My Experience as an Undergraduate Lab Researcher – By Paige Franek

My name is Paige and I am a senior in Microbiology at North Carolina State University. I have been doing research in Dr. Kathariou’s lab since February of 2016. So far, my experience has been invaluable for my future career, and has made me much more excited about my future in microbiology. It is one thing to take classes and occasionally work in a lab environment, but having my own experiments to work on makes the results that much more rewarding. I enjoy lab classes, but they do not give any freedom to be creative or alter experiments if they are not working. The instructors and students already know what will happen. This is not always the case in a real lab setting.

Doing research in a lab outside of the classroom has given me the opportunity to learn how to make various types of agar, how to use an autoclave, and the correct techniques to keep everything sterile. In lab classes we always have the agar plates already made for us. Other skills I have learned include spot plating, DNA purification, how to use and interpret NanoDrop results, perform PCR, and how to work with Campylobacter and Listeria.

Although working with Campylobacter has been very fascinating, I find it much trickier than other bacteria I have worked with. Experiments do not always go as planned. Because of this I feel much more prepared for a real lab environment in terms of expectations of results, problem solving, and creative thinking. For example, we have performed various transformation experiments with Campylobacter. The goal was to transform 800 base pairs of PCR amplicon from erythromycin resistant strains to susceptible strains. We did this by adding PCR product or genomic DNA from resistant strains directly to susceptible strains. This experiment has been especially interesting because we have been able to transform using genomic DNA, but the PCR fragments have not worked yet.

One of my favorite experiments to date is a competitive fitness assay. This involves the  inoculation of chicken skin fragments with various Campylobacter strains. After counting the resulting plates I then make graphs to quantify the results. This has been one of the first times I have had to make such detailed reports in Excel. So far, we have found that there is not a measurable difference between strain survival over the time points we are measuring. So, our next attempt will be to lengthen the time between measurements.

I would like to thank the amazing people that work in the lab with me, especially Kshipra who has been a fantastic mentor. I came to the lab with minimal experience and not much knowledge on Campylobacter, and was a bit nervous starting out. However, I have learned so many techniques. The lab members happily help whenever I have questions or need some guidance on experiments. I am very happy with my choice to do research in the Kathariou lab and am excited to see what my future holds.