Research was not something I had seriously considered before. Like so many others, I grew up with the single goal of getting into medical school. It was not until I was at university that I learned about the true nature of research. I recall the first time my professor asked me to consider bench research and my immediate “no thank you” in response; I had the impression that research was mundane and that the lab was a lonely, uninspiring place. After much convincing, I volunteered for a summer research position that changed the trajectory of my career.
During my summer program, I was introduced to the microscopic world that soon consumed my days and thoughts. I was paired with a recently-appointed professor and it was my first time working in a lab setting, so naturally I was nervous but willing to learn. I was confident in lectures and working from a textbook, but suddenly I found myself in a new and challenging environment, that required a distinct set of skills. Very few techniques were familiar to me and I had never worked with bacteria.
I was tasked with developing an assay to study the interactions between Staphylococcus aureus and human oropharyngeal keratinocytes. Initially, this seemed like such a straightforward task: surely, I just need to grow bacteria, grow keratinocytes and put them together, right? It was only when it came to the design of the experiments that the challenges, but also the art and beauty of bench research revealed themselves to me. What growth phase should the bacteria be at? How confluent should the keratinocytes be? Which strain of S. aureus is appropriate? How long should the interaction proceed for? There was no textbook answer for these complicated questions. Instead, there was a collection of scientific papers that were often close, but never told me exactly what I had to do! Every decision could lead to a different outcome and every experimental control could make the outcome more believable that I was on the right path. I learned the joy and satisfaction of becoming completely immersed in my small research question and how I had come to appreciate it more and more with every unexpected result.
The summer went by quickly and there was more to do. Dr. O’Seaghdha invited me to continue in the lab as a research student. I was excited to continue my work on this project throughout the Fall semester and completed it as my senior thesis independent study.
At the end of my Fall semester I was able to land a job at a biomedical research center applying many of the skills I learned in Dr. O’Seaghdha’s lab. I gained practical skills in microbiology and I was inspired to pursue research beyond my university degree. Without this experience, I would not have had the opportunity to pursue such a challenging but rewarding career. I would advise other students to give research a try because you never know where it leads. Today, one of my goals is to develop and advance STEM education in my home country, Jamaica, so that other students gain access to these experiences and opportunities.
You can find out more about SfAM's Summer Student Placement Scholarship here.
SfAM Student Placement Scholar 2018