Every year the BIT program hires a recently graduated student to serve as their post-baccalaureate lab assistant. The position is held for one year, paid, and a great opportunity for a recent graduate who is looking for more research experience and/or time before continuing their education or entering the workforce. A lot of hands and minds go into making sure the many BIT labs run smoothly, and the post-bac plays a huge role in this.
Madison Routh, who graduated from NCSU with a B.S. in Biochemistry and a minor in Biotechnology in the Spring of 2022, was welcomed into the position this past July. She mentioned how she took BIT100, Current Topics in Biotechnology, her freshman year in 2019 with Dr. Srougi. In the Fall of 2020 she began her undergraduate research with Dr. Srougi, learning about the breast cancer gene BRCA1 and the various drugs that correspond to that. Since it was 2020, Madison started her research career online, which can be a challenging reality for some. “You need the lab experience, but you also need to know how to do research on the computer,” Madison said. After spending two semesters doing remote research, she was able to come into Jordan Hall during the Summer of 2021 and start practicing all of the techniques she had learned about. Still, research is usually done within a very narrow discipline, and Madison’s experience was no exception. She took two BIT lab modules in addition to her advanced biochemistry labs, but as far as research, her project was very specific. “The only things I focused on were the breast cancer cells and the drugs that treat them,” she said. “But now, with this position, I’m working with bacteria, and I’m working with protocols that I definitely didn’t use in my undergrad research.”
Protocols aren’t the only thing Madison has learned since taking her position. About two weeks after starting, she was suddenly the only person working in the “prep lab,” or the room where all of the lab reagents are kept and prepared for the week. One of the main activities that goes on in the prep lab is assembling/aliquoting the materials needed for the core lab (BIT410/510) and ensuring that they work properly and are ready for the 96 students who take the in-person laboratory course each semester. This is a job typically done by the lab manager – however, due to the sudden departure of the previous lab manager, it has been Madison’s main role since the semester started. Once a new lab manager settles in, she will be able to spend less time on preparation for the core labs and start helping the post-docs with their own BIT projects, troubleshooting the experiments needed for their lab modules. Madison explained how she was able to manage the jobs of multiple people and said, “It helped that I already knew where everything was and already had relationships with everybody in the program…I only had to learn the job, I didn’t have to learn everything else.” Her familiarity with the program is also part of why she chose this position over going elsewhere. “I love the people of the BIT program and I think what they do is really cool… This was the perfect opportunity where it was just a year long position where I didn’t have to go out, get a job, and tell them I could only work for a year,” since Madison plans on going to graduate school starting the Fall of 2023.
Not only does Madison love working with the staff, but also with the technology. “Just walking through the BIT floor you have all these really cool, really expensive pieces of technology. Learning how to use them and how they can help you run your experiment [excites me],” she said. Those who work in the prep lab get first looks at the new equipment that is brought in, and often are the ones teaching the faculty how to use it and readying protocols for the students. Setting up equipment protocols is something students normally wouldn’t think twice about, but it is a crucial part to labs running smoothly. Madison said one of the best parts of her job is “being the person that helps students the way that someone helped me when I was in the courses.” Whether that’s through preparing the materials, aiding students in using the equipment, or simply making sure each round of students has a clean and stocked workstation. So students, if you see any of the prep-lab staff, make sure to say thank you for all the work they put in!
“It’s nice to be able to have this position where I’m learning, but not for a grade”
Madison originally took this job because it provided the best of both worlds for her. “Burn out” is a very real experience for most college students, and jumping straight into grad school classes can intensify the feeling. “It’s nice to be able to have this position where I’m learning, but not for a grade… I’m getting the lab experience of an undergrad, but I’m getting paid which is really nice” she explained. As we get closer to the end of the year, she’s preparing to apply to graduate schools in the area. The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, better known as the research triangle, has great opportunities in biotechnology, and specifically pharmacology. This is the type of masters degree Madison would like to pursue, making the Raleigh area a great place for her to earn her second degree and make connections. Since her research had been primarily focused on a specific breast cancer mutation, Madison mentions how she would love to stay in the realm of studying cancer but is open to whatever catches her eye. “Who knows! I might get accepted into grad school and find a lab that I think is really cool, and when I go and absolutely love it, I can change my mind [about what I want to pursue]” she said. Whatever Madison finds in her future, her time as a student, researcher, and lab assistant within the BIT Program will aid her journey and provide a community of professionals who support her.