Field of Science

Reflections on Lab Work

I've just come to the end of my project for this year. Last week was the usual flurry of tidying, organising the freezer, and making sure all my stuff is on the Lab Computer so that anyone else who wants it can use it. I tried very hard to feel some sort of nostalgia about leaving, but to be honest all I managed was a sense of supreme exhaustion and slight relief. Besides, I'll probably be nipping in an out of there to collect results pictures, protocols, etc. for my write-up.

So I thought I'd just do a quick run-through, for anyone who's interested, about my lab experiences. I've done four lab projects to date, and enjoyed every one of them. I can't even say which one I enjoyed the most, they're all special in different ways.

1) My First Project Ever was working on bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria). It was fairly heavily supervised, I was working with a PhD student and helping her on her project. It was probably the most fun I've ever had in a lab; there was no pressure for a big write-up (just a small report for the funding body) or excessive pressure for me to get results, and I felt very useful being able to help. It was also the first time I'd been paid for lab work, and got that amazing rush of "woah....people will give me actual money for this!"

I started this blog during that project. The entries from back then make me laugh now. :)

2) Second project was for my course, where I switched to working on Streptomyces. Again, I was working quite closely with a PhD student, but she had kids and used to have to leave the lab about midday to take care of them. By the time the first week was up we'd worked out a system; in the morning we'd go over all the work I needed to get done, and in the afternoon she'd leave and I'd get on with it. It was quite a nice step up, as I was still being supervised, but I was doing the work all by myself.

The blog kind of died in that period, because it was insanely busy and I hadn't found out about research blogging yet.

3) The third project was the synthetic biology one, which wins the award for Most Stressful Project so far. As it was meant to be student-based we (there were seven of us, only four of whom were biological scientists) were pretty much dumped in the lab and left to get on with it. We had meetings with the supervisors once a week, and we had a PhD student to help us out (for which we were incredibly grateful) but other than that it was all down to us.

Considering I was the only one in the lab who'd ever done a project before it's amazing we managed anything really! I've got a lot of blog posts from that time, mostly because I spent about four weeks in the middle of it failing to make two point mutations. This involved lots of waiting around for gels to run, PCRs to happen, and ligations to fail, during which I would happily type away at my computer. Also at some point around then I discovered and completely took off with the research side of things.

4) The project I'm currently writing up. This one has been the first project I've really thought of as my own (which makes the lack of conclusive results a bit harder to take). The lab is quite small, and as the PI and post-doc were quite busy last term, I was organising experiments and procedures pretty much on my own. I'm looking forward to the write-up, especially now I've drafted it and discovered that I actually do enough to write up. I feel more personally attached to this project than any one I've ever done before. The knowledge that my little samples are going to be sitting in the freezer for a long while before anyone bothers to dig them out actually does hurt a little. The next three weeks of write-up are going to be fun though :)

I'm quite surprised and proud that I've managed to keep up regular blogging throughout the course of the project.

5) I've already organised a summer project! As usual, there will probably be only the vaguest details of what I'm actually doing on the blog, especially as this project really should lead to a paper. But stay tuned for more bacteria-related posts. I'm sort of hooked on blogging now, and it'll probably take a lot to get me to stop.


Follow me on Twitter!


Lucas Brouwers said...

Sounds like you had some great experiences in the lab so far and learnt something different every time to boot ;).
Good luck with writing up and finishing the project!

Mason Posner said...

It sounds like these have been great experiences. And it is wonderful that you have had so many undergrad research opportunities. Have you liked going in and out of projects, or would you have preferred more time on one in particular? Which do you think would be a better learning experience?

I am looking forward to reading about your summer.

Lab Rat said...

@lucas: Thanks! Project write-up is going OK at the moment, although haven't started tackeling the into yet which is going to be a bit of a job. Results are looking alright though.

@Mason: I quite like travelling between projects, although of course I always wish I could have just a few extra weeks on them! In terms of learning experience going through lots of labs is better, although I probably should have diversified a bit more: I have lots of experiance with bacteria but not so much with tissues or proteins. As an undergrad I think it's a good idea to see how different labs work, and get a feel for how different people manage procedures and lab organisation.