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Hej! My name is Electra – Alexandra Koutsolelou and I am an undergraduate student working on my bachelor thesis in Ettema-Lab (via my home university UOA) from August 2014 until late spring 2015.
I have been amazed by the wonders of biology and the magic of life since I was quite young. I remember that from the age of 8 I was nagging my parents to get me a monthly subscription to a number of science magazines and newspaper booklets instead of getting pocket money. At some point I was receiving 5 different of them (for kids) per month! But I still managed to devour the pages, the bookworm that was and learn about animal habits and behavior, energy sources and so many fun facts that are still stuck in my memory.
I loved one that was called: Young Scientists: Discovering the world. I still have all the copies that have been accumulating in my parents’ house all those years. They were so well made that I would gladly pick up one to read even now! So back then, I felt that this is what I want to do with my life.. Study animals, the environment and just going outside and asking questions about everything around me..!
I recently found an essay I had written when I was 13. We had to describe our dream job and a person that we admire. And back then my dream job was apparently to live as well as work on a boat for months or years and try to become the next female Jacques
– Yves Cousteau..! It was a big ambition I have to admit but I did keep it in mind for many years.
Math and space were also a part of my life back then and I had the opportunity to get a scholarship for the Space Camp facility in Turkey. Two weeks of theory and history in the mornings and practice in the afternoons such as low gravity simulators and even training your body to high speed and .. many good memories… After that there was no doubt for me that I would take the Science path in the beginning of Highschool. For three years I was studying hard with my only goal being to be able to study what I was passionate about. At 18 years old I finally got in the University of my first choice in the top three and study what I always loved. Biology, the science of life.
After all this effort I was, unfortunately, quite disappointed by it. The lack of motivation that some professors failed to deliver the immense gap between them and us, students. I was also beginning to be concerned about a very bad side of competition among students about grades and how to get the professor’s attention, lab reports never being corrected, and all in all a lack of interest for what i thought is the most important thing in such a building called University. And that is education itself.
It was definitely not my cup of tea. My passion was starting to gradually to fade away but I was still trying to find other things, outside the department, that will make me feel like I used to when I was watching documentaries about the vast blue oceans of our planet.
Despite all this I still have to say that there were some professors that kept me going and triggered me in a positive way. Courses like Microbiology, Comparative Animal Physiology, Animal Diversity were a couple of courses that I enjoyed and got a lot from.
Some months later on Pafilis a Zoology professor, who helped me a lot in a variety of things, sent me for a whole summer to a beautiful Greek island called Skyros, where I spent two months learning about horses. On that island lives a very rare horse as it is an endemic species! In size they look more like ponies but only in appearance!
I learned how to take care of them, ride them and even teach them how to behave. We had to be extremely careful as we were also working with children and teaching them as well how to be around a horse and take long walks on them and with them side by side. I learned so much from the horse whisperer Marion and I am extremely grateful for it.
Going back in September to Athens I started a bachelor thesis in Oceanography. The project was about plankton taxonomy and its correlation with environmental factors. It went very well for a couple of months but I was feeling that I would like to explore another field in Biology as well. So in the summer I was given the opportunity to do a internship in Molecular Biology in Ravid’s lab in Boston University, MA. And that was a turning point in my life. Because that is when I realized that I could combine the study of the organism itself all the way to a molecular level and that was to me very exciting! Especially when the people in the lab where satisfied with my work. I felt appreciated and useful which was sadly not the case up until then.
Returning to Athens I had to finish my thesis but again many more issues occurred. Long story short I decided it would be good and healthy for me to go abroad again and try to work in another lab and see other things as I had the strong need to. After a two month research I decided to grab the opportunity of being accepted in Ettema-Lab as well as receiving an ERASMUS scholarship and flew to Sweden for the first time.
The 6-month project involved working with environmental samples from Norway, Taiwan, Japan as well as the famous Yellowstone Park, USA. Having Jimmy as my supervisor and Roel as a great help as lab technician I got a better grip of how to work in a lab from techniques to how to properly write a lab book and have good documentation of your work. It was going very well for two months but bad luck struck again! I had quite a bad accident that led to a number of complications resulting in me having to stay home for a good 2 and a half months. Not being able to work in the lab anymore due to a knee surgery I started doing some bioinformatics which involved studying Perl and with the help of a Master student, Guillaume, started to learn a little bit more about contigs and assemblies.
So getting closer to the the end of the unlucky (in terms of health) internship. Thijs and Hatzinikolaou (a professor from my home university) gave me the chance to do a fresh start on a completely new thesis in Ettema-Lab. My stay in Sweden was officially extended and the moment I got back to my feet (literally!) I started working on my current project revolving around single cell genomics!
Finally, I have to say that beside my two supervisors, Thijs and Anders, I do get a lot of help from Lina, our lab technician, who is teaching me something new every time we work side by side, Anna-Maria for her very useful tips on MDA as well as Lionel, Joran and Anja for their patience in answering even the silliest questions I come up with. Felix who is really helpful when it comes to computer related problems as well as Disa, Jennah and Guillaume that help each other a lot.
Teamwork is very important even when being low on the totem pole, and I am very lucky to be part of this group of educated and fun people to work with. There is some really exciting work going on right now in the lab and it feels like reconstructing a puzzle while still missing a lot of its pieces.
Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org