After all that agro at the beginning of last October, I’m pleased to announce that I have finished my undergraduate lab project! It would be a shame to have come so far and not do a bit of a reflection on the whole process so here I’ll pour out my weary scientific heart and let you digest my collection achievements.
So, have I learnt anything? Blimey, imagine if I said no! I’ve learnt more than I could have dreamed, and that’s not me being melodramatic! I learnt so much that I will even go so far as to say that by the end of my time there I have become comfortable in the lab! Compare that to my struggles at the beginning and it feels like I deserve a certificate! I think most of the comfort was due to the fact that the atmosphere was driven but still so relaxed, I’d talk to the staff and the postgrads like I was more than just a lowly undergraduate and a week before my last experiment I (along with the other undergraduates) was invited to a meal with my lab group, Team AMR, which made me feel a valued part of something important!
Even before this meal I’d gotten on so well with all the postgrads and post docs and I honestly couldn’t have carried out my project without them! From showing me the ins and outs of PCR to helping me track down the elusive P2 tips, they were there every step and would always help me to solve some of my conundrums as well as point out that I might not be doing something quite right. This sense of belonging to a community really swept me a long and it’s helped my whole project flow over smooth pebbles instead of jagged rocks!
What about my technical ability? Although it’s obviously not quite up to the standard of the postgrads and my toolkit is relatively bare compared to theirs, it has actually skyrocketed! Gone are the days when I put off doing a PCR because I didn’t know how to put everything together and make it work; in the last couple of weeks of my project I was churning out PCRs and gels like an ice cream van selling cones in mid- summer. Without bragging, one of the postdocs commented that some of us undergrads were producing the same volume of work as a first-year PhD student! And so, my ego was boosted.
Even at the end there were still things that I wanted to investigate, what other genes could I probe my bacteria for? Where hadn’t I got samples from that still needed to be investigated? Although I ended up working with 42 bacterial isolates by the end of my project, I felt that I could have found more. Getting more samples was a route that I was going to go down but I had to stop myself from completely overloading myself as by this time, I only had 2 months left, a plethora of antibiotic testing to do and no PCRs under my belt.
There are times when I wish I’d got my act together a bit more. Towards the end, I cursed myself for not allowing myself enough time to order the primers I needed to look at more genes and add an extra dimension to my project. But alas, after spending nearly a week half-heartedly hunting for a positive control for an experiment, I’d left myself nowhere near as much time as I needed to do everything properly and repeat experiments if I needed to!
The day I was to run my last gel I couldn’t contain my excitement. Yes, I had enjoyed my time but the repetitive nature of my experiments meant that it had strengthened my resolve to pursue a career in scicomm even more! The science Gods obviously thought that I should stay in the lab longer though and I ended up having to re-run the gel after the bands on my gel looked more like worms than staples. I realised that I had been rushing and slowed down to savour my last moments working in that environment. Success was met on the second time round and I was a tad disappointed that there was no fanfare as I binned my last gel and chucked away my ethidium bromide stained gloves, but you can’t have everything.
I strolled out of the lab after washing my hands with a smile on my face and a whole load of data to start crunching. Bliss.
So then, do I mind that I may never encounter another petri dish, PCR machine or carcinogenic gel again? Not one bit. I can accept that I’ve enjoyed the process and move on to telling people about science rather than doing it. If I get the opportunity to go back and do a bit of research then I will, purely out of curiosity, but you won’t find me staying for long; it was a hard slog and some of the soul destroying parts shaved off bits of my resolve that I would rather have kept.
That said, it’s shaped me as a person (cliché alert) and I hugely admire the people who have the patience to solve a problem that may not want to be solved!