Biology with Lab

By Van Wilson | March 13, 2018

One of the most observable transformative moments for me is my first experience giving an oral presentation on “HIV Latency,” an independent research project of my choosing, because of my nerves, courage, and the intellect it took to give an oral presentation, which I didn’t think I possessed.

I enrolled in “Biology with Lab” in the summer of 2014. Going into it I didn’t know what to expect. Listening to the instructors outline expectations for the semester, I was somewhat relieved at the prospect of having to focus my attention on a mere single topic of my choosing. Using research material provided by the instructors, I was required to write a thesis and ultimately give an oral presentation at the end of the course on my findings. Taking for granted that my final work and oral presentation was due at the end of the course, I didn’t think much about what it would be like to give an oral presentation in front of an audience. Consequently, when choosing my research topic, I chose HIV latency — a complex issue at the heart of cutting-edge AIDS research because of the absence of data around the world about the persistence of HIV in the human body. According to the material provided by the instructors, current work suggests that small numbers of AIDS-causing viruses go into “latent” periods in infected individuals. Since latent viruses are not easily detected using traditional diagnostic procedures, an individual may be considered virus-free. Unfortunately, these latent viruses can start infecting the immune system again later in life with grave consequences. This process is called “virus activation” and is poorly understood.

I was nervous when I hear my name called. For the first time in my life, I was expected to get up in front of an audience of about 30 people that includes fellow inmates, outside spectators and biology professors, to give an oral presentation on an issue that 12-weeks earlier I knew very little about. Spending the entire semester conversing with fellow students, tutors, and biology instructor on the issue of HIV latency, I was feeling fairly confident that I knew much more about HIV latency than I did at the beginning of the course.

I’m transformed by the whole experience — the stress from the commitment to speak publicly; the ability to retain pertinent information learned throughout the course and to apply it to the issue of HIV latency and articulate in front of an audience; the shortness of breath doing my presentation; feeling like an idiot, sounding stupid; and the yearning for all of it to be over and done with.

At the end of my presentation, in spite of applause by fellow students, outside guests and course faculty, I felt mediocre about my presentation. In fact, it wasn’t until I receive my final grade for the semester — “A+” — that I begin to believe that with the support of the many wonderful people involved in the college program, I can do this! I can give an articulate oral presentation in front of an audience.