Post #2: Reflections on Lab Work

While much of my time this summer was focused on running my trials, there were many other tasks in which I was able to participate within our lab.  I think that one of the most beneficial parts of being a part of undergraduate research is that you often are able to partake in and learn from other projects and tasks happening around the lab. A huge part of the IIBBS lab’s focus is on animal care, as we have a colony of roughly 450 Zebra Finches. This summer I assisted with all aspects of care, from feeding to cage cleaning and general welfare checks. I found that daily exposure to the birds through tasks besides my experimental trials taught me a great deal about the birds and made me better understand how to design my trials in the most efficient way possible.

Another common task performed in our lab is taking blood samples from birds in order to test their blood mercury concentrations. We do this as a safety check to make sure that our birds are receiving the correct doses, that their blood mercury concentrations remain below lethal levels, and to gather data for our experiments. Throughout the summer I was able to help take blood samples and develop this skill. The ability to take blood samples can be utilized in many different fields, especially as I am considering a career in organismal research.

The next step of my project will be a component of a larger study assessing the Developmental Stress Hypothesis (see Blog post #3 for more details). This lab-wide project requires a lot of planning and care with respect to when birds are on different food treatments and tracking when birds hatch and/or fledge. I was able to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how this process works and help out with nest checks, treatment switches, and general care for this project.

Overall I would say that the skills I learned from my work in the lab that were outside of my direct project taught me just as much about the research process as my work conducting my experiments. I would encourage anyone joining a research lab to try to learn about all of the projects their peers are working on and volunteer to help them if possible so that you can learn as much as possible. The things you learn from other’s projects may help you greatly in creating a project of your own in the future.