My experience working at a lab at USC last summer

This summer, I was granted the wonderful opportunity to experience the life of graduate students and researchers first hand. I first found out about the internship opportunity through MESA, and I put much time and effort into completing my application just before finals.

About 2 weeks before finals loomed above our heads, I received an email from one of the professors at the lab. When I read the email stating that I had been accepted into the extremely selective program, I leaped in excitement. It was a joyous moment of triumph after putting so much dedication into my written responses and ensuring my application could stand out among the other applicants.

Seconds later, I was overwhelmed with a wave of anxiety. I knew nothing about the study of Biophotonics. How could I possibly keep up with well-educated individuals? Well, of course, the only way I would find out and test my preparation was by attending. Surely enough, I had some knowledge about photons and quantum physics. I trusted that my Biomedical Science and Chemistry teacher taught me enough to be able to understand the basics of laboratory science. I assured myself about my preparation for the upcoming weeks and discussed with all my teachers about taking finals a week earlier than my peers.

I was amazed by how caring and supportive my teachers were by accommodating to my schedule — some were even enthusiastic about their student earning a paid internship. Nevertheless, I was excited to gain a new experience and represent my school. However, I was fearful of minor things, such as getting lost on the first day.

On the first day, I was incredibly anxious. My heart pounded as I stepped foot onto Irani Hall and was greeted by a gust of wind. Would I get along with the other student? Would my competitive nature get the best of me and keep me from building new relationships? Not only did I worry about impressing my research partner, but also avoiding conflict with the other students from other laboratories.

Fortunately, my partner was very kind and understanding. She often gave me insight on programs and scholarships to apply for, given she was a grade level above me. The researchers that guided us were also very kind and patient, albeit, very awkward and reserved. The PI (Principal Investigator) was incredibly understanding and flexible.

(Photo courtesy of USC Bridge Institute Instagram)

Every day during the summer, I woke up at 8 a.m. to go to the lab and returned home at 6 p.m., as rush hour traffic was a formidable force after 5 p.m. Admittedly, the experience was exhausting, but I strongly believe it was worth my summer. Despite the initial struggle of commuting and adapting to a laboratory environment, I was able to expand my knowledge of Microbiology. 

(Photo courtesy of USC Bridge Institute Instagram)

It was a routine to clock in at 9:30 a.m., extract the protein in order to place them on the membrane, calculate protein concentrations, run gels through gel-electrophoresis, and image the blots to find traces of Actin or Emerin. Although my partner and I never received the results we were expecting for our research, we gained insight about Microbiology and Muscular Dystrophy. I never felt pressured to get results during our investigations, although we often had failures. Our research was a process trail and error; whether our protein samples were too high, not enough anti-body was placed onto the membrane, or no traces of Actin showed up on the CDD image.  

Though, to be truthful, I did feel the weight of working around professionals and not being able to achieve desirable results to be personally disheartening at times. I was very stressed about summer assignments, AP courses, preparing for upcoming exams, and ensuring that I collected enough data at the end of the internship to compile for a presentation.

All in all, I believe that I was fortunate to have been selected into the program given the rigorous material and the difficulty of getting accepted. Setting aside how arrogant the graduate students were at times, I was inspired to become a researcher and experience being inside a laboratory once again. I plan on applying to more internships in the future and expanding my knowledge on new topics. 

I strongly believe that students should take advantage of opportunities such as these. Not only does it look great on college applications, but it allows students to gain experience working in the STEM field. Applications for the Bridge Undergraduate Institute program open 2019 and the website can be found here. The program expands to a wide range of research projects and laboratories, and I highly recommend taking advantage of this opportunity.

As for myself, I feel motivated to seek a research project for my career of interest, Aerospace engineering.

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