Monday, October 17, 2016

Sea Butterfly!

Neih hou! 

Don't roll you eyes wondering what it is! "Neih hou" is how you say "hello" in Cantonese. Guess what, I am in Hong Kong and therefore the language Cantonese. I came to Hong Kong this summer as an intern before officially joining as a PhD Student. This is my second experience abroad, far away from home, new language, new culture, I expected me to have a "really" bad cultural shock, but, actually I experienced only 50% of what I expected. For a girl who have used the marina beach only for eating "sundal", bikini in beach was a shock (FEEL FREE TO JUDGE ME!). The first time, I went to the big wave beach here, I was the only one who was totally covered, when everyone was enjoying their Beer, I was slowly sipping my lemon juice (THE ODD ONE OUT!). I realized how beautifully different the world outside is! There is no single standard for right or wrong, it varies in different countries, in different regions around the world. And it is all right as long as you don't hurt anyone and don't force anyone to do something. I am learning to appreciate different culture and perspectives.

Life is beautiful! But, also there are a few "mean" people everywhere! - The UNIVERSAL TRUTH 

I always wanted to travel abroad and study, see how things work in other countries, understand how people do research in places other than India. I am a person who loves home food and wants to stay with family, at the same time. And when I weighed the comfort of staying at home over doing research abroad, the later weighed quite heavy, so, here I am in The University of Hong Kong (HKU)!

Did you miss my first flight? Don't worry, go "here", read and come back here :)


I always wanted to learn new things and was curious. I have worked so far with microbes, especially bacteria. I know basic molecular biology, genetic engineering techniques and always wanted to work at molecular level. When it came to PhD, I looked for a challenging, new, interdisciplinary area where I can learn exciting things and I found marine science perfectly fitting all my specifications when I was browsing through various research topics. Especially, I feel the "excitement" part is very high in this particular field because of the field trips into the sea for getting samples and also Hong Kong consists of 263 islands, making it a perfect place for doing marine research. HK is also a global financial centre after New York and London. 

Let's have a quick glance of the interesting tit bits that I learnt in HKU!

1) First encounter with oysters! 

I am this person who have never seen oysters before in my lifetime, but, in pictures. First day, I go to lab, say "jousan" (good morning) to everyone and also to oysters. The very first thing I learnt once reaching the laboratory was how to take care of oysters, growing them, feeding them, cleaning them :) Wah, it felt great, because, it was so lively, though the oysters don't swim around like fishes. Obviously, you need to sacrifice them later for performing experiments, but still, I found it new and exciting!

Oysters are filter feeders, oh yeah, they filter the water! You are right! Go, remove the filter from your fish tank and throw some oysters inside it! Generally, they feed algae to oysters, depending on the stage of life cycle in which the oyster is in, the type of algal feed varies. Example, small sized algae for the baby oysters. (Algae used in my lab: Isochrysis galbana)

2) Strip Spawning!

Spawning - are you wondering what does it mean? Even I was wondering the first time I heard the word. It is a process by which eggs and sperms of the oysters (or in general, any marine organism) are released into the water and then they fertilize, and you know what happens after that!

Strip spawning is the method in which you remove the eggs or sperms from the animal carefully, oysters are hermaphrodites, it means, they have the ability to switch their sex, they can be male or female. They change their sex depending on their life cycle. During strip spawning, we usually, puncture the gonads, take a tiny bit of gamete, place it on a microscope to check whether the gamete is male (Sperms) or female (eggs). Based on what gamete it is, we separate and count the animals as males or female, and, collect their gametes separately for fertilizing them later. 

While doing strip spawning!

3) 2D Gels!

I have learnt the basics about two dimensional SDS PAGE before, but, never had hands on experience. I learnt doing it, was fun! I find myself better than my undergrad version who was all nervous and shaky when entered a new lab! I learn new things with confidence and curiosity.

4) SWIMS!

I spent my summer in the Swire Institute of Marine Science (SWIMS), which is located far away from the bustling Hong Kong city. The cool thing about this institute is - it is in the shores of the only marine reserve in Hong Kong and it is really a great pleasure to live, read and research in such a beautiful place, far away from the city means far away from all kinds of pollution. But, obviously, you will starve unless you have some culinary skills, other option, you can buy and stuff your fridge or survive with instant noodles. But, it is really a good place for a marine scientist to do summer research in HK.

5) HKU!

For a student who did her undergrad from a small college in Sivakasi, where there were "millions" of rules (yes, literally millions of rules) to say what not to do, HKU is like heaven (But still, I also like my teachers from the previous colleges, they were the ones who taught me the basics and kindled the passion for science in me, they are my first source of inspiration). Free learning - there is nobody to force you to do anything, you are free to choose the way you want to learn, of course, there are some rules! The 'on campus' restaurants and canteens in HKU appeared like "5 star hotels" to me comparing the university canteens back in my college. Every time I eat my meal here, I feel so blessed, it urges me not to waste food (Doesn't mean you can waste food if you eat in a normal place! Don't get this wrong!) which several others don't get in this world. This is more than what I expected. 

The laboratories in HKU are well equipped, the quality of research is great. This is why, I exactly wanted to go abroad, to see, how the world out here is so different from my country. There is some workshop or seminar or symposium going on everyday, and, if you want to learn, you are free to join in any of these. 

I am learning so many other things than just research and science. Things for life, reasons for being responsible and above all I realized, doing PhD is not that easy, but still, I am happy I chose this tough path, there would be no fun in doing something very simple, right?

6) Writing a paper!

I have never written an article for a scientific journal before, though I have experience of scribbling here in this blog :D Now, I am learning to write a research article for journals, it's so exciting and fun to learn new things. I hope I will soon write an article about "my first experience in writing an article for scientific journals" once I finish writing my first paper. 

Reading papers, reading more and more papers, learning new things is the main part of my PhD life. I hope, at the end of PhD I will just not get a degree but evolve as a better person. Share what new thing you learnt recently or your experience in the comments :)

And yeah, I named myself as SEA BUTTERFLY, now :P