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If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you might remember that I am currently working as a research assistant in a neuroscience lab at Oregon Health & Science University. I’ve been working here for around six weeks, and intend to stay for about five more weeks before returning home to the Bay Area. Since I’m about halfway through my short time up in Portland, I thought I would give you guys a little overview of what an average day looks like for me! I usually wake up a few minutes before my 7AM alarm, and start the day with some breakfast and iced coffee. I have about half an hour to prep a lunch and get ready for work. Before I leave at around 8AM, I check that I have everything I need – mask, keys, laptop and charger for battery-draining Webex meetings, ID card (being locked out of the lab once means that I will never forget this again!), and AirPods to get me through long periods of solo labwork. I hop in the car, turn the heaters on full blast (I blame my NorCal upbringing for my inability to handle any temperature below 65℉), choose a Spotify playlist to match my mood, and drive along windy back roads for about twenty minutes to reach OHSU’s Marquam Hill campus. While waiting for the aerial tram that transports employees between OHSU’s two main campuses, I admire the panoramic view of the city and the mountains that surround it. I board the tram and, after a five minute ride, arrive at OHSU’s South Waterfront campus.
I spend the morning attending a virtual journal club at 9AM, doing MATLAB image analysis work for a tumor visualization project, and creating a Powerpoint presentation of graphs I’ve generated from my image analysis. After a quick lunch break, I prep materials for my antibody staining experiment. I spend the afternoon pipetting and suctioning various solutions off of my 36 glass slides, each of which holds a tiny sliver of mouse nerve tissue. At 4PM, I join a colleague and head over to a neighboring building to use their confocal microscope. Once my slides are imaged on the microscope, I return to my lab to flash-freeze some new mouse nerve samples in liquid nitrogen, drop them off in the -80℃ freezer, and clock out for the day around 6PM. After getting back from work, I head to the climbing gym with my aunt, uncle, and twin cousins (who have all generously allowed me to stay with them while I am up in Portland this fall). Once we get back from the gym, we eat dinner together and then I head to bed early, ready for another full day when I wake up!
I can now say that I’ve finished my first week of work as a research assistant in the Gibbs Lab at Oregon Health & Science University! The lab is focused on the study and synthesis of fluorescent dyes (known as fluorophores) for a variety of uses, ranging from nerve-sparing surgery to visualization of tumors. So my research is very interdisciplinary – I’d describe it as a mix between biomedical engineering and neuroscience and chemistry.
Although this is my first real job—not a neighborhood tutoring gig, not a weekend cat-sitting post, not a summer internship or a part-time lacrosse coach position—it’s far from my first time in this lab. Last summer (or “the summer before COVID,” as I like to think of it), I spent my eight-week internship trying to answer the same scientific question I’m now working to solve as an official employee: what is the protein target of nerve-specific fluorophore Oxazine 4?
Aside from the masks and the fact that our weekly lab meetings are now held virtually, not much has changed in the year or so that I’ve been away. The end goal is still the same: that my findings will pave the way toward gaining FDA approval and making Oxazine 4 available for use in image-guided nerve-sparing surgery—a procedure that would help surgeons avoid severing or otherwise damaging their patients’ nerves in the operating room. Before my internship last summer, I had never heard of, or even thought about, the possibility of intraoperative nerve damage. So I was shocked to learn that it’s a problem that causes pain and/or loss of function for roughly 600,000 patients every year. That simple statistic is what motivated me throughout all of last summer and continues to get me through long days in the lab!
It’s exciting to be back in the Gibbs Lab, to reunite with my former mentors and return to this familiar project! More updates to come, so stay tuned!