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Science Exchange Stories: Dana Carper at CSU Sacramento

How one student overcame research roadblocks, and expanded her thesis through online collaborations.

Lab malfunctions, construction, and sample contamination are far-too-frequent occurrences when you are doing research. They are a thorn in the side of graduate students, post-docs, and professors alike.

With impending deadlines, it often feels like you have no control over your own future. But for Dana Carper, a Master’s student at the California State University Sacramento, she found a way around her research roadblocks through Science Exchange.

An Epic Battle: Dust vs. Data

Rings of flowers indicate a dried out, seasonal vernal pool in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
Rings of flowers indicate a dried out, seasonal vernal pool in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Dana has been studying micro-organisms in seasonal ponds called vernal pools. These organisms have never been studied in depth before, and she was using a combo of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), Terminal Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (TRFLP), and DNA sequencing experiments to create a new understanding of these tiny but crucial pieces of the ecological niche.

But with only one semester left in her program, she ran into a snag. “We were doing our research in the basement, because our lab was under construction and dust was everywhere – it was a nightmare,” said Dana. “I was having horrible contamination issues while running my samples. I was doing PCR and my negative control had a lovely bright bacterial band.  I cleaned out my entire pipette, sprayed everything down and was still getting it.”

Compounding problems was Dana’s own deadline for her graduate work. “I was trying to get my masters done in 2 years, and this was happening over winter break. I needed to get my thesis done by the end of the semester.”


A Make-It-Work Moment

The clock was ticking, the funding was running out, and Dana Carper was faced with a short deadline and few options. Many students might choose to simply tack on more time to their sometimes-endless research, but Dana was resourceful – she had a deadline and she was sticking to it.

She figured she could get the work done elsewhere. “There were definitely times when I thought I was going to have to stay another year, but I said no, I’m going to find another way to do this – it will get done.”

“My advisor, Dr. Enid T. Gonzalez-Orta, was following someone on Twitter and they mentioned Science Exchange.  They offered both the terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism and also had next gen sequencing – two of the critical remaining parts of my thesis.”

Dana chose to use Science Exchange to complete the remaining experiments. She ended up working with the UNC Microbiome Core Facility for assistance with TRFLP, and startup uBiome for help with 16S sequencing analysis. After spending the fall in a constant battle with her contaminated surroundings, she was able to contract the labs, send her samples, and get her results in a month. By keeping an open mind, creating strict deadlines for her project, and utilizing the network around her she was back on track to complete her Master’s.

Bypassing Roadblocks

Dana Carper
A cheerful Dana Carper in the final stages of her Master’s thesis.

Dana is slated to complete her Master’s this July, right on schedule, and she is continuing her education as a PhD student at UC Merced.

“Don’t be afraid to check out some new stuff that’s different and not what you’re used to. Don’t think you have to do everything yourself. If things aren’t working out, look for new sources and new help. See what’s there.”

Roadblocks are inevitable and whether they mess with your research, your education, or maybe just your commute to work, they can be infuriating. Being resourceful is a crucial component to any career. Dana found a way around her issue and you can use her insight to get around yours too.

“Have a strict deadline. If things aren’t working out, take chances – check out  new stuff that’s different and not what you’re used to.”




Tess Mayall


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