October 14th, 2022

By Isha Krishna

When I first arrived at the Montclare Lab, I wasn’t sure what to expect of myself. I had never been in a lab outside of my NYU Tandon undergraduate courses, and I was unsure of my ability to contribute to projects.

After the first week or so of hand-holding and constant supervision from my mentor, I started getting the hang of performing experiments independently. I had written up my own protocols, drawn my own workflows, and I was starting to feel like I knew what I was doing. Then, my partner and I were assigned our first task without the help of our mentor: to make and run one gel while he was out of town.

Confident in our abilities, we came in that day ready to complete our task and leave leisurely after lunch. Not so fast, my friend. Here’s how the day went:

● Upon our arrival, I realized that every other group in the lab was running 1+ gels that day, and the majority of gel supplies were being used.
● Because of our lack of tools, our gel manufacturing was postponed for over an hour.
● Once the gel was made, all the voltage machines except the ancient one were being used.
● The ancient machine runs slower than normal, so it took twice as long to run the gel.
● The stained gel was too dark, so 6+ rounds of destaining were performed.
● While destaining, the gel broke in two places.

And to put the cherry on top, we accidently dropped the gel on the floor.

As I watched my partner fail to pick up the fallen gel (while succeeding at breaking it into more pieces), it dawned on me that our incompetence meant something terrible; we would have to come in to redo the gel on our day off.

Walking home that evening, I reflected on my day. In my quest to make and run this single gel, almost everything that could have gone wrong did. I fell into a pit of self-pity and wallowed there for a while, rolling around in imagined thoughts of my failures and lack of a future. After an unspecified time in the depths of despair, I eventually went to sleep.

The next morning, I woke up, came into the lab an hour early, and began working. It took my partner and I about 3 hours total to make and run the new gel. This time, each step of the procedure was simple and was executed without any drama. Around lunch, we showed the gel to our mentor, who agreed that the gel looked good. We were done for the day.

Running gels is not the hardest procedure that we do in the lab. In fact, it may be one of the easiest protocols because we do it so often. But it is precisely for that reason that I felt scared while doing it for the first time. Without experience, doing things on your own for the first time can be terrifying, and making so many mistakes in one day made me think that I did not fit into science. Nevertheless, I came back to try again the following day, and I was perfectly competent enough to run the gel.

There was no reason for me to spiral because there was still time for me to fix my mistakes and move on. The Montclare Lab is giving me a space to experience lab skills, so that I can have more confidence in my abilities as a research assistant. The only thing I need to do is to keep trying to learn more, every day.