End of an Era

By Matt Merola

After two long and intense semesters at Hopkins, freshman year is coming to a close. Looking back it’s amazing how much has changed over the year. A little over a year from today I was visiting this campus as a prospective student, listening to the (at the time intimidating) head of  undergraduate studies for biology talk about bacteriophages and a class his department offers involving a lab for these entities. Having just learning about them in my biology class in high school, I was extremely interested in being able to work with bacteriophages, especially since a couple weeks before that I was learning about them from a textbook. To actually be able to work with them though and experiment on them? Now that is an opportunity I was ready to explore.

July, 2013, registration for courses. Having no idea how this registration process worked, I finally searched for “bacteriophages” and a course labeled “phage hunting” pops up. After reading the description, it was exactly the course I had heard during my visit months before, and I was able to get in despite the anarchy as soon as registration opens. My expectation- quickly discover a new phage and start some all-important world changing research project (I was a naive 17 year old at the time).

Weeks into the semester- I quickly realized that lab work isn’t as easy as I thought. Learning new techniques (updraft, streaking), dealing with setbacks (contamination, mononucleosis), and learning from an all-knowing professor (#TeamFisher) and TA (#TeamKatie) all took time and energy. However, after walking into a dark room and staring at a computer monitor next to a huge machine, I felt that pressing that “register’ button months ago was one of the best decisions I had made at Hopkins and ever will make at Hopkins. I was reading about these bacteriophages from a textbook about a half year before, and now I was staring at an image of my very own phage that I spent months of work into isolating. Pretty amazing transition in the eyes of a 17 year old kid.

As I reflect on how quickly everything has changed in life, it would not be possible without the opportunities that both Hopkins and Phage Hunting have given me. Annotating an entire genome, seeing an endless screen of “ACTGAGTCAGGA” on my computer screen, collaborating with (originally) lab partners who quickly became friends, and finally being able to experiment on the very phage I isolated are all opportunities I am sincerely thankful for. I would like to especially thank Dr. Fisher and Katie, who I asked enough questions so that it seemed like I was trying to fill out a questionnaire survey every lab day. It’s been an honor and a pleasure.

All The Best,

Matt Merola

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