So you want to work in a lab? Abby Knecht ’15 offers some advice

Dear freshmen,

You probably learned about RNA transcription in high school but have you ever seen it in action? I spent my summer watching, in real time, as small sections of DNA were converted into RNA for gene expression.

I work in a biochemistry lab at Brandeis that studies transcription under special fluorescent microscopes that allow us to observe single molecules interacting. It’s an incredible feeling to be able to see and study something that is so fundamental for life itself but hidden from our everyday view.

Working in a lab is unlike any science course you’ve taken so far. Science is about puzzles.  It’s about looking at the world, asking questions and finding ways to uncover the answers to those questions. But as one answer is found, more questions invariably pop up and the process continues.

Some of you may find this uncertainty frustrating, and long for the hard facts of lectures. Others may find that you enjoy discovering new things — things no one else has seen and are glad that memorization is not required. Others (like myself) may find that you like science in all its forms and enjoy both.

Whatever group you fall into, you won’t know until you try working in a lab.

Working in a lab is the best way to see how science is really done. You’re on the frontier of discovery. Unlike high school, where lab results are often spoon-fed to you, no one knows what the results will be: that’s why you’re doing the experiment.

Brandeis is a great place for undergraduate research. There are a lot of research labs and undergraduates have a chance to step up and perform their own research. I recommend anyone even remotely interested in science to try working in a lab.

If you want more help applying for labs or deciding whether or not to try it, I advise talking to Hiatt, our on-campus career center, your adviser, or the undergraduate department representative (UDR) in your field of interest.

Good luck!

Abby Knecht is a senior studying Biological Physics at Brandeis University.  She works in the Gelles lab researching the effects of negatively supercoiled DNA on the mechanism of transcription initiation.  When she is not in the lab or studying for one of her many science classes, she is either reading, drawing, or hanging out with friends. 

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