The constant whirring and buzz of a research lab is jarring at first, but it eventually becomes a comforting white noise. The machines making the noise are, after all, the same machines that provide many of the intriguing results and unique observations in scientific experiments. “These are our centrifuges, this is the spectrophotometer, that's the LORCA, the hemox analyzer sits over there…”. At first, I hardly knew what the words in the names of these seemingly complicated technologies meant. What I did know about those machines though, was that they would be crucial tools that I would require in my research. Unbeknownst to me when I first walked into Dr. Acker’s lab, however, was that the greatest tool in the lab would end up being the other researchers around me.
From the outside, where I once was myself, it can seem like science and research is highly independent with researchers spending hours upon hours conducting replicate experiments to confirm their results. While this definitely does occur, the “behind the scenes life” of anyone involved in research is far from independent. Collaboration happens at every step of the scientific process and teamwork is essential to successful research. Especially as an undergraduate, having the support of experienced researchers and trainees who see me as a colleague is invaluable. This equal status also sometimes means hearing “that won’t work” or “there’s a better approach”. I distinctly remember preparing a brief experimental plan to discuss with a lab mate, but almost immediately after I presented it, we realized that the experiment would not be feasible and the importance of the results did not justify the amount of effort required. Even before using the machines in the lab, I first had to use my lab mate’s experience and guidance as a tool to revise my plan. Challenges like this are experienced daily in scientific research, but the power to spontaneously seek the opinion of a lab member who may have more years in research than you’ve been in school speaks volumes for the importance of colleagues in research success. More so than any machine or manual, my lab mates have been the key factor contributing to my progress as a researcher.
The science that researchers contribute to serves as the foundation for medical treatments, policy changes, and societal advances in general. It affects every member of the public and especially with COVID-19, we’ve seen how widely discussed science can be by lay audiences. The public, unfortunately, only really sees the results of research. What goes on to create those results is often mysterious for the public and can understandably create mistrust in science. Rest assured though, the backbone of research isn’t some mysterious sci-fi piece of equipment; it’s members of the public, just like you. The people themselves are truly the greatest tool in the lab.
Parth Patel is wrapping up his third year as an undergraduate student at the University of Alberta in the BSc Honours Physiology program. He has worked under the supervision of Dr. Jason Acker on a variety of cryobiology and blood product focused research projects since the summer of his first year. Before joining the Acker Lab, however, Parth had a very superficial understanding of what scientific research really is. Having gained more of an understanding by working in the lab, he chose to enter the lay science writing competition to reflect on his experience in research and how every member of the lab that he's interacted with has positively impacted him. Research has been one of the highlights of Parth's undergrad and a large factor behind that has been the amazing people he's had the chance to work with.
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