Tuesday, September 18, 2012


(German translation farther below!)

So... I promised to tell you about the project I'm working on during my stay here in Finland. Well, the thing is, I'm not actually very happy about the whole situation right now, but let's start from the beginning.

When this internship position was offered to me/us, we were told it would be a project in the area of tissue engineering and cell culturing. I was very excited about that topic, as I was thinking about doing a Master with focus on tissue engineering. I just thought it would be the perfect chance to find out if it's really what I want to do. I already had some opportunities to work in other fields of molecular biology or biotech or whatever you'd call all that in general: protein chemistry and analytics/genetics, so I was looking forward to working with some "living stuff".

But as it turns out, this project really isn't what we were told it would be. I'm still not sure how much I can tell because a part of it is confidential, but I was unable so far to find out which one, and also I'm not too keen on getting too many google search hits concerning that topic, but I'll give you the short story.
We're working with a so called hydrogel, that can be used to encapsulate cells. They grow and live in the cell (if they are provided with culture medium) with the advantage of being immobilized. This is useful for example if you want to have your cells in a so called tube reactor (which is pretty much what its name already says), where you just need to flush in the fresh medium and you'll get your metabolite/product out on the other side of the reactor. It can also be useful for tissue engineering purposes, because these gel-structures can faciliate 3D growth of cells, as it occurs in the body and as is necessary to achieve in vitro in order to create multicellular layers of tissue. Personally, I thought this would be where we step in - that we would do some testing with cell cultures, like how to cultivate cells most efficiently on the gel or how well does the gel work for this and that type of cell etc.

However, after the first meeting with our supervisor we quickly found out that all this work with cell culture and the actual applications of the gel are not researched here.

As the project is divided between I think three or four universities throughout Europe, my home university being one of them, they also divided the tasks in the project between them. So for example my home uni tested cancer cell growth and microscopy during the last year. And it turns out that this university here is more or less only concerned with the material science part of the project.
So what they do all day long is trying to optimize the formulation to find the perfect gelation time, to minimize ethanol concentration etc.

Material Science.
Not that I'm not interested in it (well, when it comes to this project, I actually really am not, but more on that later) in general, but I just feel really, really disappointed because this is not what they had promised us that we would be doing here. But anyway, so far we didn't really do anything anyway.

During the first week, we basically did nothing but reading some manuals, papers and articles that were given to us by a colleague. She is actually a student at the university, who does her project work here in that project. She worked with headspace chromatography during the summer a lot, which is use to check for ethanol residues in the sol (=liquid form of the gel). There is also another guy who works with us on that project and he's a student too. The two tried their best to give us an introduction to the work, for example they showed us how the gels are made. It did not, however, work. At all. Basically nothing they predicted/said came true. "It should solidify within 20minutes!" or "You have to mix it for 40 minutes exactly. Except for when it's not clear, then you can keep it a bit longer". Guess what, we kept mixing it for 80 minutes (!) before it went clear. So much for "exactly". I don't want to blame them, really, it's just that I feel that there should probably be someone else who shows us how to work in the lab, someone other than just fellow students! Of course they have more experience with the project and they know their way around a lot of things, but a lot of questions we had were left unanswered because they didn't really know themselves. 
We spent most of the time reading anyway, and so somehow delved into the theory of the project at least.
Considering that this project is now going on for.... at least two years I think, I can't but wonder what the hell have they done so far? And at the same time, if this is supposed to be material science, what the hell remains to be done and - much more important - how are they supposed to keep us busy for the next 20 weeks...

We spend most of our time in our office with nothing to do.... on the bright side: WE HAVE OUR OWN OFFICE!

A meeting on Monday answered that last question and kinda ruined my mood totally.
I had already made up a plan to suggest my own project idea and ask if I could get the material to do what I wanted (working with mammalian cells). The lab even has a clean room and I'd love to work there to try it! Our supervisor, however, was not really happy about my suggestion, because he said they don't really have the material for mammalian cell culture here, and it's mostly the other partners in this research projects that do these tasks. He promised, though, to ask and see if he can get me some of the stuff.
So, he came up with a list of things that need to be done. As previously mentioned, most of it is material science related and deals with the properties of the gel. I claimed for myself the part that sounded least-analytical and most-cell-culture-ish, as I had already talked to my colleague before that we'd split the topics that way. So I know I at least have something as a topic for my Bachelor thesis that I'm interested in.

