Last semester, I was enrolled in Molecular Biology, a biology upper-division class for my major. Three professors taught the course: 2 veterans and one brand-new professor. Having a new professor is an exciting and scary experience for an undergraduate student. On one hand, the new professor provides a unique teaching style and can be a great lecturer. On the other hand, since their teaching style is unknown, you cannot rely on upperclassmen’s tips and advice. Thankfully, Dr. Irene Chiolo was a great professor. She taught the unit about double strand breaks in DNA while incorporating her research into it, all the while challenging us to think critically. Her research especially interested me because it can be applied to understanding and treating cancer, my ultimate career goal.
After taking Dr. Chiolo’s examination, and doing fairly well, I mustered up the courage to ask her if her labs had any openings. I distinctly remember my heart skipping a beat when she enthusiastically replied that she not only remembered me but also would be more than happy to have me in her lab. After filling out a formal application and having a mini-interview in December, I was finally able to begin working in her lab in January. I was paired up with an ex-Molecular Biology TA named Tae who taught me the ropes. Thank God she is patient because I was very rusty on my lab technique.
As a young child, I remember seeing people working in laboratories on television shows and movies and thinking “Wow! Those people must be REAL scientists.” Seeing all the beakers, multitudes of cabinets, and tools seemed so scary yet incredible when I was a young child. Now, I am in one of those labs that I could have only dreamed of being in. Working alongside fellow undergraduate students, graduate students, and your ex-professors is such a surreal experience.
My job is to clone cells; this means I remove DNA from a bacterial cell, add additional information to the DNA, and place the new recombined DNA in a new cell to be multiplied. This procedure is not as simple as it seems and involves approximately 20 different steps. Because of Tae and the other fellow graduate students, I have improved from an undergrad who had never picked up a pipette before to someone who is now (sort of) able to clone cells. I have worked in this lab for almost six weeks and am about to send my DNA to another lab for sequencing to see if my first cloning was successful.
Although learning all of these lab procedures was daunting at first, I love every minute of it. Working in the Chiolo lab continues to be an exciting, challenging, informative, and rewarding experience because even if I am just creating tiny cells to be used for testing, I feel as if I am making an impact on the science community and working towards my ultimate dream.