Friday, December 13, 2013

requested by david

idk why david wanted this, I just told him I would leave it here

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Friday, November 8, 2013

Lab members at their finest...

"Gru/Charlie" coming to the lab every night thinking that he's going to conquer the world

 The minions reaction when they know that's not what's really going to happen

The minions going to their PI, Dr. Nafario for coffee

Gru/Charlie grumpy when his minions are having too much fun because they are hyped up on coffee

Dr. Nafario and his right hand man

Late nights at the lab with Papi Flu

Monday, November 4, 2013

Modern Frankenstein

Ok, so for some reason, the hood seems to have some sort of mystical power over me, especially late at night when I sit alone splitting my cell lines.  So far I have A549s and FT's, but I want to maintain a flask of everything, so if anyone has some, please, if you let me know it would be much appreciated.  Anyway...  So, I was sitting there alone last night splitting my cells and it got me thinking about life, which some how, through the powers of the hood, grew into something much more...

Plans for a "living" mechanical-cell:

Before I start, I'd like to point out that there is no solid definition of what life really is.  It's more descriptive and evolves over time.  The current biological "definition" has various characteristics of life, but can't tell us for sure, yes or no, is this life or not... (as is the case with viruses). So, anyway..

Creation of a large man-made cell using computer systems. Suppose a robotic self-sustaining system is developed, designed in such a way that it would need to harvest or synthesize a lubricant, metal, and a fuel source/materials for a solar panel. At first this system would be huge, it would need several different areas for carrying out it's various functions for self-sustainability.  Sensors would be put into place as a means of creating a signaling/mock immune/nervous system.

As means of a sort of homeostasis, the machine would be able to lubricate itself. Response to external and internal stimuli are done through sensors. Metabolism is done through the generation of energy whether it is powered by steam, fossil fuel, solar power, nuclear, etc.

The computer/brain would be capable of harvesting parts/raw materials to carry out the instructions of its onboard schematics(DNA). 

All of these machines would be connected in a sense, via something like the internet for the purpose of transmitting information needed to promote the survival of their species. For example, the onboard sensors would be able to recognize different elements; in the case that a one of these "cells" becomes damaged in anyway, it would be recorded in the onboard memory and beamed to other cells as a sort of warning. Other "cells" could then be able to develop ways to protect themselves of threats. In the case of acid rain or other corrosive materials, for example, "cells" would be able to add a new material capable of withstanding such threats to their list of items they are seeking (lubricant, metal, energy).

Metabolism would be the use of energy, as mentioned before.

Through the response to its environment and it's addition of different components based on its chemical knowledge, I could make the argument that this is a growing, evolving, dynamic machine.  

It seems to meet all of the biological requirements for life (I'm probably missing something or another), yet in all honesty I would consider this to be far from living. So, I'm curious as to what all of you think.  Is this technically life?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Immortalized Cell Lines

At first glance immortalized cell lines and maintaining them seem to be a sort of necessary evil of lab.  More of a tool to get work done than anything.  A protocol which until recently I haven't honestly put too much thought into.  I've known what goes into them and the purpose of different substances, but my thought on them plateaued in a sense.  However I've found that the more time I spent splitting the cell lines I've been maintaining, the more I think about what goes on beyond the normal routine of the protocol of splitting them.

At times I've wondered how these cell lines were produced. Why are they not cancerous? Could they be cancerous because they are indefinitely proliferating?

Is immortalization possible with other cell lines? Can stem cells be give rise to other stems? Can you clone pluripotent stem cells?

Is it possible that cells in vitro could evolve differently than in vivo cells?

Last but not least, my most "out there" idea. Would it be possible to reassemble life in space? Is the fusion of sex cells on an unmanned spacecraft possible to extend the length of interstellar voyages. How do cells react in zero gravity.

So many questions...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Some of you might hear the myth about a little girl running around the lab at night...  but that is just a myth.

On the other hand, I encounter paranormal activity in our own lab. We called it THE centrifuge. It is a mentally deranged scientist from the 1920's who had an obsession for the power of a centrifuge. The story tells that he likes to grab as many tubes as possible and walk the halls of the lab trying to mix the solution until he forms a pellet. 

