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MIT student blogger Keri G. '10

Behold, a day job! by Keri G. '10

Still with ultra-short travel time!

This summer at nerd camp, I heard about a band called The Pipettes. I spent more time than necessary looking into the origins of their name and hoping its selection somehow involved science, since I pipette things all the time. As it turns out, the name is simply part of this 50s-British-girl-group kitschy image they’re trying to pull off, which has nothing to do with science at all. I was crushed. (The feeling lasted about two seconds. Give me some credit, people – I’m not that big of a nerd, although I do occasionally go “OMG SCIENCE!” about things.)

I just shared that with you for two reasons, the first being that I already go to MIT; denying my nerdiness is futile, so I might as well be unabashedly proud of it. The second one involves what I do all this pipetting for: let’s talk about my UROP! (You want some wine with that cheesy intro?)

Remember this Paint-classy picture of how far I walk every day?

It still applies. (The fun part comes when I’m standing at the west parallel of EC, since I can see both my window at work and my window at home.)

Last September, I started a UROP in the O’Connor Lab. The lab’s a part of the chemistry department; our research, however, is centered around the natural compounds produced by the periwinkle plant C. roseus, so a major part of what we do involves techniques in molecular biology as well as biochemistry and organic chemistry. I came across the lab’s website last year when I was looking for a summer job, and the work they were doing sounded really interesting. Since Sarah O’Connor was one of my 5.12 professors at the time, I stayed after class one day and told her what I thought. I also asked for a job.

The exchange went exactly as awkwardly as it sounds. “Um, I don’t actually have a question about lecture today, but I was looking at the webpage for your lab and what you guys do sounds really cool. Can I have a UROP?” It couldn’t have been that bad, though – rather than immediately turn me down (which is what I thought would happen – it’s hard to find a UROP if you start looking too late in the year), she asked me if I was okay with starting in the fall instead. I spent my summer at CTD instead and started working with a grad student at the start of the fall term.

Since last semester was my first experience with anything in a lab outside of the experiments in AP Bio, I spent most of the term learning basic lab techniques and playing around with bacteria. More than once a week, you could hear me swearing loudly at petri dishes I’d inoculated with mutant strains of E.coli – “Express my f***ing protein! EXPRESS! Don’t make me have to do this again…”

This’ll start happening again in the spring. (I’m sure everyone in the lab misses it.) My project this IAP, though, involves running kinetic reactions for twelve different analogs of one compound, secologanin, to find out whether any of these new substrates react more effectively with the enzyme strictosidine synthase (STS) than regular ol’ secologanin. (I referenced Wikipedia! Twice! If this were a paper for a class, I’d be in hot water right now.) If you’ve ever taken samples while running kinetics before, you know that it essentially works like this:

A three-sample example of what I’ve spent the last two weeks doing at my UROP
0:00:00 – Start first reaction.
0:00:30 – Start second reaction.
0:01:00 – Start third reaction.
One hour and fifty-six minutes of downtime, during which I prepare LC-MS vials for the rest of the day, look for summer research programs my GPA is too low for me to be accepted into, and take care of the million emails I’ve received from people about Wild Party or prefrosh who want to know how to get into MIT
1:57:21 – Suddenly remember I’m supposed to take samples of the reactions at the two-hour mark. Wonder whether I’ve missed it. Panic, run to my bench, spin down samples, wait.
2:00:00 – Take sample from first reaction.
2:00:30 – Take sample from second reaction.
2:01:00 – Take sample from third reaction. Repeat at 3, 4, and 5 hours.

This is my last week working full-time, though – I’ll be taking a three-unit neuroanatomy class (braaaaaiiinnns, yay!) for four hours every morning next week, and then spring semester will start. (Already?! Didn’t IAP start around two seconds ago?) Next week is also prod week – known as “hell week” to anyone who has ever been involved in theater – for Wild Party, so I’ll be swamped with producery things until we close on the 9th. If you’re in the area, come see us! It’ll be wild. Some might even call it a wild, wild, party.

It’s almost 2:00:00, so that’s all you’ll get from me today. I’m about to show off my pipetting skills like nothing else.

18 responses to “Behold, a day job!”

  1. Snively says:

    Not safe Priya, not safe.

    I think the moral to this story, Keri, is to convince Ben to change the name of his band.

  2. Keri says:

    I think I’m really going to throw something at someone this time.

  3. Isshak says:

    Priya, run for your life…

    Well still sounds like you enjoyed IAP month. Did you participate in the hunt ?

    That O Connor lab keeps being quoted in a lot of posts lately.

  4. Keri says:

    Isshak –

    It is? I hadn’t noticed. (But we’re awesome, so I understand why. ^_^) Where else are people posting about the lab?

    I missed out on Mystery Hunt for the second year in a row. Oops.

