The new series of articles entitled "Final Theses" kicks off with Lea (22), who wrote her Bachelor's thesis during the Corona crisis. What was it like to write a thesis during this unusual time and without any practical work? And what is the biggest challenge of working in the home office? We asked!

Hello Lea, congratulations on the completion of your bachelor thesis! 
What where the scientific questions you dealt with in your bachelor thesis?

I have studied Salmonella infantis (editor's note: a strain of Salmonella). We wanted to find out with bioinformatic analyses whether a certain autotransporter protein is an adhesin (editor's note: an adhesin is a surface protein on the cell surface, which is needed by fungi and bacteria to attach to other (cell) surfaces). It is universally annotated as an adhesin, but it has never been proven what it binds to at all or at what stage of infection and colonization it might play a role. So I used bioinformatic methods to compare this protein with already known autotransporter adhesins and we were able to demonstrate that it theoretically owns all autotransporter properties. The analysis of the amino acid sequence also showed that it is similar to adhesin. Now it just needs to be proven in practice.

© Osnabrück University | Ute Hinrichs

Good supervision, a well-picked bioinformatics topic and her stamina enabled Lea to successfully complete her bachelor thesis even in the digital semester. Lea is happy that everything went so well and is satisfied with the result. Congratulations on this achievement in this special semester!

You wrote your thesis at home because of the current situation?

Yes, I worked completely from home. Normally you would go to the lab for 3 months and then write your thesis for another month. In my case, I spent the first month reading and organizing the scientifc literature, adjusting to the topic and then thinking about how I could do the whole thing with bioinformatic analyses via the Internet.

Was it difficult for you to start your thesis and not being allowed to work practically in the lab, since this is mainly what everybody is looking forward to during their studies?

Overall, I got along with it quite well, but that was also thanks to the topic. I was very lucky because it was so easy to implement theoretically. But of course I was disappointed because you're missing on 3 months of laboratory experience. Over the whole course of studies you are usually only in the lab for two weeks at the most. I found that very unfortunate, but also completely understandable. After all, I was happy that the bachelor thesis was made possible. 
However, after having handed in the thesis, we were now given the opportunity to work in the lab for one month to gain practical experience. Although this is no longer included in the grade and is a kind of voluntary internship, I think that's very good and I immediately signed up for it. The practical experience is worth a lot and my analyses looked so promising that exciting results could possibly come out of it. However, us students are never in the lab simultaneously for safety reasons, but at different periods of time.

Before it was clear that you were going to write a theoretical bachelor thesis, were you already interested in bioinformatics or did you only get interested in it through this thesis?

It was already clear beforehand that I would deal with the protein and also with Salmonella, but not that it should be bioinformatic only. I had already worked a lot with the PC before, but I hadn't worked bioinformatically yet. But it didn't cause any big problems. Of course you had to get into this topic first and the interpretation of the data was difficult at the beginning, but it worked out well because I could ask my supervisor anytime and we discussed the results together via the Internet. I also used the time and created a lot of illustrations for the bachelor thesis and like this, I was able to sit down and work on one illustration for one day. That actually turned out really nice.

Are you a bit worried that the lack of practical experience might be a disadvantage for you? For example for your master studies?

A little bit, but let me put it this way, it doesn't only affect me, so I don't think it will be a disadvantage. We will see.

© Osnabrück University | Lea Hinrichs

But Lea was not completely alone during the writing phase - her cats were also always present during the online seminar. To stay serious was sometimes a challenge for her.

What was the biggest challenge during this time besides the lack of laboratory practice? The closure of the library?

No, absolutely not, I was able to find the literature online in the databases, so I didn't miss the library. 
I have already done a lot of work from home, even during my normal studies, because home is where I can concentrate best. But being at home 24/7 has become really exhausting, to motivate myself every day and to really get involved in writing at all. I also tried to never turn on the TV! But the smartphone was of course the biggest source of distraction, that was really hard to stay focused. Saying to yourself: "I'm going to sit at my desk now and not on the sofa!" and pulling through. Because at the desk I was more productive than if I had sat down comfortably on the sofa to read. 
My cat also tried to lie on my lap when I worked. That was also a challenge! And try yourself to stay serious during an online seminar when a cat stares at you over the laptop!

What are your ultimate tips to prevent the smartphone from becoming such a bad distraction trap?

Put the cell phone that far out of reach that you have to get up if you want to use it! And then it is best to set it to silent as well and set times for yourself when plan on concentrating on work, from 8-11 o'clock for example. Times in which you would also go to the lab under normal circumstances. During these times, you should really pull through, then take a lunch break and write again in the afternoon, otherwise it won't work. But I also had high demands on myself, I wanted to show that you I put myself into it.

What are your plans? Will you stay in Osnabrück for the consecutive Master's study program?

Yeah, right. I will start my Master's degree in Osnabrück in mid-October (editor's note: "Biology/Biology - From Molecules to Organisms"). Some might call it convenience, but I know the campus and the professors and teachers here well, and I would like to continue working in microbiology. In this respect, the CellNanOs (editor's note: our research building) is of course very interesting. Since biology is a somewhat smaller study program here and all buildings on campus are close together, you have everything in one place, you know where everything is. I also find the Westerberg itself very beautiful.

What is your personal conclusion about your Bachelor thesis?

For me personally it was a very good thing. My bachelor thesis was theoretically very well realizable, which was certainly due to my topic.  I cannot say whether it was better or worse than a practical thesis. I lacked the practical implementation, but instead I was more concerned with the theory behind it, which can also be an advantage in the future.

 

We wish you much success for your master studies and thank you for the interview!