One week into the semester, two meetings of the lab, and the 24 students we started with are all still here. What do we know?
We Got Some Characters. Our two dozen Phage Hunters are pretty much how you would expect — bright, earnest and excited. They are excited to be at Hopkins, excited to be in lab, and excited to get things started. And there was a lot of personality on display right from the start. In the first ten minutes, after what may have been one too many of my sardonic asides while I delivered the course introduction, one student, a small smile visible, asked, “Do you like your job?” (I don’t think I got off a good response to the inquiry — I was too busy calculating the depth of the trouble I was in. My answer, though, is that — on most days — I like my job a lot.) The students will be blogging soon — and if they don’t hold back, you’ll get a sense of their personalities and why I’m enjoying my time in the lab.
Our TAs Are Amazing. The students might not realize this yet, but they soon will. We are lucky to have two TAs (I think most of my colleagues at other universities get by with one or sometimes none) and I can’t imagine two better ones. Katie and Victoria are smart, organized, responsible, and each has a great sense of humor (absolutely essential in this course). And they do a huge amount of work behind the scenes. I fully expect that our Phage Hunters will have a great experience, and our TAs are going to deserve much of the credit.
It is going to get really interesting (and maybe frustrating) now. On Friday the students each brought in their two soil samples, directly plated a portion of both samples, and set up an enrichment culture with one sample to try to increase their chances of isolating a phage. The next time the students come in, with some luck, one or more will have evidence of a captured phage. From personal experience, I know that your lab firsts are a big rush. They are what keep you coming back. And when your partner has that rush of discovery and you’re left looking at a pristine plate absolutely free of phage, that’s not as much fun. It’s OK — the disappointment, after all, helps fill that time between the highs. To those with no phage after day one, don’t worry — your time will come.
And if it’s been a little crazy to date, this is nothing. We instructors are bracing for what’s next —- when results (and randomness) dictate the pace of a student’s progress, and each student is at a different stage of their project. Of course, if we had been interested in a sedate and controlled experience, we wouldn’t be doing this.