Interning and adventuring

I was anticipating majority of my experimental work to happen this week but I never thought I would be so immersed in the process. I had a week of long hours at the office where I would be in the lab up to the darkness of the night. But all along I ,mostly had my mentor/supervisor with me helping me collect data from my experiment. After completing my three sets of set up for my own experiment last week, I finally started the data collection process this week. After 9-10 days of wait for my experimental plants or samples to show signs of parasitism (i.e. data), my mentor and I dissecting the plants and recording the data. The plants that were exposed to parasitoids were taken out of the pots, washed and dissected to unravel the pest eggs inside that might have been parasitized. The data collection was quite lengthy as I had to be very careful in dissecting every stem so that I record every eggs that has been laid or parasitized in the plant. So imagine this process with 180 plants. Yup it took time and I only got done with the first batch of plants before I left for a weekend getaway to somewhere far far away from Los Banos.

 

 

My weekend destination this time was El Nido, a place that everybody raves about. Thus I was very excited to be going on this trip after two weeks worth of planning. El Nido , a.k.a. the nest, is a place in Palawan islands that awaits sea adventures like diving and snorkeling for all tourists. It is known for it’s scenic beauty and the diverse marine life it has to offer. When I reached there Friday, the first glimpse of the sea from the beach indeed lived up to my expectations and to the glory of it’s appraisals by Filipino’s themselves. The sight is amazingly picturesque with cliffs and little islands sporadically existing in the sea. Another thing that made me rejoice was the lush forests that still remains around the roads that lead to El Nido from Puerto Princesa Airport. The central area in El Nido, specially around the ferry activities area had definitely been commercialized with hotels and shops that have replaced the trees. Nevertheless, it was an amazing trip I made. I snorkeled for the first time. My friend and I took an island hopping tour where the boat would stop at different locations or islands in the sea and we would jump off into the water with or without a life jacket and explore the marine life beneath. The boat also served us buffet lunch in the middle of the sea! I had always wanted to swim and to observe marine life , so I was very fulfilled by the end of the day and by the end of my trip.

If there is once place I recommend people to visit in Philippines, I would say El Nido. But again, I did not visit all the other beautiful places that Philippines has. So just go explore! There are lots of places to visit here in the Philippines!

Kita Kits (see you) !

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Accomplishment-and-Shock State of Mind

Week six is over. I am utterly glad that I came to  IRRI in Philippines to do a research internship. I am equally in disbelief that I only have two weeks left in this land of intelligence, humility and splendor.  I cannot reiterate enough how much grateful I am for this professional and cultural experience. By now you can tell that I had another great, awesome, exciting…..week.

Tick-tock, get to work (Internship updates):

The past week has been challenging but only because I have been trying to push myself . After initiating my experiment with a set up last Thursday, I did two more sets of experimental set-up this week so that I would have more replications than I initially intended to do. My mentor, my supervisor and I were on the same page while deciding to do more replications. This meant, four more days of four-hour long visits to the greenhouse and insectary. This also meant that I would have a lot of data to collect through plant dissection. But if you can picture me in a lab setting up an experiment, I have always had tita Bong and aate Wheng by my side helping me in every step of the way; whether it be plucking and wrapping the flowers in tissue, cleaning rice plants or transferring insects to my experiment , they have helped me as if it was their own experiment. I cannot mention and thank them enough for their continuous support.

My experiment and data analysis process has become longer but it would all be worth it. In fact I had always wanted to make the most out of the time I have here at IRRI. I have wanted to do research and experimentation like they do here and I surely will because next week will be longer work days at the lab. I have to finish what I started with good results. So due to my time limitation I will have to put that extra effort. I don’t seem to mind the extra hours of work because I am so inspired by the people around me and I am glad I get to do what I am doing.

Weekend extravaganza:

I enjoy nature. Nature gives me peace. Nature makes me feel grateful. Nature gives me life. This weekend Bucal falls was my nature destination. Me and my three friends set out on an adventure early Sunday morning.  Getting up early in the morning to take a bus, riding a tricycle and hiking was all so easy because I was excited to take a dip in the waterfall.  Once we reached there I felt the best for the next two hours. The water was a beautiful greenish blue, the rocks surrounding the falls had swirling vines on them and the cold temperature of the water was a nice change (to the hot weather that we are usually in). I swam like never before (literally because I can’t swim without a life jacket 😀 ) and I had the best people around me to share the special occasion with.

I find it so important to get away from the technologically complicated life we have and instead go among nature and try to appreciate it. Everyone should go out in the nature at least once in a while. If you are ever in the Philippines around Los Banos area or nearby, definitely go to Bucal falls.

