Through PURM, I was able to work with the Baumgart Lab in the Department of Chemistry on their Phase Separation project. Phase separation is one mechanism by which cells can compartmentalize certain proteins and functions without membrane-bound organelles. It is usually carried out by disordered proteins that interact and “phase separate” from the surrounding solution (the cell’s cytosol). Research on phase separation is flourishing in the biochemistry community since the discovery of membraneless organelles, like the nucleolus in the nucleus.
Aside from the specific procedures involved in protein purification, I learned a lot this summer about troubleshooting and problem solving. During weekly project meetings with my faculty mentor Dr. Baumgart, a post-doctoral researcher on the project Dr. Mondal, and another PURM recipient Samuel Botterbusch, I got to experience the benefits of collaborative effort on progress in academic research. When a step in the protein purification process went awry (as it tended to do since we were working with relatively long disordered proteins), the ability to think through the problem from different angles with people at different levels of expertise was invaluable. Together, we developed a protocol for purifying these tricky proteins, and I became comfortable reaching out to more knowledgeable people when tackling an issue.
My PURM experience also shed a vivid light on how graduate school life could be in a scientific field. I worked full-time alongside graduate and post-graduate researchers and became familiar with the non-research side of graduate school: picking up inventory items from the stockroom(s), going to lab meetings and presenting research updates, keeping up with published articles on relevant research topics, and communicating by email, to name a few components.
Overall, I greatly treasure the opportunity PURM has given me to immerse myself in the life of real academic research under the mentorship of an amazing professor during my time at Penn.