A Masters student under my wing


It has been exactly a year and 4 months since I started my PhD in Sandrine Etienne-Manneville’s unit as a PolarNet ESR. Starting off in Institut Pasteur as a freshly graduated Master’s student from India was a drastic step and challenging as well.

At the beginning of my PhD there were several techniques which were new to me; starting from primary cell line culture, to new depths of molecular biology and an intense load of Biochemistry. However, interacting with other colleagues, a lot of scientists and the frequent conferences and meetings we had to do as part of the PolarNet helped me to sail through in this journey.

However, along with one’s scientific development we were taught a lot of interpersonal skills and personality development. One major characteristic one learns as being part of the network is working in a team and leadership skills. All these experiences were extremely fruitful when it came to the moment when I had to become a mentor for a Masters student working alongside me in the lab.

So it all started when three weeks ago, a Masters student named Grégoire Mathonnet from Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie joined our lab. Evidently from his name he is French and it would be apt to describe him as an extreme science enthusiast; all set to join me for the next six months to aid in a new dimension that arose in my project. His eagerness to learn and the energy drive he has to perform experiments every day is extremely motivating. It also seems extremely satisfying to be able to teach a new student skills and techniques they have not used before. Nevertheless it seems to be a two way learning process.

Grégoire and me; where I teach him some sample preparation for microscopy

One of the most important experiments we have done so far is isolation of primary rat astrocytes. In our lab, the model for studying polarity is primary rat astrocytes which exhibit front-rear polarity upon migration. Since it is a primary cell line, rat dissection is a key skill to master to have beautiful healthy looking astrocytes. Grégoire was fascinated by the whole process of rat dissection and it was interesting to see his comfort towards handling the rat and so on, in spite of no prior experience. It is a strenuous 3 hour long process. However, teaching this routine task to a new student makes it more endurable.

Grégoire changing media for astrocytes he seeded for Microinjection

We are working together on many other such experiments that are new to him, having previously worked with mostly biochemistry oriented experiments he is new to mammalian cell culture techniques. At the moment, he is learning to sub culture, cryopreserve, transfect and image mammalian cells. Another technique he is totally intrigued about is microscopy; we are constantly live imaging using Spinning disk confocal microscopy and TIRF microscopy. It is great to see his keenness and this also motivates me to brush up my basics and be a good mentor. I guess this marks the beginning of our six month long journey.

Well that is it for now; I will be back with another encounter in this PhD journey soon.