Thursday, May 17, 2018

URSP Student Damian Cavanagh Learns How to Successfully Design, Troubleshoot, and Report on a Sequence of Experiments

Several experiences over the course of the past two semesters (and summer) have stirred my interest in the project I am working on now. First and foremost, my experiences working in a virology lab over the Summer left me hungry for more wet-lab action. My Summer research project was done in association with the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program, and centered around the study of South-American viruses similar to the now-infamous Zika virus. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the lab, and so was hoping to embark on a second project.

The other main inspiration was a ‘Phage Genomics’ course that was offered last Fall. This course, taught by Professor Anne Scherer, focused on the software aspects of bacteriophage discovery and classification. Much time was spent analyzing and ‘labeling’ bacteriophage genomes using unique sequencing software. Having worked in a ‘dry-lab’ setting on phage discovery, I was now interested in a more hands-on experience. My current project allows me to develop bacterial and bacteriophage cultures under the (loose) supervision of Dr. Scherer and Professor Charles Madden, and provides me with an opportunity to work semi-independently.

The main goal in undertaking this project is to learn how to successfully design, troubleshoot, and report on a sequence of experiments. In the long term, I plan to pursue a graduate degree in the life sciences, and so will need to develop the skills necessary to manage my own projects with minimal supervision.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about my experience thus far is the amount of time spent on the logistics of ordering and maintaining stocks of bacteria, phages, reagents and equipment. I was previously unaware of how much effort goes into coordinating the exchange of materials, especially living organisms.