STEP Undergraduate Research Reflection

WHAT? –

After choosing the STEP undergraduate research option, I used my funds to complete a research project here at Ohio State. During the months of February and March, I came into contact with my research advisor, Dr. Lorraine Wallace, who I had met through the STEP program. She was not my STEP advisor, but another STEP student had introduced me to her during the second semester of my second year. Knowing now that I needed both a research advisor and a project in order to be distributed the funds, I feel incredibly blessed to have been connected with Dr. Wallace. And to make things even better, her research is based in health literacy through the Department of Family Medicine her at Ohio State. Since I am incredibly interested in medicine and hope to be able to practice it as a physician in the future, her research seemed like a perfect fit to my interests.

As April rolled around, Dr. Wallace and I began to talk about the possible projects that could be pursued. We decided on two separate projects that I could help with. The one I used for STEP involved using YouTube as an instructional source for the use of meter dose inhalers and the other involves using responses from Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) and critically analyzing those using statistics and other methods. My STEP project stemmed from a research project that Dr. Wallace had published in the Journal of Asthma in 2006 about how Consumer Medical Information (CMIs) found in prescription packages of meter dose inhalers are presented in a reading difficulty level and instructional format that make it suboptimal for patient education. Using this information, we came to the conclusion that in 2014 patients must be resorting elsewhere for instruction on how to use their meter dose inhaler. One logical place to look for would be YouTube, based on its popularity nowadays. Once Dr. Wallace and I had finalized our idea for the project, the two of us along with another undergraduate began investigating in May.

Within the first couple weeks of May, my partner had used searched YouTube for videos containing relevant information about the proper technique required to effectively use a meter dose inhaler. She used search terms like: asthma inhaler use, asthma inhaler, metered dose inhaler how to use, and metered dose inhaler technique. Duplicate videos, non-English videos, videos about animal inhalers, and videos about inhalers other than MDIs were excluded at this point. Furthermore, based on the assumption that most YouTube users stay within the first two pages of search terms, only the videos from these pages were evaluated. My partner then recorded pertinent information like user name, comments, and likes/dislikes in a excel spreadsheet. When all that was completed, there were 88 total unique videos based off those search terms. Throughout June and July, my partner and I independently assessed each of those videos based on video and audio quality as well as if the video adhered to established meter dose inhaler usage guidelines.

Although all of our results are not confirmed at this time, my partner and I both realized beginning in August that many of the videos would not be suitable for instruction on how to use a metered dose inhaler. While a good portion of the videos had perfect adherence to the established guidelines, an even larger portion either had poor video/audio quality or did not adhere to the guidelines. These findings show that YouTube is helping fuel the research that many doses of the inhaler are wasted to due to improper technique. As a result, of the billions of dollars that are spent on inhalers annually, much of that money is being wasted as well.

SO WHAT? –

Overall, I feel like my actual STEP project went much more smoothly than the program itself. I realize that the program was in its first year, but there were many kinks that could have been avoided. Furthermore, I feel like there was some very pertinent information that was not communicated clearly to the STEP participants from the very beginning like it should have been. For example, it was not communicated that STEP participants choosing the undergraduate research option had to have both an advisor and a project at the time of the proposal in order to be distributed the funds and complete the program. This is just one of the many examples where STEP worked out the details of the program as they went along, and unfortunately that tactic usually ended up being at the students’ expense. I think the premise of STEP is solid, but the details need to be changed in order to make the program less about the money.

Like I said earlier, I am very blessed to have found Dr. Wallace, who was understanding enough to allow me to work on a project with her. My experience with the project itself makes me feel better about the STEP program now, but I know I had harsher feelings while I was actually participating in the program. The project makes me feel better because of what I have learned through participating in it. I feel like I have solidified my critical thinking skills, interpersonal skills, and presentation skills. The ability to transform a simple research idea into a successful experiment takes an incredible amount of focus and analysis. Participating in research makes me respect the intelligence level and dedication that is required for researchers to be successful in their field. Not just anybody can be the best at what they do in research. Dr. Wallace is an expert in the field of family medicine because she is dedicated to the cause and has unparalleled critical thinking skills. She inspires me to incorporate the critical thinking skills that she has taught me into my studies.

Working with Dr. Wallace also taught me more about formal interpersonal skills. There is a difference between a student-teacher relationship and a student-research advisor relationship. Since I am working together with Dr. Wallace, I have learned how to act around a professional in a work setting. Specifically, I have learned how to control my body language and attitude towards the project when I am working on the project with her. She is incredibly positive and has a strong belief that our research will work, no matter how bleak it looks. I have incorporated these qualities into my personal studies as well. I have done this through staying positive about upcoming midterms and projects as well as doing everything I can to make all those assignments successful. Finally, both my small and large scale presentation skills have been improved through this experience. Whether it is presenting my work to Dr. Wallace in a small lab group meeting or presenting at the STEP Expo, I have learned how to communicate my research to others in a clear and effective way. At the STEP Expo, I felt at ease when talking about my project to both faculty members and current STEP students. I considered my presentation skills weak before so I am happy to see some clear improvements due to this project. I believe that these enhanced communication skills have improved all facets of my writing skills as well, whether it is just emails or multi page essays. The skills that I have learned through working with Dr. Wallace are lifelong skills that I could not have learned at such an early age if it had not been for my STEP experience.

NOW WHAT? –

Like I discussed earlier, the critical skills and presentation skills that I have learned through my experience have helped me improve in my studies. Critical thinking helps me in many of the science classes that I take, and presentation skills help me in all the essays that I write as well as in my leadership roles on campus. Also, the interpersonal skills I learned make me feel confident while interacting with professionals in an academic setting. I have learned which questions to ask as well as more about the research process in general. Although, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time participating in research here at Ohio State, everything that I wish I could do in research makes me realize that I would be more fit for a career as a physician. Instead of researching the problem, I want to be the solution. For example, when watching those 88 videos on how to use a meter dose inhaler, I wish I was the medical professional that was teaching proper technique to patients. I would rather help fix the learning gap within the asthma community one patient at a time. While I now respect the research process and how important it is to furthering our understanding of medicine, I still consider myself an outgoing “people person.” As a result, all the behind-the-scenes research work is not my ultimate goal in life. Actually participating in research has made me further realize that I want to be the on the scene, making a difference while the scene unfolds. I want to be the person that is there when it is the worst moment in a patient’s life so that I can guide and care for them so that their health improves to a state that they did not think was possible.