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By Anushka Shrestha
Hello, this is Anushka with my first and last (for the time being anyway!) Brown Lab blogpost. I recently handed in my honours thesis and completed my interview, so I thought I would wrap up my honours experience by reflecting back on this unforgettable year. It has been a tough but highly rewarding year, so here are the top three things that I have learned:
- Getting things done takes longer than you expect – Before I started, I thought that having 8 months and being able to make up your own hours wouldn’t be too difficult. Little did I know that most days I would be working from 10am-7pm, 5 days a week and still be scrambling to get results by the end. Although it was initially overwhelming to be bombarded with so much new information, the Brown Lab was always there to help with whatever silly question I had. In the first two months I read a lot of papers, got familiar with western blotting and conducted experiments I was told to do. I was surprised at how relaxed I was feeling for someone doing honours and thought that the rest of the year would be quite straight-forward. But boy was I wrong! Following this initial “lag phase” the volume of work needed to be conducted and stress levels increased exponentially. The more data I obtained, the more questions it presented, the more experiments needed to be conducted to test my hypothesis and the cycle repeated itself. Towards the end of my experiments, I was surprised at how many experiments I had conducted, yet still how little I understood about my protein of interest. This leads me to my next lesson.
- Things don’t always work – throughout my undergrad life, I was constantly told by lab demonstrators and professors that “real science is nothing like undergrad science.” I knew that undergrad lab experiments were optimised to work. Yet I naively believed that things would be different for me. The only way you can understand the magnitude of difference between undergrad and real research is if you experience it yourself. There have been many times throughout this year where my cells didn’t grow, which just happened to be when I needed them most. There was even one time when my proteins vanished into thin air during a transfer (till this day, it has remained a mystery). What’s difficult about the nature of our lab’s experiments is that there’s a lot of time required to get a small amount of semi-quantitative data. You spend about 5 days seeding, treating, harvesting and western blotting your samples before you actually get results, which sometimes ends up being negative results. Although this was disheartening at first, my very wise supervisor reminded me that this is real science. Our role as scientists is to be curious, to ask questions, think outside the box and persevere.
- Negative results are results nonetheless – To be completely honest, my hypotheses were often wrong. I would get so frustrated when my results did not demonstrate exactly what I wanted them to. It was only towards the very end that I realised that my negative results could still be incorporated into the narrative of my thesis. Sometimes when you’re exploring a niche topic in so much detail, you forget to consider the bigger picture. It’s only when you stop and take a step back that you realise how far you’ve come and how much you have to actually shape the story so that it makes sense. Although my findings were not what I had initially expected, they identified something else that nonetheless contributes to our understanding of DHCR24. I stumbled across one of the main findings of my thesis less than a week before I submitted it. It’s eureka moments like this that makes you truly appreciate the nature of research.
As cliché as it sounds, honours year has made me realise that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it. Outside of research, this year has tested me with so many challenges. But being surrounded by such a hardworking and close-knit lab inspired me to focus on the positives and let the challenges fuel me. I’m so grateful to Andrew and the Brown Lab (Laura, Jake, Nicola, Isabelle, Hudson and Lydia) for their guidance and support through it all. Looking back on this whole experience, I could not have chosen a better lab to be a part of. Despite all the hardships, I have gained so much this year and was able to produce a thesis that I am really proud of. In closing this memorable chapter, I’m looking forward to my next adventure!