Madison College student blogger Mandy Hunter is back on-line and raring to go! No bull! Mandy ponders what it means to be called a "scientist" and shares her summer internship experience working in the barns and learning how to collect semen.
I can't believe I just started the third and final year of my program (you can take the Biotechnology Laboratory Technician program in two years, but I opted for the three year plan, largely because I have my hands full with a veritable gaggle of progeny). All summer long I thought "Only nineteen credits to go! This is it, my last year!" But then I came to a startling realization: Education is addictive. So the pride and relief I initially felt at the beginning of the summer has morphed into a curiosity of and investigation into what programs the local universities have to offer. I waver between the thought of pursuing a bachelor's right away or heading back to Madison College first to nickel and dime all of the certificate programs that caught my eye before I proceed elsewhere. Particularly the Stem Cell Technologies, Bioinformatics, and Quality Management certificates.
Which leads me to a question I've been kicking around: When, exactly, do I get to consider myself a scientist? My classmates and I have discussed this on occasion and my opinion vacillates between "Well, surely I'd have to have at least a four year degree first," to "Excuse me, but you would not BELIEVE what I've been mucking around in lately and if I have to take one for the team in the name of science then I get to call myself a scientist!"
And then I wonder if the defining moment has already occurred. Could it have been when I recently visited friends in Kentucky and made them let me pasteurize their goat's milk before they drank it? Or perhaps it was when I took my seven year old son to a children's science exhibition at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery this summer and he wandered over to a DNA extraction display and told the presenter "Oh, I know. You don't have to tell me how to do this. My mom told me about this before. She's a scientist," a comment that totally had me blushing with my face in my hands (kids are good for that), but proud nonetheless.
Atta boy! 'Cuz that's how we roll up in this house!
So what, exactly, have I been mucking around in this summer?
Mucking is the right word.
My internship at ABS Global has been nothing short of amazing. I was incredibly fortunate to have been under the tutelage of Dr. Leo Brito, US Production Laboratory Manager. I was one of three interns and he took such a personal interest in guiding each of us. We were allowed to and encouraged to spend time in every department of the company, from the production lab, to the distribution center, to the barns.
This proved valuable in so many ways. One of my fellow interns had considered applying for two open positions in the company and was allowed to spend time in those departments before making her decision. I, a total city girl who had never seen a cow up close until I started working there and had to be instructed in proper poop-scooping techniques, discovered OH MY GOSH I LOVE WORKING IN THE BARNS.
(I have to stop here to acknowledge an in-joke out in the barns. Every time I said this was the first time I'd been around cows, I was stopped and told "We have bulls here, ma'am. You see a cow around here, you let me know, 'cuz that means we have a problem.")
So, on top of spending most of my time in the production lab learning to prepare solutions and extender, preparing semen for extension, extending the semen, checking motility, being trained in morphology, learning how to package and freeze the semen, and learning quality control, (Seriously, they trained us as if we were employees. How many times can I say it was an amazing experience?) I also got to spend time with the veterinarians and learn how to collect and prepare some of their samples.
And then (drumroll, please) I was able to learn to collect the semen.
The staff at the barns were just so patient and encouraging. I mean, hello, that is a ferociously intimidating thing to learn to do and yours truly does not have any veterinary or agriculture background what so ever. There was never any pressure and I had the option to opt out and just observe, but as any of my friends will tell you, the surest way to get me to do something is to make sure I feel intimidated by it. I try to live by the Eleanor Roosevelt quote: "You must do the thing you think you cannot do," and up until that moment, I was pretty sure I couldn't collect semen from a bull. To tell the truth, I can say with some certainty that thought had never really crossed my mind.
However, at the end of the day, as much as I enjoyed the experience (Really, guys and gals at the barn, you can call me if you ever need someone to fill in), I was happy to get back to the lab I call home:
Home, because they hired me! I wear one of those blue lab coats now!
Next week: Getting down to the nitty gritty with this semester's classes.