What Does It Really Mean to Be a Scientist?

In the spring of 2016, JCVI partnered with Del Lago Academy to provide internships for some of its students.

Junior Stephanie Mountain shares about her experience and what her time at JCVI taught her:

Being an intern at JCVI was an amazing experience I will never forget. I learned so much through this internship that I would have been unable to learn in school. I learned a lot about coding and the importance of using computers to analyze data that is generated in the lab. Through my classes at Del Lago I had a good amount of hands on lab experience, but this internship was completely different than anything else I had done previously. It exposed me to the opposite side of scientific research, the kind that isn’t in the lab. I had very minimal computer skills at the start, but now I know how to run command prompt, a little bit on two coding languages, R and Perl, and how to use the Mothur program to run data analysis.

Stephanie with her JCVI mentors, Drs. Zhong and Zhu, and her Del Lago teacher Marc Kibler.

Stephanie with her JCVI mentors, Drs. Zhong and Zhu, and her Del Lago teacher Marc Kibler.

It was really fun to work with my mentors and “help” them analyze their data. Granted, they probably could have done everything much faster and with less problems than me, but it helped me see what happens in a day of the life of a researcher. Before this internship, I wanted to be a scientific researcher, but in my mind that meant doing strictly wet lab stuff. Now, I know that being a scientific researcher means a lot more than I had previously though. All of the computer stuff I did was really fun and cool, and it kind of surprised me how much math was involved in all of the computer things. I’m definitely going to take some computer science classes in college if I get the opportunity to. The math associated with computers seems really challenging and fun, and a lot less like a black box where I press buttons and the computer gives me stuff I want.

Overall, this internship has been eye opening to a new side of scientific research I didn’t know existed. All of the things I learned were really interesting and new. I now know that I really would love to be a scientific researcher in the future.

Junior Janine Vasquez worked with Dr. Orianna Bretschger, Dr. Sofia Babanova, and Jason Jones to research the development of microbial fuel cells for wastewater treatment. One big part of that research…pig poop!

I first want to thank everyone for allowing us to have the privilege to work with JCVI. I learned so much throughout this internship and I was able to get a lot of hands-on experience. During this internship, I learned the process of collecting data, running tests and analyzing the results. Our project was to run COD tests to see how different amounts of NaCL would affect the COD readings.

When we first arrived at the farm at San Pasqual, I did not know what I would be doing. When I found out that one of my tasks was to blend pig feces, I was really surprised. At first it was hard because I was still getting used to the smell but after a while, I surprisingly was not bothered by the fact that I was blending pig feces in a blender. I really enjoyed getting the experience of working in the farm and the lab. Some of my friends who also worked in a lab setting only got one side of the experience. Anabel and I were able to experience more than one working setting and I found that interesting.

One thing that I felt was kind of challenging was actually meeting new people. I am not really a social person but I tried to get out of my comfort zone; in the end, I got to meet great people. This internship really made me think about my future. I’ve always had this mindset that people in this industry only work in labs all day and I realized that is not true. I was actually relieved to find out that projects like these have you working in all kinds of places because I like trying different things and working in different work settings. This experience made me realize that this is something that I may want to do in the future.

JCVI is committed to helping youth pursue careers in science. To join our efforts, please contact Education Manager Amani Rushing at arushing@jcvi.org.

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