Today I had an annual review with my professor.  I can’t believe it’s been almost one year since I’ve been working in Boston.  In fact, this spring marks three years of laboratory experience.  I feel like I’ve come a long way from the shy college sophomore trying to navigate her way around the lab without letting on that she is completely clueless.  It’s been a long way from that one night I came home, after spending six hours doing the same experiment, frustrated and convinced that I would never be a scientist.  It’s been a long way from the endless hours spent next to the cryosection machine (aka, fancy ice box), trying to figure out why all my tissue sections kept ripping up.  And It’s been a long time since that day I sat in the BART and cried because I found out I didn’t get the research scholarship I was so damn sure I was going to get.  Yes, these eyes have shed tears for science.

And it’s been two and half years since that fateful night when I stepped out of the shower and announced to my roommate that I was going to pursue research. To which, she asked, “What the heck were you doing in there?”  I’m a bit fuzzy on the details—the heat and steam must have gotten to me—but trust me, it had come to me like a revelation.  (Haha, this sounds like something you would find in Personal Statement essays from rejected graduate school applicants)

Sometimes, I wonder if I love science because it’s the only option that I ever gave myself.  I used to think that the laboratory was the only place where I’d fit in.  The place where I’d find my kind of people: quiet, reserved, with an air of restrained intelligence masked by social awkwardness.  Haha, seriously, I kid.  But truthfully, I did not see myself with the social and leadership skills necessary to be a doctor or a teacher or any job that required me to emote enthusiasm (smiling is really hard, folks). 

But the thing I found surprising about research was that half the job is communication and interaction. While it does entail a lot of solitary bench work, desktop reading, and brain racking, science is about presenting data proudly, discussing ideas without reserve, sharing cool information tidbits from your favorite science journal, geeking out about the super crisp pictures you just took on the fluorescent microscope, and swapping tips and customized protocols with each other.  By far, the most valuable thing I’ve learned this year is how to be excited about science:

To experiment without expectation: cultivating genuine curiosity rather than empty ambitions that want to publish something for the sake of publishing.

To be surprised with unexpected results and not dreadful of unforeseen twists.

To see all mysteries as an opportunity for investigation and not a discouragement from action.

To seek challenges and innovation instead of playing it safe. 

I always thought I would end up being an immunologist.  An infectious disease specialist.  The kind that hunts down exotic and dangerous pathogens and studies them in a Biosafety Level Four lab while wearing a space suit.  I had strange daydreams about catching a fatal disease by accidentally pricking myself through my heavily gloved hand with a contaminated needle.  I’d have to race against time to find a cure to save myself.  Of course, I do.  And then I bask in the glow of scientific renown.  Ironically, I took both Epidemiology and Bacterial Pathogenesis classes in college and found them both utterly disappointing. 

Now that I’m all grown up, I’ve realized that interesting science happens in all disciplines. 

But even though I have a Bachelor’s and I talk like a veteran, I still feel like I’m trying to grope my way around the lab.  I suspect I’ll probably feel the same for the rest of my career.  But I guess that’s exactly what science is, most of the time.  Sometimes experiments don’t work, so you tweak something, but it still doesn’t work.  Change another variable. No luck.  The next day, you try again while playing rock music and something miraculously clicks.  Therefore, for the rest of your life, you will do your cloning and transformation reactions to the sound of The Cure.

Anyways, I’ve spent too much time reflecting.  “I’ve got big science to do.”

Last week I tried to make a strawberry tart, but it turned out to be a failure.  The cream simply wouldn’t thicken, either because I didn’t add enough cornstarch or I didn’t heat it enough.  Regardless, I still decorated it with strawberries and kept it for myself to eat instead of taking it to work.  Unfortunately, pastry cream is not as delicious as I thought it’d be.  Despite the dud tart, I decided to use the leftover strawberries to make scones.  Although I had some minor difficulties with overly sticky dough (the butter I used was too soft!), the scones came out soft and fragrant.  I ate two straight out of the oven while it was still warm and took the rest to my neighbors.  Hopefully, they enjoyed it as much as I did.