But this is still not the end of the story!
So our meeting was over but it was still not clear what we were supposed to do. How to deal with our research topics. How to start the actual research. Where dafuq to even start..
So they let us start by producing gels. Which, however useful it may be for training and practice and whatnot, is really tiresome when you have to do it all alone in a gigantic lab where you spend the first 45 minutes of your day with searching for freakin pipette tips. (Because before 10:00 these labs are more or less deserted and there is nobody to ask either).
As a result to today's gloriously failed attempt in aseptic production of hydrogel, caused by minor difficulties such as - not knowing how to follow Finnish modes of instructions, e.g. on the laminar hood, lack of gloves when working "sterile", changing the room three times and carrying all stuff somewhere else because of lab courses that needed space, walking up and down the stairs from 1st to 2nd floor labs approximately a gazillion times - did I mention we were constantly looking for stuff which we couldn't find? .... so, ass a result I was indeed very much pissed off today. I was in a terrible mood to be honest. I thought I won't make it through the next 20 weeks if this continues like that.
Of course it will be easier to work one's way around in the lab with the course of time, but I just wish they would tell me when I can start my real work. Or at least what I can do to prepare myself for it. What books or papers I could read. I tried to get some ideas myself (like I did with that previous research topic idea I had by myself) but I couldn't find anything. And what's really frustrating is the thought that we will most probably spend another week doing basically nothing but maybe making some gels or some GC measurements, before we get another chance to meet our supervisor who will probably tell us to do some more gels before anything else -___-

I know it's unfair of me not to be thankful, considering I got this internship without any effort because it was more or less just offered. I know it's unfair to react like a spoiled brat who didn't get what they wanted. I know all that, and I'm really sorry.

I know this is not really anybody's fault. Still it bugs me and it makes me angry that we are left alone like that.
Also, I wouldn't really care that much if this (making gels) is what I had applied for. Like during my summer job where I just worked according to some protocols, and did that for 4 weeks every day. Still it was fun because there were different tasks to do, I could practice time management and get to know some new techniques. But as it was "just" my job to help, it was perfectly okay. I was even asked to develop an own method later, so I really learned a lot.
On the contrast, I came here to do research, to work on a project in a way that I can write my Bachelor thesis about it - and I can't really see myself writing my thesis about how to make these stupid gels all day long! -__-

Anyway. While writing, at least I calmed down. I just have to accept this the way it is anyway, so there's no use in complaining *sigh* I guess I just had to get that out of my head to be able to see it all a bit more relaxed. I hope I can tell something more interesting soon!

...and in case you were wondering what I currently do in my free time... I play GW2 study Finnish! XD

~ Translation ~

Ich hatte euch ja versprochen ein wenig von dem Projekt an dem ich hier mitarbeite, zu erzählen. Die die es interessiert haben es vermutlich schon auf Englisch gelesen, aber für alle die es auch interessiert die nicht so gut Englisch können hier nochmal die deutsche Version. Bei dem Projekt geht es um ein sog. Hydrogel für Zellkulturen. Zellen benötigen bestimmte Voraussetzungen in ihrer Umgebung um richtig wachsen zu können, und dieses Hydrogel kann sozusagen die Bedingungen im Körper nachstellen, so dass man zum Beispiel Gewebe darin heranzüchten könnte. Es gibt viele Anwendungsmöglichkeiten, aber ich bin nicht sicher wieviel ich darüber erzählen darf da das Projekt ja noch im Gange und daher einiges Vertraulich ist.