That was the end of my week and hoping for another great week.

Cheers!

 

 

Thinking Like a Scientist, Exploring Like a Tourist

 

My liking for the people, the work and the place grows more and more every day. The people here at work in the Entomology lab are the most fabulous people I know, work-wise and personality-wise.  While I am offered some intense insight into their world of research I am also being pampered and loved as the ‘youngest’ one in the Entomology division. They guide and encourage me professionally and academically. They feed me selflessly….abundant amounts of food because ‘I am the youngest and I am still growing’. They are just the sweetest people who have helped me grow professionally and have helped me appreciate the humility of Asian culture.

At the beginning of the week I proposed my idea for my own little independent project or experiment. I received nothing but positive encouragement and support. My mentor, Tita Bong does whatever possible (preparing and requesting for materials, advising on techniques to follow, organizing, etc) to make my experiment successful and Dr. Buyung, my supervisor delivers his best advice and suggestions for my experiment to take correct form. My supervisors are always there to answer my questions and fulfill my requests or interests related to work.

Getting to do my own experiment or project is the reason why I fell like a scientist at work. Inspired from the studies that I have been assisting in, my experiment is testing the preference of Oligosita parasitoids towards the four flowering plants that they have been researching here at the lab. I am using the flowers of okra, cucumber, mung beans and string beans to see if their presence around the rice plant increases the likeliness of parasitism of Brown Plant Hopper eggs by Oligosita. In other words, this will help me figure out if the parasitoids choose the rice plant that has flowers or the one that doesn’t. The presence of these flowering plants, that actually serve as a source of food the farmers too, can boost the rice ecosystem by helping to increase natural enemies of rice pest like Oligosita. biological control of pest is the best way to go instead of using more pesticides. So if these plants are prove to be very successful in attracting more parasitois and predators of rice pest, then it would be a great way to promote sustainable rice farming. that is the main idea of the projects and experiments currently being done by ‘tita’ Bong at entomology lab here at IRRI. My experiment explored a tiny portion of the project. I have already finished the set-up and most methodology part with the help of ‘tita’ bong and ‘aate’ Wheng. Hopefully I get good data as I patiently wait for the results and observations of parasitism.

Exploring Los Banos and nearby cities:

This weekend was more of a local travel. I made another trip to the SM Calamba mall with my friends (typical Ojaswee :D). I tried a Japanese noodles that had these cute looking fish cakes. they were named ‘Kung-fu Panda’ fish cakes (pictured above)! And then I went to explore the open fresh produce market. The local fresh produce market was another thing that brought memories back: tiny little passageways to go from one section to the other, the smell of fresh raw fish infused in the air and piles of fruit and vegetable varieties in one stand. Almost similar to Nepal, it was basically a setup of numerous vegetable, fruits and meat vendors all in one area, everyone competing to sell the same products as their neighbors right next to them. Most importantly the fresh produce were heartwarming-ly cheap as back home in Nepal and unlike the US. More seriously, places like these always remind me of the perseverance and determination of the vendors, young and old, to keep their businesses alive and to deliver the best they can.

So, it was another very successful week. Now, I am three weeks closer to leaving this place and that is the sad part. Let’s see how eventful my upcoming weeks will be.

‘Salamat po’ (Thank you!) for reading my post! ‘Kita Kits’ (See you!) until next time.

 

Done with week 4 and still going strong

Internship updates

This week has been another exciting and productive week for me at my internship and during my free time. Beginning and ending a work day on time (8am -5 pm which is a rarity in this work culture) and being constantly kept busy with things to learn in the lab feels fulfilling as I am getting what I had expected out of this international internship experience. I feel much more confident this week about sorting insect correctly. Yes, I had been doing them a bit incorrectly for a while until I was told to look for and realize my mistake. Although it seems like it has been an intensive process it actually has not been boring. I kept persevering and now I know I can sort insects according to order correctly….well at least 90% of the time maybe.

I got to help with two more experiment set-ups as well. This time we worked with different parasitoids (myrid bugs and Oligosita) to test the influence of four kinds of flowers on their parasitism. The biggest achievement I felt was when I recommended a modification to a part of the methodology where we were supposed to transfer only one of these parasitoids to the treatment. They are tiny, so hard to see them while transferring them from the test tube to the plant encasing/ cage. It was a simple suggestion to use brush/ paintbrush but I was very nervous of the credibility of the idea. But I am glad I spoke up because that method made our process faster.  The hands on experience that I get this way is always appreciated because they are more engaging. Being able to think in the same space with these researcher’s and scientist is such an enriching and motivating feeling. Their passion for their work…even more inspiring.

