Novel MicroRNAs Affecting Tumor Development and Progression in Prostate Cancer – Reflection

Name: Kathryn Andrews

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

1.During this autumn semester, I had the opportunity to fully engage in undergraduate research here at The Ohio State University as a part of the Comprehensive Cancer Center. I took on an individual project developing an understanding of how microRNA regulate gene expression in prostate cancer. I completed experiments which characterized several microRNA which had never been researched in prostate cancer yet.

2. Although I had been involved in research beforehand, this is the first time I was taking on a project by myself, and I must admit that I was terrified. The weeks before the project began I became more and more nervous that I would not be able to fulfill the requirements of the project or that I wold mess up the experiments. And, of course, science is never easy or perfect, so there were some mistakes along the way. However, I made it through and not only that, I loved going in to lab every day. By the end of the semester, I accomplished what I had set out to do, regardless of how intimidated I was of cancer research. In conclusion, my confidence in my own research abilities developed enormously through the completion of this project, since I had to really be in the lab and prove to myself that I could do it.

3. One of the fundamental aspects of undergraduate research is learning the process from those more experienced in the given field, and sometimes this can be a very hefty task. I found learning cancer research to be very intellectually stimulating, between learning to take care of cells, performing experiments on mice, and learning new techniques, such as Western blotting. This experience involved many different facets, from reading about experiments in other publications, following protocols, watching others, and finally performing experiments myself. I found it invigorating to be able to see an experimental protocol written out on paper then put it into action myself. It’s very empowering to see results for yourself!

As another part of becoming a cancer researcher, I had to learn to deal with disappointment. Especially with a technique such as Western Blotting, sometimes an experiment will take four days, only to have something go wrong at the last step, or, as I found in most cases, something undetermined went wrong. When this happens, the protocol would have to be optimized, such that the conditions would be tweaked very slightly to try to develop definitive results. In the end, I would sometimes have to repeat an experiment many times, which can be frustrating and time consuming. With one particular Western Blot, which is a technique testing for protein expression, the proteins never showed up under any conditions, although they almost certainly should have. As a result, I learned how to be patient and also realize not every failed experiment is human error, although when it is, it can always be repeated again.

Even as important as actual results are, I found that one of the most important aspects of the experience was simply being present in the lab every day. This helped me to improve my relationships with the other researchers as we saw each other so frequently, especially when working early mornings, late nights, and weekends. Relationships like these can be both professional and personal, which made my experience very positive overall. I learned a lot from the postdocs, and they appreciated my assistance when I lent a hand with their work as well. I can move forward from this experience feeling like I grew a professional network but also made friends!

4. This experience has had an enormous impact on my current plans and for my future. As part of forming better relationships with my mentors, they too have developed greater confidence in me, and as a result, are sending me to one of the best cancer research conferences in the world this April (the American Association for Cancer Research conference in New Orleans). During this conference, I will be presenting research in the place of one of the postdoctoral researchers, which will be a fantastic opportunity for me to gain presentation experience and be exposed to research from around the world.

I hope that this experience will continue to affect me as I move forward in my career, especially with applying to medical school. I am so excited to share how research has impacted me here and how it has developed my understanding of cancer as a disease. I believe it will offer me a tangible way of showing my competency and the opportunities that Ohio State has offered me.