Week 2: A Day in the Life...
There is no one“typical day” at the Calcutt pathology lab. Sure, the framework may be the same: I run experiments and I analyze the data that I gather from said experiments. However, research is a wonderfully creative process that requires a great deal of innovative thinking: How do I gather said data? What variations do I need to do to test my hypothesis?
On a typical day I get into the lab at 9:30 AM (I really appreciate not having to get into work at 7) and set up my experiment for the day. Diabetes comes with many complications, one of which is diabetic neuropathy. It is well known that diabetes causes degeneration and regeneration of peripheral nerves, causing sensory loss. Unfortunately few treatments currently exist for diabetic neuropathy, with the leading treatment simply being blood glucose control. This is where my lab steps in, working on discovering potential treatments for diabetic neuropathy. My day comprises of behavioral tests on diabetic mice to determine the extent of nerve degeneration. The specific test I run takes about 3 hours because the test has to be repeated every thirty minutes (time trials!) to track increases or decreases in nerve sensitivity.
times it takes the mice to respond to the increase in temperature is recorded and calibrated to the temperature curve, giving us the temperature at which the mouse responded. For the tactile allodynia test the hind paw of the mouse it touched with filaments of different girth, each applying different amounts of pressure. Based on the mouse’s response to different filaments, an equation can be run gives the Paw Withdrawl Threshold (or PWT). Thus something as seemingly unquantifiable as a mouse’s flinch can be quantified and turned into data.
After collecting the data I get to see what comes out of it! With my excel spreadsheet before me I am able to see the changes in nerve sensitivity as the time trials progress (hopefully). No fancy software is needed to analyze the behavioral tests, just excel and simple equations. I would have considered myself excel illiterate before I started working in my lab, so a hint to those looking to work in a lab is to get comfortable with working with excel. I worked in my pervious lab before I took any statistics class of any kind so it made me simply go through the motions of analyzing the data without having any idea what it all meant. The best thing you can do for yourself is to take a statistics class or read up beforehand because it will make your data analysis so much more rich and meaningful.
Something I have come to appreciate is that my PI (the head of the lab) strongly believes that all data is good data. What I mean to say is that in some labs there is such a strong desire to publish and produce the desired data that data can get skewed. However, I have discovered that unexpected data can in fact expose the interesting possibilities. So I simply gather the data and then wait to see what falls out! A great example would be with my Corneal Confocal Microscopy (or CCM) counts. I took baseline pictures at week 3 of my control, Type 2 diabetic and Type 1 diabetic mice. I randomized the data and counted, not expecting any difference in nerves. Alas, upon analyzing the data I realized that there was already a difference in the nerves between the three groups, even at only 3 weeks after the onset of diabetes.
Once lunch rolls around I get to put on my sunglasses (stepping out from a basement to the bright sun can be a little startling) and step out into the San Diego sunshine. Everyone in the lab typically eats lunch together which is one of my favorite parts of the day. It is a chance to hear about what everyone else is working on and the paths that led everyone to where they are now. Contrary to populat stereotypes, a lab can be a diverse and vibrant community. One of my fellow interns is an econ- Major who works in the lab because he loves science. Another is minor-ing in art and constantly looking to see where the two subjects meld. Talking to the current PhD students and post-docs in your lab is something I 100% encourage – it is a great way to gather insight for undergraduates who are considering graduate school.
I appreciate my lab so much not only for the work I can do but the creative environment (I honestly wake up in the middle of the night thinking about new experiments I can run) and the relationships I have formed. I’m glad there isn’t a typical day in the lab for me because it forces me to be on my toes – giving me new ideas and new ins.
About the Blogger
Juliet Snyder a rising sophomore at Harvard (class of 2015) who is in love with science in and out of school and combining it with her other passions in life: journalism and theatre. This summer, Juliet is working in a neuropathy lab at UCSD working on nerve degeneration in diabetes.
The Scientista Foundation has been priceless to me - it provided me with motivating mentors, encouraging peers, and an outlet for questions and advice. All of these things were difficult for me to find at first within my university my first year at college, but with the Scientista Foundation I was able to become part of a community both within my college and across the nation.