And, I happen to record him in action... take a look, but BEWARE! you might be scared...

Monday, September 23, 2013

I survived my first week in lab :)

Coming into a new laboratory is a very scary experience. Especially when you want to clean up and organize everything and you have a german lady as a lab technician that is about 6' 1'' feet tall! I found out that she was not very fond of my cleaning habits since she asked me "You are not one of those neat freaks are you?" But after seeing what I had done with the place, I think she actually liked it. Now I know where everything is and this place is now starting to feel more like home.  
Also, I was given a set of samples by another postdoc in the lab. He wanted me to analyze them by immunoblot in order to test my working abilities... I guess. Along the process everybody kept trying to tell me how to make my buffers, run the gel, treat the membranes and under what conditions I should transfer it, but I was very stubborn and stuck to the way I did my 10,000 previous immunoblots. All of this time I kept thinking, if surgeons are not told by every hospital how to perform a surgery, why should researchers be told how to run their immunoblots! hahaha (Yes, for researchers doing immunoblots and making them look perfect is as much of an art as surgery!) In the end, my immunoblot looked very good and it even got some people asking me under what conditions was the gel ran and transferred. So, I really hope that next time people will look at me as trustworthy and I am allowed to do things the way I know how to do them.     

Monday, September 9, 2013

Embarking on this journey called doctoral studies

Well with the start of a new semester, I start a new phase in my academic life: being a doctoral student.  I thought it wise to be conservative with my schedule since I did not know what would be expected of me and how I would need to perform.  This is new territory for me and I do feel a bit lost.  So here are the questions have been on my mind:

What do I need to accomplish this semester?
What is my plan for research?
Who should I do a rotation with?
Who should be on my committee And what the hell is a committee anyway?

I consider myself lucky to have other graduate students who can guide me. Granted I always have the program advisors and our illustrious P.I. but it is nice to have a student's perspective.  They understand better than anyone else because they were in my shoes at one time.  They will keep it real and tell me what is important for my survival.

With that, I will wish my fellow new students the best of luck and continued success as we do this thing we call science.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Labsick :S

Everybody who wants to pursue a career in research has to find a laboratory as a graduate student and jump through the hoops and loops this new environment imposes on you. At beginning, your mentor will quiz your intellectual abilities during lab meetings, and since you have never done any research in the past you will feel overwhelmed with all the new methodologies, signaling pathways, cellular mechanisms, viral life cycle events, etcetera that you are not even remotely familiarized with. Well, this is only the beginning of a long path to become someone in whom your PI will rely on completely for writing his next grants. And don't worry! As matter of fact enjoy those frustrating moments when you don't know the answer to questions, because those moments will be over sooner than you expect. Time will fly and you will start sitting down at those terrifying lab meetings thinking that all of those questions your mentor uses to quiz people are not really that hard, and in fact they will start to sound just like simple "bioLOGIC." When you reach this stage in you PhD, you will start noticing that all of the sudden you are not the new guy at lab. As a matter of fact, this place filled with flasks, buffers, chemicals, cells, bacteria, and many other weird looking things has already grown on you and is now the place you call “second home." Unfortunately, just about the time when you start to feel this way, it means that your PhD is coming to an end and that soon it will be time to move on and continue pursuing other long term goals you had in mind when you first started this journey... So, what I am saying is that you will be at some point in the same position that I am today. Once again in a new lab, as the new guy who needs to prove himself to become someone reliable and an essential component of this place that you will eventually call your second home.    

Monday, August 12, 2013

That girl is on fire!

