During the last four months I did my minor thesis at the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME in Aachen, Germany. This institute is doing research in quite a different way than any university does. They generally apply for research projects in the interest of private companies. These projects are then funded for a set time frame of 3 years. Once the project deadline is due, the company will decide on how to continue or whether to continue at all. This implies basically two things: A) you have to come up with convincing results and B) you have to do that quickly! This means that within the institute, there is little if any room for fundamental research. However, my minor project was about a rather fundamental topic. The reason for this was that I actually was the first to work on this particular project and that it still was at its very beginnings.
If you now expect some more information about the project itself, I have to disappoint you :( The outcomes of my research was THAT fabulous and groundbreaking, that I am not allowed to talk about it at all... Just kidding. To be honest, I think four months is a really short period to have some relevant input in research. However, the true part is, at the moment I started at IME I had to sign a confidentiality agreement. I just can say this much: potato, disease resistance and genetics.
As I cannot tell you what I was working on, I CAN tell you what I was doing there. My supervisor supplied my with lots of relevant background information about the topic. But then, she expected me to come up with a research strategy. This was quite different from my previous experiences and it was a real challenge, since I had never been this responsible for my own project. However, we talked about it and after all, I had a research plan. A small part of it was bioinformatics, which I did not enjoy too much. Fortunately, there were also lots of opportunities to use some cool molecular lab tricks. For example, I did "genome walking" based on inverse PCR. Genome walking is a method to identify unknown DNA flanking a known region, such as a gene. I learned how to construct plasmids for transient transformation of plants and how to clone based on restriction digest and ligation. Additionally, I had to use Gibson assembly, since restriction-based cloning did not work out well for some of my constructs. So after all, I gathered a lot of experience, improved my lab skills and I learned to work more autonomous. It was definitely a good step towards growing from a small plantlet into a professional plant ;)