothing is mundane, nothing is useless.

I am building the foundations of what will eventually lead to an independent project and maybe even something more. But for now, I am taking it slowly, taking it one step at a time, and soaking it all in.

Words Come Alive.

Experiences shape the life that you live. I slowly come to think, each day, that this chance — this once in a life time opportunity — really has been a blessing, in a sense. I don’t strictly believe it is a blessing but I do believe that it is fate that I ended up here, that I have made the decisions I have made thus far.

Three weeks ago, when I first came to Northwestern, if you were to ask me what I think I would be doing at the end of the second week of the quarter, I would have told you I would be scrambling to find a lab to join, be swamped with coursework and horribly behind, and lost without friends. But at the end of two weeks, I can say I love this place more than anything, that I want to stay here for as long as I can, and make the most of this opportunity.

Academics aside, I am so lucky to have this chance at research. It just happened that last week, when I attended an informational meeting for a research workshop program I am a part of, as I waited to talk to a facilitator who’s interest lie in genetics (like myself), another facilitator came up to me and struck up a conversation. Research interests came up at one point and it just so happened that the Principle Investigator (PI) she worked for during the summer was looking for an undergraduate student. And it happened that the research this PI is doing is something that is very intriguing and is a field that has a lot of room to grow.

So here I am, two weeks into my last two years of my undergraduate career, spending my time in the research laboratory, playing with Escherichia coli (E. coli) during my free time. It is a post-doctoral student that I get to shadow this quarter, with the opportunity to grow and learn, to get caught up to speed since later on this quarter and for sure starting next quarter, I get to take off on my own project. The topic? I have no idea. I received a couple of papers to read up on what may potentially be the topics of my project but nothing is set in stone. This unknowing breeds my curiosity; it drives me to want to keep working and learning as much as I can, because I can only grow from here.

This post is titled “Words Come Alive”. Why, you may ask? The driving force (and my motivation) for me finding a laboratory to join is that I love to learn but the things I learn, I look to apply. I seek to be pushed to ask questions, to continually learn, and to see how the concepts I learn every 10 weeks translates into actual research. And these first two days, that has happened. Yesterday I got the chance to prepare E. coli with various plasmids which, after treatment with enzymes and other chemicals (which I cannot recall right now), was incubated overnight. When colonies were gather, these were grown in liquid culture for greater quantities.

Today, when I went in to lab after classes ended, the colonies had grown. The plasmids were taken up by the bacteria. All we had to do now was to extract these plasmids. Easy, right?

It is, the concept that is. All you really had to do is open up the bacterial cells and then isolate the plasmid from the rest of the cell contents and the bacterial genome, purify it, and there you go: plasmids. I learned this in class, in my molecular biology class. Yet it doesn’t really make sense on paper (at least for me it didn’t).

But I got to do it today. In about two hours, I created two small vials of plasmids which can be stored for later use. Later use, that is, in experiments, such as when a researcher wants to linearize the plasmids to run them on a gel or insert them into a new genome for further study.

Yes. This is tiring. Yes. This path I choose is exhausting. But yes, this is the most rewarding thing I can think of at this point in my life. I regret no decisions I have made thus far. Things will slowly fall into place, and this dream is worth chasing.

The Health Profession is More Than Just a Physician.

I remember back to my first year as an undergraduate. I spent my Monday afternoons and early evenings on the second floor of the 200 medical building (which happened to be the same building just two floors up where I had surgery that same year). I walked to the end of the building and through the corridors each week, to the back corner where in a small room, cramped up, was filled with life.

There were three physicians. Sometimes four. Sometimes five. There always was at least two fellows or PhD candidates there shadowing and learning. There were two genetic counselors, a registered nurse, a registered dietician, and a social worker.

The same setting each week. Just sometimes, there were more, sometimes less. But each week I went in, I saw a different group of patients. The clinic followed patients for a lifetime; the physician who was the head of the clinic had been following some patients for twenty or thirty years almost. It was a family. Though hectic, I got to see the role each individual played.

