Research Lab Sprint 1

This is definitely a trip down memory lane. 

So do you remember from my last post how I stumbled upon a live-action One Liter of Tears? Not long after I was notified that I got into a high school on the Upper East Side. My parents were freaking out — I had to travel to school on a train with two transfers 45 min each way. Spoiler Alert: I made it 🙂

I entered high school with two friends of mine from middle school. We all found out in the springtime of our freshman year that there was a program that was taking in students interested in STEM…specifically Research. Thinking back to my passion for becoming a researcher in Japan, I figured I’d enter the seminar to hear what it’s all about. 

Here is the basic gist: There are three years to the program. Your “training” year where you learn how to read scientific papers, build up your vocab in a field you are interested in, and you try, like hell, to get a Principal Investigator (the person who runs a lab) to say: “Yes. Please come to our lab to do research on topic XYZ.” From a cohort of 30, it dropped to 7 next year. Only about  7 people find opportunities to work in labs. And then you compete in competitions, build up your credibility with your project, — give a variety of presentations — and that’s it! You graduate.  The program was called the “Advance Science Research Program” or ASR for short. 

I remember as a year 1 (out of 3 years) I read through so many articles and journals trying to figure out what I wanted to study. I loved neuroscience and found myself attracted to different research issues involving epilepsy. I wanted so badly to study epilepsy so there I went… writing out emails to professors asking them to take me in their lab as free work. All I wanted to do was to learn. 

No one responded. 

It was really disappointing. I must have sent over 300 emails that year. But I kept at it. All year, during my first year, I kept applying, kept emailing, kept reading, and kept hoping something was going to come out of all this time and dedication. By the end of year 1, I must have read 300 scientific papers. I found myself asking: What am I going to do with all this information? 

The year went by… and nothing. The entire cohort of 30 panicked. Then… magically in May, a summer program at an organic chemistry lab at City College of NY was announced..I applied… and got in. And then in June, in the same CCNY building, a physics program was announced… and literally, a week later a professor at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital emailed me back saying that it would be great to have me around to shadow and learn. 

Boom! The moment I had been waiting for. 

It took a little while — I perfectly juggled the three positions during the summer, and continued with two of them during my Junior year. Needless to say, I was exhausted the entire time. Haha. 

Key takeaways to apply for your own journey: 

  1. Keep going. This is just a taste of what it’s going to be like when you apply for jobs. Even if they don’t have a position for you right there and then, you will be on their radar. Labs are always underfunded, and understaffed. Help is always appreciated in any way or form. 
  1. So did I ever get to work with Epileptic genes or patients? No. I worked in Spectroscopy (the study of light), Inorganic chemistry, and something to do with mouse tails. I didn’t get to use that knowledge that I accumulated during the past nine months, but I did gain the ability to:
    1. Read scientific literature like a pro
    2. Write my own proposals and think through my own grants
    3. Get a schedule and work routine that worked for me
    4. Met incredible research scientists
    5. Compete with my work for scholarship money 
    6. Learn how to communicate the jargon of a specific field in a simple way so my friends and family could participate in my journey and success. 

Even though I wasn’t working on exactly what I wanted, the skills I gained were immensely still valuable. To be on the same caliber as students who have been studying the material professionally for years felt really good — and was a testament to all the work I had put in. 

A plus in all of this is that I met my boyfriend, my fiancĂ© that summer. 

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