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Back from the MBL

Posted by , on 22 July 2012

I take on the story where my colleagues left it, one week now after leaving MBL and the embryology course behind. Settled into my normal life, I look back and I am sure I am yet to process what we have just experienced.  It would be redundant, for my colleagues have already done this, to write in detail about the long hours; the accessibility to resources and equipment one could not even dream of; the support; the teaching assistants and faculty members available round the clock; the drive and enthusiasm with which we seemed to get through the weeks; the mix of cultures, languages and personalities that, somehow, just worked… I would instead like to go through the last stretch of the course, provide a very personal evaluation of its transcendence, and ask that the subtle references to our time at the MBL be excused.

We start the last two weeks and take a big breath. We have ethics discussions and learn about each other’s views and countries, our uncertainties and our realities, about just how similar our goals are. We swim in the sea in the day and at night, watching the bioluminescence around us. We show each other our national dishes, and eat, drink and sing by the water.  We march, laugh and play on the fourth of July and, back in the lab, we go through a week of magic. Limbs being lost and regrown within hours, grafted hydra which welcome their new tentacles, neoblasts in planaria: so efficient, so fast.  Fun discoveries and funny moments: worms with two heads and an instant thought “let’s give them a posterior end!”, but “oh, no! it’s all anterior” and yet more heads…  A revelation of how tough and resilient, these seemingly simple and fragile creatures can be.

Week six and suddenly, the embryology course being held at the MBL makes more sense than ever, as we get to play with ctenophores, squids, cuttlefish,  tunicates, annelids, marine gastropods, and everything the sea wants to show us. We have boat trips, nets, light hunting, Matt and his plankton, under the sea… Some of the most beautiful forms of life presenting themselves to us, shining, glowing, swimming, and as we have come to see them… dancing. We harvest their embryos and their beautiful larvae and we stain, grow, inject and film them. We do cell lineage tracing, injecting, ablating, we unravel their function. But mostly we look, admiring the complexity with which the “simplest” forms of life put themselves together. So many similarities with the “higher” forms at the early stages of development make it even more difficult to understand how so much diversity is possible.

From a personal perspective, I do not know where my research is going. I have learnt the importance of the detail and the in depth knowledge of each component within the big picture. How to go back to the way I was doing things, knowing there is so much more! So many possibilities! So much to do, to learn, to discover, to play with! As we were assured when we started the course, this is certainly a life changing opportunity. I am yet to discover, or decide, how it will change. So for now, good bye Woods Hole, and many thanks to all the student of the embryology course, from whom I learnt so much, and to the directors, for being scientists we look up to, as well as great colleagues and friends.

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Categories: Education, Events

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