Mr. Aaron Shephard Takes a Gator Bite Out of Research at University of Florida

Many times throughout freshmen orientation class I was told, “Go out and intern because the world is bigger than Claflin University and Orangeburg.”

That statement has defiantly been reinforced in my four weeks here at The University of Florida. Currently, I am interning with the Department of Biochemistry doing pheromone analysis in nematodes using NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) under Dr. Art Edison.

Being in the Edison lab has defiantly exposed me to the world of science and allowed me the opportunity to realize my personal strengths and weaknesses. Being at UF has also allowed me to enjoy the social and cultural differences that a larger school can offer.

When I got to the lab, I saw a whole bunch of equipment and chemicals that I had never seen before.  The focus of the Edison lab is the study of nematodes, so there was a lot of equipment geared towards raising, incubating, and analyzing the worms. Our project also involves the use of NMR spectroscopy to analyze and identify the chemicals signals produced. NMR requires a large magnetic field, so there was a separate lab full of large and very powerful magnets used for NMR and even MRIs. There are also many things outside of academics that UF has to offer. I can easily say I’m enjoying my time here. I even got to see Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, which is better known to the rest of the country as “The Swamp.” I did not, however, see any sign of Tim Tebow.

Researching in the lab has allowed me to see the tools necessary for being a scientist. In a classroom setting, all of the information you need is usually given to you in class or in the lab manual. When doing research, however, you have to find and teach yourself what you need to know. Currently I am learning how to program on Matlab (a very useful software for data analysis and imaging), meaning that I have to go back and reteach myself the basic programming concepts from C class. Being in the lab is teaching me to teach myself, which I believe is an essential key to success in the real world.

In my almost four weeks here I have learned a little bit of my own personal strengths and weaknesses, along with some likes and dislikes. A strength that I have come to realized is that when I do understand something really complicated I can translate it into something simpler.  During the many presentations that I’ve attended I would often find myself thinking, “Wait why doesn’t he just say_____?  It would make lot more sense.”

I’ve also discovered that I like to be on my feet. Personally, I get a lot of pleasure from doing things like picking up the millimeter worms using a microscope and a piece of wire, mixing the chemicals to make a buffer to clean the worms, climbing a ladder to put in an NMR sample, and actually getting under the NMR machine to tweak the knobs for calibration.

Because I like being so active, I have discovered some weaknesses when I become inactive. When I sat down for a long period of time doing nothing, I found it extremely hard to stay attentive, or even awake for that matter. There were many times at first when I struggled (and sometimes failed) to stay awake during two hour long presentations or during the long days of sitting in workshops. Realizing this problem I decided to make little adjustments like going to sleep earlier the night before a presentation and keeping grapes and water around in case my eyes started to feel heavy.  I’m happy to say so far one I’ve seen at least one experimental method work!

I’m really looking forward to see what else this research experience will teach me over the next few weeks.

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