This is what happens when your hair catches on fire. your fellow lab mates photoshop your hair on fire.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


OK, I've been wondering if I should post anything related to this. And I have decided that I simply can't resist. Afterall, the idea of this blog is to tell people about "Life in a virology lab", right?
Well, about two days ago, I walked into our tissue culture area to check the progress on the egg innoculations. My group was amplifying some of our viral stocks and they were using eggs to that end. Since I have not handled that many eggs in my life (no double interpretations please, read it literally!), I wanted to see it one more time. When I was half way to our lab's cubicule, I smelled the characteristic and typical stench of burning human hair. This triggered an immediate subconscious tingle up my spine. Was my lab area in fire? I walked quickly down the corridor and reached our cubicle, only to discover a room full of smoke and a bunch of relatively silent and shocked students who were still trying to know how to react to what had just happened. Some were giggly, some were blowing air with sheets of paper, some were simply still in shock.
Apparently, one of my undergraduates got a bit too close to the candle we use to supply the wax that is used to seal the eggs after they are innoculated. She has a particularly long and luscious hair. But its length is perhaps a bit longer than recommended for lab work. So, as she relaxed against the counter where the candle had been strategically placed, her hair caught fire. Fortunately, one of our undergrads had the good sense of immediately grab her hair, pull it with his hands, and deprive it from the air it needed to continue burning. I didn't witness any of  this. But by the smoke that had been left in the room (the door had already been open for a few minutes and my students were venting air in hopes of making it less smoky inside), I'd say they probably saw flames going up her head.
On the down side, I'll have to file a report about this incident and I hope this won't have negative consequences for our lab. On the up side, .....well, perhaps there's no much to claim on that end, other that at least she was not hurt (although she may need to change her hairstyle for a while). Bottom line, in a virology lab is full of surprises (some of which you wish never to experience!).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Being a PI is so much more....

So, I'm at the annual meeting of the American Society for Virology with two of my doctoral students and yesterday I had one of those moments that force you to log in and blog.
In the morning, my crew disappeared. They didn't come to some of the morning sessions and this raised a bit of anxiety in my heart. My two students were presenting back to back talks in the first session of the afternoon workshops and we had been preparing the talks already for a while. In fact, we had skept some of the sessions the day before to work on them. I felt that they both were ready, they had rehearsed their talks to a good extent and I thought that all they needed to do was to polish aa bit more the specific wording they were going to use in a couple of slides. But it was already really good the way it was. So, I felt confident and fairly relaxed about their presentations because I knew they were going to do OK. But when I noticed them missing in action, my heart all of the sudden skept a beat. I just felt a wave of adrenaline go through my veins, produce a chill in my back, and bring back emotions I had felt the first time I had one of my graduate students presenting our work. It was that sudden realization that I was not in control that produced a chill in my brain. When you are in control, you know that nothing bad is going to happen because you will make sure that nothing bad is going to happen. But when you are NOT in control, when somebody else is at the stearing weel, you know that you are not the one who defines the direction that the moving vehicle that your life turns into is going to take. Suddenly, you realize that nothing is in your hands, you know that anything that happens at that moment, the reputation of your scientific enterprise, the boldness of your research, the perceived strenght of your own science, is in someone else's hands. 1985 was the year I started my "scientific" career. That's when I commited myself to become a scientist (well, I had always known what I wanted to be, but that's the year I started my undergrad education, at age 16). More than 25 years of truly demanding work were in someone else's hands...well, perhaps not totally, but to some degree. The chill in my back turned into a memory. When I was a child, back in Colombia, I remember climbing this relatively tall mountain right next to the city where I was born. At some point on my way to the top, I remember turning around just to realize how high I was and how easy it would be to fall down. All the effort I had put getting to that point would be lost in just one second. That memory came to me like a flash. Fear. The most basic of the emotions. The one we share with all other vertebrates. It consumed me, even if for only a few seconds. Then, a soothing thought came to me, to rescue me, to save me: "If they are not here, it is not because they are not ready, it is not because they are insecure and overwhelmed by fear, it is because they want to make it perfect, because they know they can make it perfect, it is because they will make it great."
I decided that they didn't need me. No more criticism. No more coaching. It was all in their hands. They had each other to help each other. And I trusted them. I knew at that moment that this was not really anything new. I realized something that should've been obvious all this time: I've been doing exactly that for more than a while. I've been trusting my doctoral students, my master students, my undergraduate students, with everything I've been fighting for. And I've been doing that every day since I became a professor.
I was joined by them at lunch. They came my way and we made it to the auditorium where they were going to present their work. They seemed confident. And I felt confident. Then, they presented their work. First Jason. Then Katie. They both did great. Every word, every statement, every movement appeared to be perfectly orchestrated to deliver the right message. After each one of them, multiple hands were raised. People were anxious and willing to ask questions. Questions are the indirect way to indicate that your work matters, that you intrigued your audience, that they paid attention, that your message was heard. And there were plenty of hands asking for a chance to ask a question.
I felt proud. I felt safe. I felt thrilled. But more than anything else, I felt that the road I had taken up to that point had been worth it. Life is a nothing but a second. And everyone's life is easily forgotten in the infinite array of lives that converge in our world. But I felt that I had changed, at least to some degree, Jason and Katie's lives. And that gave a deeper meaning to my own existence.
Being a PI is so much more than just writing grants, trying to be scientifically creative, staying on top of the newest research, keeping up with the newest methods, trying your best to write decent papers, looking at your data with no attachment and no bias, trying to keep an open mind about what matters and what seems to be just noise....being a PI is so much more. It is about trust, about guidance, about developing life-long interactions, about making sure everyone gets the best, ....being a PI is so awesome in so many ways, I can't see myself doing anything else at any point in life.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Time is on my side, yes it is.

