This summer I worked in Dr. Sarah Lindsey’s lab at Tulane University School of Medicine. Dr. Lindsey’s lab explores the role of the G protein-coupled estrogen receptor (GPER) in vascular protection, specifically in relation to postmenopausal cardiovascular disease. At the start of the summer, I was trained in the field of histological pathology. This involves the examination of disease in tissue through techniques like staining and microscopic analysis. I applied different stains to tissues from mice kidneys, hearts, and aortas, to assess the protective effects of GPER in cardiovascular and renal damage in hypertensive mice. We predicted that mice without GPER would show more damage in their tissues than the control mice due to the protective qualities of GPER, specifically its role in the maintenance of extracellular matrices. This project is one of many the lab is conducting investigating the protective characteristics of GPER to judge its potential as a drug target in postmenopausal cardiovascular disease. This research could help alleviate the high levels of arterial stiffening seen in postmenopausal women.
Working with all the great researchers, technicians, and students in the lab this summer has taught me a lot about lab techniques and scientific concepts, but has also opened my eyes to what it is really like to work in a research lab. One of the most important skills I learned to value is patience. Science is vast and ever-growing, but it isn’t fast. I realized that a summer worth of research wouldn’t equate to fulfilling a project in its entirety- it takes time to acquire tissue sections from animals, conduct trials, and troubleshoot errors during experiments. This also means that working together with other members of the lab is crucial. Everyone has different areas of expertise, and they are all willing to contribute their knowledge to other’s projects to make the process run smoothly. I also learned that even though you start a project with a probable hypothesis, it is possible for your findings to reflect something totally different. Regardless, all findings are valuable, even if unexpected.
“Having ownership over a project gives agency to make decisions and learn techniques on your own.”
Working in a research lab is the optimal learning environment due to the flexibility and creativity it allows. In my lab, there are undergraduate students, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, technicians, and a PI. This allows for a hierarchy of knowledge and expertise that provides a very comfortable environment for asking questions and learning from others. There will always be someone around to help if needed, and other projects to follow and learn from. However, there is also the opportunity to work on a unique project of particular interest to you. Having ownership over a project gives agency to make decisions and learn techniques on your own. Additionally, weekly lab meetings allow everyone in the lab to understand what others are working on, ask questions, and offer suggestions. This structure is ideal for those who like to work autonomously when desired, yet still receive aid and feedback when needed. It is a pleasure to be surrounded by such smart, driven people every day.