Everything she did, the fun part automatically followed her. It was a great learning experience for Jane (second from right) and as she walks out of the campus, she carries a bunch of fondest memories in her bag. She along with her gang of girls gossiped while experimenting and exchanged fashion tips during their lab. She enjoyed her stay in Bangalore.
“Oh my God! Tanya, let’s hurry! We’re going to miss coffee!”
“Damn, Charu! I’m hungry. Can we go to lunch now?”
“Is it 3 already? I need my coffee!!”
“I’m hungry again! I need something to eat!”
Most of you might picture me as a round ball of food, happily whiling away my time doing nothing else but eat. But hey, I love my food! And I’ll eat anyone who discourages me! This is not to say that I didn’t work. Of course I worked after all, I was one of the best Disease Genetics Laboratories in Bangalore working under none other than the Prof. Sharat Chandra himself as my guide. He even presented me with the best book that explains the human chromosomes, titled, “The Genome: A story of 23 chromosomes”. Oh, how the lucky stars hath shone thy light on me!
The ecstatic news that I was selected for this programme called Summer Research Fellowship, a joint venture by the Indian Academy of Sciences Bangalore, Indian National Academy of Sciences Allahabad, and Indian National Science Academy New Delhi, arrived by mail just a few days before my final exams last semester. Oh, the joy! I couldn’t believe that I was selected for such a prestigious fellowship and to make things so much better, it was in Bangalore. My hometown! I couldn’t contain the joy. It took me less than 10 minutes to fill up the acceptance form and send it back. I was so excited I almost couldn’t study in the anticipation.
It was at Electronic city, really far from my home, so I opted to stay in their hostel. Best decision ever. The friends I made here at this place are my friends for life especially spending days and nights in the lab with them!
But before I go further into that, I’d like to tell you all about the 2 months of a project titled, “Molecular Techniques in Cancer Biology” that I worked on at this place. The lab I worked in was, in essence, a Cancer Research Lab which was already working on a 5-year project on acquired chemoresistance. Mesenchymal cells, highly motile and resistant to apoptosis, are highly resistant to chemotherapeutic agents whereas epithelial cells are bound by cell-to-cell adhesion and are sensitive. On exposure to drugs, the epithelial cells activate certain signalling pathways as a survival mechanism, mostly by epigenetic changes, and as such, undergo an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT).
The project was focused on identifying the genes which were differentially expressed in acquired chemo-resistant cells and understanding the pathways responsible for this resistance. This would help to block these pathways and resensitize the tumour cells. In my 2 month project, I was taught to isolate the RNA of these cancer cells, quantify them, reverse transcribe them into cDNA, design the primers for the cDNAs produced and also analyse their gene expression by setting up a quantitative PCR (qPCR/RT-PCR). Also, I was allowed to perform MTT assay and cell viability count to check for the viability of the cells. Apart from that, I was also given a hands on experience of other non-cancer related molecular techniques.
We worked sometimes up to 11 in the night. I loved the work environment of this place. It is incomparably the best place to be – the perfect example of a perfect balance between work and play. Let’s not forget the food. We’d enter lab at 9 a.m. and leave in the middle of the night and it wasn’t always for work. If I were to tell you of all the mischief the 5 of us were up to every single day, I’d have a “No Entry” sign in place for me at the institute henceforth, so I’m not going to let you in on the details. But believe me when I say that if I were to tell you our little secret, you all would be gaping at me with envy!
In the lab, Tanya and I would go into the cell culture room, and I was initially supposed to watch how she maintained the cell lines. While we were at it, we shared our life experiences while observing the cultures under the microscope, we gossiped as we prepared new media, we exchanged fashion tips as we calculated the number of cells to be maintained, all this as she guided me patiently through the project.
There was the Drosophila genetics lab where my roommate Charu worked in. Everytime I’d go to see her, I’d come back with a fly or two clinging to my clothes (I almost even swallowed one once). One time, I even helped her clean up the vials containing dead flies. It was a living nightmare. I was just too polite to admit just how petrified I was at the end of it. Imagine skimming your hands through a tub full of dead flies in soap water to clean the vials and the disgust you feel when a few bodies get into your gloves. It’s definitely not for the weak-hearted.
Dr. Prathibha Ranganathan was the PI of the cancer project and I had to report to her everything I’d observed, everything I’d performed and everything I’d read (Yes, she’d given me a lot to read). She’d quiz me worse than my external viva. But for all that it was worth, I learnt so much from her that I could never have learned anywhere else. She taught me how to question and what to question, which I now believe is the fundamental stepping stone in science and research. “If you don’t ask the right questions, you’ll never get the right answers”, is what she’d always tell me.
Before I left the place at the end of my internship, I re-labelled all the reagent bottles I’d prepared and added smileys to all of them! Tanya, Manvi and Charu still call me about how much they are reminded of me when they see those bottles. It’s sheer nostalgia when I think of them. I even left a little thank you note on those little post-it pads for ma’am. And I stole one of those tiny PCR tubes as a souvenir from CHG.
So that’s my story. At least some parts of it. Everyone should have a healthy work environment to be able to truly enjoy their work and give their 100 percent. If I get another, I’d love to do it all over again, or at the very least, go back and work there. Now that would be a dream come true!
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