Phage hunting wasn’t the first time I patiently waited for a micro-centrifuge to stop buzzing or held my breath while opening a sealed flask containing bacteria, nor was it the first time I contaminated way too many plates. However, it was the first time I took something so minuscule, we needed a microscope the size of a room just to see it, from a soil sample and studied it. I remember going for a run to Wyman Park to collect soil (you know, when I was still intent on fighting the freshman fifteen). At the time, I didn’t know much about bacteriophages or how we were supposed to isolate them from a clump of dirt.
In my experience, research is tedious. You start with a procedure. You mess it up, i.e I would forget to turn on the Bunsen burner, contaminating my plates; I would forget to refrigerate my HTL and end up lucky that it’s stable at room temperature; and sometimes, I would even forget to add M. Smeg so nothing would grow on my plates. But finally, you get it right. The excitement is unreal and you wonder why growing bacteria makes you so happy. And then you repeat the procedure again. And again. And maybe one more time after that.
By the end of the semester, we had dedicated so much time to our phages that they were like our temporary children (without the crying and diapers). We got excited to learn more and more about them through our experiments. Perhaps the greatest part of the course was finally being about to see what our tiny phages looked like via the electron microscopy images. The experience was almost like my classmate described it: “This is what it must feel like to watch an ultrasound when you’re pregnant.”