Mentally Preparing for My Return to the Lab: A Grad Student’s Perspective

Today’s guest blog is written by Sophie Mancha, a global marketing intern with Promega this summer. She will be starting her 4th year as a PhD candidate in the Biomedical Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying pancreatic cancer.

Graduate students are used to working. Not only during regular work hours but also well into the night to finish readings or work on data analysis. Ripping graduate students away from their research as they desperately try to produce useful data may be as hard as finding toilet paper during the first few months of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. However, across the world graduate students saw their research come to a screeching halt. The pandemic took over and everyone suddenly went into quarantine.

I clearly remember my first virtual lab meeting. We all frantically tried figuring out what video-conferencing platform to use and how to share our screens. We kept repeating “stay calm” as we naively thought this would only last a couple of weeks. As the months went by, I began to panic. I realized I had finished analyzing the last remaining data I had left and was no longer being “productive”. This quickly spiraled into thoughts that I may never earn my PhD.

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3D Cell Culture Models: Challenges for Cell-Based Assays

3D Cell Culture Spheroid
3D Cell Culture Spheroid

In 3D cell culture models, cells are grown under conditions that allow the formation of multicellular spheroids or microtissues. Instead of growing in a monolayer on a plate surface, cells in 3D culture grow within a support matrix that allows them to interact with each other, forming cell:cell connections and creating an environment that mimics the situation in the body more closely than traditional 2D systems. Although 3D cultures are designed to offer a more physiologically accurate environment, the added complexity of that environment can also present challenges to experimental design when performing cell-based assays. For example, it can be a challenge for assay reagents to penetrate to the center of larger microtissues and for lytic assays to disrupt all cells within the 3D system.

Earlier this week Terry Riss, a Senior Product Specialist at Promega, presented a Webinar on the challenges of performing cell-based assays on microtissues in 3D cell culture. During the Webinar, Terry gave an overview of the different methods available for 3D cell culture, providing a description of the advantages of each. He then discussed considerations for designing and optimizing cell-based  assays for use in 3D culture systems, providing several  recommendations to keep in mind when performing cell viability assays on larger microtissue samples.

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Science and Journalism – Opposites or Not So Much?

This blog was written in collaboration with our partners at Promega GmbH.

Scientists are comfortable speaking to people who know their field. Speaking to scientists outside of their field of expertise can become a little more challenging, and many find the greatest challenge of all is speaking to people who do not have a science background and are hearing about a scientific concept for the first time, such as journalists in the popular media. What can scientists and journalists do to make the most of the interface of science and journalism?

Digital image depicting the intersection of science and journalism.

The importance of the interface between science and journalism is increasingly visible with scientific topics appearing on the national news more frequently due to COVID-19, climate change, and diseases like cancer. So, where can journalists go to learn best practices for interviewing scientists and writing about scientific topics? Promega GmbH offers a platform in which scientists and journalists come together and learn from each other in a constructive exchange. In this workshop setting, scientists speak about a certain topic, and journalists from all kinds of backgrounds can ask questions. When the journalist authors an article about what they learned in that workshop, both sides benefit. The scientists’ work becomes visible, and society learns more about scientific research and discovery that can help all of us to better understand the world and contribute to a brighter future.

Here we describe several common themes that have emerged from these science journalism workshops that may help you the next time you find yourself trying to explain your research to someone unfamiliar with your field.

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Reaching Out for Lab Research Experience

Today’s guest blog is written by Melissa Martin, a global marketing intern with Promega this summer. She will be a senior this fall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she is double majoring in zoology and life sciences communication, with a certificate in environmental studies.

Congrats! You are attending a university and pursuing a challenging, yet rewarding, undergraduate science degree. Getting to this moment probably included lots of late nights spent studying or worrying while applying to your dream college. However, now that you are here you will find that classes provide a lot of information. You can even take your education one step further by getting hands-on experience in a research lab.

Working in a lab is not only about making your resume look good. It offers a real-world experience that directly enhances your learning experience and can even guide your future. For example, your experiences in the lab can teach you basic skills (pipetting, determining concentrations, performing titrations, etc.) that will be useful in a variety of science professions.

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The Power of Vulnerability

Today’s blog is written by Malynn Utzinger, Director of Integrative Practices, and Tim Weitzel, ESI Architect.

If we want to reignite innovation and passion, we must rehumanize work.

-Silicon Valley CEO of Several Start-ups

If we want to rehumanize work, we need to be more human in the workplace.

-Promega’s ESI Bootcamp

Vulnerability is the birthplace of intimacy, trust connection, creativity, innovation. For leaders, it is the birthplace of trusted influence. But it is not permission to overshare.

-Brené Brown

Myths of Vulnerability

It’s important that we start off by making a few things about vulnerability crystal clear:  being vulnerable is not about over-sharing, being emotional—or worse, gushy. It is not about sacrificing necessary boundaries or letting go of all discernment when speaking. Vulnerability, as we intend it, is about being real with others. It is about being clear and honest enough within yourself that you can use courage and clarity to state a need or a perspective. Quite the opposite of requiring tears or grand displays of emotion, vulnerability can be expressed with utter command of one’s emotions, so that the clarity and authenticity of the message is what remains.

Vulnerability is also knowing that you cannot know everything or do your work perfectly or even to your full satisfaction sometimes, and it is having this same understanding and acceptance for others. It is being able to speak to that honestly so that we can build sustainable bridges between ourselves and others. We call this speaking our truths–with discernment.

