H – Week 1 

This week H started working in the lab. We had to wait until she had finished all of her compliance training and it was exciting to finally see her sitting at the dissecting microscope. We pulled a couple of embryos from my stock and off she went to try to see if she could do the dissection to expose the trigeminal nerve.

The trigeminal nerve is the one that innervates areas of the face, for example the upper and lower jaw. It is relatively large and so is the ganglion which sits close to where the hindbrain meets the midbrain. One nice thing about the trigeminal is that the ganglion is easy to recognise – it is large and sort of heart shaped, so it is a good one to start with.

I always like to see what approach comes naturally to students – it lets me see what are the habits that might need correcting, and also I am sometimes surprised with a way of doing things that I had not thought of and might be better in the way. So I sat watching her work, and enjoying her excitement.

The dissections aren’t easy – and she stepped up to the mark. What is most difficult (and something that is almost impossible to teach) is to be able to “feel” the tension of the tissue through the forceps. At least for me, feeling the properties of the tissues is what tells me when I am applying too much or too little pressure or force, and what prevents me from damaging the structures I want to get to. For now, we are working with relatively large embryos (emphasis on relatively, they are about Hamburger and Hamilton stage 26) because at that age the nerves are better defined and it is important that she gets her head around the organisation of the hindbrain, how to better hold the forceps, how to adapt her hand control to what she is seeing under the microscope, how moving the light tubes provide different images, and so on.
H was one of my students in 107 where she was taught a few of the things that she was working on today. What I always find amazing is the excitement of students who first dissect an embryo and they see that what I (we) taught her in class is actually a pretty good representation of reality.

So, lesson learned? It doesn’t matter how many drawings, how many diagrams and movies I show the students it may be just by looking under the microscope that all that can eventually come to life. We were talking about this yesterday at #scichatnz – what *is* authentic learning. Well, I am glad to say, I saw that today. Although I have to also say that I am quite impressed that several years later she can still mentally refer to stuff I taught her in year 1. (Sure, she did go back to the notes before starting in the lab.) But it made me feel I must be doing something right.