Lessons Learned in the Lab

Randolph-Macon has a competitive program called SURF, or the Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fund. Students write grant proposals with very specific guidelines and submit those applications to a panel. That council then decides who gets the funding for their project. I was lucky enough to receive a position in the programs, which entails free on campus housing, a generous stipend, and irreplaceable experience.

My partner, Brennan, and I presenting our research at the annual SURF conference.

My partner, Brennan, and I presenting our research at the annual SURF conference.

My project studies infertility as an effect of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and melanoma through a protein called GPR56. My research has the potential to be published in a real scientific journal!! If that happens, you will hear me screaming from wherever you are in the world. I will jump around and holler and have a huge party to which you are all invited! I have loved working in the lab this summer, surprisingly. I thought that this experience would ruin a research career for me, but actually I’ve discovered a career that has a lot of independent problem solving which is sooo exciting for a nerd like me! Besides loads of cool technology, here’s what I’ve learned.

  • Science is SO necessary for everything that we use in our day to day lives. Other students are working on the immune systems of impoverished nations, sustaining plant populations despite deforestation, the amount of spending on political campaigns in the last 100 years, and the rate of shoreline erosion in the Chesapeake Bay. Cool stuff, huh?!
  • There are infinite  (get it, it’s a math joke!) possibilities of careers in  the research  field.  Like the outdoors? How about fish colonization patterns? Enjoy solving problems? Pick any topic you enjoy and start working! Are you one of those people who actually liked math? Craft statistical models in computer science or find patterns in rat responses to stress. The world is your playground in the science field. It really is for everyone.
  • Even smart people forget. I’ve been told this many times by my partner in the lab. What I understand to be a condescending remark, is actually a double check, a commitment to accuracy. The two of you can read the exact same scientific paper and come away with completely different conclusions. Team work really does make the dream work.
  • If you need a flexible schedule, research is a good setup for your life. Oftentimes, project work around research goals rather than a set number of hours. You could work from 1-7 one afternoon but work 9-2 the next day. It all depends on how you work your science into your life. Obviously, that works a little differently if you are a professor.
  • Data is exciting! I jumped around and squealed when we got our first data set in a spreadsheet. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to do statistics (ew, I know) but I really wanted to make the most of my data to help people. And that is truly motivating.

Okay, so by now you know that I’m a total nerd, but this whole research thing is a lot less scary than you think. Yes, I have social skill. No, I am not Sheldon Cooper, but I do wear a lab coat!

Any other scientists out there?!

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