Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Zac - Summer Reflection

This summer has been quite a learning curve for me and an absolutely priceless experience. I traveled to the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology during the summer of 2013 to work in the Maslakova Lab with Dr. George von Dassow on performing gene knock-downs in the nemertean Micrura alaskensis. I came to the Maslakova Lab with no experience in the field of embryology, other than a handful of research papers to read, but was immediately greeted with a lab full of highly intelligent people that were willing to take time out of their own research agendas to show me the ropes. I didn't even approach my own research topic for at least a week after arriving at the OIMB, simply because there were so many preliminary skills to learn before I could do so. Some of these skills included the identification and collection of wild-caught Micrura alaskensis, some fertilization and culturing techniques, the basics of loading and employing the microinjection apparatus, how to take the perfect picture using DIC and epifluorescence microscopy, and of course the basics of laser scanning confocal miscroscopy.

Once I actually did start into my summer research project, I was immediately immersed within the scientific method in a way that I had never experienced before. My summer research project involved analyzing gene function in early M. alaskensis larvae by using morpholino-mediated gene knockdown. There are a number of factors involved in this research, both technological and biological, and it immediately became clear that I would be spending a large amount of time carefully checking and cataloguing my work. The process of tracking an experiment from beginning to end, and carefully cataloging the result, is something that every young scientist should experience, and the sooner the better.

This internship has also given me the opportunity to experience the life of a research scientist from multiple perspectives. For example, working closely with my adviser and his long-time collaborator, Dr. Bill Bement, allowed me some brief but insightful glimpses into the way that research is performed over the long term. Working with Dr. von Dassow and Dr. Bement have also given me some insight into the way that scientific literature is published and how collaboration occurs between scientists, even over great distances. I have also had the opportunity to work with Ph.D. students Laurel Hiebert and Terra Hiebert, both of whom have been working in the Maslakova Lab for over a year, and gain insight on the life of a hard working Ph.D. candidate.

Internship programs for community college students are few and far between, and I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been chosen to be a part of the COSEE PP-PRIME internship program. The caliber of research being done at the OIMB is unlike any that I have ever had the opportunity to experience before and being a part of it has already opened many professional doors for me. For example, this internship represents the first time that I have ever had the opportunity to present work that I have done to a live audience composed of senior researchers and Ph. D. students. It has also opened up the reality of traveling to Austin, Texas, in the Spring 2014 to co-present a poster at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) annual conference. This truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I certainly never expected to be able to achieve when I began this internship eight weeks ago. Not only has this internship supplied me with a plethora of professional skills, both mental and physical, but it has also supplied me a number of professional relationships that are likely to last well into my career as a scientist.

I would recommend the COSEE program for absolutely any community college student, whether you are specifically interested in marine biology or not. Programs like these are instrumental stepping stones for young, budding scientists and are absolutely crucial in helping the unsure find their way through the large complicated world that is the sciences. Are you interested in doing research? There is only one way to find out: get involved. 

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