Back To the Future (Doing research)

Dear Sebastian,

Let me open this letter by stating that you are going to be fine. All your anxiety regarding programming and meeting the expectations set by your PI and mentor were reasonable but not such a big deal, do not forget you are here to learn how to do research and not to do a revolutionary discovery (although strive for the best). Yes, this summer is the world cup and do try your best to watch it! Even though you are sitting in your laptop coding, stream it online! Believe me, that will make some of your days less stressful. Moreover, after doing your research in the lab go and play soccer, do some exercise because god knows is the only way to stay in shape.

After 6 weeks in this amazing program I got a lot to share, so listen up. My first advice is a cliché but never gets old: Ask questions from day 1! Trust me, you are going to get nervous and think that everybody knows the answer but that is not the case, research starts with a supposedly “dumb question” that in fact holds the key to interesting answers. Go to Dillon more often (your mentor, you’ll meet him soon enough) and don’t be intimated by him, everyone in the Streichan Lab is friendly and do want to see you succeed. My second advice would be to appreciate MATLAB, you are going to spend every day getting to know this good software that allows you to analyze data efficiently. Remember that coding is a process of constant failure and that it holds a lot of red messages. Don’t get discourage and always ask why, understand the whole project and why each task helps you with your overall goal this will provide motivation and a clear path to success.

But Sebastian, understand that research is a slow process. Some days you are going to be stuck in a problem for hours (and I mean hours!) and you will think that there is no solution but in fact such situation is easily solved by asking a simple question. Don’t get discourage because of this, if research were easy everyone would do it.  Another tip would be to get to know the other interns! They are amazing people working on incredible stuff, talk to them, ask them questions and share ideas; literally you are with the best and brightest of UCSB so take advantage of that. Oh, don’t forget to put notification on your google calendar! God knows how many events you missed… also listen to the faculty speakers, their words of wisdom are relevant since they want to help you become a great science communicator and make your summer project compelling. Go to all the talks you can, especially, the one with Professor Carolina Arias (this one you missed and apparently it was pretty good)

My last advice, would be to not doubt yourself. I mean you are working on revolutionary stuff, you are learning fluid mechanics, tensor analysis and coding all in one summer (wow! that is hard now that I think about it) but you are smart my friend! Your progress is going to be great and dazzle everybody because you are a Gorman scholar and you were picked because you want to be challenged and science is your passion! So, take it easy and enjoy the process, don’t be afraid of failure since that is your daily diet (I wish I were kidding) remember to take a deep breath now and then and enjoy your summer.

Enjoy your days of rest before the program!


Sebastian (from the future)


A Summer of Learning

When I tell my friends that my research involves anti-cancer drugs, they ask me if I’ve found the cure for cancer yet. Although I usually answer with a smile and tell them I am still working on it, I believe I’ve learned so much from my research that does not directly involve science. My research experience in the MCDB Department at UCSB helped me grow into the student I am today and motivates me in my journey to become a successful research scientist.

Many of my peers warned me about the steep learning curve I would face when starting in a new lab. Since this was my first research experience, I (reluctantly) accepted the challenges I would face as a newcomer in the lab. I expected a gentle introduction to lab work, but to my surprise, I was immersed and involved in the projects immediately.  Within a short timeframe, I acquired the skills needed to raise my own flask of cancer cells and run various assays to test for drug activity.  During this time, I struggled with self-doubt – I had a nagging feeling that I was incapable of completing experiments on my own. However, I quickly realized that I had to ask questions and take notes on everything going on until routine procedures became second nature to me.  Over a year later, I am much more confident in my skills and I’ve even helped newcomers get started in the lab.  This newfound confidence found its way into my academic life as I started taking more difficult upper-division biology courses. Persistence has helped me in the lab and in the classroom.

The lab environment I work in is especially exciting because I work directly with my faculty mentor, Dr. Thrower, along with the five other undergrads in my lab.  Our lab may be small, but we are constantly busy with new experiments and interpretation of results.  Since we do not have graduate students to delegate work among us, we are in constant communication with our faculty mentor and we are directly involved in every aspect of our experiments.  It can be stressful when it feels like no one understands what’s going on in the lab, but we rely on each other for support and guidance every day.

