“What I Do With My Week”

(Following is the first in a series of posts from All-Saints attenders about how their faith connects with their vocations. Our first post comes from Sarah Council who is finishing up her PhD studies as a micro-biology researcher. If you are interested in writing a 500 word or less post about faith and work please email me at brianmaiers@gmail.com.)

Walk through the doors of my building and you immediately notice the smell of old animal cages. Up to the 8th floor, walk into my lab and you’re met with a -80 freezer, 37 degree shakers and a well-kept black table top bench, full of clear chemicals, petri plates and pipettes. The thing you notice first though is the smell, a slight hint of fruity sweetness (and that’s putting it nicely).  Yes, I’m a graduate student doing my dissertation in a microbiology lab.

I study something so specific that in most cases my spiel leaves you a little in shock but very intrigued.  I work on a particular oral bacterium that lives on your tongue and in the space in between your teeth.  I’m interested in particular about how it survives and grows in the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis (more on CF here: http://www.cff.org/), looking precisely at nutrient acquisition and how the body reacts to the bacterium (ie: inflammation and such).   My fundamental drive through graduate school has been to help people through the study bacterial pathogenesis.

Back to my lab: Every week we have lab meeting that lasts two to three hours.  In it, everyone talks about what experiments they’ve done in the past week and the time serves has a small brainstorming session if experiments don’t go as planned.  ‘Not going as planned’ happens a lot. We come across unexplained growth of a mutant bacterium, baffling bands on a blot, and eventually our well thought out hypotheses are just that, only hypotheses. Most of the time, they are not entirely correct or wrong which pushes us to ask more questions about why certain things happen.

This is the beauty of science, God’s science.  There is something awe inspiring about having absolutely no clue how something works. You go back to the basics, once piece at a time.  Eventually through dozens and dozens and hundreds of experiments you have some idea how this thing/protein/DNA transcript/cell/tumor/bacterium/organ works. But it’s only in your simple system, with your exact reagents and with your special touch. How humbling is that?

Take a step back and marvel at the complexity that is you. Individual cells working in unison to make up organs which have a specific role in sustaining your life.  You are God’s workmanship, created in His image. The body and all that is in it is so beautifully complex.

Through my time in graduate school I have been always blessed to be able to study God’s Creation. Beautiful, complex and in all of it, I see God and His role in life.

Sarah Council

UNC Ph.D. candidate

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