A Week in the Life of a Student Researcher

By Sarah Tsuruo, OUR Peer Research AmbassadorA Week in the Life of a Student Researcher. By PRA Sarah.

Welcome to a week in my life, where I’ll take you behind the scenes of my research work. As a senior undergraduate researcher, I get to work more independently and you’ll see me zipping around the lab doing some pretty cool experiments on my own!

Having been involved in research since freshman year, I am currently a part of the Bolnick Lab in the EEB department where I’m working on my Honors thesis: analyzing the sex-specific immune-endocrine response in the model organism the Threespine stickleback. I’m interested in the immune response of the stickleback to parasites which triggers a fibrosis response, and its trade-offs with the endocrine pathway and sex hormones. In this lab I’m also continuing work from my SURF project, a manuscript about sexual dimorphism in lake-stream pairs with my PI and a former postdoc from the lab. Lastly, as an extension of the work from my clinical research internship at UConn Health last fall, I am finishing up a manuscript based off a pilot study and literature review I had completed with my PI, Dr. Reichenberger.

I usually head into the lab after work at around 11am to prep for the week’s experiments. Lots of organization and planning goes into successfully pulling off experiments. This week I’m finishing up the hormone extractions of the water samples with solid phase extraction chromatography. I make sure I have all the materials and reagents needed for the experiments, thaw my water samples and autoclave and aliquot as needed. After heading home, I’ll do miscellaneous work for my two papers, which entails working on revisions or the R code analysis.

9 am lab time! I like to get in a little early as experiments can sometimes last 2-4 hours. I bring my laptop and iPad as there’s lots of waiting time in between steps so I can get homework done throughout my lab work. Post-lab, I organize my notes, create to-do lists and organize my data so when I need to complete the data analysis next semester I’m ready to go.

As you begin to develop and conduct your own independent research, meeting regularly with your PI is useful to work out troubleshooting or getting needed redirection for your research work. My PI, Dr. Bolnick, has been a great mentor throughout all my research endeavors and constantly provides feedback and walks me through the tough concepts surrounding our research. Open communication and updates are definitely key to a working research mentor relationship.

Depending on the week, I’ll go into the lab again to complete more bench work, if not I’ll continue working on the manuscripts. Besides manuscript work, there’s a lot of troubleshooting, emails or Google-ing as I update my protocols and notes.

Fridays are lab meetings! For an hour we talk about current literature, lab-wide troubleshooting, new projects/experiments, manuscripts, or even help lab members practice job interviews. Lab meetings are a great way to learn about all of your lab’s research and connect with the lab techs, undergrads, postdocs, and PhD students in the lab. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; it shows that you are motivated and engaged in the work!

Finishing the week, I usually reflect on what I’ve accomplished, what needs to be done, and what I can feasibly do next week. The research process is constantly filled with reflection, setbacks, and adjustments. My week is definitely research heavy, but don’t be alarmed, I am grinding away on my senior thesis! As for my thesis, this semester consists mostly of wet lab research, which is the part of getting the actual data from the experiments. Next semester will transition to more of a remote research experience which entails data analysis and typing up my thesis.

Week to week my tasks can definitely vary, as when I was starting out in the lab there was more observing and smaller tasks involved, while I learned about research processes as a whole. As I “grew” up in the lab I’ve taken on more responsibilities and have been able to work more independently on my research questions.

Sarah is a senior majoring in Biology and double minoring in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Molecular Cell Biology. Click here to learn more about Sarah.