I have now reached the midpoint of my internship at the Hoffmeister Lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School. Since starting back in late May, I have pretty much grown accustomed to my work place environment, as my schedule and tasks have been more stabilized and set into stone. I have practiced and almost perfected some old lab techniques, such as western blotting and genotyping, and at the same time, have been exposed to a variety of new lab techniques, such as microscopy, quantifying protein, and preparing mice samples for flow cytometry. I had also been busy re-running experiments to reconfirm data in preparation for the International Society of Thrombosis and Haemostasis Conference a post-doc in my lab presented at, and got a chance to see how researchers practice, prepare, and present for big conferences such as this one. Of course, I have run into obstacles along the way, such as gaining almost no results from experiments, but as I’ve learned, mistakes are OK and are necessary in the field of science. Success often bears from and conclusions are often drawn from mistakes.
While I was sort of nervous the first week, I now feel more comfortable and independent in the lab. My mentor and other post-doc researchers have given me a lot of guidance in going through experimental procedures. Everyone is very patient and encouraging, and I have grown less conscious of making mistakes. I’ve learned that overall, it’s always better to ask a question, no matter how simple it may be. Preventing avoidable mistakes, such as using a wrong chemical and then ruining the entire experiments, saves a lot of time and money, which are very important factors to consider in a big research lab. More importantly, asking questions to understand the purpose of the technique and experiment is also crucial. I feel that this mindset is different from my university labs, which focuses more on learning techniques. Here at Brigham, I have to decide which techniques to use in order to test and prove a hypothesis or idea, creating a bigger picture, which I still often need guidance on.
My internship also differs from my university lab in that I have more of a handle on planning experiments in my given schedule and timetable. Definitely, I have improved in managing my tasks and time in a productive manner, such as planning experiments in ways that avoid coming into the lab on the weekends. As mentioned before, while I have learned a lot method wise, my critical thinking skills have vastly improved. Interestingly, I have applied a lot of the knowledge I learned from the biology courses I’ve taken at Brandeis, which is very cool. Outside of benchwork, I have had opportunities to eat out with some of the lab technicians, post docs, and PIs in and outside of my lab, allowing me to expand and build stronger networks and at the same time, learn more on their thoughts about their jobs.
Ultimately, the techniques I have learned and the relationships I have built here at the Hoffmeister Lab will help me when I consider or apply for a research job such as a lab tech when I graduate. More importantly, the critical thinking skills I have been practicing will help me anywhere, whether for my science or health policy classes I will be taking this upcoming semester at Brandeis, and also in my future career choice, which might not even involve research!
Vivian Liu, ’17