Jumping into the Deep End of Science

I have this memory of when I was two or three years old. I have a floaty on me, but I have to jump into the water. I’m sure I was only two feet above the water and I was jumping towards an adult in the pool, but for me, it seemed to be 20 feet into swirling pool of sharks with laser beams on their heads.

laserbeam-sharkI was terrified. I was crying. But I jumped.

I don’t remember much about swimming until much later and by that time, I was already jumping into the deep end with a clear knowledge of knowing how to swim. Touching the bottom of the pool for fun and things of that nature. Swan dives and failed flips turned back and belly flops. I was comfortable in the pool. It took a while I’m sure, but I had to get over that initial fear by making that initial jump.

Recently, I jumped into a pool of a different sort. The pool of senior author research articles and major grant writing. This time, it is not a fear of drowning, but a fear of failure (although drowning under the shear amount of emails might be a real thing). But by becoming a PI, I knew this day would come. Not that I was just dipping my foot in the pool before, but these are bigger waters, bigger fish, and bigger stakes.

I just got back my first corresponding author research article paper review back and…um…it…um…well…at least the first reviewer and editor were kind, supportive, and helpful, but yeah, it didn’t go so well. I’ll refrain from talking about reviewer #2. Also asked someone to review my grant. Again, great, helpful, but soul crushing comments.

I am just fortunate that for this jump, I had a floaty. I had mentorship. I had someone I could ask for help. I had someones I could ask (and I’m sure they would point out the flaws in that last sentence). Do you have a floaty? If you don’t please try to find one. Try nrmnet.net, look for #BLACKandSTEM on twitter, go to your grad office, your boss, or just find a senior person and ask them (sometimes, it really is that simple). Engage the community you are in so you don’t have to recreate the mountain every time. Stand on shoulders, don’t succumb to the weight.

Even when it is the very nature of your position to jump, it is good to get the first one out of the way. It was exhilarating despite the outcome. It was terrifying, but maybe not as scarring as when I was younger (and clearly without the sharks with laser beams). Hopefully, because of the willingness to jump, and by finding floaties, I’ll be doing belly flops with a few low scored swan dives in no time.



Scientific Journey #3: It’s Not Easy Being Green, My First Lab Experience

Here is part 1 and part 2 if you want to get caught up.

I had to make LB plates but something didn’t look right. After autoclaving it, I knew things were supposed to turn into a solid when it cooled in the petri dish, but as of now it just looked too liquidy (hows that for a science term). Swirl swirl and swirl some more, but liquid it remained. Ten good minutes had passed and it showed no signs of solidifying. Finally the lab manager asked me,

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to get these plates to solidify so I can go home.”

“Did you add agar?”

Whomp Whomp. Who knew you had to add agar to the LB powder. The equivalent is me trying to make jello, swirling around the powder in the water, but without heating it. Just sitting there all ho hum.

on fire beaker

Ladies and gentlemen, I was GREEN. Luckily, one, making plates wasn’t the main part of my job, two, I was a quick learner, and three, when I innocuously screwed up, I did it in a way that made the lab manager cry (from laughter). She was a wonderful lab mom in that respect (now she is retired and I hope enjoying every minute of it).

This was my first lab environment. This is where I developed my lab chops. This was my first scientific family.

The boss (AKA the Chair of Microbiology and Immunology) was a “tell it like it is” kind of guy. I always knew where I stood with him because he wasn’t afraid to tell you, whether you asked or not. I cannot tell you how valuable this was for me as a young scientist.  I was in the “kid” stage and although I knew I wanted to be a scientist, I had no idea how to get there (or where “there” was). Hence I needed his direction.

I needed his statements like:

“Give journal club as a technician.”

“You are not ready to apply to graduate school this year, but you will be next year.” #truth

“Take this graduate class, it will grow hair on your chest.”

Yes, he encouraged me to take classes while I was in his lab. He reasoned that if I could already pass the classes, the admissions committee would have few things to say against me, and that one I joined graduate school, I would already have a few credits so I could get more done in my rotations. He prepared me to do my job and prepared me to leave at the same time. Yes, I was fortunate to be in his lab, but also this is a tale to you the reader to make sure to try an identify the type of mentor you are getting involved with. I learned more than I thought from him, I realize that now and I remain grateful.

One of the classes he suggested that I take was advance molecular biology. This class had my first “I have to study this topic moment” of my scientific life and it fundamentally changed the course of my science career. I’ll share that in my next post. For now, I’m at the Biometals meeting at Duke University.



Wow you made it this far, good for you!!! Want to do something fun? Tweet me @blacksciblog and tell me what you think the topic was or to tell me what that topic was for you.