Time has to be on your side.  They say the force laughs at our plans on a regular basis. I was up real early and got to the lab at 8:15 am in order to prepare to run my protein gel as soon as the lab meeting was over. What could go wrong? All I needed to do was polymerize the stacking gel. It is midnight now and I am finally home.  There were plenty of breaks and I got to eat lunch with colleagues at our weekly lunch break.  Until I gain enough experience to know the ins and outs of the business, I must be diligent. What if that spot ruins my experiment? What if those extra 5 minutes of blocking a membrane ruin my results? A Bubble! Oh noooooo, my day can't be ruined, there has got to be a way. Ask Dr. Rosas.  A Tare! Oh Shoot, no way this can be fixed, do it over again.  Read the instructions over and over again. Don't miss anything, don't add anything. Overdoing it? Under doing it?  Listen to the girl next door or the guy down a bench? Ask Dr. Rosas.

At least I can bring Mateo into the lab still. Soon enough he will no longer be allowed and my precious time spent in lab is likely to be diminished.

Nonetheless, I get to come home and I know I did every step as carefully as I could without any rush because time is on my side. It has to be. All for the love of a good figure.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Lab isn't always fun and games...

Life in a virology lab isn't always fun and games. A lot of the time, things need to get done so they don't pile up in the future. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Simple to Complex

Today we had lab meeting to discuss each lab member's projects (experiments) that have been completed, are in progress, or at a stand still. It was interesting to see all the different aspects of research that one can explore associated to SUMOylation and Influenza. Throughout the meeting the boss would add an explanation as to why a certain project was at a stand still or why the experiment was not working. He would draw diagrams of how the experiment would theoretically work. As he drew and explained, it seemed like a fairly logical and simple experiment that would not be a problem to execute. Then, he would say "but..." and "a factor we must consider"and so on. At this point it hit me. Research is a world full of millions of questions. You hypothesize that your experiment will proceed a certain path "but" then "you must consider many different factors."Your experiment may work the way you hypothesized and it certainly may take a path you would have never imagined. When you answer one question, you then open 10 more doors of questions. And this is when research turns from "simple" to complex.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Don't you love it when...

a gel runs properly?!

It has a tiny dent, but look at that straight line!

Hopefully the rest of my gels come out this good...

It's nice when experiment work, isn't it?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The 'Root' of the Situation

It’s great to say that research, (for me; not sure about the chemist grad students next door), is a vivacious journey, rather than the culmination of specific accomplishments such as the production of noteworthy data and a fancy degree. From degreed professionals to newborn babies, we’re all curious little scientists, uncovering the various trends spotted in

Learning all the Way

I still remember my first time in a circus. As five years old, looking at elephants doing tricks, tigers jumping through fire, and people walking on a rope suspended three meters from the ground blew my mind. Being that young, the circus seemed to me like a completely different world. Three months ago when I first started in Dr. Rosas Acosta’s virology lab, I had the same feeling again. Every day that I shadowed somebody I learned something completely different. Just by opening the door of the lab I felt like entering to a whole different world with its own language where instead of talking English people talk in a vast variety of acronyms and scientific terms.  It was nice that after sixteen years, I was still able to discover small new worlds as when I first was exposed to a circus. Instead of seeing elephants, tigers, and acrobats; I learned about bacterial transformations, cell immortalizations, and designing DNA sequences. Three months in this lab have been a constant learning experience. This is why I like science. One never stops exploring different worlds. 

