A Lab Coat Was My Dream

It was four o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, I found myself wandering at UQ. I forgot my practical class was cancelled and with it my afternoon tasks. So, I decided to wait for my boyfriend until six but I was not sure what to do so I decided to take a short walk before going to the library to finish my assignments. While walking, I could listen the sound of the ducks swimming, the grass dancing with the wind and, of course, the steps of the ibis on the lookout for food. I decided UQ lakes was always a good place to sit down and brainstorm. I chose a bench; it was still bright but not many students around. And that is when I found myself lost in thoughts. I was on the first semester of my last year at uni. In approximately ten months, people would call me a Molecular Geneticist. But what brought me to this place? How did I get to Australia? and almost a graduate? No way! I must clarify and say having free time makes your mind run fast and mine, well, mine loves foreshadowing.


Anyway, the day was getting chilly and I forgot my jumper so I used my lab coat as a blanket while my mind was lost in thoughts. I was four years old again and instead of a lab coat covering me, it was my daddy’s white blazer. I was no longer sitting on a bench but standing on a room with beakers, well, glasses full of chemicals, it was juice. Mom was listening attentively as I was proclaiming my new discovery, one that was so impressive that I decided to award myself a Nobel Prize: in medicine and physiology. I used to play a lot pretending to be a researcher. In fact, it was my favourite game. However, mom was the only one that enjoyed playing with me. As you understand not many 4-year olds are keen on winning a Nobel Prize, but I was. I always was.


Growing up in South America with a dream that is bigger than the area of your country wasn’t always easy. And Dad, well he wasn’t fond of it. Nonetheless, as I grew a couple of centimetres more, my dream grew metres even kilometres bigger. And at high school I decided I was finally ready to act and make my dream come true. But I found myself lost! How would I do it? I was no Bill Gates son? And frankly, dad thought Economics and International Relations was a more lucrative degree, worth investing on. Nonetheless, I applied to UQ and was accepted but I had no plan, no housing, no experience living alone at the other side of the world, literally. But I didn’t care. I was so in love with Biology and the human being that no one could stop me except the Australian Immigration Department, which took almost three months processing my visa. But off I was. And after three days and four flights I reached my destination, the beautiful Brisbane.


I started my first semester as every freshman does: full of panic, curiosity, doubt and excitement. With time the panic decreased as the excitement grew bigger. However, it was masked by the hundreds of assignments and due dates to be accomplished. I was so tired at the end of Year One that I slept for four days in a row. I began Year Two very discouraged until week six. That week everything changed for me. I sat down in my morning lecture craving my bed more than ever. I even remember telling one of my friends, maybe I should skip this one. But then the lecturer start the class and I have never in my life encounter such a spectacular topic. I felt in love immediately with intracellular vesicle trafficking. I attended every single one of lectures in that series with no second thoughts. And by the end I asked my lecturer for a volunteering position in his lab. Before he told me his answer, he waited for about two minutes, the longest and most terrifying minutes of my life but at the end he said yes.


Two weeks later, I was standing in front of the Queensland Bioscience Precinct (QBP). To be honest I was trying to stand in front of the building. My legs were shaking so bad that the receptionist asked if I was sick. Upon gaining my entry rights I walked to the third floor and there it was, the lab entrance. I felt in love with science again. The lab was bright, the benches were filled with materials, the centrifuges were running, some researchers were having a good laugh while others were discussing their experiments. I stood there thinking, am I dreaming? But, I wasn’t. I turned around and saw the frame by the lab door, which had the pictures of every lab member. In the top, group leaders were followed by Post-docs and PhDs and at the very bottom my face with biggest of the smiles. I was now a lab member or ‘Temporary Visitor’.


The ibis was finally able to grab someone’s food and I woke up from my thoughts. I smiled and nod my head, as I just remembered the most enriching experience I had in UQ. It was the very first time someone took the time and interest to hear my ideas, train me and on top of that allow me to use the resources of the lab. I learned so much during my volunteering. Thankfully, it led to a research position for one semester and a half. I saw many incredible things, things I wouldn’t even dream of seeing. And now I was sitting in a bench next to a lake on the verge of my graduation. And that is when I realized I was one step closer to that big and beautiful dream of mine.

Franchesca Velarde