"All hands on desk: biomedicine. What it has to do with Montcau-La Mola?”
Last Sunday, I was reading an article on Nature magazine. The article depicted in a very powerful and, surprisingly, easy way how small molecules of RNA can be a useful resource with our diagnosis of several illnesses, thus, helping us in our fight against them. Those molecules are called aptamers, and they bind perfectly to specific molecules that can be responsible of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Chaga's disease, some cancers, malaria, HIV infection, among others.
In a moment, my mind was transported back in time when I was at the University of Barcelona, working in a laboratory and performing some experiments due to my work as a research collaborator at the Biology and biomolecular department. I worked, side by side, with Ph.D. students, teachers and professors in the Diagonal Campus building. Our collaboration included, at least once or twice a week the collection of blood and tissue samples from human patients at the Vall d'Hebron hospital. I allowed my mind go back in that travel through time and I ended up remembering myself on my first day at the laboratory: I was not so young, but I was staggering: I had no experience whatsoever in a laboratory desk! I was a good student on my last year of high school, but, honestly? I had no clue, beyond the books and class notes, of what a real laboratory looked like! My lack of experience at the laboratory bench, at the very beginning, was at least compensated by my willingness to work, to learn and to adapt to the new conditions and environment of the new work position. But let's be clear: I felt ashamed for having such a great theoretical knowledge and zero (almost literally zero) practical experience!
How was my first day at work? I struggled to find the difference between a micropipette or a regular pipette. I found it hard to understand how soap can be so harmful for cleaning our glassware and we used ethanol instead. It was especially disturbing to discover that distilled water should not be used to wash our hands, and it was astonishing to find out why we should wear gloves when manipulating those apparently innocent chemicals that we are used to using every day. And don't let me get started about those components that we should not work with unless we were working in an appropriate biosafety cabinet: for God's sake! Almost everything there was a poison!
With time, I learnt how to operate everything. Later on, I was given a great opportunity to work in this house as a professor. My work here started almost three years ago, as a BTEC in Applied Science teacher. We offer that certification as part of our academic syllabus in our Batxillerats. The main point of this training, besides the acquisition of a British Certification, is the experience. Yes, that is, the experience: a real "hands-on” experience. Not only when working on BTEC units, but when attending regular classes as well, we still use that practical experience that is so often needed when you work in a laboratory. Our experiential skills are sometimes remembered as anecdotes in our memories: "yes, I remember that day, when that experiment was supposed to give a red color and we got a bluish color”. Ok, that might be an over exaggerated tale, but the essence is true: someone's memory can build upon more things than relying only on memory. We can use our memory, but our technical skills as well, or our own personal experiences, in order to construct a long-lasting memory for the knowledge and abilities that they will continue to build upon in their future jobs! We are giving them the edge of practical experience versus the average student. The only thing we need is to help them recognize it as a leverage at their side.
The conclusion is this: we get our students ready for the university. That is a fact. Our Selectivitat results are unusually high; our rates of success are amazing and more than 90% of our students get access to the university they prefer! Furthermore, we offer our students that hands-on experience that is going to be helping them in their future, a future that maybe is going to be helping us, as mankind, to get a better future.
A final word to our students: Folks, the future is in your hands! All hands on board! Or should I say: all hands on desk?
Artur Mas Mozota
Montcau – La Mola
October 2nd, 2018
 RNA: Ribonucleic acid, an organic molecule responsible for the creation of our proteins, among several other important functions.
 Aptamers: From Latin Aptus, meaning proper, to fit, and form greek meros, meaning portion.
 Micropipette: an instrument used to transfer specific volumes of liquid or samples from one container to another.