As an undergraduate research intern working with current PhD students who have been studying the field of developmental biology for so long, certain biochemical concepts and research methods can often be quite difficult to understand. Without a full understanding of the biological mechanisms involved in the specific signaling pathway you are studying, you are unable to ask curious questions and develop experiments to answer those questions. Moreover, when working with a lab team, it is nearly impossible to understand the basis and goals for different experiments you (with the graduate students, of course) are conducting–because you simply do not have a full grasp of the entire picture.
Knowing how important it is for undergraduates to fully understand the genetics, research techniques, anatomy, and biochemistry involved in the Hedgehog signaling pathway (which is what my lab focuses on), my P.I. and I have set up weekly 1.5 hour meeting times in which I am able to ask him numerous questions to clarify and deepen my understanding of developmental biology concepts. Over the past couple weeks now, my P.I. has become a real mentor to me, in that he not only has given me a vast higher-level understanding of the Hedgehog pathway in the olfactory epithelium, but continues to provide me advice and encouragement in regards to my future aspiration to continue on to graduate school. Having such a strong educational and professional support system at work has further deepened my passion for the scientific research field, and has motivated me to further my own independent research on the topic and develop my own questions and outlines of how to seek further answers.
For example, up until now, the graduate student I work with and I have been manipulating transgenes to understand the roles of constitutively active/repressive forms of certain proteins on mouse olfactory epithelium. With that being said, over time I have widened my understanding of why we use certain controls and certain mutant forms of gene alleles in order to see the different phenotypes that those changes may have. However, my P.I. continues to ask me challenging questions that allow me to see the specific topics with which I may not fully understand. He asks me to draw out certain forms of specific proteins and asks me what the effects would be after certain mutations. Such exercises have made me better aware of the concepts that I need to further refine in my mind. And with the help of this mentor, I was recently able to outline an additional experiment where I would further manipulate controls and mutant mice in order to see the full phenotypes of different forms of endogenous genes in the mouse olfactory epithelium.
At the end of the day, one’s level of knowledge is not as much a result of unchangeable intelligence, but of the hard work and passion that one has for the field. By asking questions, filling in gaps of knowledge, and seeking help when needed, one can continue to strive higher and higher in whatever field it is that he/she is in.