Life in the Lab
After two weeks, a Monday when I was not supposed to be in the lab early in the morning came but unfortunately there was no L’s lab meeting, so I could not take advantage of it and I though that was too bad. On Monday morning I struggled a bit with planning my tasks for the last week of my internship. I wanted to try finish the tasks I started but did not want to be done too early, thus increasing a chance of being either bored or depressed or both (most likely option). I also knew that Thursday would be a low productivity day (lab meeting in the morning and fun activity (more on that in a minute) in the afternoon) and I also hoped to attend the English Conversation Club on Friday once more.
For most of the week I kept fighting with the challenging cloning that I started for the first time almost a month ago and that brought me to the lab the last Sunday. The most time-consuming part was the overnight incubations (and as a result sleepless nights when I was thing about my bacteria). This of course slowed the whole process terribly yet I was so glad to move a half of my mini-project further than I could imagine in the mist of PCR that did not work at all only a few weeks ago.
The final week, after all, provided me with more work and more (even though small) success and excitement than I planned/hoped for on Monday morning. Except for bringing the cloning project to a semi-end, I also joined J for a subsequent reaction to create an even fancier DNA construct. An analysis of my effort followed and, surprisingly, the outcome was not bad at all. Moreover, for the first time in my life I ordered a sequencing service, and right in the USA. Cool! Having the sequence is, of course, just a beginning and some follow-up computational work is inevitable. Mrs. C was a great instructor for this part but I did not quite finish the whole process. My hopes are that Monday will be a great day to finish it.
As a result, I happened to be super busy on Friday. I had planned another qPCR experiment which turned out to be my most favorite of all. It is was very grateful one as it always kept me busy for a huge part of the day – searching for primers, diluting them as well as my samples, pipeting the samples for so long and pipeting the master-mixes for so long, followed by setting everything for the analysis of the result and then finally, the analysis itself. There is no way to be bored, neither a chance to regret yourself (for leaving Mrs. C’s lab) as you need stay absolutely concentrated most of the time – definitely during all the pipeting steps. Somehow, I also managed to analyse the bacterial colonies resulting from the aforesaid reaction following the cloning step and afterwards, I started new bacterial cultures (however, I do not know who will inherit them and thus all the remaining work, too).
On Friday I also went through all my stuff with Mrs. C showing her where it is – two freezers, one growth chamber, few plates with bacterial colonies and several pots with Arabidopsis plants. Some of it was not needed any more and got trashed (so painful to through away something you worked on for weeks!), some got new labeling and my hopes are that most of it will be useful in the future.
Wednesday was another special day of my final week. Mrs. C – who barely finished her writing and reading tasks – was nice enough to devote lot of her time being a carer counselor to me. Patiently and honestly she discussed possible career options with me and also shared her personal experience with me. At first I felt overloaded with information, however, by now I am sure that her feedback and recommendations will help me to decide for the best career for me – i.e. a work that would by fulfilling to me and beneficial to others.
Happened out of the Lab
Being rather free on Monday morning, I made a deal with Mrs. C that I could go skating and probably come little later to the lab. I definitely was not the last one to show up and yet I still managed to add 30 more km (more than I had planned) to my NC roller blading records. I though this was a great start of my last week in Raleigh and to enjoy the morning even more I stopped at the Bruegger’s Bagels where I got a cinnamon raisin one. A visit to my most favorite food-related place gave me a lesson. When ordering a cup of hazelnut coffee, I failed to say hot clearly enough not to end up with a cold thing. I still do not understand how I could achieve that but the message is clear: Your English is not perfect.
Tuesday was the only day when I did not come terribly late which made me hope to squeeze in 90 minutes of skating before the dusk. However, I gave up as early as after getting dressed and doing no more than five minutes of walking with my roller blades still in my hands. The sky did not look too encouraging – the storm that was predicted since Monday arrived finally. It was not terrible and rather short, yet ruined my planes. And I was so glad I was not outside.
Wednesday was a baking day, well afternoon, for me. I wanted the folks in the lab to experience a little bit of Czech pastry and thought that my last lab meeting would be a great occasion to present my undiscovered skills. Meruňkový koláč s drobenou (apricot pie with streusel) was the recipe of my choice. First, the amount of ingredients was mostly in cups and second, this must be very Czech. The recipe said I should have be done in less than an hour and the whole time I regretted I did not time my effort. I am pretty sure it was at least double the time. I had very little trust in the American self-rising flour and the cake recipe on the back of the package asked for three-times sifted flour. I did it once and by that time I was exhausted already and the whole kitchen was covered in fine white dust. Under these circumstances, I decided once would be enough. Indeed, it was. While the thing was baking I got pretty stressed seeing it to rise and rise. The remaining steps of the baking procedure were less demanding – I only head to find something to substitute for a bowl and a spatula. The apricots were not great but enough to use them for baking. Things were developing great until the streusel step. The amount of buter was given in grams instead of fractions of a cup and I apparently did not guess it quite right – to get the right consistency (at least according to me) I had to use much more flour than what the recipe asked for. Thanks God I tasted the mixture before sprinkling the top of the cake with it. It was so salty! I assume the taste came from the butter that. by the way, claimed to be good for baking. Apparently not baking of cakes. Anyway, a ton of sugar worked and I could finally put it in the oven. This part also took longer (like an hour instead of “40 minutes at the most”) and thanks to my extensive control it never got burned. Yay! If I fail as a scientist, I may go for a career in a local bakery or teach Americans how to make proper bread.
