Hey ho EvoCELL fans! Long time no see, so I though I would start off this year with something light and entertaining. First of all, apologies for not holding up to my end of the deal and neglecting you a bit but let it be comfort to you that you’re not alone in this ‘category of neglected’.  

“..The only lasting truth is change.”

          – Octavia Butler

There are few things that have changed since the last post. You may have noticed that the link I attached in it doesn’t work anymore and that’s because drumroll please ….We are migrants!! …. Our group, former S9ers, has spread its filopodia, joined the trend and migrated from the Sars centre, following the leading edge just 3 floors up to the Molecular Biology Department of UiB. That’s why we are now known as a Comparative Developmental Biology Unit and you can find us here.
S9 to CDB transition and S9 cell migration. Actin in red. Mitochondria in blue. Green arrow represents direction of migration.
S9 to CDB transition and S9 cell migration. Actin in red. Mitochondria in blue. Green arrow represents direction of migration.

Juggling through

Trying to juggle too many things at the same time can sometimes leave you paralyzed. And well, first year is exactly that, overwhelming with continuously increasing number of the balls to throw in the air (or number of the balls life throws at you?) ..

Warning:

following post represents raw, non-sugarcoated, unedited (sometimes overexaggerated) views of the author on her own life.
To give you a quick recap, I study the evolution and development of germ cells (special post dedicated to these coming your way soon! -nervous smile-) in diverse tiny invertebrates. And so, the first thing a PhD student does is a literature review. You can think of this as following your favorite celebrity on twitter or trying to track down every story ever published about her in magazines. Only the scientific journals try to provide more objective view, (usually) supported by statistics or further references (having you go down the endless wormhole).
This imaginary celebrity in my case goes by many names (keywords): germ cell, germline, primordial germ cell, [insert names of all animals of interest here]. We do this, not only to find out what’s already out there and learn from it, but also to find the gaps in current knowledge and areas that could use our attentiveness. Of course, you want to stay up to date with your celebrity’s life, so you can imagine this is not a one-time thing but threads through all the PhD => run it in the background.

Maybe you also remember that we study the evolution from a cell type perspective (What is this?) and we often use this cool technology called single cell RNA sequencing which involves breaking up animals/tissue into their building blocks – the cells. This may sound quite easy, and from historical experiments of Townes and Holtfreter [1] you’d get the impression that you magically get your cells just by dropping the animal/tissue in alkaline solution or EDTA. Unfortunately, the opposite is true and just this first step of the procedure can bring you to your wits’ end. On top of that, if you’re lucky like us and work with some unusual critters you have to adjust this to their liking – optimize the protocols – so that your cells are happy and ready to go through the following steps. I have been fortunate enough to try my luck with 6 species so far, also sort of celebrities in our circles.

 

My celebrities. From top left corner: Isodiametra pulchra, Meara stichopi, Terebratalia transversa, Lineus ruber, Priapulus caudatus, Halicryptus spinulosus. Photo credit: www.kahikai.org, www.artfakta.se, CDB.
Most of these animals can’t be kept in stable cultures in the lab, so we go to the field and collect them in the natural habitat (woohoo!! Playtime outside!! ? more about this in the future blogpost -nervous smile again-). Now, if you, like me, are new to these beauties, you go back to step one and add them to your “celebrities to follow in the literature” list. How do their organ systems look like? What cells can we expect to find in these animals? How do they compare to each other?

Carry on and choose your juggling balls right

If you’re wondering at this point why on earth I, or anyone else, would bother with these celebrities that look nothing like Jennifer Aniston you might want to check out Francisca’s post about WHY “UGLY” SPECIES MATTER. Spoiler: No, we don’t do it just because we’re bunch of weirdos fascinated by this display of nature’s bizarre life forms. Although what would be so bad about it? Also, make sure to listen to Cellas giving you fun facts about their study animals.

As the job name suggests, we are still students (what a nice oxymoron? :D), and hence attend some (university) courses. Again, no, we usually don’t do this because we haven’t had enough of the “exam thrills” from previous studies, but to complete the credit requirements for our study programs. Some courses are more exciting than others and some are absolutely amazing and fortunately organized by our ever so great EvoCELL network (shoutout to all PIs, invited speakers and most of all, lovely Francesca <3 our Project manager). Apart from courses and or workshops, we also join a “scientific get together” every now and then in form of meetings and conferences.

As much as I hate to admit, turns out, people are quite right about the importance of setting your priorities straight. There’s only so many balls you can keep flying in the air while the rest of them you either let fall or store somewhere in the safe place for “later”. Trouble is the “later” might never come and these balls just go over the expiry date but that’s another story? so choose yours right, allright?!

Take a look at a more comprehensive view of fellow PhDs around the world in Nature’s survey.

[1] P.L. Townes, J. Holtfreter – Directed movements and selective adhesion of embryonic amphibian cells, J. Exp. Zool., 128 (1955), pp. 53-120

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