Through their lens: Caroline Desler experiences the excitement and disapointment of medical research

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

Caroline Desler did a stem cell research internship this summer in the laboratory of Julie Saba at Children’s Hospital Oakland.

Caroline Desler working in the cell culture room. She submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

Exploration, curiosity, failure, and excitement have all marked my research experience at CHORI thus far. These past few weeks, I have experienced what it is like to play a part in a legitimate lab environment—creating hypotheses, thinking “outside-the-box,” learning new (and at first intimidating) procedures, collaborating with other lab members, and oftentimes, falling short in my experimental endeavors. However, I’d have to say that the most enjoyable part of my internship has been working with my mentor, Dr. Aguilar, and getting to know all of the other post-docs and summer students in the Saba lab. Despite their varying origins across the world, these people bring together their incredible knowledge, insight and experience in the research field to make advancements toward a common goal. Seeing the incredible collaboration that takes place in the lab and its power to yield huge levels of success and discovery never fails to amaze and inspire me. This opportunity, made possible by CIRM, has given me a “peek” into what it would be like to be a researcher. Prior to this summer, I viewed research very simplistically—as the boring stuff that takes place in labs without much human interaction. However, I now know that a career in research holds significant importance and value from a variety of perspectives. Research allows us to live healthy lifestyles, free from the threats of many diseases. How else do groundbreaking vaccinations, which have the power to protect and save the lives of thousands of people, develop in the first place? Research explains why things happen. How do we know so much about cholesterol and its role in heart disease? Research serves as the fuel for discovery and increased understanding. No wonder we now have access to our entire human genome! Despite my always wanting to pursue a career as a clinical doctor, I now recognize that all of the clinical work would be largely impossible if it weren’t for the people who devote their lives to research. I look forward to delving further into my scientific interests in high school, college, and beyond—hopefully leading me to a career involving both research and clinical aspects of medicine.

However, that isn’t to say that research isn’t incredibly tough. Already, I’ve had many tastes of the waiting, anticipation, frustration and failure that accompany a career in this field. For example, it wasn’t until my 4th or 5th western blot that I finally got a hang of the technique and after a total of 8-10 hours of procedural work, actually wound up with an x-ray film that looked halfway decent. The sight of my protein bands coming out of the developing machine, nice and straight and even on the film paper, was such a rewarding and magnificent moment. Just this week, my mentor and I went merrily strolling into the cell culture room to take a look at our cell plates, only to find that each one had been completely contaminated by bacteria. Sadly, the bottom of the biohazard trash can was the fated destination for these cells which Ana and I had been cultivating for the past 3 weeks. I can’t even begin to describe the frustration I felt at that moment. However, the recollection that we had just frozen cells of the same cell lines a few days earlier was quite a relief. It taught me that despite the mistakes I make, there’s always a way to move on and make them better…and oftentimes, there are methods to prevent issues like this from happening in the future.

Overall, my internship experience this summer has opened my eyes to the beauty of research, the possibilities of human collaboration, and the importance of failing…for it is often through failure that we best discover new things.

Caroline Desler

Caroline sent us these videos of her experience:

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