Developing a method while developing as a researcher

Hello! My name is Aleksander Arnø, and I am in my first year of my Master’s in Aquaculture Biology. Due to the pandemic I did not get to do much labwork during my Bachelor’s degree, and as I am starting to work on my Master Thesis in just a few months I wanted to get experience in research and to develop my skills in lab work, data analysis, and report writing. I therefore decided to do the course BIO299 to do some more practical work this semester. Please keep reading to see what an ordinary day as a “wanna-be” researcher, working at the Institute of Marine Research, is like, and to hear some of my own thoughts and reflections on doing this course.

A normal morning, starting at around 8:30 in the morning, started somewhat anti-chronologically. The first thing we would do every day was to study the results from the day before! The machine we were using for the project, an LC/MS equipment, spends many hours analyzing, so the results were not ready until late in the evening. This created a sense of eagerness to get to the lab so that you could either be satisfied with your results from the day before or crushed that yesterday’s work was (almost) a waste of time.

After either being crushed or happy with the results from the day before it was time to start a new day of research. In my project we were developing a method to estimate the levels of a type of inflammatory molecule, called eicosanoids, in fish liver. To do that, you first need the fish liver samples!

Fish liver samples. The samples were frozen so luckily there was no smell!

The liver samples were weighed and transferred to larger tubes. Meanwhile, we prepared the internal standards we were using, so that the compounds we were looking for in the liver samples could be identified by comparing them to the standards (which work a bit like a template). After suspending the samples in the standard, chloroform and acetonitrile, we let the solution dry in a vacuum. This could take upwards of 2 hours, so this was a good time to prepare the equipment for analysis, or to get some lunch.

The analysis program and my notes for the day.

Initially I was intimidated by the look of both the equipment and the program you see in this image, but thanks to two very helpful students I was able to learn to use it. As the samples dried, they were resuspended in Methanol and submitted to the machinery for analysis. And, as mentioned above, this took many hours, so whether the day’s work was successful or not would be seen the next morning.

Although the research skills I developed by doing this project, such as pipetting, calculating, the preparation of standards and samples, analyzing the results and finally writing the report itself, was invaluable, I would say that the most important thing I have learned is the scope of a research project. The time that planning, reading, trying and failing, interpreting results, trying some more again, and finally writing and reporting your results takes is something that I will remember as I start my Master thesis work. By doing this course I feel better prepared for what is to come. I know that there will be bumps in the road and that failing is one of the most important things when doing science. Therefore, I wholeheartedly recommend anyone interested in research to do this course!

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