Five weeks after I started working again at the McAllister Lab of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, I am already halfway done with my internship! Since I started, I have been very busy running all different types of experiments. Some tasks that I have been busy doing are immunohistochemistry, protocol optimization, and tissue culture. There have definitely been obstacles along the way, including faulty reagents and cell line contamination, but I have been trying pace myself and take it all with a grain of salt.
After the first week, I started feeling comfortable with working more independently in the lab. I was stressed during that first week, but once I figured out what I needed to do, it felt just like it did last summer when I was working without my mentor. In the past few weeks, I have been planning experiments with my given timetable, and it’s not as scary as I initially thought it would be. Unfortunately, even when I plan well in advance for some experiments, I have stopped by the lab during weekends because of time-sensitive protocols. (The cells don’t take a break!) I have also been receiving a lot of guidance along the way from two other post-doctoral researchers and the current lab manager in terms of guiding me through procedures, so I am extremely grateful for their assistance.
At this moment, I am most proud of my ability to plan out my days so that each are very productive. When I was a summer student here during previous years, there were some occasions where I would have down-time. This summer, I have much less down-time because I am so busy running experiments. I feel that every day that I am here, I am making very good use of my time. With regard to project progression, I generated some data that was inconsistent with previous results. In a mouse experiment with old and young mice bearing breast cancer tumors, I previously found differences in the presence of a certain type of protein. However, this time around, I found that there was no difference. The data was unexpected, but it is very important for us to consider when the paper for the Aging Project gets written. I have been learning new lab skills, such as working with dilutions and graphing tumor kinetics data on Excel. I previously haven’t had much experience with generating figures from a data set, so I am now glad that I am able to do so. I have also learned the importance of analyzing data blindly – that is, reviewing qualitative data as objectively as possible by hiding the different cohorts there are in an experiment. As a future scientist, it will be very important for me to keep this in mind; it is best to generate and review data in this fashion because bias can easily skew interpretation.
Finally, in addition to everything I have been learning and experiencing in the lab, I have been having a great experience outside of all the benchwork. I am definitely building stronger networks by talking more to my other labmates and getting a chance to talk to those who are in other labs. In fact, I had the fortune of having a great conversation with a Brandeis 2012 alum who worked in one of the neighboring labs; he left the state for medical school the week afterwards. And lastly, each year the McAllister Lab has annual social events with the Dr. Robert Weinberg Lab of MIT’s Whitehead Institute, Dr. McAllister’s post-doctoral research affiliation. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Weinberg himself at both the annual Weinberg Picnic and Weinberg Beach Day.
Irene Wong, ’17