- written by Natalie Deuitch
“What are you doing this summer?”
“Oh, just working in a lab… you know…”
I’ve had this conversation hundreds of times at parties, family gatherings, you name it. Last year I spent the summer and fall semester globetrotting in cool and exotic places, and people were super interested.
This year I’m spending the summer in a lab in hot, “boring” Chapel Hill. People take one look at my project title, “Exploring the relationship between proteins Axin and APC in the Canonical Wnt Signaling Pathway” and seem….underwhelmed. It seems as if they want to be excited for me, but science is a foreign language to most average Joes. Even fellow biologists probably don’t know enough about Wnt Signaling to get really revved up about my proteins.
What doesn’t seem to get transmitted in these conversations is that I have been in love with every second of this summer.
Yes, I have had to run the same experiment practically a million times. And yes, my lab does smell a little bit like rotting fruit fly corpses. Still, this summer, science clicked. Maybe it didn’t click like switching on a light, more like turning up a dimmer (is that a thing?). But without an intense and busy routine of classes and exams I can think, focus, go home and really digest what I learned in lab. Then I get to come back with a plan to attack science and make it better. I’ve been running experiments from step one all the way through to the finish–during the school year just I put bits and pieces together, as if science is some cooking show with prepped ingredients, waiting for someone to put them together.
This summer I’m gaining the skills to make a plan and carry it through. I’m gaining the confidence to correct or question my mentor when she gets something wrong, for a change. I’m gaining the curiosity to keep asking good questions—endlessly. These things will help me both to fight colon cancer (because yes, that’s something you can do in a lab) and to take on life, even outside the realm of science.
And, I found something this summer. I collected data that nobody has ever found before. I’ve run experiments that no one has ever done before. And one day, as small as it may be, my data will help someone who’s sick. It’s the research that comes from thousands of people spending their summers (and springs, falls and winters) in labs that changes our world.
So don’t even think for a second that working in a lab isn’t as cool as backpacking through Europe. Because it is! Actually, it’s way cooler.
And after a little while you even get used to the smell of fruit flies.