My father fought cancer for twelve years.
That strong influence, a fortuitous connection, and the research requirement of my scholarship (Cox Research Scholars), dropped me into the Anatomia Patologica (Anatomic Pathology) laboratory of Hospital Bellaria. Within the confines of the laboratory, thousands of patient cases undergo diagnosis and prognosis every year—including illnesses like cancer and ALS.
It was an intimidating setting at the beginning. The main hurdle was the language—scientific vocabulary has never been the focus of any of my Italian classes. Luckily, however, the person I work under was happy to practice his English for a while as I got the hang of certain terms. Most of it was simple—many words are directly formed from their English counterparts. “To vortex” becomes “vortexare” or “to centrifuge” is “centrifugare.” The only real difficulty was the word “campione,” which in any normal context would mean “champion” but in a lab means “sample.” I had wondered why they were asking me to extract and purify a champion.
I then began to realize that everything is already in English. The scientific world communicates in English. The protocols are in English; the machines operate in English; the presentation posters are in English. The thesis papers for their PhD’s are in English; imagine having to write your scientific thesis paper in a different language than your own.
I was also surprised by the lack of equivalent undergraduate students. Whereas in the United States, undergraduates are expected and almost pressured to join labs and begin gaining technical skills, Italian students have a very different experience. It is not until late in university do they even begin shadowing at labs. Later they will work for two months to complete a mini-thesis. Otherwise, there is a noticeable absence of undergraduate students and the age gap between the next-youngest coworker and me is seven years.
Working in the hospital lab has been a fantastic learning experience and the first research work I have been impassioned by. The coworkers have been open, kind, and flexible and the work is fulfilling—behind each sample being analyzed is a real person. It is a regular practice of the language, although there are people working there know very little Italian. With English as the universal scientific language, we are lucky to be natives.