Lina Blanco

Lina Blanco holding a tray of test tubes

Working at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center this summer was an unforgettable experience working hands on with bioenergy research. I worked in Dr. Robert Last’s Lab with my mentor Xingxing Li focusing on biochemistry, and we studied the bioenergy crop switchgrass and its specialized chemicals also known as metabolites. We did this by figuring out the function of a class of chemicals called terpenoids found mostly in the top part of switchgrass roots. Working alongside my mentor to figure out the function of our molecule of interest proved to be a fun task, as I found myself learning something new every day and worked with useful techniques. As we worked with metabolomics, I grew accustomed to working with analytical chemistry machinery such as mass spectrometry and solid phase extraction and always found it so interesting how they functioned and were able to tell different molecules apart in a sample. My mentor was great to work with, as he was very supportive and answered all my questions, which I had many of. Since my major is microbiology, and I had no previous experience working with chemistry I thought I would be very lost, but I quickly caught on with the constant support from my peers, principal investigator, and mentor. Aside from the experience of being in the lab, our program coordinator, Adrianna, provided us all the necessary tools and with helpful meetings with people from different backgrounds in science, which showed us how broad the field is. We were also able to go on different field trips ranging from bioenergy plants to the Kellogg biological center and anaerobic digesters, all of which have their own separate story and experience and provided me so much perspective as to what I am truly interested in.

Aside from the research, making friends proved to be an easy task as those of us from the program quickly got along from the first day on and from then on, we hung out as much as we could in our free time. I was so glad to make friends with everyone on the program, as it was fun to finally have people I could comfortably nerd out with. We were able to go to different cities during the weekend thanks to our friend who had a car, and went to cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, and Montreal. East Lansing was also such a charming and accessible city, and the campus was beautiful and had facilities such as gyms and Spartys markets which was always had good coffee. This experience really solidified my curiosity in different kinds of research, and how I would like to look more into academia after getting my doctorates degree. I was also able to work on my English-speaking skills as I come from a country that predominantly speaks Spanish and am so much more confident in my skills now. Overall, this was most definitely an unforgettable experience with shaped me and really made me more decisive in terms of my career path and deciding if graduate school is a right fit for me.

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