Finally, vulnerability is knowing that while we must give our best efforts where and whenever we can, we must also know what we can’t control.  In most cases, what we cannot control is outcomes.  Therefore, vulnerability is embracing the uncertainty in how things will go in our relationships and in our work if we risk emotional exposure.  We cannot always know how others will hear what we share, but we can learn to take that risk and speak in service to a common goal.  For example, we might decide to share that the reason we are being so obsessive or insistent on a process is because of a past failure (perceived or real) that we still carry with us.  Even though we cannot control what others will think of our story, we trust that the sharing may help them share a need of their own or to hear our own need differently, so that we can all work together.  This is true in every relationship of our lives, where we learn to share something true for the sake of allowing another human being to know us as we are. 

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Monochromator vs Filter-Based Plate Reader: Which is Better?

When it comes to purchasing a microplate reader for fluorescence detection, the most common question is whether to choose a monochromator-based reader or filter-based reader. In this blog, we’ll discuss how both types of plate readers work and factors to consider when determining the best plate reader for your need.

How do monochromator-based plate readers work?

Monochromators work by taking a light source and splitting the light to focus a particular wavelength on the sample. During excitation, the light passes through a narrow slit, directed by a series of mirrors and diffraction grating and then passes through a second narrow slit prior to reaching the sample. This ensures the desired wavelength is selected to excite the fluorophore. Once the fluorophore is excited, it emits light at a different, longer wavelength. This emission light is captured by another series of mirrors, grating and slits to limit the emission to a desired wavelength, which then enters a detector for signal readout.

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Just What Is an RLU (Relative Light Unit)?

This post was contributed by guest blogger, Scott Messenger, Technical Support Scientist 2 at Promega Corporation.

It’s always an exciting time in the lab when you find a new assay to answer an important research question. Once you get your hands on the assay, it is always good to confirm it will work for your experimental setup. Repeating the control experiment shown in the technical manual is a great way to test the assay in your hands.

After running that first experiment of your assay, it looks pretty good. The trends of control and treatment are consistent. Time to get on with the experiments…but wait—the RLUs (Relative Light Units) are two orders of magnitude lower than the example data! I can’t show this data to my colleagues; it doesn’t match. What did I do wrong?

This is a concern that we in Technical Services hear frequently. The concern is real, and I had this same thought when doing some of my first experiments using luminescence. When a question like this comes in, a Technical Service Scientist will make sure the experiment was performed as we described, and in most cases it is. We then start talking about RLUs (Relative Light Units).

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Maximize Your Time in the Lab: Improve Experimental Reproducibility with Thaw-and-Use Cells

Many cell biology researchers can name their department’s  or institutions’s “cell culture wizard”—the technician with 20+ years of experience whose cell cultures are always free from contamination, exhibit reliable doubling rates and show no phenotype or genotype weirdness. Cell culture takes skill and experience. Primary cell culture can be even more difficult still, and many research and pharmaceutical applications require primary cells.

Yet, among the many causes of failure to replicate study results, variability in cell culture stands out (1). Add to the normal challenges of cell culture a pandemic that shut down cell culture facilities and still limits when and how often researchers can monitor their cell culture lines, and the problem of cell culture variability is magnified further.

Treating Cells as Reagents

A good way to reduce variability in cell-based studies is to use the thaw-and-use frozen stock approach. This involves freezing a large batch of “stock” cells, then performing quality control tests to ensure they respond appropriately to treatment. Then whenever you need to perform an assay, just thaw another vial of cells from that batch and begin your assay—just like an assay reagent! This approach eliminates the need to grow your cells to a specific stage, which could take days and introduce more variability.

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Tips for Attendees: Making the Most of a Virtual Conference

Today’s blog was written by guest bloggers Tara Luther, Marketing Specialist Genetic Identity, and Allison Suchon, Manager of Tradeshows and Events at Promega.

2020 has been a year of changes for all of us. We’ve learned how to keep in touch while physically distancing. We’ve learned how to work from home with furry coworkers who encourage us to break from the traditional 9–5 routine. We’ve learned how to make changes to our labs to stay safe and productive.

For many of us, this will also be the first time that we attend a virtual conference. While it’s easy to focus on what we’ll be missing by not gathering together, there are advantages to moving to the virtual space. By making the most out of your virtual experience, you’ll be able to walk away with valuable insights, a robust network, and insights that you can use in your own lab.

To help, we’ve put together a list of tips that will help you maximize your experience at any virtual conferences you attend.

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Getting Back to the Bench

Today’s blog is written by Technical Services Scientist, Joliene Lindholm, PhD.

Many of us have come back to the lab after a summer of field work or a vacation break, but there is usually someone checking in on the lab to make sure the gel electrophoresis box did not completely overflow with dead bugs and the water baths are not completely overrun with exciting new algae. Maybe this was just because I worked in an older building in an entomology department, but why do insects like running buffer so much? Some labs have been completely shut down for months at this point or maybe just a few essential people have been in keeping stocks and colonies going. Some labs have adapted to the new normal and developed guidelines to keep researchers safe while still doing essential work in the lab. See how the Promega Scientific Applications group has maintained this balance.

Headed back to the lab bench? Take some time to make sure you have everything you need to start up your research projects.

Here are a few tips from what I learned in managing a lab after a period of field work to get back into the swing of things:

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