Undergraduate STEP Research

What?
I committed about 15-20 hours a week to going into the research lab and worked closely with my direct supervisor Karen, who taught me aseptic techniques and the new method their lab had developed in focusing on natural killer cells from a pediatric tonsil. This consisted of using GentleMACsTM technology to blend up the tissue and collect the cell suspension. From there we add red blood cells to create a comfortable environment and add human NK cell enrichment cocktail that bond with cells outside of our focus group such as B and T cells. Then I used a ficoll overlay, which allowed the NK cells to remain suspended as a buffy layer, as the rest of the cell dropped to the bottom. With that buffy layer collected of NK cells, ammonium chloride was added to lysis any remaining RBCs. I was also taught (and still mastering) to use a machine called the flow cytometer. Flow cytometry analyzes one cell at a time using lasers to detect biomarkers that the natural killer cells are expressing which we are using to characterize different stages the NK cells go through as they mature.

So What?
As an aspiring pre-medicine student, I am always looking for opportunities to become passionate about. I’ve always hoped to take advantage of every opportunity available to me and grow with a multitude of unique experiences because this is what will set me apart from others and create a more diverse background for myself. This project of undergraduate research will contribute to my success in my desired profession because it has increased my scientific knowledge and expanded my understanding of how new knowledge is gained to advance our society. It offered me an inspiring and committed mentor, who trained me in gaining new skills in the laboratory such as flow cytometry, tonsil cell processing, using Ficoll, plating cells, and aseptic techniques. This was an opportunity to pursue my interest in immunology while honing my problem-solving skills. Being able to complete this project helped clarify my aspiration to go into the field of medicine and also sparked the interest of doing research as well. I was able to build a network while working in the lab because I got to work closely with my mentor as well as a diverse array of people who are as committed to science as I am. On top of all the benefits that I have acquired through this unique experience, I will have the opportunity to establish myself in the science community by being in the current process of being coauthors in upcoming publications. I feel that I have an advantage moving forward in my professional aspiration to become a medical doctor. The skills acquired, passion sparked, and professional relationships formed gave me confidence that I can translate into further my pursuit.

My favorite part about this experience was establishing relationships and getting to know the people around my lab. Due to our close collaboration with the Caligiuri Lab, our small four person lab felt more like a 20 person lab. Everyone was so welcoming in the beginning and continued to be throughout my experience. They have built an environment where it was not competitive and everyone was expected to help each other out when help was needed. Feeling so comfortable in such a foreign environment was definitely, in my opinion, a huge factor in my success in this project as well as my ability to enjoy it. Research is a substantial time and personal commitment in order to be successful. There would be some days I came into the lab after class and left close to midnight, but a part of me was always was happy to do it because of how appreciative everyone was and knowing those who might also be pulling a long day would be there too.

This experience impacted me personally by getting me out of my comfort zone and really changing my perspective on research. This project was personally challenging and intellectually developing because it was an experience I had never had before. I was going into an area I was unfamiliar with and a subject I may only have had a basic understanding of, but no extensive knowledge. This was a big leap because I had a lot of insecurities going into this as I surrounded myself with experts in the field. Being a part of the research and being mentored by my faculty advisor and direct supervisor, my confidence grew each time I went. The other big personal change was my opinion on research. I had a horrible experience the first time I sought out a lab to join. I found it boring, intimidating, and a waste of my time because it became apparent that I was only there to do the tasks they didn’t want to do. They didn’t teach me anything so I was just memorizing procedure rather than being engaged into this full heartedly. I am so happy I gave research another shot and this experience has completely turned my opinion around. I am excited and proud of the work being done here and I truly understand the passion others have for it now because this experience has lit that fire in me as well.

Now What?
After this experience during my STEP experience I plan to continue with the research I was able to begin with STEP supporting me. Moving forward I set a goal to get published and have my name be recognized in the medical field as being a part of a project. I also feel that I can use this new skill set to open up doors in my future that will allow me to have an advantage in medical school or even if I wanted to look into a profession in working in a laboratory.