The Bumfuzzling World of Life In A Lab Coat

I used to think that research would be like baking a dessert. After procuring all of the necessary ingredients and instruments, a person could simply follow the recipe’s directions in order to prepare some form of tasty goodness. Easy as cake, right?

Wrong. In actuality, research is like a 5,000 piece puzzle that requires you to shape and decorate each individual puzzle piece before assembling the pieces into an exact replicate of Van Gogh’s Starry Night masterpiece. There’s one piece of good news however: you can sift through and use the surplus of background information and methods that were written by strangers who once attempted this challenge.

You don’t know where to start? You don’t know how to get to where you’re going? You don’t know the first thing about puzzles except that the goal is to have a completed image? That’s okay! Part of the puzzle piece production purpose is to figure everything out as each day comes. Your plans are going to change daily as you overcome and encounter unforeseeable obstacles. On some days, you’re going to feel like the Puzzle Master Supreme who rules over all such puzzles with a wise and powerful hand. On other days, you will feel like the court jester who spends all of his time running around and looking like a fool.

If there’s one thing that research has taught me so far (other than the ever important skill of counting cells with a hemocytometer), it’s perseverance. To be honest, I’m a quitter. Typically when the going gets tough, the tough get going… and I go the other way. Research is different. In the past two weeks, I have concocted several different escape plans, but I have to finish this, whether as a success or a giant flop of failure. I have had to summon the courage to face my mistakes and failures head on as well as the fortitude to find the causes and solutions to the problems. I am utterly thankful for and dependent on the encouragement and support that comes from my family, my friends, and my professors. Perseverance is a painful lesson to learn, but is definitely a life lesson that I am sure to utilize for the rest of my life.

P.S. “Bumfuzzling” is a pretty neat word, eh? I think so too.

Intro To Summer Research

Some people use the summer to relax at the beach or on a cruise; others find a summer job at a camp or in their hometown in order to make some extra cash.

I returned to Erskine, as one of three students who are working underneath the Biology Department to study the toxic effects of titania nanoparticles on freshwater organisms. The other two students, Zach Bowens and Reid Windmiller, are studying the common water flea Daphnia magna, the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, and a microscopic animal called Philodina acuticornis. My research is on four different algae species that are frequently found in North American freshwater environments. This past week, I am simply culturing the algae and finding each species’s exponential growth period during which I can conduct the actual test that includes titanium dioxide.

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The algae is cultured in Erlenmeyer flasks kept under a light table.

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Using a spectrophotometer to track algal growth.

This kind of work may seem mundane, but in reality, I find myself enjoying almost every aspect of my time here. I was afraid that being the only girl in the student group would be depressing and lonely, but Reid and Zach, as well as other students who are at Erskine for Chemistry research, always keep me in high spirits, both inside and outside of the lab. We have so much fun together, whether we’re grocery shopping together, ambitiously singing the Australian national anthem in Australian accents, or cashing in free sandwiches at Chickfila.

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From left: Reid Windmiller, Rebecca Reiter (me), and Zach Bowens

I have only been back at Erskine for a week, and so many things have exceeded my expectations. As the summer progresses, I will be sure to keep you updated!

Fighting the Fear of Failure

“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

I’m pretty confident that Thomas Wayne’s encouragement to his son, the future hero of Gotham City, will be one of the major themes of this semester for me. It’s barely a week into the spring semester of my sophomore year, and I already feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Earlier, I was telling some friends that it feels as though the neat, orderly boxes inside my brain have been flipped over, and all of their contents are scattered around the floor of my brain.

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Feeling like this…

Today has been especially difficult. Every hour was slam-packed with classes, meetings, preparatory work, studying, teaching SI, and other responsibilities. I wasn’t able to spend more than 10 minutes in my room until right now, at 10:00 pm. Now, I am not trying to complain or be a self-proclaimed martyr of the difficulties of being a hardworking, involved student. I honestly love everything that I am a part of, and would be super unhappy to cut anything out of the semester. Dropping my Literature For Young Adults class was one of the hardest decisions that I have had to make so far.

My whole point is that I am finally starting to realize that it’s okay to not be a perfect student. I don’t have to have it all together. There are 600-something other students here who are all scrambling to get their lives together too, and that is nothing to feel ashamed or worthless about. Alternatively, I think that when people stop trying to hide their flaws, and instead depend on others for growth, a great potential for improvement is available. Mistakes happen. Success is never guaranteed. It is okay to not be perfect. Rather than being afraid of failing, I should be more afraid of being beaten by failure than of the act of failing, because failure is an inevitable part of life.

So when you fall, Rebecca, why do you fall?