My journey...

I want to tell the story of how I initiated my journey as a virology researcher. I started taking classes at EPCC, where I also had a job at a science laboratory. My duties were to help instructors in everything they needed as well as preparing solutions, cleaning glassware, and basically preparing all the equipment for ALL the science labs (that meant geology, microbiology, A&P, biology, chemistry, and even physics). I really enjoyed the environment and the independence of my job. A year later, I finish all my basic courses and transferred to UTEP. My immediate goal was to get another job at school, so I started looking right away. A semester after my transfer, I checked my email and read “get paid to do research”, so I applied. I didn’t know what to expect or what research was all about. Weeks later, I received an email saying that I was accepted to a summer research internship with the LSAMP program. Based on my personal statement and my interests, the program assigned me to a laboratory; the SUMO-Influenza lab. The first time I met Dr. Rosas-Acosta  I was very nervous and I remember having to fill in a form with my information and my mentor’s name ( later I realize I wrote Dr. Flores instead of Dr. Rosas :s). I started working in the lab as an independent undergraduate student for the summer, later I had the opportunity to stay with the LSAMP program for the entire school year. The next year, I applied again, but this time I was working with Sangita (the Master’s student at the time) developing the artificial SUMO ligases. After my graduation, I was offer to stay as the lab technician for 6 months, before I started my Master ‘s. I can say that I have been extremely fortunate to be here with all the opportunities that have been given to me. Even though, I am not the best student, I still remember the way I felt when I first started working here; I felt excitement, curiosity, but mostly confusion because I was completely lost the majority of the time. Now, I can feel the progress I made throughout the years, the knowledge on techniques and terms has been growing, but I still feel the curiosity and confusion in many of the experiments I perform. My main driving force is the fact that I know I will always have things to learn and techniques to master.

Just think about this:
 You are looking for answers on how an incredible microorganism such as the influenza virus has been able to cause the second deadliest disease in history.   Exciting right?! :)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A virology lab...

I suppose I'll start at the beginning and let you all know what it was like for me, starting out in a virology lab. It all started when I got accepted to be a part of the lab, I was pretty excited, not really knowing what to expect, but having the feeling that I was in for a ride that would end up teaching me a lot. As time passed and I became more familiar with lab, I got to know a lot of new people who have and still are showing me a lot of different techniques.

As of the present day, we only have one week left before classes are officially over.  Finals week.   Hopefully all goes well.  I am looking forward to spending some time in lab over the summer since I am going to have a fairly open schedule and its not going to be nearly as hectic as during the semester.   That being said, I hope everyone who's taking finals does wells and everyone has a good summer.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The end of the Semester

So, with the culmination of this semester, so ends my time as an undergraduate. With this comes an end to the excessive scientific coddling which most undergrads are commonly afforded. And also, with this comes a time during the summer where my role in the lab is not clearly defined. Though I have had many sources of advice on how to plan out the activities that I should partake in, I have to step back and truly contemplate the question. What should I do during the summer?  Some advice has urged me towards enjoying this time away from the lab in preparation of the seemingly endless commitment that will begin in the fall. My thoughts on this, however, have led me to the conclusion that my time here in the lab can be balanced between class work, lab work, and family “work” (This by no means should be regarded as anything other than work because the joy and sense of accomplishment from succeeding in any job is highly rewarding, and the same holds true for my role as a spouse and parent. The more effort you put in the better the results!) enough so, that I will not be overwhelmed by the strain of my commitment to the lab and the program as much as I might have in the past. Others  have suggested that I could spend the summer months by taking a graduate class and pushing forward with the work I am currently involved with, as well as preparing and developing my own questions to formulate my course of action and/or focus as a graduate student. While, others still, have pointed out the fact that this summer is still a gray area, as far as planning goes, because the amount of time that I will be able to dedicate to each of my responsibilities is still not well defined. My preference would be to immerse myself into work and school but the reality is that several specific events during the summer may not allow for this. I am excited to do more research though! I’m having a really fun time and have to say that I really like this science thing. Hopefully, I can complete some of the work early enough to get an abstract in and be able to present at a conference or two. I look forward to the unknown as a welcomed challenge and a motivator because just as with any other new and difficult task, which might even seem like the impossible, I know that I’ll make it happen.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Almost there

