Life in the lab

A day in the life of: Josh Lindenberger


Soha Vaziri

Senior Josh Lindenberger cleans out a beaker after practicing his lab skills in chemistry class.

If you’re a high school kid with a job, odds are when you leave school you’re heading off to a fast food restaurant, the movie theater, a check-out counter, or a lifeguard chair. For senior Josh Lindenberger, this is far from the norm. “On a typical day, I’m ho

On a typical day, I’m holding 10 tubes of blood, I have orders in my mouth, and five alarms going off, and I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off”

— Josh Lindenberger

lding 10 tubes of blood, I have orders in my mouth, and five alarms going off, and I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off,” he said. Lindenberger has volunteered in the Great Plains Health hospital lab for three years through the JV Ambassador program.

Lindenberger spends his day running tests, filing specimens, and making sure all the machines are running well. He’s been able to adapt to a chaotic environment and function under pressure. “If there’s five alarms going off, you have to be able to quickly determine which one is the most important in that moment,” he said. People don’t witness the work he does firsthand, but if he wasn’t doing his job behind the scenes, the lab wouldn’t function the way it does.

Working in the lab has given Lindenberger many experiences. “I see tissues that have been taken off in surgery. One time they just handed me a leg that was in a little plastic baggie. The toenails were almost coming out of the bag so it was really weird but cool,” he said. He’s seen cancer forming on specimen slides, and he often knows before the doctors even know. “My first question when I see it’s cancer is, ‘Does anyone else know?’ Sometimes they do, but sometimes they came in for something else entirely. One time a 6-year-old girl came in for a cold, and it turned out to be cancer,” he said.

Lindenberger has had a number of potentially dangerous events occur during his three years working in the lab. Once, he had an entire tube of a patient’s blood spill all over him. Another time, he accidentally held a sample of bacterial meningitis. “They told me, ‘Hey, be careful, there’s a bacterial meningitis [sample] coming down, we have to take bio-hazard precautions, so don’t grab that one.’ I looked down and that was the sample I was holding. I went and washed my hands really good after,” he said.
He says one of his most memorable experiences in the lab was being allowed to observe the dissection of a sample of live colon cancer tissue in the histology department. “It was stage four colon cancer; I got to touch it, feel it, and pick it up,” he said.

Lindenberger is preparing to study molecular biology major in the field of genetics. He will begin his education at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, the only university in Nebraska with a molecular biology program. He plans to do extensive research in the field of genetics and has interest in every area of the field, specifically engineering and manipulating genes. “It all depends on what’s available; how far technology has come in the eight years before I get my degree,” he said. His experiences in the lab have helped him prepare for this career path by providing an understanding of what the lab environment is like. “When I’m applying for a job, I have the ability to say at the end of my bachelor’s degree that I have seven years of lab experience; everyone else will have four,” he said.

The controversy over molecular biology is something Lindenberger has given a lot of thought to. He believes that while it is possible to go too far and create horrible things, with the correct monitoring and the right people behind the projects, it’s very beneficial. “My thought is, no matter what you believe, you can see the changes in bacteria, as well as, in people. Over time we’ve gotten taller, our voices have changed…what’s the difference here? We’re just adapting ourselves,” he said.
As he faces his daily challenges in the lab and prepares for a future of intense study, research, and controversy, Lindenberger stays motivated by the thought that his work is making a difference. “I hope my experiences [so far] can help make me a better scientist and that the diagnostics that have come out of the lab experience will help me target my research,” he said.

Whenever things get overwhelming, Lindenberger will hang onto his fascination with genetics to keep him engaged. He says the thing he loves most about the field is how it is so complex in its simplicity. “There are four letters that control everything. I think that’s what’s gonna help me is that the answer is right in front of you. There’s nothing abstract about genetics,” he said.

Soha Vaziri
Josh working in the chemistry lab