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A Day in the Life of an MBL Embryology Student – #embryo2015

Posted by , on 10 July 2015

For the second instalment of our blog from the 2015 Woods Hole Embryology course, we decided to do something a little bit different this time around, and write a “Day in the Life” style blog, to complement the excellent Day in the Life of a Model Organism series which The Node has recently been running.  Our experience here at the Embryology course is hard to put into words, but perhaps this will give you a feel for what goes on here on a day-to-day basis.


A typical day in the life of an MBL Embryology student:

0730: The embryology students begin to stir, as the collective gargle of 24 alarm clocks echoes through the halls of the Brick Dorm where we’re all staying. As the mass brawl to get in the shower begins, at least 4 people will be locked out of their bathroom.

0800: The embryologists slowly begin to trickle out of the Brick Dorm and take the 30 second walk over to Swope for breakfast. There will be a relatively small group of early risers present who were victorious in the battle to get in the shower. We fight the hoards of other students to get one of the big tables, as we always try and sit together – including coursemates, teaching assistants and faculty. The conversation frequently falls to either science or observations about the quality of the food. Some mornings the conversations revolve around reconstructing the events of the previous night and figuring out who stayed up the latest (or who went to bed at all). Before we head out for lecture, we all make sure to fill up our coffee cups – we’re going to need it.

0900: Another 30 second walk and we’ve arrived at the Speck Auditorium for the morning lecture. Richard and Alejandro alternate introducing the speakers. When Richard introduces someone, they are often subjected to an interview that includes asking the names and occupations of their parents, a la James Lipton. The speaker uses a repurposed fishing rod as a pointer. The first talk is usually a general background to an organism, a concept, or a methodological approach.

0910: At least one oversleeper rushes in.

0930: The latecomer can be witnessed engaging in the “head-drop behavior” so famed among MBL students by the fourth week of the course.

1000: More coffee is required immediately. A core group of caffeinistas heads off to Pie in the Sky, the best coffee place in town. Inevitably, we get stuck on the wrong side of the drawbridge and arrive for the second lecture 10 minutes late. Everyone else congregates outside Rowe to soak up a bit of sunshine.

1015: The second lecture, a research talk, begins.

1100: After the lectures, we walk back to the Loeb Laboratory and the infamous “Sweat Box”. The course students now have about 60-90 minutes to roast the speaker with questions, or to stimulate further discussion about the material they just learned. Certain Sweat Box sessions from years gone by are still infamous among the course alumni.

1230: Lunch at Swope. Some days, a few of us grab sandwiches and head to the beach for a quick swim. Everyone refills their coffee cups.

1330: Head to the lab to finish up last week’s experiments, only to discover that transferring immunostained mouse embryos from BABB back to PBS leaves you with mouse-shaped salt crystals. A new discovery?!?

1400: A new module begins. We are introduced to a new animal system via a short lecture and technical demonstrations on a variety of complex manipulations, dissections and experimental approaches. With little more than a list of available reagents and a vague idea of a hypothesis, most of us jump right in.

1500: I can do this.

1510: I can’t do this.

1530: Realize that the person who invented the procedure you’re attempting is standing behind you and that they can probably give you some pretty good advice.

1600: I can do thi… no wait, I squashed it. It’s dead. Ah well, twelfth time’s the charm!

1700: Excitement as someone shouts “Hey, come see this! It’s really cool!”

1800: Shane, our trusty CA and softball coach, announces a last minute softball practice before dinner. If you’re not in the middle of an experiment (or even if you are), grab a mitt and head to the field.

1900: Head to dinner at Swope. Alternatively, decide you can’t take one more meal at Swope and walk to Jimmy’s for a buffalo chicken tender sub and cheese fries. Make definite plans to go for a run the next morning. You can’t accept it yet, but these plans are beyond doomed.

2000: Back to Lowe for a chalk talk by the module TAs.

2100: Can you believe it’s 9 PM already?!

2130: Realize that you’re falling asleep. Maybe coffee and/or popcorn and/or some luminous American snacks from the breakroom will help. While in the breakroom, end up making an elaborate experimental plan with a few other students. Maybe it’s a crazy plan – we can’t tell anymore – but if we work together we can give it a shot!

2230: Start dissecting and fixing embryos.

2330: Realize that you never signed up for a confocal to image your immunostained arthropods. Thankfully Nipam Patel is on it – he’s booked the next 4 hours. Head over to Lillie with Nipam and the rest of your group. Bring coffee, you might be here a while.

0015: Start running a confocal stack. Realize it will take about 30 minutes to run, so you may as well run to the Kidd before last call for a pitcher of beer with the other students, TAs and faculty who are surely already there hanging out on the deck.

0100: Back to the confocal. The immunostaining worked and we have a beautiful image! (Or more accurately, the immuno failed, but the nuclei stained with DAPI look amazing!)

0130: Sign off of the confocal and head back to the lab to put your samples on the fridge. It’s only 1:30AM, you’re going to get a good night sleep tonight!

0132: On your way from the lab to the dorm, walk by the breakroom. I guess you could just pop in for a moment to say hello…

0200: Eat some cheese puffs out of a wine glass (it’s the only bowl you can find). Engage in an intense debate about the design of this year’s course t-shirt.

0300: After a long, productive day, it’s finally time to hit the hay. You’ve got just enough energy left to brush your teeth and crawl into the top bunk. Your brain is full, you’re completely exhausted, but every moment was worth it. Even the BABB thing…

0857: Wake up, realize what time it is, sprint to lecture and get ready to do it all again.

As the days/weeks progress, we’re getting increasingly tired (and slightly crazier). It feels like our first course dinner was more than a year ago… even watching the fireworks on the 4th of July feels like it was at least a month ago! At the same time, we cannot believe the course is almost over. We’ve all become so close over the past few weeks, we can’t even begin to process the thought of saying good-bye to each other. Where else are we going to find a bunch of people excited to be running 5 experiments at the same time? How are we going to function back home when there’s no one else around that thinks starting a new experiment at 2am is a good idea?
One more week to go. Exhausted, but not even close to getting tired of being here.

Shun Sogabe, Elena Boer, Joe Hanly

Follow our progress at #embryo2015

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Categories: Education, Lab Life

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