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 is 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.

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.


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


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.


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!