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Scholar Highlights for Week Ending July 20, 2012

July 23, 2012

Daria:

  • This week we visited the Nelson Mandela Museum. I am ashamed to admit just how ignorant I was to all the tension that surrounded the country during this time. I was aware of the apartheid era that plagued the country but not to the extent that I should have been. The museum evoked many emotions in me. Upon entering the museum we were randomly given a card that either said “European” or  “Non- European”.  Based on the card we received, we entered the building according to our race.  As we entered through different entrances, you could see the differences in the facility, and even the pictures that were shown. My side, “Non-European” was filled with steel bars and identification cards of Black Africans. I was not able to walk through the other side, so I do not know what was shown to the “Europeans.” I can only imagine that it was quite different from what my eyes saw. After the first exhibit, the “non-Europeans” had to walk up multiple flights of stairs to get outside to the next exhibit while the “Europeans” walked up a ramp. The stairs symbolized how hard it was for the “Non-Europeans” during the Apartheid era. The ramp for the “Europeans” symbolized just how easy it was for them during this period. This exhibit was the beginning of a series of exhibits that attempted to mimic life during apartheid. Sadly, my temporary inconvenience of being “NON-European” for the sake of a demonstration was nothing compared to what life was like being a Black African roughly twenty years ago.
  • I knew, once I left the Nelson Mandela Museum, that racism was going to be ever-present during my time here. There is no way that South Africans can magically eliminate all the hurt and pain that came along with apartheid just because the laws were changed.  Changing the laws does not mean that you change the people.  Thus, I can imagine that this is one off the root causes in why there are so many disparities between the people of South Africa. 

Jasmine T:

  • The week was action packed! We stayed at Forever Resorts for about 5 nights and only one at Tshulu Camp so far.  I don’t know what the appropriate starting place is going to be so I’ll start with the two great guest lecturers we had at Blyde. There were two lectures, one on Malaria and the other on TB (HIV’s best friend).  The speaker had the attention of every ear in the room. The lady knows her stuff, plain and simple. While in the Bushbuckridge, outskirts from Blyde, Lange, the other guest lecturer lead us on a field trip with Community Health Workers. This adventure was just thrown upon us. We were divided in two’s and three’s; the group is 24 people large. A community health worker is a member of a community that volunteers their time to walk around to their assigned clients to make sure they are keeping up with their treatments and make sure they are in good spirits. They literally volunteer because the government randomly picks organizations for the annual stipend. The objective of the field trip was to shadow the workers. However, our Community Health Worker did not understand or went against the instructions she was given. She introduced a South African student and I as doctors to each of the clients. I was like a deer in headlights. One issue was her limited English. She understood every other word I spoke to her. The student, luckily a native South African, was able to somewhat bridge our gaps. We saw about five of her clients and our profile did not change. We broke some code of ethics and it was not even intentional. When we returned to Forever Resorts, Lange gave an interesting statistical glance into the world of Home Based Care in the rural Bushbuckridge community.
  • On two separate outings we met with traditional healers, sangomas to be more precise. These healers communicate with their ancestors, who also called upon them to heal, when people come to them with different ailments. From their ancestors, instructions for herbal remedies are shared through a state of trance.

Erica:

  • This trip has officially come to an end, but I find myself looking back and wondering where all the time went. I knew from previous experience not to put something off for later but to do it in the moment to avoid regretting never completing the task. I felt like I followed that perspective well while I was there but at the same time I feel like a missed something once returning back to the states. The trip as a whole was a positive experience. I have learned countless times to appreciate the small things that people have done for us while we were there. Even while being back for less than a week I have appreciated so many more things now than I did before. Luckily we were placed in a family that was easy to assimilate into, never an awkward moment or uncomfortable silence. We expected to have difficulties being able to communicate, when in reality the family made it easy to understand what exactly was going on inside the house. Many people do not realize the importance of a homestay family while abroad. Being placed in a family you fir in well makes of breaks the whole experience in my opinion. Outside of cultural activities, research, and school, we spent the most time in the house talking with the family. A big difference between the culture of Brazil versus the states is the closeness of the families. Our homestay family was extremely close, they spent quite amount of time together and it was nice to see. Also we always at meals together at the dinner table every day. I cannot remember the last time my family and I ate that way consistently. One thing that we did find different about their culture and ours was that it is considered normal for a son to live with his family until he gets married. Instead of going off to live on his own or in an apartment with friends, the mothers prefer almost insist on the men staying until they are married. Pertaining to the perception of the country, my perception has changed completely since living in the country. It is one thing to stay in the country as a tourist for a week or two. While living there for a month you learn to do things like the locals versus being a foreigner. From my previous abroad experiences the people were not as welcoming to foreigners, while in Brazil it was the exact opposite. Everyone was friendly to us wherever we went. It was almost like being back home with the southern hospitality. Now that the trip is over the only advice I have for future travelers is to just have fun. Worrying about the small things only lessens your experience and takes away from all of the fun that you could be having.
  • The last week of research was quite helpful in forming a more concise experiment. We were able to take time to analyze and look at our results to tell us what exactly we were able to find. It was disappointing to learn that there would not be any lizards involved in the experiment. We did not use any type of equipment the last week of research. We mostly did observations and comparing the results between each lagoon. Also there was a large focus on the plants that were in each lagoon. A lot of times there were the same plants at each individual point we observed. The most intriguing plant for me was the Salvinia. This plant was the most useful bio indicator out of all of the aquatic plants found. When there is a high level of Salvinia that means there is a high level of pollution also. Where we were looking was more so pollution from humans and a build of organic matter that was in excess.