Research has taught me more than just the skills I need in lab.  I’ve learned how to be resourceful, resilient, and to embrace the inevitable uncertainty of starting a new project.  In addition, working in a small lab environment has given me more opportunities and responsibilities than I expected.  As a Gorman scholar, I’ve gotten the chance to share my research with other motivated undergrads in STEM and hear about the fascinating research that goes on around me.  Working full-time in a research lab was something I could not imagine last year, but I am thrilled about this experience.  With less than 3 weeks left in the Gorman program, I’m looking forward to spending my last month of summer relaxing (and out of the lab!) while reflecting on my summer research experience.

My Unicorn Story, in Comics

Dealing with Research Frustrations

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” – Albert Einstein

Research is exciting because you can learn something new that no one else has ever known of before. And with this new knowledge, you can spread it to a community of others who are eager to learn new information. But since sometimes you don’t exactly know what you’re looking for, research can be just as frustrating as well. During my internship over the summer, I realized how frustrating research can be sometimes when experiments do not go as planned and days of work in the lab are wasted. But during the same time, I also learned how to deal with these frustrations in various ways.

I’m currently investigating protein-surface interactions in Plaxco’s research group. The bulk of my time in the lab is dedicated to engineering and producing our own proteins needed for our experiments. Since we’re acquiring our own proteins, we must capture and purify these proteins that are purposely overexpressed in bacteria cultures we grow. This process requires many steps and spans over multiple days. And within this process, many variables – both human and experimental – can affect the outcome of this procedure. Of course, not everything in research can go as planned. Failing to acquire our proteins have led to frustration, self-doubt, and a sense of wasted time.

Luckily, I have spare time outside of lab that I can dedicate for dealing with these frustrations. Whenever I leave lab feeling as though lab work did not go as well as I hoped, I sit outside reflecting on my frustrations. There isn’t really much you can do if research plans fall through. Usually, you diagnose what went wrong and hopefully fix a mistake in your experimental procedures. Otherwise, you have to start from square one. Yes, it feels like I’m beating myself up at some points. But this moment of self-reflection allows me to approach mistakes in a logical way.

For the rest of the day, I’d like to take my mind off of research and blow off some steam by exercising. I recently picked up cycling as a hobby. I’d ride with my friends to downtown Santa Barbara and back and we’d usually hang out a bit afterward in Isla Vista. This exercise helps me release stress and also helps me socialize at the same time. If I do not go on a bike ride, I’d go to the gym to lift some weights. Physical activities help take my mind off of research for a brief moment while also benefiting my overall health. In a way, I’m turning something negative from research into a net positive for my well-being.

I felt lost and frustrated a lot of times while working in lab especially at the start of my research internship. I’ve come to accept these emotions because I realized recently that these feelings are normal in a research environment. For instance, an experimental procedure my mentor has been developing for the past three years has only started showing promising results this summer. I could only imagine how many times he has faced feelings of doubt and failure to reach success. This process, however, makes research so much for valuable and fulfilling than one would expect. The hard work and studiousness needed for a job where results are hard to see at first make success a lot more worth it in the end.

Update at 6 weeks in the lab.

Throughout the Gorman Scholars program, I have learned a lot of things. There are two that stand out from the rest.

#1. The program has made me realize how much I want to pursue graduate school. Before I was a little unsure about going to graduate school because I barely knew anything about it. But this program has helped me see it for what it is and the graduate student panel was really helpful. It really helped me start thinking and actually planning for graduate school.

#2. The program has made me realize how much I like the lab setting. I have been struggling to pick between a hospital setting or a lab setting for my future career and now that I have been in a lab for about 6 weeks, the decision between the two has become very easy. I like how quiet and flexible it is in the lab. I am a person that does not do very well in an environment that is busy and filled with people. I hope to continue in this lab onto next year because I have been really enjoying it. For next summer, I really want to travel abroad and do a research internship in another country.


Now that it has been six weeks in the lab, my last post seems a little funny to read. I could tell from my writing that I was struggling in the lab and this is still the case but it has gotten so much better. I am becoming more and more independent. I have been starting to get the hang of things pretty quickly while three weeks ago, it took me a long time. Before, when I came into the lab, I used to see it as something I had to do… but recently I felt myself wanting to come in… I was genuinely excited to go in and do stuff. I hope this genuine interest keeps leading me in this research lab.