As an 18 year old freshman born and raised in Los Angeles, attending Johns Hopkins University was a dream come true. Traveling across the nation to one of the world’s leading research institutions, and I, this wide eyed freshman had the opportunity to discover my very own…dun dun dun…bacteriophage! True, I recalled the very fundamental background regarding bacteriophages from AP Biology but that material was minimal. Little did I know that I would soon embark on an entrancing scientific quest.
My eyes grew wider from the first moment I stepped into the Undergraduate Teaching Labs. From the wows echoing in the room as Dr. Fisher picked up a marker and wrote on the erasable wall, to all of us first year students receiving our very own white lab coats, fascination beamed from cheek to cheek.
And on that very first day, a lab full of frail freshmen attempted to begin a collegiate research project. Let’s be real now, no one truly knew what they were doing on that first day. This is blatantly obvious from any picture dated from the first two weeks of lab. But what was key and a major learning objective of phage hunting as a whole was that we as freshmen were educated as young scientists. We truly learned! Not the type of learning you do when you have an exam two days from the point in time you begin studying, but the type of learning where curiosity and wonder drive understanding. Being the eager phage hunter that I was, the most challenging part of the entire semester project was killing off two of my three children (now wait a minute let me explain).
I became very dedicated to phage hunting. I began to love every streak, restreak, and re-restreak I did. As a result, when I was fairly confident that I had three unique and morphologically distinct bacteriophages and the time came when I had to select just one phage to pursue the rest of the project with, you could only imagine my hesitation. How do you pick which child lives on? Though this may seem dramatic, I believe the reason why I felt so attached to my phages was because picking one phage means losing two: that’s two genomes that could potentially be sequenced, two phages that could possibly hold the key to phage therapies. With science, unearthing new technologies is inevitable and some may say scary, but the possibility of not discovering when given the opportunity to do so is even scarier. For that reason, killing off phages B and C (sending them to the refrigerator) and keeping phage A was categorically the most daring part of phage hunting thus far. Yet, in doing so, I have learned so much.
Whether actually knowing how to use a Micropipettor to mastering the screwing and unscrewing of caps off of sterile tubes using just one hand, phage hunting taught me not only useful lab techniques but also how to persevere amidst failure. Failure was ubiquitous throughout the semester. Often times, failure occurred over and over again at the same point along the research project. However, through teamwork and persistence, the science prevailed.
Phage hunting has been an integral part of my first semester at Johns Hopkins. It has added to my love of intellectual inquiry and has led me to want to learn in a more comprehensive manner and for that, I am grateful.