KaNesha:

  • This week has been very productive. I was able to get much done with my project because I achieved great results from most of my experiments. After reviewing my progress over the past month and a half, I was able to come to the conclusion that I need a little more time to collect all the data necessary for my project. I proposed an extended stay with the program staff and I am hoping to get the chance to gain all the data, knowledge, and experience that I can before returning to the United States. I greatly appreciate all the support I have received since coming here from the department staff.
  • If I had to describe my scientific experience here this week particularly in one phrase, I would choose to say it was challenging yet stimulating. I am very excited about the results I have been able to obtain over the course of one week. In addition, I am inspired to continue my work until completion. My scientific experience here has become more than just a report requirement at the end of two months. It has become an unforgettable, life-changing event. I am encouraged now more than ever to pursue a PhD in biochemistry.
  • Expanding the geography of my mind was a simple statement initially. However, over time it has become a daily reality. I feel as if I can do anything, overcome any challenge, and succeed as a scientist. My daily reality here was simply a dream last year. In essence, my scientific experience this week has been challenging yet productive; and although very busy, I am extremely motivated to continue.
  • This week I came to the life-changing conclusion that I am meant to be here and enjoy this experience as a stitch in the fabric of my journey to becoming an inspirational leader in the field of science. I want to pursue graduate school not only for myself, but also to let the future generation of minority scientists that this dream can come true. I never could have imagined I would be given the chance to conduct research abroad during undergrad.
  • I started contemplating the idea of starting a mentoring program for high school students interested in science and research-related careers. I want to be like the people that have encouraged me along my own journey by planting the seed of knowledge and awareness early to high school students preparing for college.  I am really excited about this new venture and will be doing as much as I can to promote it during the academic year. I am really hoping to gather more of my peers to join me on this quest throughout the upcoming academic year and began working on the next generation of scientists.
  • I know after this experience that it would serve an even greater purpose and develop an even deeper meaning to those that have played an integral part in my success thus far if I were to take this chance that I now have to give back. In essence, I have been able to expand the geography of my mind even further through the gift of starting an initiative to serve a future generation of science.

Kendra:

  • Seven is known as the lucky number, the number of completion, and it is my favorite number. So am I am now contemplating this week, I am sure it was destiny that it would be so fulfilling and wonderful. I purposely waited until my day completely over to write this week’s journal, just because the week just kept progressing and progressing. Things with the number seven in them have no other choice; they are instantly destined for greatness, just like my 7th week here in Salamanca.
  • This week was my last week working in lab. Even though my flight back home doesn’t leave until the 2nd of August, I had reached a great stopping point in my method and I would have time to begin any other experiments. I cleaned up my desk and materials and returned my lab coat, and instantly I felt a little sad. It is almost really over. I couldn’t believe it. Seven weeks have flown by so fast, and I can’t seem to find the time. What I do know though, is that I learned so much being in ‘laboritorio 15’. The people are kind generous, and I could never thank them enough for their time or patience. The research knowledge that I have gained here is unlike any other, and I really hope to be able to continue this in the fall, along with presenting at conferences.
  • This week was also the first weekend that my roommate was not in town which meant that I had to be cautious not to leave my keys or something, but also I would be alone once it came to a social aspect. I was very nervous because I have a habit of getting lost, and whenever something happens; my roommate is by my side to help. Thanks to her absence, I have become even more self sufficient. I was just fine when she left and went I ran into a problem, I allowed myself to think logically about a solution, before asking someone if they could understand English. This week not only had my problem solving skills and my use of the language had been tested, I also became very confident in my ability to be socially involved, even if I am not with Maria. I feel almost as if I have been walking on a tight wire like a circus performer, yet I never released the harness keeping my steady until this week. I am glad I did though, because I had so much fun, just taking in the city. I met students from all around, which had been attempting to accomplish since I arrived to Spain. I got lost, and found my way back on my own; I really took time to relax and not worry if something happened. This, among the other things that I have managed to write over these past 7 weeks, has allowed me to be witness to my growth as a person.

