Accepting change -Research Reflections 2

Hi everyone! This is my reflection on weeks 3 and 4 of my project. They were challenging but I learned a lot, so here are a few thoughts I'd like to share. I chose to focus on more personal rather than academic takeaways from my project as they are more relatable. Feel free to share your thoughts!

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The third week of the project

This week was the busiest week I have had so far. I was juggling my newfound independence in the lab with learning how to be a good leader through our virtual training with the Laidlaw team at UoY. I started the week with some major flow cytometry experiments where I prepared cell suspensions from wild-type (unmutated) mouse tissue samples from the liver, bone marrow and spleen to stain them for flow cytometry analysis. I observed and assisted slightly on a similar experiment for my supervisor and this week I was doing it somewhat independently which was mind-blowing to me.

It was an intense week at the lab but I learned so many new lab skills and concepts that observation did not necessarily highlight for me. I learned the preparation that goes into using a 96 well plat and the importance of labelling accurately and being organised with regards to every antibody marker and fluorochrome you use. I learned why we use each of the specific markers and I am beginning to understand how to design a panel that is tailored towards the cells I am investigating. I believe the biggest takeaway for me however was learning to not prioritise speed over the quality of my work. Naturally, I wanted to appear quick and skilful while being observed but that could sometimes end up compromising on the quality and accuracy of the section of the experiment. Learning in a much more hands-on manner than what I was accustomed to, taught me how to be more patient and ask questions no matter how repetitive I sound.  Expressing my curiosity continues to prove to be of utmost importance because asking questions is the only way I will be able to make the most of this experience.

I spent a lot of time this week doing parts of experiments on my own; changing media on macrophage culture cells and passaging RAW264.1 cells every 2 days became part of my routine work in the lab.  I can assure you I was fairly scared something was gonna come crashing down because of me!  However, focusing on the task at hand and not giving in to the nervousness proved to be the best ways for me to perform well and no disasters came about.

The second half of the week entailed a lot of back and forth between the research and leadership components of this program. It was quite challenging to strike a balance between both aspects simultaneously. Although I had to compromise on time in the lab this week, I found it extremely beneficial to witness the leadership skills I was acquiring from training translate into my day to day attitude within the lab. Balancing focus on the individual, team and task was prominent this week as I began working with other students under my supervisor. Each of us having different goals we hope to achieve through working together and learning the same set of skills was quite an interesting dynamic to manoeuvre. I learned how to be mindful of those 3 components and that being open-minded is crucial to effective collaboration

The fourth week of the project

This week took a very unexpected turn. We had initially planned another of my main experiments for flow cytometry analysis so that using TET2 knockout mice (mutated) would provide me with a solid set of data to start analysing using the program: FlowJo, which I was also meant to begin training on this week. A lot of this week was meant to be finalising and refining most of my lab work so that I would focus on data analysis and work from there in my final 2 weeks. The COVID-19 pandemic made sure I learned that plans are fragile but I guess it's hard to let go of making plans and the comfort they bring. My supervisor had to take 9 days off as she was advised to isolate but thankfully she was not ill. Her isolation was not something we anticipated, and we had to adapt and completely dismiss our initial plan. We came up with an alternative plan (ironic isn't it). This plan involved me working with another lab member on PCR techniques for an experiment that she was conducting. I learned a lot about the different types of PCR  and their uses. I learned how to prepare the agarose gel for electrophoresis and use positive and negative control samples to ensure I have reliable data.

I continued to be responsible for passaging RAW264.1 cells and changing the culture media to practice my lab skills. Additionally, I worked with my supervisor over Zoom to learn how to use the FlowJo software and analyze my data for wild-type mice samples from week 3. I found this particularly challenging. The software was unlike anything I have ever used before, I found it difficult to use without having my supervisor nearby to clarify doubts as they arose. Having to rely on one or two Zoom meetings to discuss the data analysis and work through this software was far from ideal. I'm still working on getting better at using the software. Although this task is far from complete, I know challenges no matter how frustrating will teach me valuable lessons and build my resilience in a way that I would not acquire otherwise.

Although I managed to learn quite a bit, this week was proving to be the most difficult week for me during the project. Accepting the fact that I was losing so much time and that there was nothing I could do about it was difficult to do. However, by maintaining a positive mindset and trying my best to accept these changes as they came, I was able to come out accepting of the change and trusting the process.  It was a hurdle that reminded me of the fact that being a 'scientist' will always require flexibility and openness to change no matter the circumstances. I have learned to adapt through focusing on the positives and reminding myself of my blessings; I am so privileged to have the chance to be in the lab in the first place. Along with the support of my incredible supervisor accepting change as it comes has helped me not lose motivation and I am immensely grateful to have experienced this integral aspect of research.

Aya Hammad

Medical student, University of York

I'm a medical student at the University of York interested in immunology, public health, as well as education and leadership within health care! My research project is about understanding how mutations in immune cells impact a certain group of rare bone marrow disorders (MPNs) that can lead to cancer.