Sunday, February 12, 2006

C is for.....

Cell Biology

As the photo boldly proclaims, I took this picture. What the hell is this picture you ask? These are yeast cells magnified 100 times. I work with yeast. Unlike people, it's a lot easier to grow large numbers of yeast and you don't feel bad when you kill them. The glowing dots are structures within the cell that I have made glow under UV light by adding a fluorescent protein.

This picture took 1.5 years of my life to get.

And people wonder why it takes so long to develop a new drug.....

So, cell biology. It's the subject I'm getting my PhD in. Ironically, it also happens to be the worst grade I got in college in any class (a C- ; don't even get me started on multiple choice questions that have five blanks in them that's only worth one point total). You may be wondering how cell biology came to be my subject of choice. Well, that's something of a long story. As a kid, I had been interested in physical sciences until I crashed headlong into physics. After that, I decided I would be a chemist. I most certainly was NOT going to be a biologist. I really and truly hated my life sciences class in 7th grade. We had to go out and collect leaves and bugs and things and properly label them for a class project. You had to get a minimum number of points and the kind of thing you brought in was worth a certain number of points. A live animal was worth more than, say, a leaf from a tree. Now, I was never one to like reptiles and amphibians and bugs and those are the things that are easiest to catch. I had to find and identify an obscene number of leaves to get the requisite number of points. We also had to dissect animals. At the beginning of the school year, we got a Big Bag o' Preserved Animals. I don't know where these things came from, but I tell you if I ever run into a grasshopper that large in the wild, I'm turning tail and running away fast. The smell of the clam dissection made me so ill I refused to even try mussels or clams for years afterward. Nope. Not going to be a biologist.

Then, in 10th grade biology, we studied genetics. Just your basic population genetics, but it was enough to get me interested. You mean you could be a biologist and not touch icky things? Bonus! So, when I went to college, I came in Undeclared because I couldn't decide between majoring in biology or chemistry. And I never did decide between the two. BU came up with a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major that very year (great! I can do both biology and chemistry). So, that's what I majored in and that's when I took cell biology for the first time and I learned to hate multiple-choice exams with the red-hot fury of a thousand suns. I almost changed my major to chemistry after that year, since I seemed to be doing better in my chemistry classes (where they did not have multiple choice exams, btw). But I stuck it out and the next year, I was thrown into a Molecular Biology class with graduate students (I was a junior at this point). Essay exams. I got an A-. (And if not for the bad grade in cell and the one in genetics--which had the same kind of exams--I would've graduated magna cum laude, but as it was, I missed it by 0.01 points. Grrrrrrr)

When I graduated college, I couldn't decide what the hell I wanted to do, so I worked as a research tech for awhile and eventually decided to go to graduate school. I had applied to a cluster of departments that included a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology dept. and a Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology dept. I entered in BMB, but quickly found out that the department should have been named Biochemistry and Biophysics and high-tailed it out of there (I'm so bad at physics, I married my physics tutor so he could take care of any physics I might encounter in the future). So, I ended up in Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology. Then, I ended up joining a lab that studied cell biology and my fate was sealed. For good or ill, I am a cell biologist.

I really do like it--there are so many fascinating things going on in the cells of every living thing. Structures are made and destroyed. Cells reproduce themselves and program themselves to suicide. They have their own waste disposal system, postal service, power plant, and library. And all of those processes are so incredibly complicated, it boggles the mind.*

Mostly, though, when I finally get my PhD, I want to teach cell biology, not research it. The life of a research scientist is stressful and not the kind of life I want to live. The life of a teacher is also stressful, but I believe that I will love it enough to put up with the bullsh*t, unlike with research.

So there you have it. Cell Biology. Sounds a lot friendlier than Molecular Genetics, doesn't it? People still look scared when I tell them, though. I've tried to find a way to break it to them gently, but no luck so far.

*And, as I typed that last sentence, I realized that I had inadvertantly just written a line than is often used to justify the idea of Intelligent Design. And, lest anyone read my blog and think that a scientist has just agreed with them about ID, I want to state very, very clearly that I do not agree with the idea of ID in any way, shape or form. In fact, I believe it is horrible science at best and a fraud and a ploy to try to get schools to teach about creationism at worst. This is not any kind of statement about my religious beliefs or lack thereof. Science and religion are separate disciplines that employ radically different ways of exploring the natural world. You are free to disagree with me, and if it offends you in some way, then you are free to stop reading my blog.

1 comment:

  1. I went in to college with the intention of being a geneticist, but it was the biology that entranced me and the chemistry that scared me away. So I wussed out entirely and got a psych degree. *sigh* I miss fiddling with science.