Jenine:

  • I had a chance to continue the week documenting more of the political spirit of Spain, but also had the opportunity to immerse myself in the art and culture scene of Madrid. I had the best time exploring the Retiro Park  in Plaza Espana and the small shops in the Sol, the city center. This week, even had the chance to enjoy one of my favorite artist one of Spain’s most famous music festivals Verancos de la Villa.  Needless to say, I had an amazing week seven. Unfortunately,  many Madrid 2012 adventures coming to a close; and while this truth is more difficult to believe outside of the lab atmosphere, inside my lab things are ending before I even leave.
  • While in the U.S., the summer start for the average college student even before Spring comes to a close, however, in Spain, the working schedule is completely different.  The summer for working engineers includes “holiday” or a vacation for nearly a month anytime between July and September. Because of the scheduling difference, many people are leaving to enjoy their summer before I leave on the 31st. As I wrapped up my experiments this week and said goodbye to some of my friends, I realized just how much I am going to miss Madrid and my amazing summer. I am going to really miss the people and the independence that I feel here; Most of all, in terms of work, I think that I will miss the creative freedom that I have gained from being active in the lab.  The next week I will finish and present my work to mentor on Wednesday. While I am looking forward to presenting the remainder of my findings to my mentor, the truth is that I am not ready for goodbyes.
  • … Maybe not goodbye, but see you later

Olivia:

  • Every experience in life comes with lessons to be learned. The trick is to figure out what they are, learn from them, and figure out ways to make improvements for the future. This whole experience has taught me a number of things about myself, my institution, my peers, my superiors, life in Spain, and humanity as a whole. Since my trip is drawing to a close, I have been reflecting a lot recently on every detail to date. I now realize how terribly unprepared I was for this whole experience. I had no idea what to expect and from what I can remember no one else did either. The seminars that seemed so very helpful in my nice air-conditioned world became meaningless once I stepped off of the plane at Madrid Barajas Airport. The cheerful advice to “just be outgoing” was overshadowed by the disgusted, hateful, or pitying looks from most of the native Spaniards.
  • I’m usually rather good at adapting to new environments and making friends but it has been a challenge, a challenge that I don’t believe that I have overcome. In retrospect, I suppose that my expectation was that I would be able to make friends and find a niche. Although I have a niche with my coworkers, who believe that I am quiet and find their antics very strange, the language barrier has posed a huge problem. The language barrier has become more of a Berlin Wall of language differences. As much I would like for it to not be there, it is. I’ve learned the most remedial of things such as being able to say what I want to eat and drink and simple niceties but I long to be able to be apart of the jokes and everyday life.
  • In the lab, I was given my own project for my last week. My direct supervisor had to leave town so I was given something to do in her absence. Another lab created a mutation in a known human protein and can not figure out what the new structure is so next week it is my job to perform experiments to figure out what the new structure is. I also have to type my lab book and type a final report presenting my findings. While I have been typing up all of my observations and results, I have only very strongly confirmed my previous idea to have an iPad for next time so that I can type and take pictures as I go along because my notebook never seems to end. I have results, observations, and protocols filling about fifty pages front and back that have to be sorted, and gone through for the important details.
  • When someone leaves the lab, there is a going-away party for him or her and so mine is this week. It makes leaving all the more real. Not to say that I’m excited to go home but I wish I could stay and do and see more of this beautiful country.

Jasmine:

  • During this last week I have been in the transitional period, where I am getting adjusted to life back in the United States. This has given me time to reflect on my research experiences at UNIDUNAS, since leaving Brazil. For the last week of research I investigated the variety of aquatic plants in each of the three lagoons. Just like the aquatic insects, plants are indictors of pollution and biodiversity. I was given a packet of different plants known in the area by my mentor, and I had to explore the lagoons carefully for these species. I went to the same five points which were described in my previous experiments. To make sure the results were consistent, the plants were collected in the same area were the water samples and parameters were taken.
  • As this research ended some conclusions were observed. Lagoon Camarão and Lagoon Vitória are very similar by their environment. Thus their results from all the experiments are very similar and so their results are grouped together. One of the first experiments conducted showed a diverse order of insects for both lagoons. The low abundance of individual classes of insects indicates a high number of families, which shows biodiversity. In addition the presence of the plant Utricularia in Lagoon Camarão, indicates good water quality because it does not grow near pollution. On the other hand, Lagoon Flamengo did not have a diverse order of insects. The high abundance of individual classes of insects indicates poor diversity in the area. Also the presence of Salvinia showed that pollution was present, because its purpose is to get rid of pollution. These conclusions will aid in formulating my research project that is related to pollution, aquatic plants, and aquatic insects.
  • Conducting research at UNIDUNAS has been a life changing experience. I had the wonderful opportunity to explore Brazil while incorporate my passion for science. The research experience did not go how I expected it to, however  it went in a better direction.  Since I have returned back to the United States I have appreciated my journey to Brazil even more. By comparing the culture of both countries, it has open my eyes to the differences in the world. I have gain knowledge of the environment that will remain with me throughout the rest of my life. I am grateful for all of my mentors and the G-STEM program at Spelman College for giving me this amazing opportunity. I am prepared to continue working on my project and formulating more conclusions about my experiment.

