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The Q? Blog

Sequencing My First Plate of DNA – ‘Priceless’

by Joan -- Dec 9, 2016
A boy with dark hair and dark-framed glasses and white lab coat looking down.

I am a high-school senior in Washington, D.C., and in 2016 I was a YES! Global Genome intern at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

YES! Global Genome intern Joan uses a pipette in the lab. Smithsonian photo.
YES! Global Genome intern Joan uses a pipette in the lab. Smithsonian photo.

Over the summer I had the opportunity to intern at the Smithsonian Laboratories of Analytical Biology. During the first two weeks we experienced intense scientific immersion. Many great memories were created during this “bootcamp” as we struggled with new terminology, coped with the environment, and most of all persevered through sequencing our first plate of DNA (each plate contained 96 samples). 

My favorite part of the experience was by far being introduced to different scientific tools, like pipettes. Pipettes, which we used to transfer liquids, require great precision and accuracy and appear similar to the tools you see scientists using in movies, which made me feel professional and made the science feel real. There’s also the feeling you get after you successfully sequence a plate of DNA. Realizing that you generated actual, usable data, and the sweat and tears you put into a plate paid off — those feelings are priceless. Feelings like this made the experience life changing. 

The internship was intense. I had to adjust to working in a lab and to learning a ton of new vocabulary, especially during bootcamp. For the first time, I was introduced to words like “Taq,” “centrifuge,” and even “Iva annua,” which was the marshelder plant species my mentor project focused on. That was the greatest struggle of all. I remember there were different instances during bootcamp when Dan Mulcahy and Beth Tuck, our instructors, would ask us to follow a step in the procedure and we would all just stand there looking at them like, “Huh? Bead clean up? When did we get to this?” As they say, hard work pays off, and this two-week immersion proved that saying to be true, as it was an invaluable step in our climb to becoming scientists. 

Before this YES! Global Genome internship, I had never been in a real lab or participated in such a large scale project before, so it seemed a bit daunting at first. In the beginning, there was a great fear of messing up in the project, since I thought any mistake would be irreversible (I think the other interns shared my belief. I think so, or at least I want to think they did.). But after working alongside Dan and Beth and later on with my mentors, Vanessa and José, and seeing how understanding they were of my mistakes, that fear went away. For the first time, I realized the amount of the support available in the scientific family — not community, as the connections were more personal. Now, science doesn’t seem like an illusion, it now seems real. It seems like a viable career field and knowing that all of us, even scientists, make mistakes makes it even better.

Categories: YES! Teen Interns