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.