Kandyce:

  • Everyone else in my program had left, and we were the only four left. We were sad to see our friends leave, but were grateful to have another week in Brazil with which to enjoy. It was G-STEM week, so we were anxious to see how our projects would all come together.
  • Thus far in our projects, we had compared the quality of the water and biodiversity of the three lakes by studying the aquatic insects present and collecting physical and chemical parameters both to be used as environmental indicators. We started off this week by identifying aquatic plants in each of the lakes.  Similar to when the parameters were collected, we surveyed the same five locational points at each of the lakes and wrote down which aquatic plant present. We were given a key with pictures and descriptions of each plant and identified which plants were present based upon our observations. We then took samples of each of the plants so that we could take a close up picture to use for our research for later.
  • After we collected information about the aquatic plants at each lake, we used the next days at UNIDUNAS to analyze all of our results so that we could draw some conclusions. We came to an overall conclusion that some of our data was found to be inconclusive. For example, a low pH should indicate there was a poorer quality of water and this result should have been found at Flamengo and should support the conclusion that Flamengo has the worst water quality due to its human interaction and supported by the lack of diversity in the aquatic insects and the plant indicators that were found, but Vitoria had the lowest pH. If given more time, we would like to repeat our experiments to see if better results could be yielded. Nonetheless, we gave a presentation of our findings to the UNIDUNAS research mentor. Overall, it was pretty difficult to cram all of our experiments into this short amount of time we had in Brazil and at UNIDUNAS.
  • Culturally, I witnessed something that week that I will remember for the rest of my life. While riding on the bus to go back home, I noticed a black woman and what seemed to be her (black) daughter get on the bus together. There was a white lady sitting in one of the window seats and the aisle seat next to her was open. On the opposite side the window seat was taken while the aisle seat was open as well. The black mother sat down in the aisle on the right, so it would only make sense that her daughter would sit in the aisle seat opposite her mother. But before the little girl could sit down, the white lady scooted over into the aisle seat. Her gesture was obvious. I could not believe what my eyes had seen. I thought for sure the white lady was scooting over so that she could get off the bus. But she never got up. She never got off. I tried to think of every logical reason to explain why she moved over, but at the end of the day, I had to believe face the reality of what my eyes had seen. Suddenly, all the things I had learned in my culture class about “racism in Brazil” came to life.  Being American, we know what the word racism means. We talk about and hear about from very little, but the concept takes a different meaning when you actually experience it for yourself. I was really emotional for the rest of that day.
  • This experience taught me that life is more than a fairytale, utopian paradise. Our world has issues that too many times get swept under the rug. And although, I have appreciated the beauty of Brazil, I have appreciated even more the chance to witness another side of Brazil. The disparities I have seen makes me appreciate all of the privileges I have by living in the United States of America and has humbled my spirit. Suddenly, all the things I had learned about “racism in Brazil” in my culture class came to life.
  • Saying goodbye to my Brazilian host family was really hard for me. Being so far away from my own family, my host family had become my second family. They had taken me in with open arms and made me feel so welcome right from the start. They took care of me when I was sick and went above and beyond the duties of this program. For that, I will forever be eternally grateful. Without them, my experience would not have been what I will always remember it to be.

Kymber:

  • I am winding down to the final days of my research, and at this point I can finally say that I have come into a somewhat daily routine. On days that I am beginning experiments, I go down into the animal facility and change into the protective clothing. From there I enter the mouse chamber and take either immunized or non-immunized mice to the lab to be sacrificed. After the mice are dead, I usually remove the spleen for the experiment. Some of my experiments, however, have been incorporating bone marrow cells. For these I will remove the skin from both femurs and tibias of the mouse. Once the bone is clean, I use a needle with solution to remove the bone marrow from the bones. I then count these cells, either spleen or bone marrow, for proper concentrations in each well of the plate. I then culture the cells at 37˚C. The cells incubate for a number of days, and then they are ready to be analyzed. Aside from the data I collect for the experiment, I use FACS analysis to analyze the cells in terms of specific markers they are positive for.
  • I must say that this research experience has made me question experiment results more. When I finish an experiment now, my mind goes directly to the future directions. I think I find it most intriguing to discover how we can account for and explore what was not uncovered in the experiment. I think this is something that would make me a good scientist.

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