The out-of-the-lab peak of the week and one of the most memorable moments of my time in North Carolina was the Thursday afternoon which was a time of fun and good food: a game of putt-putt (another Southern (or N Carolinian only?) expression to take home as a souvenir), i.e. miniature golf, followed by pizza dinner at Trophy.
The trip to the mini-golf place was an excellent occasion for a cultural shock to develop right in my last week. The course was a part of huge amusement center called the Adventure Landing and I could not believe my eyes. Its main part were arcade games and the whole area looked like a casino way too much. The kids version of slot machine were flashing with lights of all imaginable colors and they were extra noisy, too. Some of the games involved shooting balls on targets and there was a basketball game (with real ball and real basket). Most of the activities, however, were much more concerning to me – I thought that some of the slot machines resembled the real things too much and the shooting star wars game and car race among dinosaurs – those I have no words for. The arcade games brought two question in my mind: What percentage of adult have gambling problems as a result of this childhood exposure? And can some of the most stupid arcade games underlie the high incidence of shooting events in this country?
Anyway, once Mrs. C, Mr. R and their little I. joined us, the arcades cruise was over and we were ready to go putt-putting. The 18 hole mini-golf course was an outdoor attraction and it looked so different than the local course back home. The surface of the tracks was a fine green carpet (or something that looked like a carpet) but I was not sure it was the best option to keep the ball’s trajectory. I also realized that they were much less creative when designing the tracks – there were no volcano-like hills, no mazes or no pipes to shoot the ball through. The work they saved here was compensated for when designing the surroundings. Apparently, mini-golf would not be enough of fun if there had been no elephant, giraffe and long-legged water bird statues, ponds and wooden bridges across them, and caves. Also, for some reason, background music was needed. However, I have to admit that the pirate/lost island look was very attractive and very well done.
The rules were different than the Czech way, too. We divided into two teams and each member of the team had a ball of unique color. I was wondering if that was really so important. Well, it was. First, each of us (in the team) stroke once – so there would be like five balls on the given track at once – and than we took turns depending on whose ball was the furthest one from the hole. It was a new concept, little like a pool, to me but it was fun. Little I. who would occasionally grab a ball and through it into the hole made it even more challenging.
Each of the 18 tracks had a par number at it and I am pretty sure all of them were supposed to be completed with two strokes – this pretty much illustrates the difficulty level of them. However, I still needed 50 strokes to deal with 18 holes. The final track made me particularly happy as I nested the ball with a single shot. Without attempting to do so, of course.
The dream met of E, E, C, R and Z (and a little I. as a mascot) beat the other and putt-putting the American way was lots of fun. The only factor that decreased the enjoyment level a bit was the Southern climate. It was unbelievable how sweat one can get during an activity that is not physically demanding at all.
The Trophy place has supposedly the best pizza (based on my personal experience, I would not be surprised if it was true) in the whole of North Carolina and moreover, it is a brewery. I gave up the beer as I did not want ruin my reputation by getting drunk neither want I to fall asleep on the way back. However, some people had their beers so I still got somewhat familiar with the funny names they gave to their products – e.g. Million of Peaches (this one sounded too much like a juice name to me) or French Broad (while this one made me think of wine). Thankfully, different people were trying different types, so I had an opportunity to admire the variety of shades beer can come in – from something really looking too much like a juice to beer that was darker than any beer I had seen before.
As for the pizza, I stuck to what I considered the least extravagant or dangerous combination of toppings and I enjoyed my choice very much: roasted chicken, basil pesto and honey were the key ingredients of this one called Most Loyal. In the context of what other pizzas contained, the Most Loyal’s name could not have been more true for me. Another pizza that ended up on our table had a higher than acceptable amount of rucola on top which discouraged me from even trying. In the case of the third one, I was unable to identify any of the ingredients. I was pretty sure about mozzarella but I had no idea what the black toping was. Also, there were some dark chunks which I suspected to be figs. Those Americans have weird taste preferences!
Once again I was taken out and once again the event was affected by rain. Am I really such a bad luck? After all, it was not too bad (even though there were no umbrellas or roof in the outside seating of that restaurant) and the waiter brought boxes for our pizzas that thus became the driest of all the participants.