To Phage or Not to Phage?

By Stephanie England

Summer before coming to Hopkins, so many things were on my mind. From trying to get to know my roommates via Facebook to making sure all my paperwork was in, the question of classes came to mind. Being one of the hundreds of pre-med kids, I wanted to try to step into the waters of research before everyone else rushed in. Phage Hunting came up on the list of recommended classes and it piqued my interest. However, so many other options were present and then I got to the freshman seminars and then timing conflicts. Overall, phage hunting was of least importance to me and it was going off the list if times conflicted or if the dreaded message came that I got wait-listed. Morning of registration came around, and luckily for me, my ideal schedule is what I got. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if taking phage hunting was the right decision or if I could have better used my two credits.

Now that the semester is coming to a close, I can definitely say that taking phage hunting was one of the best decisions I ever made. This lab is my favorite class and I’ve gotten to meet some of my closest friends here. The roller coaster of emotions that this class kept me on was something I never expected. Initially thinking that my enrichment failed, but then seeing plaques come from my one dot (that I had thought to be an air bubble) on my 100; this was a foreshadowing of the doubts and fears that would be dispelled from the reality of getting actual results and success.

It’s been a bumpy road, but the skills learned in this class are more than just commendable. Proper aseptic technique was definitely achieved, I mean, when there was class contamination from the old smeg and we all tested our PB and TA and not one of us contaminated our plates? Talk about impressive! Feeling the camaraderie after realizing that I wasn’t the only person who didn’t make it in time for the phage Olympics was just one of many moments that proved phage hunting a great decision. Every time I was able to streak without breaking the gel in the bottom, was such an accomplishment. I could be failing my math class in the morning, but then go to phage lab in the afternoon and just seeing plaques without contamination, would turn my day around for the better.

Later on, going in for electron microscopy was motivating, making me think that I was in the final stretch. Then a feeling of dread came when Patrick made a mistake with my sample and it had to be redone. Foreshadowing much? I hoped not. It was redone and a flood of relief came. Seeing my phage on the EM pictures, and knowing that all the streaking, all the serial dilutions, and all the hours spent were not in vain, was a moment where I could have shed a tear of happiness. My little buddy gave me such hard times in the past, but I’d do it all over again now that we’re at the end and see the results.

Now that it comes time to choose classes for next semester, phage hunting was the first class I signed up for and had to work other classes around this one. The thought of sequencing and working with DNA and genes is exciting to a nerd like me, and then being able to do our own experiments with the phages? It’s going to be great. My phage may not have made it to the phage Olympics, and it may be an equally (if not more) bumpy road next semester, but there is no doubt in my mind as to what I want to do. If this class is half as good as it was this semester, then I’d be satisfied. To Phage or Not to Phage? There is no question anymore.

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