As this semester comes to an end I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of relief, happiness, and panic all at once. I waited for this moment for 4 long, and I mean looong, years but now that its come I can’t help but feel a little bit….I hate to say it but…. scared. Scared for what’s coming next for me, scared to finally work on my own, without the overlooking eye of a graduate student. Instead I’ll be that graduate student! However, I don’t want this moment of panic to seem as though I don’t want this. I signed up for this, I know exactly what I’m getting into, and I’ve worked so hard to get where I’m at. I guess it’s just the fact that everything seems to be moving so quickly that I haven’t had a moment to just stand back and breathe. Finals are in full swing, preparations are being made for graduation, and there’s still forms to fill out for summer internships… plus it definitely doesn’t help that  senioritis has hit me full force. It’s times like these that I am thankful to have the support of my family and friends to remind me of what I’m working for and slap some sense into my overly anxious brain.
graduation is almost here
                … only 9 more days and counting.

That moment

when you finally get results!

There's no other feeling like it.

And in my honest opinion, I don't think any other career gives you the same satisfaction.

Oh the joys of being a scientist.

After months of your experiments not working and troubleshooting and endless frustration and feelings of helplessness, you finally get a piece of data that is actually going to contribute to an overall end result. You see a light at the end of the tunnel and you realize that all the anger and stress you had been doing through led you to this point. It was your perseverance to keep pushing that gave you that sweet, sweet data.

After dealing with two round of plasmid contamination and the general issues we were having with primer extension, it was great to see little glowing bands on the gel. That sequencing ladder also makes for a beautiful picture. Especially when they are all even. The first time I saw the gel I wanted to run around the lab screaming, "It works! It works! IT WOOORRRKKSSS!!!" I was so excited I immediately had to go tell the boss, who seemed quite please with the results.

Now that we are past the troubleshooting and preliminary data stages, it'll be nice to get some real concrete data.

But I'll never forget how it felt to finally see it work. I believe it is because of this feeling that so many of us work so tirelessly to produce results. We refuse to yield to the unrelenting obstacles of being a scientist. We're constantly searching for that high. Because we know that sooner or later, we'll feel it again.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Going in circles...

Frustration, here I am. I feel like I am working in circles and with each new decision comes another issue. I am working on inserting a mutation in a protein that we are designing. Unfortunately, the mutation I want to make also causes a mutation in the overlapping reading frame of another protein. A couple of us have spent hours trying to determine all of the options we could use, while still maintaining amino acids that are conserved in both proteins. Either this one works and that one doesn't or that one works and this one doesn't. To no avail, we are in the same place we started. All we have to show for it is a sheet of paper with a bunch of letters, lines, arrows, and more letters.

Where is the boss when you need him?!?

All I know is that we are going to have to make some tough decisions. In the end, it seems as though we must either choose between the lesser of the two evils or redesign the entire project. These decisions must wait until tomorrow (or until I am able to meet with the boss), for I no longer have the open-mind to tackle this project.

Friday, May 3, 2013


I recently joined this lab not knowing what to expect. I had many thoughts going through my head. Was I going to like it? Hate it? Spend all day and night in the bioscience building? Was it going to be like the typical labs you take for micro or o-chem (a bit boring)? Turns out I enjoy it! I don't spend all day and night in the lab (not yet anyway). I like the lab because it's interesting to see what you learn in your text books actually being applied. It is going to challenge me to think outside the box and to come up with ideas as to why an experiment has results I didn't expect. I realized that all that information in our books may seem simple, but the tremendous effort scientists have to input to reach such conclusion is indeed not fairly simple. 