So I can learn to pick myself up.

Kicking Back with the Kooistras

This past weekend, I was reminded of a great Erskine quality that I so often overlook. On the day that I moved back into my dorm for J-term, I spent the evening with President Kooistra and his wife, sipping refreshingly delicious white tea and eating homemade apple pie. Together, we marveled at God’s mysterious work in our lives, confessed that our tendency to drive over the speed limit sometimes, and even bonded over our befuddlement with directions. In short, I had quite a delightful time with the Kooistras.

The thing that struck me the most about the evening is that Dr. Kooistra and his wife find joy in simply spending time with me. They could have preferred to have a solitary and relaxed final evening of Christmas break, but instead, they genuinely wanted to spend their evening with me. To the rest of the world, I am just an average sophomore Joe who is awkwardly figuring out life one day at a time. Yet, at Erskine, the president of the college sees me as someone worth investing his time and energy in, and this is additionally true for every student at Erskine. How absolutely, delightfully humbling and encouraging.

Obviously, I am not asserting that Erskine is the only college whose president opens his doors and welcomes students in. I am positive that many presidents are warm and inviting. I simply want to share another chapter from my story here at Erskine, because this school truly is a wonderful, blessed place.

The Misadventures of a Scatter-Brained Sophomore

This story is a shout out to all the students who feel like they’re scrambling to just survive the endless world of tests, papers, and studying. I’m right there with you. This is only one of many accounts that shows how untogether my life truly is. Hopefully you’ll find a degree of encouragement and humor somewhere in this event.

My story begins at a table in Snappers, Erskine’s greasy, delicious substitute to the cafeteria. After a long day of classes and labs, my friends and I treated ourselves to some much-needed comfort fries. That was the last time I remembered seeing my wallet.

Flash forward to my room after dinner. My roommate and I had some time and energy to burn, so naturally we had a Disney dance party, where we discovered our ability to perform ballroom dancing in tight quarters. I was so excited about dancing that I threw my backpack and jacket onto my bed and leapt into action. After the dance party, we settled down into our normal studying routine.

The next morning, while I was rifling through my backpack for my student ID, I realized that my wallet was missing. Normally I would pack everything into my backpack the night before class, but I had stayed up so late studying that I went straight to bed without bothering to pack up my things. Obviously losing one’s wallet and all of its contents is kind of a big deal, so I started searching around campus as soon as I could. I tried to recall the last place I remembered holding my wallet, but of course that memory was blocked. Go figure.

My wallet hadn’t been put in any of Erskine’s lost and found boxes, so by this point, I was pretty freaked out. As I ran (and I mean literally ran) around the Erskine campus, hoping the wallet was somewhere in the grass, a horrifying thought entered my mind. What if I accidentally threw my wallet in the trash at Snappers while I was throwing away everybody’s trash? I immediately returned to Snappers and asked if I could dig through the trash, despite still being dressed up from having lunch with a prospective student. However, Sue, my friend who works at Snappers, wasn’t about to let me root around in the trash, and she voluntarily dug through three bags of trash before reporting that there was no way my wallet could be there.

With steadily increasing anxiety, I walked across campus to my room (by this time, I was out of breath from running) and proceeded to tear apart every inch of the room in search of the wallet. I tore everything off of my bed, ripped out all of the clothes in my dresser and wardrobe, and threw everything out of my desk. The wallet was nowhere to be found. A ray of inspiration hit me as I sat on the floor in despair. I remembered helping Daria carry clothes up from her car last night. Did I take my wallet with me for some odd reason? A new wind hit me and I sprinted out the door and down the hill to her car, but the wallet wasn’t underneath, nearby, or inside her van. As I walked up to my dorm room, I felt more discouraged and stressed than I had felt in a while. Losing a wallet seems like a small problem now, but it did was a tremendous toll on my emotions at the time. It’s extremely frustrating to not be able to find something that is lost. Then, when I walked through the door to my room, I saw it. My wallet had been hanging on a thumbtack on my corkboard this entire time.

This is proof that putting things away in their proper place is dangerous and wrong. Just kidding.

Long story short, my life is definitely not all together. I’m clumsy, forgetful, easily stressed, and my short-term memory is completely worthless. So how do I make it through each day’s problems and mistakes with a smile and the energy to face another day? God opens my eyes to see and give thanks for the everyday blessings and joys that can shine through the blunders. Today, God answered my desperate, freaked out prayers to simply find my wallet. He provided support from amazing friends like Sue, who cheerfully picked through trash in order to help me. That kind of love still overwhelms me. It’s such a huge relief that my weaknesses can be blessings in disguise by causing the strengths and goodness of others to shine out.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10