The first week of my research fellowship went by in a blur. I’ll admit, I was a bit intimidated on my first day. I didn’t know what to expect. Other than knowing the name of my lab and reading some past publications, I didn’t know anyone that I would be working with or what my project would be like. I had heard from other undergrads that it wasn’t unheard of to work sixty hour weeks, due to the short nature of many summer programs. I was worried about getting enough data to present in only ten weeks. Walking into orientation on my first day, I had conflicting concerns that my work would be either too elementary, like washing glassware, or over my head. All of my past research experience was on nanoparticles. Working with cells in an orthopedics lab was outside my comfort zone.
Meeting other SURF students and going through the orientation material put me at ease. The first page of my packet was a map with directions on how to navigate to my lab, something I desperately needed. My first few days in the lab were set aside for completing safety training and reading up on my project, as well as getting to know my new coworkers. I was surprised at the number of people in the lab. Our floor of the Medical Sciences Building housed a number of large labs, which often collaborated together. I was also blown away by how friendly and helpful everyone was. This summer, our lab had a lot of summer students. Everyone from associate professors to MDs to graduate students went out of their way to help us feel welcome, inviting us to lunch and having a lot of patience with the time required to help us get experiments up and running. It was also nice having other undergrads in the lab, because we could all learn together.
Learning cell culture, something I was initially concerned about, turned out to be really fun! I was surprised by how much I was learning. While I probably could have spent ten weeks working on the same technique, my project actually gave me an introduction to so many procedures I’d only read about before. I grew cells, then collected and isolated their RNA. Using reverse transcription, I created cDNA, which I then analyzed using real-time PCR. I ran Western Blots to analyze proteins, and stained plates of cells to monitor differentiation. Soon I had plenty of data to present, and finished my poster with plenty of time to spare. My worry that I’d spend all of my time working was unfounded. Most of my coworkers had very healthy work-life balances, so they didn’t expect me to be working every weekend. I’ve had lots of time to explore Minnesota, and usually spend my weekends at one of the great state parks in the area.
I’ve already learned so much more than I expected, and made some great friendships and connections in my short time here. When there are days that my data doesn’t turn out or I make a mistake, the great attitudes of my coworkers make all the difference.