My STEP signature project allowed me to work at a lab on campus this summer. I worked for the Ohio State Center for Applied Plant Sciences in the Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center as a Student Research Assistant. I was able to stay at the apartment I rent year-round just off campus.
I was able to see the behind-the-scenes mechanisms that drive research this summer. Before this experience, I had never thought about what goes into increasing our understanding of the world around us through biological research. None of our knowledge would be reliable without the processes and people that work together all around the world to make research possible and valid. I now know that we as scientists are capable of great things only by working as one big team with the common goal to advance our collective understandings.
This summer, I worked for the Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center (ABRC). Arabidopsis thaliana is a weed that is related to many food crops. It is used as a model plant for research, as it was the first plant genome to be completely sequenced and is small and easy to grow. Our job at ABRC is to provide seeds and education kits of Arabidopsis and a few other species to researchers and educators all around the world and even on the International Space Station. We distribute around 150,000 samples of seeds for different Arabidopsis mutants per year to 9,000 labs in 80 countries. In order to keep up with the demand, we store and continuously grow and test the different mutants in our lab.
I had many tasks throughout the summer, including pulling stocks of seeds out of storage for orders, distributing seeds into smaller vials to be sent out, preparing laboratory materials to be used in testing the germination levels of stocks, working with growing plants in the growth chambers, and managing payments for orders and eRequests for our department. When dealing with the seed stocks, working in temperature and humidity controlled rooms was essential to prevent molding and decreases in viability. This meant that most of my time in the lab was spent in the “cold room” which was kept at about 40˚F or the “dry room” which was kept under 30% humidity. Contamination was also a concern: most of the seeds look identical and are extremely small, so it was very important to keep each stock separate and to be aware of which seeds you were working with.
In the office, I was exposed to our finances and our customer service aspects. I received and processed checks that came into the department, and I managed internal orders and purchase requests made by individuals in our department. I worked with the office managers and the education managers, and I learned a lot about how businesses are run from them.
These experiences opened my eyes to the world of research. I gained an appreciation for the work that biological researchers do in order to provide the world with knowledge that can be used for the good of all. I gained a more focused level of attention to detail as well as patience and a higher comfort level when asking for help or clarification. These skills will be invaluable to me as I finish school and move into the industry of conservation. I can understand how scientists learned about our environment, and I have a deeper trust for their processes. When I use biological and ecological information to improve and protect our natural world, I will not take it for granted. I also understand how essential it is to take procedures seriously, and that it is better to take my time and ask for help to get something done correctly than to rush or to proceed with uncertainty. I have increased my confidence in my ability to accomplish new things and work with new people through my STEP signature project, and I am excited to take these skills with me into my future.