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STUDENTS & SCIENTISTS UNITED FOR BREAST CANCER PREVENTION RESEARCH

Heidi Park

I’ll be frank: I didn’t know what to expect when I first arrived at 136 Harrison Avenue on July 9th.  Of course, I had read all the essays and the studies that Laura Weinberg had forwarded to me, as well as whatever else I was able to get my hands on.  But the few bits of information I was able to glean were not nearly enough to satisfy my growing anxiety—even panic—as I took out my phone and began dialing the lab to let them know I had arrived. 

After I made my way to the building on Harrison Avenue  and into the lab, I realized that no essay, no studies, and no amount of googling could have accurately described what the experience was actually like.   

  To begin, everyone at the lab, from Ana, Carlos, and Maricel to the lab technicians, was as warm and easy to talk to as everyone said they were.  I was the sole Yankees fan in an office full of Red Sox fans, but they were still willing to answer all of my questions (no matter how stupid they got) and did everything they could to make my stay better (“It shows how accepting we are,” Maricel said).  Ana always had a smile for me whenever I saw her, and Carlos would invite me to his office just to talk. The post docs and lab techs always included me in their conversations and would tell me about everything from their little secrets about colleges that they don’t want you to know, to where you could find “free” chocolate in the office.

Life at the lab was certainly not what I expected.  Granted it had its serious moments, such as when I learned about the harmful effects of endocrine disruptors, more specifically Bisphenol-A (BPA), a compound commonly used in the manufacture of plastics.  Before coming to Tufts, I had read studies done by the lab that had linked that fetal exposure to BPA led to abnormal mammary gland development in mice and cancer in rats.  But it’s one thing to read about it on paper.  It’s quite another thing to see the glands and look at the plastic all around you as you feel the hardness of the tumor it helped caused beneath your fingers.  Words are very poor substitutes for actual experience.

But it had its fun moments as well.  I remember watching one of the lab techs as they expressed their frustration while trying to unstick cells from the bottom, wondering if it would be OK to just bang the bottle furiously on the table (they didn’t).  It just goes to show you that science can be frustrating for all of us, even those of us with Bachelors in Biology.  Something I can DEFINITELY relate to when it comes to doing titrations in chemistry class.  And physics.  Especially physics. 

As I said earlier, no essay, no studies, no Googling can ever be an adequate substitute for actually experiencing it yourself.  I don’t think that my essay is either, no matter how hard I’ve tried to capture those wonderful 2 weeks onto these two pages.  Words are, after all, poor substitutes for experience.  But Tufts was definitely an experience worth having.  I know I’ve said that words are poor substitutes for experience and all, but if these words mean anything to you, I highly recommend you to just go for it.  Apply.  Who knows?  Maybe you’ll have a much more rewarding experience than I did (although that would certainly be hard to top).  What have you got to lose?  Go for it!