More than Cell Culture

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about how our lab experiences have differed, her being in chemistry and me, in biology. The physical things we have done have been vastly different (I can’t imagine running a reaction for 24 hours), but I found that the things that have happened to us have been very similar. I mentioned to her that I was frustrated because I had done a reaction, following all of the steps my mentor took, standing beside him, using the same tools, and still somehow, I ended up with much less product than he did. I thought that I was just inept and clumsy and figured I had made some sort of error along the way, but much to my surprise my friend said something very similar had happened to her. It wasn’t that I was happy that she messed up too, but in a place full of such intelligent people who seem to know what they are doing all the time, it was kind of comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one having hiccups.

I have also started to notice little things about myself that I’ve picked after working in a lab for almost 2 months. Cell culturing is very sensitive and it’s important to be as sterile as possible when doing it. Gloves, spray everything with ethanol, use a new pipette every time, don’t have the plate uncovered for too long, don’t wave your hand over the open plate, and put the cells back in the incubator as soon as you can, all while being as careful as possible and NOT clumsy (very hard for me). The first few weeks, my mentor had a fixed view on my technique and would have to keep reminding me of all of these rules. When I managed to contaminate cells with bacteria, I realized I had to step up my game. With many hours of practice doing this, I have gotten much better at culturing cells swiftly and carefully, so much I may overdo it with the ethanol sometimes. I have also, incidentally, started applying these techniques to my life outside of lab, like putting the lid of the butter immediately back on when cooking, or throwing away new disposable plates after I even slightly make them touch something that’s not food. I will continue to perfect my technique and see what other weird things I pick up.

What I’ve Learned in Lab

Hello! My name is Celeste and I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in EUREKA, a program dedicated to guiding students into undergraduate research at UCSB, as well as aiding them in skills development. I am working in the Kosik lab in the MCDB department and I have really enjoyed my time. I’ve only been in my lab for 3 weeks, but these are a few things I have learned (so far) of what it takes to work in a research lab.


It takes a TREMENDOUS amount of time and patience to do this kind of work. My project consists of more or less two phases, and the first phase is only just now starting to come to an end. There have been times where reagents are not readily available, a step must be repeated because the results were different from the expected, or a certain procedure might just take an entire day or multiple days. This requires that you not get easily frustrated when things don’t go as planned.


Science is not a 9-5 job, the gears are always turning. I’ve found myself coming in on weekends, even if it is just to do one or two things in the mornings, but the fact that the experiments require constant attention something that aspiring scientists must keep in mind. Even if it means having to cancel on your friends/boyfriend. (Sorry guys!)


I think I have been overwhelmed at times, not necessarily because I’ve needed to do a lot of things, but because it was hard for me to understand exactly why I was doing a certain procedure. This also went along with making sure I was doing the procedures correctly and understanding them when I needed to look back at what I had done. These things are hard to juggle, so it’s important to mentally prepare yourself by taking notes of the processes and reasons why you preformed them, and then constantly look back at them until you truly understand what you’re doing.


The first week in lab, I’m not going to lie, I felt pretty minuscule. There are mainly postdocs and only a few graduate students in the lab group, and I am 1 of only 4 undergraduate students. It was very intimidating at first, going to the ab group meetings and staring at the presenter with awe and confusion, trying to decipher what they were explaining. It honestly still is intimidating, but when you realize they are just people too, they make mistakes, and that at some point, they were in the same position you are in now, it’s easier to feel like you belong.


Speaking of mistakes, I have made a few and learned that yeah, it doesn’t feel great when you know something went wrong because of you. (Like when cells I split got contaminated… whoops.) But it’s important not to let it get to you and keep trudging forward because nothing great ever came from only perfect runs.


Lastly, it takes practice to become good at anything. Even those with what you could call “natural talent” practice. I attribute almost all of the things I have accomplished to hard work, and it’s not anything different in the lab.