Weekend extravaganza

It was not the most extraordinary weekend but we went to the Mall of Asia in Manila. So I finally got to see Manila and do some shopping, things that make me excited and happy. I ate REAL samosas at an Indian

grocery store. Took me straight back home in my memories. I also ate the most delicious Japanese food I have had in a while. I ordered a dish called Katsudon which was fried pork with egg set on top of a bowl of Jasmine rice. Simply delicious. So to all the Japanese food lovers I would definitely recommend ‘Tempura’ restaurant. While my friend’s were keen on getting hold of some unique Green tea Kit-Kat flavored doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, I chose to spend the last hour tearing down sale racks at clothing stores :P……In my defense, the mall was just too huge and there were tons of stores that I wanted to check out. Again, the very western, modernized and metropolitan areas in Philippines really surprises me every time. The diversity in the range of lifestyles in this country is astonishing.

It has been an eventful week and every week feels better. Thus, hoping for the same this upcoming week, I am signing off.

Until next time, have a great week.

Kindly,

Ojaswee

In(ter)sect-ing learning and passion:

What I do in the entomology lab 

This week has been all about learning insect-identification with experts in the entomology lab here at IRRI. Who would have have known that it is possible to indulge oneself in learning and realizing the intricacies of such tiny organisms? I spent a whole week trying to sort insects according to their orders. The most interesting thing is, I didn’t get bored. It was so easy to go through a whole day of work just looking at them under the microscope.

I was given a crash course on the types of insects and taxonomy before beginning the sorting process. It was a well-needed run through considering I did not have an in depth-study solely on insects. It was a quick explanation through power-point. Although brief, it was very informative. My task after that was to sort out a vial of collected insects. It was challenging and fun to get right on to insect-sorting, because as you see, it is not as easy to apply and observe things as it is to just read and understand an information sometimes. For example, I knew what the characteristics of Hemiptera were but it was hard to relate it under microscope observation right away. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a struggle of a lifetime as I tried my best to start sorting them out into smaller petri dishes. In fact, it was fascinating to be able to notice the tiny details of an insect and to realize their diversity and abundance . It was a revelation to me.

 

This week, another brief part of my internship has been to shadow and observe the process of making artificial diet for yellow stem borers, one of the major pests of plants. The scientists in this lab have been trying to come up with a formula for artificial diet so that these insects can be reared easily, efficiently and cost effectively. The purpose of this is to aid the supply of these pests for experimental processes. It was a highly regulated and accurately followed process of obtaining exact amounts of certain substances, mixing and sanitizing. It required much more care and caution than I thought. Now, the eggs of the yellow stem borer has been introduced in the vials of the artificial diet to observe if they survive and grow in the next few days or weeks.

All in all, Tita Joe, who was my mentor for this week, has been a great teacher and a very kind lady.  There are also other people working in the lab who are as nice to me as any human can be. They keep me curious as they tell me about their own work and experiments they are conducting. IRRI really seems to be a place where people work out of passion for science, for rice and for a better world.

I am really grateful to IRRI, the Freeman Foundation and to our professor at IWU who organized this entire internship program, Dr. Teddy Amoloza. My summer internship experience has been good so far and I hope it doesn’t fail to impress me further.

In the paddy field, greenhouse, forest and more

 

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IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) Orientation:

Learning about the existence of cobras, prominence of earthquakes, immensity of rice science and actually being involved in rice plantation in the scorching heat were what out IRRI orientation was all about. They have their own museum that boasts varieties of information on rice around Asia. From instruments, farming equipment to rice product varieties like food and beauty products, they had it all on display. The love and dedication for rice here is clear. The highlight of the day for me was being involved in the laborious field work by preparing/tilling the land and planting the rice like how farmers do. For some reason although I am so familiar with the practices, I felt so excited as if it were my first time seeing it; hand planting, mechanical planting and pushing the tractor plus carabao to plow the soil was a very intriguing and surprisingly fun experience.

