My Experience as an Undergraduate Research Assistant
My primary responsibility during my STEP experiments was aiding in the completion of ongoing experiments in the lab. I specialized in immunoblotting. Immunoblotting provides information about protein expression by separating the proteins via gel electrophoresis. Immunoblotting is a tedious process that can take hours or even multiple days. There are a lot of tricks used to help optimize the outcome of a blot that may not be explicitly stated in the procedure, whether they are learned through people who have done it before or through your own observations. There are many nuances to the immunoblotting process, including but not limited to, primary antibody concentration, number of washes, wash duration, secondary antibody concentration, and film exposure time. Each of these numerous parameters can affect the outcome of an immunoblot. Whenever I developed a blot with clean results and low background as well results that resembled expectations it was very rewarding. The results from a single immunoblot could affect the direction or emphasis of an experiment. In addition to performing immunoblots it was my responsibility to check to make sure that we have enough supplies and to order antibodies if we needed them.
Working in a lab made me assume more responsibility than I was used to having. The work I did and the experiments I completed were part of a much bigger picture, with multiple people counting on me to come through. Working in a lab made me assume more responsibility, and in turn made me a more responsible person.
Working in an unfamiliar place with people I didn’t know forced me to be more extroverted in order to make acquaintances. Throughout the summer, I talked with other researchers about their experiments and other things that interested them. I always found it surprising what I had in common with the people who worked in the lab, and even more surprising the things we didn’t have in common. I believe this experience made me more comfortable engaging with coworkers and meeting new people in general.
I was personally very fortunate to have the opportunity to work on a project whose goal was to identify viable options for cancer treatment. Being a part of something with such an important purpose was truly a spectacular experience. It made me think of how lucky I was to have had the academic opportunities that ultimately allowed me to work on such an important project.
Working in a lab helped me understand how the topics covered in class could be applicable in a research setting. It is now my goal to approach what I learn in class with the mindset that I may be using the material in a real world setting. Seeing the application of academic topics in a real world setting also reinforced my decision to go to graduate school after undergrad.
One thing I’ve struggled with is being punctual. When working in a lab, you have multiple people counting on you to come in on time and ready to work. If you’re late, it is detrimental to the experiment. I made it a personal goal to work on being on time. I owe it to myself, as well as those around me, to be on time and ready to work.
Working in an unfamiliar place with people I didn’t know forced me to be more extroverted. One thing that I am not particularly good at is going out of my way to make new friends. Once I got to know the people in the lab the experience was much more enjoyable. It also created an atmosphere where people were eager to help each other. This helped us complete our experiments in a more efficient manner. I made it a personal goal to try to engage more and not be afraid to meet new people.