There is something incredibly liberating about writing “The Venesky Lab”. Hasn’t gotten old yet.
In The Beginning…
The past couple of weeks have been wildly exciting in terms of spending money that isn’t mine. I am now stocked with an Applied Biosystems qPCR machine, research grade pipettes, all the necessary equipment for DNA extractions, high quality dissecting scope, etc., etc. I’ll be making a trip to the mesocosm facility that I’ll have access to for tadpole research this coming week and I should have my amphibian collecting permit next week. All said, the first 4 weeks of the semester have gone well and I’m feeling comfortable with my ability to actually start doing research soon. But I have no formal research students. Most amphibians are done breeding and winter will be here for the next 7 months.
Starting my Lab
I had to devise a plan to actually attract and integrate undergraduates into my lab. Thinking I was on to something, I made an announcement to the students in the course that I’m teaching (a sophomore level bio majors course) and I ended up with a laundry list of students interested in doing research with me. This is both good and bad because I can hand select students who I feel not only have great potential, but also who I see getting along with me and each other. However, I have to make tough decisions and the last thing I have is extra time. I am relatively young and I think that I can still relate to students in my lab, but there are inherent challenges in mentoring undergraduates at small universities. I can’t simply recruit students into my lab and turn them loose nor can I hand them (sophomores) a stack of scientific papers and expect them to interpret figures (which, to me, is usually second nature). Nor can I have upper-level undergraduates from my lab mentor them because I’m starting from scratch.
As of this week, I started a reading group with 2 of my sophomore students (and I plan on inviting a third student into our group). You’ll get an opportunity to meet them soon, as they will be guest blogging with me so that you can see how they progress. We are meeting together as a group every other week this semester to read papers that I consider fundamental concepts in my host-parasite system and disease disease ecology in general. We’ll start off learning how to dissect a paper and get comfortable reading scientific literature, move along to experimental design, and hopefully end with student led paper discussions and/or critiques (fingers crossed). These students will then sign up for 2 hours of Independent Research in the Spring semester where I will continue to help develop their interests in disease ecology and also teach them some of the lab techniques that I commonly use (e.g., DNA extractions, qPCR, etc). The hope is that they’ll have an enjoyable and productive experience this year, stick around and do some research with me during the summer, and continue in my lab for their Junior and/or Senior seminar.
As always, thanks for reading. I look forward to hearing comments, suggestions, and success stories from you all. I hope to provide some of the same soon.