Start of my internship project:

I was excited to return to the office and labs after a very long weekend because I was finally going to meet my mentor who I am going to be working with and learning from. I had already met my supervisor, the Crop and Environmental Sciences division head at IRRI and had received a brief overview of the projects done in lab. But Wednesday was the day that I would know exactly what I am doing for the next few weeks. I did finally meet my mentor for the week Tita (respectable aunt) Bong, who was the most friendly and nice person ever. I was more than happy to hear what she had to offer me: I was going to be assisting with a project related to flowering plants and parasites of rice pests. The project was seeking to see the function of flowering plants in inviting more insects that are natural enemies of pests that kill rice. The experiment was supposed to determine which vegetable plants that bear flowers are more useful to us to keep pests away. The flowers to be tested were of cucumber, string beans, mung beans and ladyfinger/okra. The natural enemies we were looking at were lady bugs and Oligosita parasites

On Thursday we started the experiment set up in the insectarium that had controlled temperature. It took four hours of preparation; we plucked flowers, cleaned them, wrapped their ends with wet tissue (water source) and put each in a plastic cup. For each kind of flower the sample size was 15. Then we introduced one ladybug in each jar. We did the same with Oligosita. The observations we had to make were of where the insects are: flower, just hanging around the cup, the wet tissue or the cotton plug at the small round opening of the cup. We did this every 6 hours; so 9 am, 3 pm, 9 pm and then the next day we changed the flowers in the cups without having the parasites escape. The experiment should last five days, so tomorrow I will be going to the lab make observations and wrap up the experiment.

Hiking at Makiling botanical gardens:

Sunday was another accomplishment with hiking. We started our walk right from our dorm up to the path that lead to Mount Makiling. It was about a 40 minute walk up to the botanical garden. Then some more walk through the garden as it was a hiking area of its own. Although the uphill climb seemed torturous, it was only a few instances. All in all, it was a great exploration of nature in a sunny Sunday morning.

Now, here I am at a café called ‘Productivity café’, winding down the weekend, being productive writing a blog post. The best way to end this post, is with a quote of the day (that was written on the walls of this café): Focus on bring productive instead of busy. Have a happy week ahead!!

Philippines so far

Friday June 9th marked the start of my journey of a two- month  stay and internship in the Philippines. The last five days has been an exciting whirlwind of Filipino cultural explosions. As a South Asian hailing from Nepal and studying in the U.S. for three years, I find that Philippines is an interesting in-between of eastern and western cultures.  It did not take me much to make an impression, feel loved and feel comfortable. Why? Keep on reading ! 🙂

The place: Numerous shops crammed next to the side walks,  crowded roads, electrical poles running along the side of the streets and the rolling green hills, all  remind me so much of home. The Asian lifestyle is so much prominent yet the high influence of the western world is also embedded in this place.  The presence of fast food chains, of which some were American chains like (7 eleven, Mc. Donald’s and KFC), was very fascinating because my home- country does not have such chains. Majority of the population seems to know English and are very familiar with the western (American) culture. They love their Jeepneys (popular form of public- transportation, pictured above) as well as their fancy cars. You are bound to see a variety of vehicles being driven on the roads.

The people: “Are you Filipino?”, “You look like a Filipino” and even “Maybe you were born or raised in America but..you ARE Filipino.” ; these are the remarks I get from people here in the Philippines. Although I could not agree with them I certainly felt the instant connection made between us, something that made it easier for us to have conversations.  Even if I did not look like a Filipino I know I would get along with the people well because they always have a warm smile on their face. I think I will have a nice time getting to know more locals here at Los Banos.

The highlight: The people’s expressions while they tried to figure out my nationality as I stood beside my other American friends…. or when they attempted to talk to me in Tagalog.

The food: The top Filipino foods on my list before I left America were chicken adobo (Filipino style chicken curry), pancit (stir fried noodles), lumpia (like fried spring roll) and halo-halo (desert in a glass). It was just fantastic that I got to try all of those within two days of my arrival to the Philippines. I must say that my favorite is pancit ! I like when I get to eat unique foods and I have been impressed by the food so far. The things that are unique to me are ube (purple colored yam that is popularly used in drinks, deserts and snacks here) and buco (young coconut). Turon was like a deep fried spring roll filled with bananas and yam. It was a  new flavor to my palate but it was delicious. I have also been enjoying the fresh drinks infused with flavors of fruits like mango and lychee.

On the other hand , the food reminds me of home too. There is rice in every main meal, just like home (in Nepal). The meat dishes have well spiced gravy but  sweeter. The grilled pork (pictured in the plate of meal above) that I have eaten two times so far is the same cooking style. The fruits also taste much fresher just like home.

My exciting experiences: I did rafting, specifically bamboo-rafting, for the first time when we were taken to Villa Escudero which is an hour away from where I am living in Los Banos.  I had never rowed a boat before but me and my friend maneuvered it pretty well. It was just the most peaceful feeling. Then the cultural show of dance performances was a spectacle. Our group also got to experience a Carabao ride!