The Truth About Biomolecular Research – blogUT

One of these vials contains: a concentrated solution of denatured proteins; elemental and polyatomic ions; deoxyribonucleotides; a bit of RNA for good measure; and freshly replicated DNA strands that, when visualized on a polyacrylamide gel, will provide the final evidence confirming the hypothesis of a seventh year PhD student. The other contains water.

Life Science students spend a lot of time worrying: worrying about grades; whether or not to buy the $150 textbook for the ‘suggested’ readings; residence life (in a few cases); relationships (in even fewer cases); and grades. But there is something else we should be banging our heads against the biosafety cabinet about: the nature of biomolecular research.

I may not be saying anything new, but a significant portion of Life Sci students do some kind of lab research. You’ve probably already heard plenty of negative things about the long hours, thankless lab mates, inconclusive results, and distant profs, but I want to share some other aspects of lab research that you may not hear about until it’s too late.

This machine will become your new best friend. Without it, there are no numbers for science to work with!

Biomolecular research consists of mixing one colourless solution with another by pipetting miniscule volumes. Labeling these vials of clear, colorless, odorless liquid results in 80% of your time being spent with permanent markers, so prepare to sniff plenty of fumes.

After properly mixing all your nondescript liquids and labeling them (don’t forget today’s date!), you place these liquids in a complicated half-a-million-dollar machine designed by  some corporate engineers. As far as we’re concerned, the real magic happens inside this machine and it just poops out numbers on a monitor. These numbers are then processed by a grad student’s statistics software and voila! You have results.

There isn’t anything particularly wrong with this situation – it’s just the way it is. Think of it as one more strange and unusual environment we undergrads must persevere. And, for those who do, honour and glory await (or at least your chequing account is $4000 richer thanks to that summer grant)!

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