In which I’m back in the lab

I spent a little over a year after college working for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health. There are 27 Institutes and Centers, mostly located in Bethesda, MD – I however was at one of the outliers (sometimes I joke that it was the “reject”) located in Research Triangle Park, NC. I look back at that time fondly, where I lived in a tiny apartment in south Durham and visited Jeff on the weekends when he was a 1L at Wake. It was a good gap year, filled with the moderate stress of applying to dental school and the milder stress of learning to be an independent adult.

My lab photo. I know this file is slightly corrupted - it was salvaged from my very old computer.

My lab photo. I know this file is slightly corrupted – it was salvaged from my very old computer and a lot of those pictures were sadly damaged.

Under my Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) I had several different projects in the Darryl Zeldin lab, the main one being a randomized control trial to look at reducing dust mite allergens in the homes of allergic children. This required spending hours driving all over eastern NC pre-GPS, vacuuming up dust from peoples’ homes and administering lengthy surveys whose questions I asked so often, I almost had them memorized.

2008 Elise carrying the very large vacuuming equipment bag.

2008 Elise carrying the very large vacuuming equipment bag.

Melanie (who visited us last summer) was my trusted companion during these sometimes long trips (and sometimes stalkerish ones – we had to wait outside a lot of houses until the participants finally showed up). We were a perfect match: I was applying to dental school at the time and she was applying to physician assisting school, we both had a love of public health, we both were in long term relationships (and ultimately end up marrying those boys), we could spend hours in the car lost in rural North Carolina and not panic and we both loved to detour to Krispy Kreme whenever it was close by.

On the trail for dust mites.

On the trail for dust mites.

Celebrating the end of our dust mite chasing career in Costa Rica before heading off to our respective schools.

Celebrating the end of our dust mite chasing career in Costa Rica before heading off to our respective schools.

Also, it was fun to have another girl to escape the lab with. When I wasn’t out sucking up dust from beds and carpets, I was analyzing it in the lab (using ELISA mostly). My fellow IRTAs were two guys: Will who is now a orthopedic resident and Chad who is a laboratory equipment rep (and for a time sold the brand of pipettes I use the most, so I think of him every time I pick one up).

End of the year picnic with Will on the left and Chad on the right.

End of the year picnic with Will on the left and Chad on the right.

I learned some great lab skills while there – skills I honestly thought I’d never use again. Sure, in dental school we had a microbiology lab, but that was only one quarter and it was pretty easy and as far as lab skills go, it was amateur stuff. Now that my research here at UW and SCH is picking up finally, I’m in the lab once more, processing samples to analyze them later for bacterial DNA, saliva pH and buffering capacity and little proteins called antimicrobial peptides which fight cavities. It’s appropriate that I’m once again working with spit because that was my other main project at NIEHS: collecting saliva samples and seeing if kids who had more cavity causing bacteria had lower rates of asthma and allergy.

Maybe I've been out too long, but there's something kind of beautiful about well placed lab equipment.

Maybe I’ve been out too long, but there’s something kind of beautiful about lab equipment.

Tiny labels make me happy.

Tiny labels make me happy.

IMG_2568

There's something soothing to lab work. Follow the recipe. Be precise. Don't mess up.

There’s something soothing to lab work. Follow the recipe. Be precise. Don’t mess up. Repeat.

Balancing the centrifuge is the tiny scale version of trying to balance the washer during the sheets and towels load.

Balancing the centrifuge is the tiny scale version of trying to balance the washer during the sheets and towels load.

I'm glad to be back in the lab again, I just need my pipetting thumb to regain it's old callous soon.

I’m glad to be back in the lab again, I just need my pipetting thumb to regain it’s old callous soon.

I’m a little slow right now, but things should start to pick up soon as I get more used to the new process and new environs. It’s good to be back.

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One thought on “In which I’m back in the lab

  1. I am glad you are back at the lab where you are the happiest. Think you could use Allie and Samantha as experimental people. One with allergies the other cavities!! Keep on smiling!!

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