Student’s view - Integrative Zoology
- Linking snake lungs and hearts
When I started my Bachelor of Science internship at the Integrative Zoology (IZ) department here at Leiden University, I did not quite know how much I would end up liking the work that I did there. For all I know, it might have been the single most interesting part of my life.
My internship was to be focused on snake heart development, but ended up going into a slightly different direction: a comparative anatomy study of the snake heart. Comparing a multitude of snake hearts, it seemed to me that something interesting was going on that had escaped scientists’ attention for some time now. This prompted me to look at snake lungs also, which lead to some interesting insights in how the heart was connected to the lungs. Together with my supervisor, Prof. Dr. M. K. Richardson, we studied my findings and concluded that something special was going on. We are currently preparing an article, based on my results and conclusions.
My internship entailed more than just looking at the anatomy of snake hearts and lungs, though. I have had a myriad of experiences during my internship, all thanks to my supervisor that gave me a true sense of what it is that I liked so much about my internship. It can all be summarized within one word: integrativity. This was expressed in a variety of ways.
First of all, the integrativity of fields of expertise. I will not forget the meetings with my supervisor and Prof. Dr. Poelmann from the LUMC’s anatomy department, discussing not only my internship, but also the research of others at the IZ department. Specifically the cooperation with Prof. Dr. Poelmann was exciting in many ways, as I was allowed to closely collaborate with people in his department. This integrativity between the IZ and LUMC’s anatomy department was a big part of my internship.
Secondly, the techniques to get your work done. Using microscopes to see tiny anatomic features one day, you might have a full animal in front of you the next day. And using MRI scanners, courtesy of Prof. Dr. Poelmann, we were able to make full 3D models of snake hearts. This diversity in techniques at your disposal is great, because it means that whatever you like doing best, be it work with microscopes, dissecting organisms or doing pure IT work, everything is possible at the IZ department.
Thirdly, the research people do at IZ. This is very diverse, with research ranging from in situ hybridization in zebrafish to snake venoms and ostrich wing dissection. These varied research themes make for interesting and sometimes funny conversation at the coffee table at lunchtime.
During the internship, I learned what it is to do research. Sure there are boring parts, but when all those boring hours in the lab come together to give you a coherent explanation for the things you saw, then you know it was all worth it. Ultimately, working together with people from different departments and institutions on subjects that integrate multiple fields and techniques, to make something bigger and better, is possibly one of the most satisfying things I will do.
I am sure I will continue working in IZ for a long time to come. Even if it were no in Leiden specifically, I will do it elsewhere – but work in this field I sure will!
Benjamin van Soldt