Saturday, October 1, 2011

research

I may or may not have updated that I was accepted as an undergraduate researcher into a cancer research lab, but hey! I was accepted as an undergraduate researcher in a cancer research lab! My PI specifically studies how double DNA breaks are repaired, created, etc, and how this relates to cancer. Pretty wicked cool stuff.

Since I have virtually no lab experience (besides what I learned in Bio & Chem Lab) it was incredibly cool of her to take me on since, with my arrival, there are now three people in the lab including her, me, and her tech. There's also a guy who moonlights during the summer. Anyways, I'm very appreciative for the chance to learn about the research process and get to learn awesome science along the way.

My first project is to genotypically identify 800+ strains of yeast for the gene of interest using PCR. For those of you without a science background, here's a fairly good approximation of what I'm doing using a metaphor:

We have 800+ cookbooks. We need to figure out which cookbooks contain recipes for stew. Of the ones that contain recipes for stew, some of them are vegetarian and some of them are not. Unfortunately, we can't just open the cookbooks and look for the recipes. So, we're using a "find" command that looks for the word "Stew". When it finds the word "stew" it then displays whether or not meat is called for in the recipe. If meat is called for, it's considered "normal" or, "wild type" and if no meat is present, it's considered "not normal" or "mutant" (no offense to my vegetarian friends.)

For those of you with a science background, it's giving me a chance to really work on basic research skills - breaking out strains, pipetting, PCR, enzyme digestion, running gels, reporting results, etc. In addition, we also sometimes get to help with the research grants. (Ok, we get to help come up with titles to the research grants, but hey, that's still helping.)

I genuinely enjoy the experience and look forward to lab days. It's also given me a chance to work on "thinking scientifically" which, as I'm learning, I've been doing all along. Well, at least as long as I was a technical project manager. Science and project management are somewhat similar... at least theoretically speaking. Both have to solve problems that don't have clear answers. Both involve testing a variety of methods before finding the best way (or one of the best ways) to accomplish the goals. Both involve the agony of things not working, and the ecstasy of things working. However, the environments are vastly different...if things didn't work at "work" I was chased around with torches and pitchforks... If things don't work in lab, I sit down with the tech or the PI and we discuss what might have gone wrong, and additional things we can do to improve the results...

It's a nice environment to work in while you're fretting about organic chemistry. And in that vein... off to study.

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