Archive for July 20th, 2014

I’m A… Biologist?

I’m planning on majoring in chemistry, the order and sense of which I’ve been fascinated by since eighth grade. I enjoy learning and applying physics, better understanding our universe on its most fundamental levels. I’ve always liked space and astronomy, exploring worlds beyond our own through books and movies both non-fictional and fictional. When I was younger, dinosaurs were the coolest things ever (then again, has that really changed?). Years later, computer science piqued my interest when my friend G took an online Java programming class and I followed along the curriculum with the required open-source textbook. The only main branch of science that has never particularly caught my attention is biology. So naturally I’m working in a biology lab this summer.

In early spring, I began searching for internship opportunities with private STEM (the academic abbreviation extending over all fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) companies near my hometown. Through church, my family knew a couple of people at two in particular, one business focused, it seemed to me, on engineering and another biology research and production company. I’m not as interested in engineering, but the work they were doing was closer to my interest in the physical sciences than my small interest in biology, so given the choice, I toured the former, and then submitted my resume as applications to each respective internship program. Months later, after beginning to think about being stuck with a non-STEM job for my time at home, I received an e-mail from our biologist friend, offering me an internship in his lab for the summer. I never heard back from the engineering firm.

As it were, commuting to and from work at the biology lab is significantly easier than getting to and from the other corporation would have been, so it’s probably for the better that I wasn’t really given the choice between the two. And now I get a healthy dose (weather permitting) of exercise biking nine miles each morning and evening. It gets a little warm on the hot and humid days, but I have no other complaints.

So, for more background: I’ve taken biology three times so far. I remember very little from my seventh grade class, besides thinking that population biology and evolution were rather boring. Freshman year was basically a more in-depth look at the same subject material, but with occasional labs (look at those cells!) sprinkled in. And then junior year I took, and enjoyed, AP biology, reaching an entirely new level of understanding regarding the functionality of life. It was exciting, but not enough to distract me from my intentions to study chemistry or physics. Between the AP bio exam in 2012 and my first day of work this past May, I learned no biology whatsoever, besides what little I read in articles from Scientific American. Needless to say, starting in a private DNA and genome biology lab (the real deal), with no advanced biology education or formal bio lab education, was a little overwhelming (understatement much?).

After a brief orientation and tour of the campus, I was thrown straight into the stormy ocean of research. The first week or two I did most of my work blindly from instructions my supervisors wrote for me, barely understanding what I was doing or where in the grand scheme of our projects it fit. It was exhausting. Over time, I began to understand the theory and mechanisms of the work I was, well, working on. Two months later, I still wouldn’t nearly call myself a biologist. I still have tons of questions regarding the nearly ten projects I’ve done work on so far. And while I’m considering going in to a field similar to molecular biology at least a little bit more than I was, I am still most interested in the physical sciences.

All that being said, it’s pretty close to the best summer job I could possible have. It may not directly supplement my studies at school, but it’s giving me a completely new appreciation and understanding of biological science and research. And the opportunity to do real research, even if it isn’t quite in my field of choice, is irreplaceable. There’s just something about doing work (lost of work) in order to learn and better understand things that we, as humankind, don’t yet know. It’s like learning things at school but even better. Sure, the work can be menial (sonicating cells from 12+ cultures is something everyone should  have to do sometime to “build character”) and the hours a can be long, the data and results of a successful is always exciting (as long as that data doesn’t say that you need to re-run it). While lab sections at school may be necessary for learning good practice in lab situations and experiment design, their telegraphed results never create (for me, anyway) the excitement that my experiences in the “real” lab can.

I’m not even going to get into how cool some of the equipment we get to use is (we’d be here for a little while), which is a shame. To sum it all up, the only way I can think of making my job better would be for it to be in a chemistry or physics lab (and no, that engineering firm does not count). Anyway, I only have two weeks of this year’s internship remaining, but I’m already looking forward to my work next summer. I don’t know what kind of projects and work I’ll be doing then, but only time can tell in the research world. I’ll just need to wait and see.

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MercyMe – Burn Baby Burn

MercyMe has never been my favorite Christian band, but I listened to all of their most recent album for the first timetoday, and I like it a lot.