The first couple of weeks were a bit overwhelming. My first day went like this: Another undergrad started explaining what his project was about. So, I was getting tons of information thrown at me, some I was familiar with and some I was not. Then I sat in lab meeting completely lost. The boss and the rest of the lab members were talking about experiments. It was like they were speaking another language! I'd have to say after about a month I'm not completely lost anymore, but I definitely still have a lot to learn!

Then slowly the undergrad I work mostly with started letting me do simple things little by little. I was worried I'd screw up and the results would be inaccurate, and so I made mistakes. It turns out it was OK to make mistakes and it definitely happens with new undergrads. So I've realized its all part of the process! And this is why we're at the bottom of the food chain. Haha.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Working my way up the food chain

Finally took my GRE last Friday! Just one more item checked off my never ending to-do list before I make my way into graduate school . . . How time flies.

It feels like it was just yesterday when I first entered the lab, and now 10 months have passed and I feel like i've learned and accomplished so much. Soon I'll be able to join the rankings of the overly stressed and overly caffeinated graduate students and I can't wait :]

Just two more months!!

..but for now that's enough blogging, Katie's laundry isn't going to wash and fold itself :p

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The stuff that dreams are made of...

Although lab work sometimes can be tedious and the payback may be questionable, although sometimes you feel like nothing is truly moving forward, the overall trajectory that your life follows when you commit to an academic career can be very satisfactory. Today, the first email I received was one from Rijeka, in Croatia (somewhere in Europe), informing me that the book I edited and for which we contributed one full chapter has finally been published. It is available online at

It is stuff like this that makes you feel that your efforts are worth it. It is almost as good as the satisfaction I feel when my students let me know that they "are getting it" and that they "enjoy my classes." But nothing compares with the feeling you get when you get emails like this one that I received yesterday:

"Hello Dr. Rosas-Acosta, I just recieved a letter from Boston for the EMSSP program and I thought it would interest you to know that I have been asked to go to Boston for an interview! I am very happy and would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this, without you this would have not been possible.

Thank you,"

Yep, an academic career can be pretty satisfactory. Doing research is second to nothing. And teaching young minds and opening doors to hundreds of brilliant students is also second to nothing. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When the boss makes time to be in lab...

I had the opportunity today to work along side the boss, which reminded me of the days that I first starting working in the lab. In the beginning, I was learning things that I had never done before and other things that I was familiar with, but had long forgotten how to do. At that time, you try to pick up the little tips and tricks that make science so much more than luck, but skill. I was transported back today to those days when I first started, but I knew when the timer started to sound that it is just a faint memory.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Approaching the boss...

Tactics to approaching the boss...

   Anytime during the day

Anytime during the day...  with DATA!!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Science or Art?

Two days ago, one of my graduate students posted this in our data blog. It looked pretty impressive and really got my attention. This simple array of green bands tells a pretty complex story. On one hand, it tells the sequence of a region of DNA. It does so by producing a small fragment of DNA that ends when a dideoxynucfleotide is incorporated by DNA polymerase,  therefore preventing the incorporation of any other nucleotide in the DNA. There are four lanes for each DNA segment, one for each nucleotide, and when you combine the four lanes you get the full sequence of that segment of DNA. The big green bands are PCR products. The other story told by this picture is the one I like the most: the story of the graduate student who one day indicated his interest in studying one very complex process that was likely to be taking place during influenza infection. He chose to study the effect of SUMO on the viral RNA polymerase. And during the execution of those studies, he has faced the need to develop new experimental approaches, including the one represented in this figure. So, this figure shows the persistence and resourcefulness of a graduate student who hasn't given up, who has persisted, and who now is finally set to start collecting data that will reveal, for the first time in human history, to what degree the cellular SUMOylation system affects the activity of the viral RNA-dependent RNA-polymerase. That second story is one that I'm proud to say is possible in my laboratory. And that second story is likely to open up unforeseen paths of subsequent exploration for my lab, and unexpected possibilities for the student responsible for the discoveries to follow.
The data shown is beautiful. Not only because of the harmony of the colors and their distribution in space, but most importantly because of the stories it tells. Science and art  converge frequently in unexpected ways. I am frequently awed by both. One of the greatest things about directing a lab is to know that you are providing the environment where human creativity and scientific exploration converge to foster human knowledge and human lives. From this perspective, a lab is a place where you can generate data that may change the way we treat and combat disease. But it is also the place where the careers of the new generation of scientists get started. And it is a pleasure and an honor to be a part of both processes.
Overall mood: highly optimistic, looking forward for the data to follow.
Forecast: my student will sometime soon post the actual data that follows the standardization presented in this image and we'll have a good excuse to have another party.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Finally found the boss working at lab....

