With one more week left in my internship, I have been spending some time recounting my experiences and thinking about how they have helped me grow as a student, researcher, and person.
I loved being in a space surrounded by people who were challenging previous assumptions and asking a variety of questions to narrow down their understanding of a particular topic. The lab is exploring a wide range of projects; some students were working on developing computational models for diseases like osteoporosis while others looked at how forces affect cells. It was interesting to see how one of the core themes of the lab, bone dynamics, was being explored from different angles.
My main project was about understanding the intricate relationship between bone formation and removal in remodeling using a mouse model related to osteoporosis. The mouse model we used involved the protein that is involved in regulating bone formation. I used two techniques, fluorescence imaging and time lapse µCT imaging to track molecular and structural changes in mice tibia over time. These results can be used to further understand the interdependence between bone formation and removal. This understanding will inform the development of finely tuned treatments for diseases such as osteoporosis.
Although this was the main point of investigation, there were many side projects and troubleshooting events along the way. One challenge I ran into was processing the bone samples. Histology sectioning, which involves cutting thin slices of the bone, is a technique that takes extensive time to master - out of all the sections I made, only 5% or so came out successful. This experience led me to appreciate the process of working towards mastering a skill.
Each week, student cohorts would meet with a section head to talk about elements of a scientific paper, how to write figure legends, and best practices for presenting research to different audiences. From these meetings, I had the opportunity to ask questions about my peers' research, explore how to communicate my scientific findings, critique others' work, and receive feedback on my work. It was helpful to break down important aspects of a scientific paper. Writing about my work frequently through class exercises helped me establish a research story that I could share with others.
Saving time for adventure
As someone who has not spent more than a day trip in a city, living in Manhattan was a tremendous learning opportunity for me. I think I will always prefer learning in an area surrounded by farms and lush greenery (that’s you, Amherst!), but I am no longer intimidated by the idea of living in a concrete jungle.
As a way of getting to know the other summer students, there were several planned excursions, including a walk through the High Line park, a city tour, and museum trips. It was exhilarating to talk to students from all over the world with a wide variety of interests, from proteins in neurodegenerative diseases to electrical engineering. I am so thankful for all the conversations I got to share with people; this was a true highlight of my experience.
My Top Takeaways
In research, there are not always instructions available...this is somewhat obvious because research involves adding new knowledge to the field; but before this experience I was reluctant to make small edits to previously established methods. Now I better appreciate the process of adapting and trying new things, which is critical for research. To make the most out of the troubleshooting process, I documented protocol changes and monitored other labmates' experiences running through the protocol to determine if the edits are reasonable.
Computational skills are critical in automating the data analysis process and for making clear, accurate depictions of results. This is an area I would like to improve on.
I took breaks in between experiments to maintain open mindedness - I always made sure to go outside at least one time during the day (if the weather permitted). Most of my lunches were spent sitting under campus trees or “The Steps” (view shown in cover image). While I was on a break, I would reflect on the day so far - sometimes I would think about what went wrong and how it could be improved for next time. Other times I would engage with a completely different train of thought, like reading a book or talking with someone else.
I recently started the book “Think Again” by Adam Grant, and in it, there was a quote that I thought beautifully described what it means to be a scientist. “Thinking like a scientist involves more than just reacting with an open mind. It means being actively open-minded. It requires searching for reasons why we might be wrong—not for reasons why we must be right—and revising our views based on what we learn.”