As most of you know, I am spending this summer as a Liberty Science Center Partners in Science Scholar. I’m working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and 8 weeks this summer, inside a lab at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers. And it is amazingggggggg!!!!! I honestly did not think I’d like it this much. Just in one week I have learned so so much. Ahhhh, I love it. I’m doing real science. Like real science. With a possible global effect. I’m discovering things, making connections, counting cells. That last one doesn’t sound that interesting and you’re right, it’s not, but it’s science! As you can see I am very excited.
Before I get into what I did in my first official week in the LSC program, I just want to say that in just this one week I have decided that I am definitely without a doubt going to be doing research as a part of my career. Whether that be through an MD (most likely), PhD, or MD-PhD, it’s happening. I actually love it.
But anyways, enough of me fangirling about research and science and discovery and amazingnesssss…
Let’s move on…
But first, in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s an excerpt from my post “My Plans for Summer Before Senior Year”
1. Liberty Science Center Partners in Science
This is pretty much gonna take up my entire summer and I could not be more excited. Five days a week, 8ish hours a day, with 4 six hour workshops and a final symposium presentation. I love the researcher I got assigned to and the topics she’s researching, so this is definitely going to be the best part of my summer. The fact that I’m getting paid for it doesn’t hurt either.
But I’ll be in and out of the lab the entire summer - hopefully I don’t end up living there - and I cannot wait. Besides this being a super awesome/well-renowned program, it’ll really give me a taste of what being a scientist and being in a lab all day would mean, something I might want to pursue in the future. I’ll eventually have a post dedicated entirely to this program, and I am even planning on blogging weekly updates (as long as it’s okay with the people I’m working with) during the program.
Technically, I started my (paid!) internship on Wednesday, July 5th, but I couldn’t actually do anything because Rutgers requires everyone to get safety training before they do something stupid in a lab. My lab training was that Friday, so that Wednesday and Thursday I only came in from 10-2pm. I met the grad student I’ll be working with for the rest of the summer (she’s entering the 3rd year of her PhD and she is awesome XD) and I was introduced to everyone else in my PI’s (principal investigator) lab, as well pretty much everyone from all the labs in EMSOP (Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy) and EOHSI (Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute. So the first two days was meeting everyone, touring the labs, trying not to get hopelessly lost, finding the best places for lunch, and bonding with my PhD student over our love for stand up comedy and football (except she’s a Giants fan…). But by far the biggest part of those first few days was a lot a lot a lot of reading. We (myself and the other LSC student who also got matched up with the same PI, and so is working with me) had to get caught up on practically all the projects the lab was working on and exploring. Thankfully, I had the basics of the science (toxicology and immunology) down pretty well because of a combination of what I learned from school and all the papers I had read about the topic in preparation for the interview with EMSOP, so I was a half-step ahead. But still. So many papers to read. And not just read. Highlight, annotate, understand, question, discuss. And these were not simple concepts either. Whew, it was a lot. But definitely necessary, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to hold a decent conversation with anyone in the lab.
*Side note: Let me take a second to explain the general research that is done under my PI, and in some of the surrounding labs, and go into more detail into what my PhD student is working on.
So, my PI is focused on macrophages. Actually, pretty much all of EMSOP/EOHSI deals with macrophages to some extent, but my PI especially. (She wrote this great paper on how macrophages are like Star Wars - great place to start for a beginner - and we totally bonded over Star Wars). Currently, she’s focusing on the effects of nitrogen mustard (a derivative of the toxic mustard gas used as a biological weapon) on pulmonary toxicity, especially how it can develop into fibrosis. So her entire lab works on mice and rats and focuses on defining the specific macrophage subpopulations involved after the exposure, the extent of damage and macrophage involvement, and possible ways to combat its exposure. This last one is what my grad student is working on. Right now, she’s focused on how gadolinium chloride can possibly reduce the overall tissue damage after pretreatment with GdCl3 with nitrogen mustard exposure. But yeah, those are like the bare bones basics. If you’re interested in this, let me know, I’ll give you a bunch of papers to read. XD
Back to what I am actually doing in the lab. But yeah, after the safety training, it was full on in the lab, full day science.
