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Blog post by Sonia Avalos

I came into UC Davis knowing that I was determined and very interested in getting involved in some type of research. It is very hard to want to do something but not know where to start, especially when you’re a person like me who has never been involved in research. My school didn’t teach any chemistry or have cool opportunities to do hands-on, innovative stuff. I sort of found out that I wanted to be involved in research from being an intern at Highland Hospital in Oakland. I would shadow medical professionals around the hospital and see patients, but I was interested in learning more about the deeper science of the conditions that some patients had, like cancer. I always imagined learning more about a type of cancer and how the cells were affected and looking down at cells through a microscope. I am interested in the medical field, so I want to be able to get more hands-on experiences in getting a deeper understanding of science. The reason that I choose to take this class was because in high school my school didn’t have a stem program or any opportunities to work in a lab. Growing up in a community like Oakland where there is limited opportunities for students, I have learned to try anything that interests me because it is available to students like me willing to learn. I am finally in a school that provides many research opportunities and I am more than grateful to learn and try anything that is offered to help me find what interests me the most. I got an email about the First-Year Seminar classes and I knew that I wanted to be involved, but had no idea what to expect. I choose to take the chance and take this class as a good starting point to being involved in research.
A specific day that I remember well was the first time the class was introduced to the gel electrophoresis box; we were told to figure out, in our teams, how to set up the gel box. For a second there was blank faces of confusion and awkwardly touching the gel box trying to figure out how it would work. Thinking about it now makes me laugh. The class has done the gel box procedure now twice. The first time working with the gel box wasn’t easy. Even with having instructions at hand; many students looked around to see how to properly do things, I know because I did it. I did glance over to my partner a couple of times and kinda waited for him to do it first before I tried myself. There was so many water leaks from the gel box due to not being properly set, I think it made made people feel nervous. Doing the gel box for a second time has actually seemed to make everyone in class feel more familiar and confident. The first time doing the gel box, several people took extra time trying so familiarized themselves with the procedure. The second time around everyone felt relaxed, even our interactions with each other were different. We all effectively took our time and still finished early, probably partly because our pipetting skills as a class had improved.
What I am learning about science in general is that mistakes happen. Not everything comes out perfect the first time. Teamwork and collaboration plays a big role in learning and growing. Science has also evolved due to the help of many machines/equipment and is important to use the resources that are around because they can actually turn out to be very useful. I learned that science isn’t just a question that you are trying to answer, but is a project filled with unexpected bumps that you should be able to handle. For example when our class worked with PCRs we thought we were doing it correctly, but it seemed like they weren’t coming out the way they are supposed to. We tried more times and the PCR kept failing and not everything was showing up after running the gel electrophoresis box. I learned that research takes patience and dedication. I learned that through the gel electrophoresis box, but also learning to use the materials myself. I did have times where I struggled with using new equipment that I was not familiar with in class. I also struggled with some of the language that was used in referring to scientific terms because I was never exposed to any of this. With my classmates I began to feel comfortable and confident in using different equipment because we would support each other through any challenges we faced in doing the procedures. I know that a good scientist has to struggle and fail several times to find the solution for what they are looking for.

David Coil

David Coil is a Project Scientist in the lab of Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis. David works at the intersection between research, education, and outreach in the areas of the microbiology of the built environment, microbial ecology, and bacterial genomics. Twitter

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