The Life of a Microbiologist

Many people think that being a microbiologist means that you sit in a lab (alone) in a white coat with your nose down a microscope all day long.  Good think that’s not usually the case (or I’d have gone crazy a LONG time ago!)  I’m actually an environmental microbiologist which means that I study microbes that live in the environment- in my case, the ocean!  I love my job because I get to go out to sea on research cruises at least three times a year, and there are lots of opportunities to travel to exotic places to take samples of microbes and microbial DNA to bring back to the lab for study.  Some of my colleagues study microbes in soils, lakes, sediments, tar ponds, acid mines, and pretty much any part of the environment you can imagine, which means they get to combine travel and field work with their studies as well.  There is still lots of lab work to be done once we get back loaded down with samples, as well as bioinformatics (computer analysis, usually of DNA sequences) so work never gets boring with so many different things to do!  Check out a few pictures from my most recent trips to sea, and feel free to contact me if you want to learn more about the good life as a microbiologist!

Jody Wright is a PhD student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of British Columbia. ScienceGirl says thanks, Jody, for telling us what it’s like to be a scientist.

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Ask a Question

Sometimes great minds think alike. If you’d like to ask a scientist a question, you should check out this very cool website from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


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Eye, Ear, Lip, Hip …

Today, I visited the University Transitions Program at UBC. I talked about what it’s like to be a young scientist, what I love about science, and the twisty turn-y path that I took from high school to where I am today.

I had fun playing a game with the two classes I visited. The game was to try and list as many three letter body parts as we could up in 5 seconds. Eye, Ear, Lip, Hip, those are just a few! How many more can you come up with?

Illustrations by Cornelius De Witt. 1959. Golden Press.

The point of this game was that we worked together we came up with many more answers (one class came up with 13). That’s exactly what I love about Science. It’s all about working together. When you’re sharing ideas and working collaboratively, you learn much more. One of my favorite parts about Science is talking to people who have different expertise sets and sharing ideas to get a deeper understanding of the answers to our common challenges. ???? ?????? ?????? ??? ? ??????

What question would you ask?

If you had a chance to visit with a scientist for a day, what questions would you ask? 

Illustration by Mark Witton

Often when students are thinking about science in school, they’re given advice that they should try volunteering in a lab.  The idea is that you can see first hand what it’s like to be a scientist and chat to the real people who do science.  Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to find volunteering opportunities.

ScienceGirl would like to suggest an alternative.  If you post your questions here, she’ll find someone who works in a lab who can answer your questions.  Use the “Comments” button below … and ScienceGirl will reply online.

I’m thinking back to the first lab jobs that I had.  I worked for small biotechnology company growing cells, and in another research lab collecting DNA samples.  I asked all kinds of questions: About what is was like to be a scientist?  About how companies work?  About where people went to school?  About what they were reading?  About cells?  About DNA?  … the list goes on!

So, what kind of questions would you ask?