The first thing we had to do was familiarize ourselves with the general protocols and procedures and techniques used in this branch of science. Working with the PhD student (Alexa, her name is Alexa, writing out PhD student takes too long), we went through the protocol for heme-oxygenase-1 antibody immunohistochemistry, or IHC for short. It’s a super long and comprehensive process for staining the tissue slides (from the mice/rats in each experimental and control group) with an antibody that matches up with a specific cell marker on a macrophage. This specific antibody, HO-1, is actually a very general macrophage indicator, to test for general injury and tissue damage through oxidative stress, but you can go down to very very specific macrophages if you need to, just with different antibodies. For those of you who are familiar with ELISA, it has a generally similar concept, in terms of primary and secondary antibodies. Of course, it’s a much more complicated and long process, but it also yields much better results as an assay. But anyway, IHC is a two day long process, so we started it off on Monday and finished on Tuesday afternoon. That Monday we also learned how to scan slides with a very fancy VS120 microscope (which takes sooooo longgggg oh my god it’s torturous). I also learned how much of science is just waiting. Like throughout the IHC process, there are like 2 minute and 5 minute washes, or 20 mins for cool downs and incubations, where unless you want to take off all your PPE, you can only stare off into space (or look at slides under a microscope, that’s what I do during the breaks). But yeah, so much waiting. I did not expect that. (I also did not expect how much of it is just making solutions, oh my god, we use so much of so many different solutions and we have to make up more like every day.)
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we got to see our first animal takedowns. And it is exactly like it sounds. The animals in all the control and experimental groups are put to sleep via a small injection of ketamine and then basically dissected to remove the lungs and serum and other tissues. We saw a relatively smaller one on Tuesday, with only 13 mice (cause the others had died before the sack date, sadly) and a larger one with 20 mice on Wednesday. I was going to explain the takedowns, but I realized that’ll take way too long, and it also might make some people uncomfortable, so I’ll leave it at that. Unfortunately, because of rules regarding minors, we weren’t actually able to take part in the takedowns (something about not touching a dead animal handled live or something like that) but we got to get up close and personal with their insides. On Wednesday, after the larger takedown, we also helped out with some of the post takedown procedures, like digest of the lungs, fixing them in ethanol, and prepping the serum samples.
Thursday and Friday Alexa was in England so we had the lab all to ourselves. She gave us more slides to do IHC on, with the same antibody, but of course, this time by ourselves. And wow, that was amazing. I felt like an actual scientist. Sitting there in my lab coat and gloves and goggles while waiting for my slides to quench endogenous peroxidase and listening to Coldplay in the background. But anyway, that took pretty much the whole day, it’s about a 4/5-hour long procedure and we just did some reading and prepping after that. On Friday we had to finish the IHC before 12, so we were stressed out trying to get it done, cause the second day of IHC is the actual difficult part, where if you mess up while staining the slides, there they go into the garbage. Thankfully, we got through it with only a minor heart attack when the slide was under the microscope and we had to stain it but it wouldn’t go back into focus in time but whew. It worked out. We had to finish before 12 because one of my PI’s friends and former colleague (they both did their post-doc at UPenn at the same time) was coming from Rome to give a talk on atherosclerosis and macrophages. And I tried to take detailed notes, I did. I just couldn’t understand a word she was saying. And it was not even because the concepts flew over my head, I had read a few of her papers and grasped her research, but her accent was impossible to understand. I still somehow got three pages of notes out of it. But it was an interesting talk. Making connections where I never thought there could be some. Plus she started talking about Neuropeptide-Y, something I actually knew about at a pretty high level (cause you know, neuroscience - if you didn’t know, I want to go into neuroscience). But we did get free lunch out of it. Plus I met even more people at the seminar, including a sister of a classmate of mine (what a coincidence!) and more PharmD students.
*Side Note: My PI is actually also the founder of the THED program (Toxicology, Health and Environmental Disease) and so my lab runs the program. So I get to go to the THED talks and eat their free lunch and will eventually be giving a talk to the students/having lunch with them. So if you are in the program, awesome! I will see you. And if you’re looking for something to do next summer, THED is definitely a good opportunity (even though you have to pay for it) and can be a good stepping stone to more selective programs like this Liberty Science Center one. Definitely ask if you have any questions about THED or about LSC Partners in Science, I’ll be happy to answer both :)
That was the majority of my first week at EMSOP/EOHSI. It was a lot of reading. A lot of getting a feel for working in a lab. And watching people dissect mice. A lot of scienceeeee! I loved it.
Thanks for reading!