STEP Experience Reflection

What? – A detailed description of what you did during your STEP experience.

During my STEP experience, I worked on an avian nutrition project under a faculty advisor in the Department of Animal Sciences. Our main goal of the project was to compare the metabolic response of both quail and pigeon to heat-shocked time periods during incubation. To begin my part of the research, I had to read through numerous peer-reviewed articles in order to find out what genes we were going to target in each species’ liver and muscle tissues. From there, once we had found a good number of genes that would paint a clear picture of the avian metabolism, I spent many hours in the laboratory collecting data. The first step in my data collection came from isolating RNA in the tissues of the quail and pigeon. Proper isolation of the RNA from each sample was critical in order to perform more tests on our selected genes. Therefore, the next lab technique I performed was reverse transcription of sample RNA to complementary DNA, or cDNA. In addition to performing these techniques, I also researched primers for all of our selected genes in each species and each tissue. The selection of working primers was essential in the next step: polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, testing. During this test, I used the specific primers on each of our samples to attach to the sample’s cDNA and amplify the gene related to the primer. If the primer used produced results, then it could be used for the last lab test I performed, real-time PCR. This type of PCR is like regular PCR except that a computer monitors the reaction and provides specific quantification for each gene tested. Thus, the results helped to give us an idea of what genes were being amplified and used more often in the metabolism of the developing avians.

So What? – A personal response to your STEP experience, including feelings, thoughts, judgments, and what you have learned about yourself and your assumptions from what you did and how you reacted.

Personally, I feel that my STEP experience was very eye-opening. I had never participated in a research project before and learning about the complexity of all the lab techniques was initially very difficult for me. However, once I understood exactly what the lab tests were analyzing and how they worked, I began to feel less frustrated and more excited to gain results. I would say that by far, my favorite part of the STEP experience was being able to see the results and know I helped to progress the research of my faculty advisor. Initially, I was worried that having no experience in research would cause me to make a minimal contribution to the project. On the contrary though, I think it was my lack of experience that allowed me to keep an open mind about what I was doing and ask my faculty advisor more questions regarding each step. In addition, as an animal sciences student, the research itself was relevant to my major and something I am very interested in.

Now What? – Discuss how the things you experienced and learned during your STEP experience will affect your academic, personal, and life goals moving forward.

Moving forward, I would say everything I learned from my STEP experience will make me a better animal sciences student, future career professional, and person. As I worked on the project, many topics I learned in my animal sciences nutrition class became reinforced. For example, I learned about glucose and lipid metabolism in animals but it was not until I worked in the laboratory that I learned about each gene involved. Additionally, I saw how these genes varied not just in avians but in different avian species. Thus, I believe the research made me a better animal sciences student as it provided me with more knowledge in a hands-on manner instead of just in the classroom. My life goal is to become a veterinarian and as a future professional, I think that I have benefitted from this experience substantially. Research is a critical component of veterinary medicine and having a solid foundation already allows me to apply my knowledge on future research projects. Also, if I want to become a full-time researcher, I now know what I am getting in to as a career. Lastly, I believe that my STEP experience in research has made me a better person. In challenging myself and stepping outside my comfort zone, I found that even when I get frustrated, I can still come out successful and achieve my goals. To gain valuable research experience is not something that everyone can say they have done. Thanks to my STEP experience, I was given the opportunity to gain incredible knowledge and learn more about myself than I ever thought possible.

STEP Experience Reflection 13-14

 

What? – A detailed description of what you did during your STEP experience.

Organophosphorus compounds (OPs) are toxic nerve agents used in chemical warfare. These OPs covalently bond with Serine-203, a main catalytic residue in acetylcholinesterase (AChE), to prevent the hydrolysis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. After a given period of time depending on the OP compound, the now inhibited AChE will undergo an irreversible process known as aging, where the OP-AChE moiety will dealkylate and form a stable phosphonate anion permanently inactivating the enzyme. Without functioning AChE, acetylcholine accumulates in the neuromuscular junction and affected individuals can experience muscle spams and eventually death by asphyxiation. Currently, there are no known therapeutic methods to reverse this aging process and regain enzymatic activity. However, inhibited AChE can be restored to the active form before it becomes aged by pharmaceuticals containing an oxime functional group. The goal of this project is to discover a compound that will realkylate the stable phosphonate anion on Ser-203 in aged-AChE, which can then be restored to the active AChE by oximes. Literature precedent shows that quinone methides (QMs) are capable of alkylating phosphodiesters, which are structurally similar to the phosphonylated Ser-203 residue in the aged-AChE active site. Through computational analysis via molecular docking and molecular dynamics, the chemical interactions between the Ser-203 residue and a diverse library of QMPs are being examined in silico. From this critical series of computational experiments, promising compounds can then be identified, synthesized, and tested to discover a lead compound based on observed trends.

 

So What? – A personal response to your STEP experience, including feelings, thoughts, judgments, and what you have learned about yourself and your assumptions from what you did and how you reacted.

Throughout my exposure to the research process, I have learned valuable lessons pertaining to the research project itself and life outside of academia. Research is far more tedious than I imagined—it encompasses meticulousness, patience, frustration, and critical thinking. When a step in the process is halted or slowed, one must be creative to find another way to get the end result. This is where the patience and frustration simultaneously arise. It is frustrating to wait for a job to complete, especially if it is has been done multiple times. Patience is required during this task because it is easy to anticipate the following steps. However, one must follow each step meticulously to ensure successful completion. From learning this, I have become better at multi-tasking and preparing for the next step when possible. Outside of research, I have learned a great deal about the people with whom I have worked; I have learned their strengths and weaknesses, and I know who the right resource is for an appropriate question I may have. Thus, I am a part of the teamwork established within the group.

 

 

Now What? – Discuss how the things you experienced and learned during your STEP experience will affect your academic, personal, and life goals moving forward.

My career goal is to become a physician, and as a current applicant for medical school, I feel my STEP experience in research will give me an advantage over other applicants. First of all, because I am doing computational organic chemistry, I have become proficient in a language that not many people can understand. What is important, though, is that I am still able to convey the seemingly cryptic information into layman’s terms. This will help me in my career because as a physician, medical jargon has to be translated for a patient who probably does not know medical terminology. Beyond the factual evidence, my research has prepared me for my personal goals, too. As stated in the aforementioned paragraph, I have learned about the people I have worked with. As a prospective healthcare professional, communicating with people on a personal basis is a significant matter. Communication has the potential to build trust, to establish strong connections with patients, and to offer compassion and understanding. Thanks to STEP, I am participating in something I never imagined myself doing. When I first started college, I did not even think of participating in research, presenting at forums, or writing a thesis. Now, it seems only natural that I am doing so, and the skills I have learned are skill I will carry with me for my academic and professional career and for life beyond medicine.