Kurz gesagt ist es jedenfalls so dass uns das Projekt (zumindest mir) vorrangig dadurch schmackhaft gemacht wurde, dass man mir gesagt hat es ginge um "Tissue Engineerung" und "Cell Culture Techniques". Da ich ja schon ein paar Praktika gemacht habe und auch in den Laborkursen an der Uni einiges ausprobieren konnte, habe ich für mich festgestellt dass mich eigentlich Zellbiologie doch am Meisten interessiert, und ich mir für die Zukunft gut vorstellen kann mit Zellkulturen zu arbeiten und an Zellen zu forschen. Das Praktikum wäre für mich nun ideal gewesen um zu sehen ob mich das auch wirklich längerfristig interessiert und ich mich im Masterstudium in diese Richtung spezialisieren möchte.

Nun hat sich aber leider herausgestellt dass man uns.... naja, sagen wir mal so: nicht ganz die Wahrheit gesagt hat was das Projekt betrifft. Denn de facto arbeiten ja mehrere Universitäten an dem Projekt mit, und diese hier konzentriert sich vorrangig auf die materialwissenschaftlichen Aspekte der Forschung. Das heißt: Optimierung der Eigenschaften des Gels wie Gelierungszeit, Lagerbedingungen, Rehologie....
Mit Zellkulture hat die Arbeit hier nicht gerade viel zu tun.

Dementsprechen enttäuscht war ich also, als uns das gesagt wurde. Ich hatte dann vor, ein eigenes Projekt vorzuschlagen, und habe beim Meeting am Montag gefragt ob es möglich wäre die dafür nötigen Materialien zu bestellen. Es scheint mir aber ein bisschen so als wolle unser Supervisor das gar nicht will, sondern selbstverständlich ist ihm lieber wir kümmern uns um die Bereiche des Projektes an denen eben noch gearbeitet werden muss, sollte... was auch immer. Irgendwie ist das ja sowieso alles eher seltsam, wenn man bedenkt dass schon seit mindestens zwei Jahren an dem Projekt geforscht wird gibt es noch nicht wirklich irgendwelche Ergebnisse und die Methode hat auch nur so halb Hand und Fuß.
Es kann aber auch sein dass mir das nur so vorkommt, denn bisher habe ich sämtliche Einweisungen nur von einer Mitarbeiterin an dem Projekt hier bekommen, die selbst noch Bachelorstudentin ist und hier ihre Projektarbeit im Rahmen des Studiums macht. Somit hat bis jetzt als es uns gezeigt wurde noch nichts so wirklich funktioniert wie es sollte, das mit diesem Gel zu tun hatte.

Ich bin ehrlich gesagt ziemlich angepisst gewesen nach dem letzten Meeting am Montag, obwohl ich bei der Zuteilung der Aufgaben noch eine bekommen habe, die mich am ehesten interessiert und wo ich Chancen habe mit Zellkulturen zu arbeiten.
Aber trotzdem wirkt alles irgendwie so.... planlos. Wir machen einfach "irgendwas" in den Tag hinein und warten irgendwie auf bessere Zeiten, anstatt uns irgendwie mit Projektplanung für unsere Forschung auseinanderzusetzen, und das ärgert mich. Ich weiß nicht woran ich bin und das macht mich einfach nervös. Schließlich bin ich hier um zu forschen, und die Ergebnisse sollten dann eine etwa 40 Seite Bachelorarbeit ergeben .___.

Naja. Ich hoffe einfach dass wir nicht noch einige Wochen damit verschwenden Gele zu machen und langsam irgendwann mal besprechen wie wir unsere gesetzten Ziele erreichen können. Ich hätte auch einfach gerne mehr Literatur zu dem Thema um während der ganzen Wartezeiten wenigstens was lesen zu können, aber offenbar gibt es nichts mehr. Und somit ist mein "ganz normaler Arbeitstag" im Moment eher frustrierend und langweilig.

Mittlerweile hat sich meine Laune schon wieder gebessert und ich hoffe einfach, dass das alles nächste Woche besser wird. Denn noch eine Woche nur Rumsitzen und de facto nichts machen halte ich glaub ich nicht aus.


  1. ich finde es echt super, dass du uns so auf dem laufenden hälst mit deinen Finnlandberichten. Ein Traum von mir ist es, genau wie du, eine Zeit lang dort hin zu gehen...

    Auf welchem Server spielst du GW2? :)


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