Janie is one of 15 undergraduates who were awarded 2018 Streicker International Fellowships. Streicker Fellows design their own projects or internships in conjunction with a hosting organization. During her fellowship, Janie did research in Dr. Rebecca Corrigan’s lab at the University of Sheffield, which is part of The Florey Institute for combating infectious disease. The Corrigan Lab’s focus is on elucidating the molecular mechanisms of the Staphylococcal stringent response: how the bacterium S. aureus responds to environmental stresses.
The air in the lab smells faintly of bacterial cultures and—when the benchtop autoclave is being finicky and pumping out angry ringlets of steam—vaguely like rice cookers. It’s air thick with thoughts of genes and ribosomes and pathways at the molecular level, like DNA agglutinations from lysed bacteria, and it’s become so familiar in a short span of time. The eight weeks of bacteria and assays and journal clubs and lab meetings and pipettes and troubleshooting all flew by before I even had a chance to say “cheers!”
I’m going to miss that smell and everything associated with it, both science- and non-science-related: the intricate pathways through which S. aureus responds to amino acid starvation, living independently, the joy and relief at getting an experiment to finally work, weekends spent exploring, rushing between different lab rooms with an armload of equipment, reading in the local parks, weekly jump scares each Tuesday fire alarm, and, of course, the people in the lab. Rebecca, the PI; Sophie, the grad student whose project I worked on; Dan, another grad student; Alison, the research associate; and Lucy, the other undergrad. I was lucky and grateful that everyone was so kind, patient, generous with advice and time and understated humor, and supportive of my endeavors both in and out of the lab. From everyone, I’ve learned more than a great deal of science both conceptual and experimental. Among other miscellaneous things, I’ve also learned about science career paths and British/Irish slang (fun fact, “bagsy” is the equivalent here of “nose goes”), have gotten great book recommendations, and picked up enough knowledge and secondhand enthusiasm about the World Cup to wish I had better foot-eye coordination.
|Sheffield is brimming with stunning parks and gardens. Perfect for reading, writing, and picnics. And football-otherwise-known-as-soccer, if that’s your thing.|
It’s hard to believe that the two months of jam-packed learning have already whisked by. My head has been filled with thoughts and wonders about S. aureus and synthetases and transcription factors and new molecular biology techniques—and I don’t want to lose any of this precious cargo…
A momentary pause in the afternoon rain is as good a reason as any to take even more pictures of Firth Court, home to the University of Sheffield’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology
Outside of the lab, the other planned portion of my Streicker Fellowship consisted of doing some creative writing with the local community. I went to meetings for the Sheffield Science Fiction Writers Group, another friendly and welcoming group of people, and spent a weekend at a nearby poetry festival. Over the past two months, I cobbled together a motley collection of quasi-serious and semi-sarcastic but wholly-honest poetry, short stories, and vignettes, a few snippets of which have been included below for your amusement. From spending time writing with these people, I was also able to fully realize the British appetite for tea, something that only seemed to grow stronger (like Builder’s Brew tea!) the more time spent together pen-in-hand, concocting up dreamlands and floating around in our heads and half-baked ideas.
|A weekend at the 2018 Ledbury Poetry Festival. Divvied my time up between helping out, marveling at poets’ readings, and getting neck cramps from staring up at all of the quaint and pretty buildings.|
All in all, a summer in an excitingly new place full of microbiology and the written word was a summer well-spent indeed. I couldn’t be more grateful for this Streicker Fellowship, the generosity of Mr. Streicker, and the people at Princeton and at Sheffield who made this all possible. I’ve had the time of my life!
|Rebecca treated us all to a final lab lunch at the pub!|
Side note: for anyone considering traveling to England, do not miss Sheffield! It’s a warm, energetic, and charming city, an eclectic blend between cityscape and blooming greenery (the highest ratio of trees per capita of any European city, fun fact #2), progressive and inclusive, full of all sorts of different people. The not-so-small details add up: a festival celebrating immigration, a statue in the City Centre dedicated to “Women of Steel, 1914-1918, 1939-1945,” the rainbow LGBTQIA-inclusion lanyards that many University of Sheffield staff wear, a John Ruskin quote painted onto a flowerpot that I passed by every day on my walk back from the lab: “There is no wealth but life.”
I hope to be back someday!