Category Archives: Science

Summer Musings

Every time I see someone has posted a new blog entry about their exciting summer adventures, my mind goes through the same general thought process:  1) huh, wonder what they’re up to, 2) read blog entry, 3) sounds like they’re having fun, I wish I was doing something that exciting, 4) I should write about my summer too!  And then I mean to and then I get distracted.  Blame everybody and their cool adventures.

Luckily, my days aren’t overly exciting, or my time would be taken up reading about other people’s cool adventures, and then going and having cool adventures of my own.  No such luck here, as I’m still in West Lafayette, and thus far I’ve spent the vast majority of my time in two places.  The majority of my intended awake time is spent in a research lab, which is less than thrilling as it’s the lab I’ve been going to most days for almost a year.  That said, lab work in the summer seems completely different than it does during the year, simply because everybody is there all day.  That seems sort of backwards (shouldn’t things get more boring the longer you do them?) but because everybody is there, it’s much more collaborative, no more hurrying in, doing your task, and leaving without saying a word to anybody.  Now it’s do your work, talk about it, get some insight on how to do it better, as well as some perspective.  While knowing that there’s lots of people working on offshoots of the same project can make it seem less “important” (my work isn’t unique!  I’m not the sole studier of this phenomena!  IF I DISCOVER SOMETHING IT PROBABLY WON’T BE NAMED SOLELY AFTER ME!)  it also makes it seem more concrete and more potentially “impactful” (clearly this isn’t a random project given to me by somebody who couldn’t think of anything else, as several people’s work would be affected by the outcome).

Despite all the learning and collaboration, there are boring moments (you want me to separate HOW MANY seeds onto plates without breathing on them?!) But overall it seems worth it when you consider the precious commodities available to me in lab that aren’t where I spend most of the rest of my time.  Case in point:  internet and air conditioning.

Ok, technically, the apartment where I’m living has both.  Sort of, I think.  It definitely technically has air conditioning.  As in, one unit in the front room that does very little to cool my room all the way in the back, even with the door wide open (which is a very strange way to sleep, in case you were wondering).  The internet is where things get fuzzy.  Technically we don’t have any.  But thanks to some generous girls on the first floor, we get it mostly, although it’s slow and sort of unreliable.  It works better than the air conditioning, though, so I guess technically we have both, although it doesn’t always feel like that.

But how does college in the summer compare to college during the year?  It doesn’t really.  There aren’t nearly as many people here, the roads are all torn up with construction, and I haven’t found anywhere open 24 hours (although I haven’t looked really extensively).  That doesn’t mean it’s not a good way to spend the summer, it’s just more laid back than the school year, for better and for worse.

I guess since I don’t actually have anything substantial to say I should stop rambling at you.  At least until there’s some sort of development worth discussing, which hasn’t happened yet, assuming you don’t want to hear about Arabidopsis and it’s variations.

What are your summer plans, and what do you like/dislike about what you’re doing or where you’re living?


Why do we science?

As a student in the life sciences, I struggle often with determining the point of what I’m doing.  I had to ask my research advisor at least three times what the point of my research project was, and I’m still not totally sure I understand.  I’m often told that “knowledge for the sake of knowledge, discovery for the sake of discovery” should really be the point, but I really have a lot of difficulty getting behind that.  Sure, what I’m doing in the lab is interesting, but will it really help people?  I’m not sure.  Is that a sign I maybe shouldn’t be a scientist?  Potentially.

That’s why it was so encouraging to find this earlier this evening.  Unfortunately, the sound on my computer is on the fritz at the moment, so I haven’t actually been able to watch the video yet.  But even the section that was transcribed was incredibly interesting and insightful, and I can’t wait until it gets fixed so that I can watch it and gain a more in-depth understanding about what Neil deGrasse Tyson is trying to get across.

I find it refreshing to look at my research project in a new way.  I don’t necessarily have to be doing something that directly relates to solving cancer in order to improve the world.  I can see the practical applications to what I’m doing, but only in  a very abstract way.  It’s hard not to compare yourself to your friend working in a cancer lab when you’re counting seeds on a plant.

Science is as science does, and it all helps humanity in some way, even if the final application isn’t there yet.  It’s important to keep that in mind, and help to put everything in perspective.

I’ll be back with more thoughts on the entire video as soon as I can get my sound up and running.