My Internship in Dr. Xia’s Lab

Name: Madison Cahill

Type of Project: Internship

     For my step project, I interned at Ohio State’s Plant Pathology Department in the lab of Dr. Ye Xia. In the lab, I assisted in preparing and sterilizing equipment, recording measurements, and assisting in the extraction of DNA. I also helped out in the greenhouse with activities such as sterilizing pots and trays, collecting tomatoes, taking measurements of the tomato and Arabidopsis plants, and transplanting Arabidopsis plants.

     One of the assumptions that I had of lab work was that you would be in the lab all day every day. In my mind there was nothing about lab work that happened outside of the lab. I also thought lab work would be monotonous and that there would be no opportunities to talk with people. Through my internship, I learned that lab work is not monotonous because new tasks develop as the research develops. These tasks often took me out of the lab and into the greenhouse. I also learned that in a laboratory setting, there are plenty of opportunities to talk to people in the lab I was working with as well as other laboratories. Those in the Plant Pathology Department promoted collaborating and helping others through these conversations.

     The main activities that took me off guard, and out of the lab, were working with the model organisms. I never thought about collecting samples, inoculating, and taking care of the plants. Looking back, it seems so naïve that I thought lab work only pertained to performing experiments and had nothing to do with taking care of the model organisms. Zhenzhen, a graduate student in Dr. Xia’s lab, taught me that maintaining the health of model organisms is a critical aspect of lab work because a lack of health can detrimentally affect the study. I also found that I had enormous pride in seeing the plants I had transplanted flourish in the growth chamber.

      In addition, the greenhouse work also showed me one of the ways that lab work is varied. One day I would collect tomatoes and the next day I would go to the lab and collect the seeds from the tomatoes. Going in between the greenhouse and the lab was only one way that my tasks in the lab varied. I did multiple tasks within each space, which were often influenced by the research development and the stage in life that the plants were in.

     Lastly, the interactions I had with members of Ohio State’s Plant Pathology Department showed me that there was plenty of social interactions to be had in a lab environment. During lunch breaks people would often talk about their work and conferences that they had or were preparing to go to. By listening to these discussions, I was able to better understand the scope of research and form connections with other members of the department.

     Another wonderful opportunity I had to learn about the research happening throughout the department was a department tour. During this tour, I was able to hear about the kinds of exciting research that each of the laboratories were doing. I saw how Ohio State researchers were working on new and pressing problems, such as the disease affecting beech trees in Ohio, and that they solved these problems. The reason I loved this experience was that I was introduced to a lot of people and felt more a part of the plant pathology community after this tour. The people of the department also answered questions I had about their research with enthusiasm and made sure that I knew they would love to talk more about their research with me at any time. Their passion was contagious and I was able to see how research concepts I have previously learned were applied to their real life situations.

     Since laboratory work is one of the future jobs I was considering, it was great to enter that environment. I now have been introduced, and have a feel for the expectations and social interactions that happen within the lab. The internship with Plant Pathology has helped me realize that many of the preconceived notions that I had about working in a lab are wrong. I also loved working with people who are passionate about their work and willing to help you grow and learn more about their field. The support and community were the greatest aspects of my internship.

     That being said, my internship has also showed me that working in a lab is not something I would wish to pursue as a lifelong career.  While your day to day activates change, I feel like I would like a greater variability in my career. I would also like to work more with, and for, people. While there are many opportunities to socialize, there is also a lot of time where you are on your own completing a task. I did not realize how much I liked working with people until I spent hours on my own performing a task. In addition, being in a lab and working for months to years on a project, while it can benefit many people, feels too removed for me. I would like to be able to aid and benefit people in a more immediate fashion in my future career. Without this internship, these are aspects of myself that I would not have otherwise realized. These insights will help me when it comes to deciding what career to choose.