Soooooo this afternoon... I was walking around the lab looking for some stuff.... Then I found Dr. Rosas it surprised me... I was so happy seeing him working around the lab... =D

GRA's next car

I posted this on the fb recently and thought I'd share this with the group.  Seriously, I think we may need to stage a technology intervention if this ever happens.  ;p
It is hard to deal with not knowing what you are doing wrong in an experiment. Not because you have to do it again, that is the least of the worries, but because if you don't know what is wrong you can't fix it. 

Though this is also a great way to challenge your ingenuity and patience. 

Cleanliness may be the key! I don't know, I always think I am being extra careful in my cleanliness. 

Being extra careful may be the key! I don't know, I always think I am being extra careful.  Well, working with microscopic organisms is really amazing.  You have to be a perfectionist in your experiments.  At least cells and viruses don't have feelings.  Or do they? Working with people is way harder to deal with. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

In a lab you will find more than just science on the bench

Today as I was walking down the aisle in the laboratory I bumped into something that seemed like a pretty naughty scene to me... As scientists we know that life always comes from another living organism... but have you ever sat down to think about where do tissue culture flasks come from?? I think that today I finally found the answer to that scientific question :O and by looking at these T25 flasks it seems like they start reproducing pretty young!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Welcome to Science...

When you spend an ENTIRE day analyzing data for an experiment and it's all done, life just feels so damn good!

You feel proud making a meeting with the boss to show your awesome results, ....

and then you realize tomorrow will be exactly like the day you just finished and you have to go back and re-analyze everything using a different method according to the boss.....

When I'm told I need to re-do all my data

It's all good though, as soon as I graduate, I'll be like....


For sho'

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How many is too many?

When my lab got started, there were only two souls in the lab. Me and my technician who was my loyal companion during my first two years as an independent scientist. Nowadays I have 3 PhD students, 3 Master students, and 16 undergraduate students in my lab. Yesterday, while talking to one of my Master students, she indicated how she longed for the old times when she had plenty of room to call her own. That simple statement brought up this question: have we passed the limit? Are we too many for our own good? Life in a research lab is a fine need the hands, you need the brains, there are always too many interesting questions claiming to be answered. But how many brains and how many hands are too many? Also, not everyone contributes two hands and one brain, some times you get the hands but not the brain and sometimes you get the brain but not the hands. What do you do in those cases? Is it best to keep only the ones that come as a complete set? Or is it OK to accept the parts and try to make the best out of them? As of now, it seems like we are moving forward and there is some momentum. Perhaps the number issue is not too much of an issue, at least for now. One thing is for sure, though: not too many of them are willing to spill out their feelings in this blog. So far, it is only me (and I only get to do it when I want to take a break from my other many tasks).

Sunday, February 17, 2013


The process of writing a paper...long nights in front of the computer.
If only the reviewers could be a bit faster on their decision...
47 days after submitting the reviewed version of our latest paper, after having fixed pretty much everything that was criticized by the reviewers, we are still waiting for their response. The long waiting period involved in all the processes that require peer review is the one thing I truly dislike about the way we do science nowadays. I wonder if this frustration is shared by everyone or if the group of people who are not that happy with the way peer review works is relatively small. I was involved in reviewing a couple of papers recently. It seemed like the journals wanted to have the reviews back in less than a week. I held them a few extra days (yep, guilty as charged!), but I'm sure it didn't take me more than week and a half. If that's the standard that seems to be the followed by most of the journals, why can't it be that way with the journals I pick for our papers?
Overall mood: Frustration.
Forecast: When the reviews comeback they may still want something else...
What to do next: Forget about it and start working at full strength on the new paper for which we have already most of the figures ready.