Spirited Away (Microbiology edition)

My first experience with undergraduate research has been like one of my favorite movies, Spirited Away. Like the main character Chihiro, I’ve entered into a dreamlike world with fantastic things I’ve never seen before. My parents did not transform into pigs and abandon me like Chihiro’s so I’m not nearly as scared as she was, but I, like Chihiro, initially felt nervous and a little lost.

I entered the spirit world (lab) not knowing a lot about spirits (microbiology, bacterial genetics, lab techniques) and I needed a mentor. Luckily, a post-doc, Zach Ruhe, agreed to guide me. I like to think of Zach as Kamaji, the bath-house boiler man/spider. He has six arms that are always busy in his work, yet he still has given me the chance to work and learn in the lab. I’ve already learned so much from my mentor–how to present ideas, how to express myself in technical writing, how to handle lab skillz with finesse, how to work harder than you think you should, how to play Black & Yellow on Google talk–and I am greatly appreciative.

I also have other helpers in the lab. August, a UCSB 2015 graduate, is a noble role model like Haku. He checks in on me, gives me good advice, and kindly offers zucchini bread snacks to me. Interestingly, Haku and August are both spirits controlled by tyrannical forces: Haku’s being Yubaba, August’s being the medical school application process. My other helper is Jing, a lab technician. I liken Jing to Lin, a sister-like co-worker who comes in from time to time to help out Chihiro and guide her in her journey.

This journey has just begun, but I am beginning to gain more confidence working in the spirit world. The coming-of-age theme of Spirited Away definitely resonates with me through this experience as I’m gaining more responsibility and starting to become a “real” scientist. I’m excited to continue working on our brand new project about antibiotic resistance and I am eager to report back when we’ve gotten more data. Thanks for reading.


Here’s a picture of me slaving away at the lab:

Bianca in the lab