Thinking back, it was this experience, this year long opportunity I had during my first year as an undergraduate that really gave me an inside look into how a pediatrics genetics clinic at a major hospital in the nation (the one where the President is taken West of the Mississippi River in the case of an emergency) runs. It gave me insight as to what a social worker, a nurse, a dietician, a genetic counselor, and a physician does. And it also, in a subtle yet defined way, gave me guidance as to the decision I have made now, to the decision I have set my mind and heart on, to the goal that I am climbing to reach.

Experiences like these, subtle yet defining, something I can always fall back on, drive me to become the person I wish to be. They drive me to pursue my dreams and to never, ever give up.

A Process of Self-Discovery

Isn’t that what college is? Isn’t that what life is about?

I left the place I knew for 15 years after I graduated high school in 2010. I left hoping that within two days of landing at UCLA, I would find my niche, and I would discover the person I would be for the rest of my life. Needless to say, it has taken me more than two days and I am still in that process. One thing I can say, though, is that this process is a wild ride, one that I wish to keep on enjoying.

I have been here for two weeks. In these two weeks, I have stepped more out of my comfort zone than I ever thought I would. I have signed up for more campus organizations than I ever knew about at UCLA, I have talked to complete strangers and shared my story about transferring with them, I have applied for positions in various campus organizations that I never even considered before I came here, and I have walked outside in below 50 degree weather with capris on thinking it would be a nice sunny day only to freeze my butt off as I trekked from one end of campus to the other rushing to get to class on time (lesson learned: check the weather BEFORE leaving the room not when you are inside a classroom all warm and toasty). On top of all this, I have found a job where I work as a lab aid for a master’s program student and even considered joining Greek Life here at NU.

All in all, I am glad that I have made the decisions I made. This thought has hit me several times the past couple of weeks that I have been here but it has also been a decision I have doubted countless times as well. There are times when I think I love it here — talking with the students and faculty, being in classes engaged with the material and the professor, learning about the amazing opportunities — but then there are times when I get so homesick, when I miss having my safety blanket that all I want to do is go back in time and not make the decision to apply.

Today, though, I think I finally am okay with the decision I made. No, I am more than okay with it. I am satisfied. It will be a hard road, and I know it. But I am now at the point where one of my best friends, who I text and talk to regularly (since she was supposed to be my roommate but now we aren’t 😦 ), has noticed a change in the way I am talking and thinking and just changing as an individual. It has been extremely hard to leave the close friends I made at UCLA (it helped that some of them went off the graduate school and post-bacc programs so I wasn’t the only one leaving) but then there are the few that are my year or a year older than me that I worked with daily or talked to a lot and shared great conversations with that I wish I could still have with them. I gave up the great weather out in California for the ever changing, unpredictable weather that comes with being right on the shores of Lake Michigan and next to the Windy City. But what I have done is give myself a chance, a chance to do something that I never in a million years would have thought about.

It is in transferring that I am finally starting to understand who I am as an individual. It is in transferring that I am starting to realize that I am worth this life to live and that I have a future ahead of me. I don’t want to give up now. I know I can’t, so in the hardest of times, I remember all the sacrifices my family and friends have made, all the nights I felt worthless as a member of society, and the hurdles I have jumped through to get here.

But this journey will be worth it. It is a long one but it will be worth it.

Learning Curve

I wish I could say that things are smooth sailing, but that would be a lie. Classes have started and within the first week of the quarter, I have had three quizzes, one writing assignment due, 50 plus pages of biology reading, plus 15 poems to catch up on. It doesn’t help that I don’t have all my books and that my schedule is still not set in stone.

On top of academics, I am not part of a journal publication on campus as well as a member of three campus organizations. And to add to it all, I think I will be joining yet another journal publication and I am employed.

Does this post serve as anything significant? Not really. Just an update, from here in Evanston. It has been a rough week but also it has been a great one as well. I am getting to know more of myself each day, test my abilities, and meeting some really great people. Other than that, not much left to say. Hope you all are doing well!