  5. Corey says:

    Science related or not, the Pipettes is a great name. I’m trying not to sound like Dave Barry.

  6. Isshak says:

    @Keri (who else)

    Er, funny thing, I crossed my personnal research on google and my stalking ^^’

    Second year in a row ? Well, from what I read, the team that won this year won 2 years ago, and they make good puzzles so there’s always next year!

    Actually the only post where it is quoted is one of yours…I hope you’ll write about your UROP you did in details !

  7. Ginger says:

    Hey Keri, I was wondering, what’s the best time to get a UROP? Right when you get on campus? After you’ve taken some intro classes? Spring/Fall? Thanks!

  8. Paul says:

    Ginger – Beautiful question. (Apologies for butting in, Keri! If you have more to add, please don’t let me stop you, since it is your blog…) Anyway, I was planning on answering this question in an actual entry at some point, and I still will do that, but the simplest answer is “as soon as you’re comfortable with it.”

    Some people want to do research as soon as they come to campus (I fall into this category ^_^), and if you work at it you could probably pick up a UROP by the middle of Fall term…maybe sooner, it depends. But not too many freshmen actually take on UROPs during the Fall term, for several very good reasons: a) logistically, it simply takes time to find a professor or graduate student willing to accept a new UROP student, b) the UROP Office actually discourages freshmen from taking UROP (and will not allow you to do one for credit first term – sad but true), and c) the time commitment involved.

    Part (c) is really the most important reason to make you think very carefully about taking on a UROP your first term. Adjusting to MIT is not always easy (ask me how I know :D), and beyond your normal schoolwork you also have to juggle and balance social commitments, extra-curriuclars, athletics, and so on. I’m not here to say you shouldn’t do a UROP your first semester (it’d be not only stupid but hypocritical, considering that I had around the middle of my first semester), but it is a rather big commitment that you shouldn’t take on lightly.

    In my opinion, IAP is one of the best times to start a UROP. You generally won’t have any classes, you can receive academic credit for research you do, and you have the time to actually do research as a more-or-less regular 9-to-5ish job. But really, whatever semester you start, the same two restrictions always apply: finding a lab, and finding time. If you can do those two things, you’re golden.

    There is one final factor in the UROP equation, which is whether or not you’ve done research in high school. I’ll address this more fully later, but the simple answer is “don’t worry about it.” Sure, it can help, but honestly the kind of research I did in high school is completely different than what I’ve been doing here. (The environment is also much more intense here, I think, but that’s mostly a good thing. ^_^) Basically, professors really do understand that the majority of students looking for UROPs don’t have prior experience. You have to start somewhere, after all. If you end up asking for a UROP, the worst they can do is turn you down; if you never even ask, you’ll never what would have happened.

  9. Mollie says:

    Re: dorky science band names

    One of the other grad students in my lab, two of the technicians, and I are going to start a cheesy 50s girl group and call it


    (If you don’t get the sheer obvious genius, a vibratome is a machine used to slice tissue — in our case, brains — into very thin slices, like a deli meat slicer, but far more expensive.)

  10. Aditi says:

    great post!

    and ummmmm Nibar that reaaaaaally NOT how it works!

  11. Priya says:

    Oh shoot — just found that other entry where you got really angry at ‘first’-posters. Sorry! (first and last time, I promise)
    Oh and I really like your entrys — informative and funny: keep blogging!

  12. Akshay says:

    Thanks Keri for sharing some bit of your UROP. And Paul thanks for the information left here in this blog. I’m looking forward to more of UROP blogs.

    Still I have a question. Most labs like CSAIL lists many projects but the professors never write what they want to be the pre-requisite for UROPers to join their projects. So do you have to ask them about this in person or do they list these outside the labs which have UROPs open.

  13. Anonymous says:

    That name is actually a triple pun because a vibraphone is a pitched percussion instrument. It makes it even more awesome

  14. Tanmay says:

    Nice blog, Keri!

    @ Paul:

    For those who have been accepted in December, or will be in March, it can be a good idea to explore all the labs that interest you through the web. 5 (or 8) months are enough to know a lot about each one of them. That will be of at least some help for “finding a lab” and you’ll be a step closer to “golden”! smile

  15. NIBAR says:



    PLEASE. smile

  16. Shruthi says:

    Nice post :D

    @Paul – Waiting for the ‘actual’ post :D

  17. Piper says:

    I missed the mystery hunt for the most part, too! Oh well. There’s always next year. Anywho, convenient that your UROP is so close =) Bio seems to have a lot of wait time. I took 7.391 over IAP, and sometimes there were hours of wait time. Of course, we were doing several things at once so I felt like a chicken with my head cut off most of the time. It was totally worth it.

    I need a UROP. I should get on that.