I spent July doing work experience in the Cellular and Structural Biology lab at Rockefeller University in New York. I wanted to see what it was like working a real research lab and, having never been outside Europe before, the opportunity to undertake this work experience in New York City was very exciting.
The lab I was in focuses on the structure of the Nuclear Pore Complex, but it is also doing work on finding nanobodies to fight against trypanosomes – a parasite that can lead to African sleeping sickness. I found the work they were doing incredibly interesting, and got the chance to use a lot of generally useful lab techniques. Overall, it confirmed that I would like to pursue a career in scientific research, particularly into infectious diseases. I did worry that I would struggle keeping up with the theory behind the experiments we were doing, but everyone was really helpful and happy to give me advice.
On my way to work over the Queensboro Bridge from Queens to Manhattan
It was scary flying over when I didn’t know anyone there, and staying with someone from Airbnb that I had never met, but most people in the city were very friendly and helpful, and the woman I was staying with was really welcoming. She invited me along to a lot of events including barbeques, beach trips, and a traditional Temazcal – a type of sweat lodge. I found New York to be a very safe, exciting and interesting city. There was always something to do in every borough. I stayed for a month in Queens and a week in Brooklyn, both of which I loved. Before arriving, I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to travel around the city, but once there I had no trouble at all as the subway was great.
Outside of lab hours, I had the opportunity to explore New York further. I saw a fantastic adaption Troilus and Cressida for free in Central Park; saw the statue of liberty; went to the top of the empire state building; did a free Tai Chi class on the High Line – an old train track that has been made into a linear park; saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway; went to the Star Trek: Starfleet Academy Experience; saw the July 4th fireworks; went to a Yankees game; and even managed to see a Corpse Flower in bloom at the Botanical Gardens – the last time was in 1939! I also spent a lot of time just wandering round, enjoying the city.
Corpse Flower, Amorphophallus titanium, nearing end of bloom cycle
Overall, I learnt how to be more independent. I had never been abroad that long before and, although it was difficult at times, I really enjoyed settling in to a different city. I also learnt how definite I am that I want to do scientific research.