I am a neuroscience student, and with that, I read A LOT of research papers. Most are neuroscience papers, but every once in a while I’ll come across a paper of interest that comes from Diabetes. I end up in a classic Pandora’s box situation where I just HAVE TO read it. While I objectively think that being aware of what is going on on the forefront of diabetes research is important, I subjectively find it to be incredibly taxing to hear about all the ways that my diabetes is currently negatively impacting my body. We’re all going to die of something though, so this summer I decided to jump into the deep end.
*I won’t be addressing the actual research I was doing but feel free to ask me about it on the contact page!
I spent June to September working in a stroke and diabetes lab and it was an amazing experience. Here are my reflections.
There was language used in the lab setting that I did not expect to hear. On my first day arriving at the lab I heard a term that struck a chord, diseased state, it’s painfully accurate in the case of an experiment where there are different groups and one group is a diabetes group and another is not. It is even more accurate when you consider that this model for diabetes must be induced so it actually a state change that occurs. While this term did make me uncomfortable initially, the more time that I spent in the lab made me realize that there was a critical difference between what I consider to be diabetes and what was being induced in the mice. This critical difference was that the people and the day to day struggles that are all part of the diabetes experience do not exist in the context of the mice (duh), and that the diseased state group is not a model for managed diabetes or the complex monster that many of us have to manage every day. The models used for research are extremely simplified and are used as a tool to understand extreme lack of treatment. Even treated conditions are not models that can be compared to the human experience because the slow release tablets of insulin that are used on the mice are essentially a basal rate, not sensitive to the activity or consumption by the animals.
The differences between working at a diabetes camp and in this lab were much more complex than I expected. I am a massive fan of the “power to diabetics” model. What I mean by that is, with diabetes come many challenges and challenges make you stronger. Building a community around these challenges make you more resilient and all together, people living with type 1 are a bad ass group of individuals. In the lab, diabetes was completely technical (once again, necessarily so) and this made me really compartmentalize my diabetes. I haven’t yet decided if compartmentalizing was a positive or negative effect long term but in the short term, it led me to really avoid my diabetes.
Generally, I recommend stepping out of your comfort zone. For me this summer, that was stepping out of the diabetes community that consists predominantly of T1Ds and into the world of research which (in my case) had zero T1Ds. I do not regret my experiences this summer, but upon reflection, they enriched my academic perspective and informed me of my personal-professional line. Diabetes will always exist in both and therefore it is a priority for me to feel supported and empowered in both my work and personal life.