Like a lot of people, Joy Franco gets in to work around 8 a.m. and starts her day checking on her projects, making lists of things to do and getting down to work. But unlike most people, Franco’s work is worms. She is a graduate student in the lab of neuroscientist Miriam Goodman, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology and a member of the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and Stanford Bio-X who studies the sense of touch in a tiny worm called C. elegans. Their goal is to better understand how the sense of touch works and why sometimes it doesn’t.
The work is enlightening, but often tedious. There are solutions to mix, experiments to run and worms to feed, a repetitive task that involves transferring worm food by pipette into hundreds of individual dishes. There is also the issue of failure – equipment breaks, reagents go bad or experiments produce results that make little sense.
Yet scientific work also brings its own special kinds of rewards. There is, for example, the hope that studying touch in worms will one day lead to treatments or therapies for people undergoing chemotherapy, which sometimes robs patients of their sense of touch. There is the pleasure that some get simply from making something, whether it’s a new piece of lab equipment or a scientific figure. And there is the unique if intermittent joy of discovering something new.
Here, Franco, Goodman, postdoctoral fellows Dail Chapman and Alakananda Das and graduate student Adam Nekimken talk about what it’s like to be a neuroscientist, what keeps them motivated and what other paths they might have taken – or might still take.
Joy Franco is a 2015 EDGE-STEM Fellow and an EDGE Mentor.