Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
This summer, from May 9th to August 1st, I stayed at Ohio State to continue research in the food science department. The research was organized through the FOODSure Program, and the topic that I studied was characterizing a strawberry rinse using rheology and HPLC. Additionally, I took the class Math 1152 during the summer.
What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
The transformation that I experienced over the summer was that I learned that I enjoy research. The STEP project allowed me to stay at Ohio State to dedicate my summer to learn about the “research experience.” Without funding, I would have just gotten a job like I did the summer after my freshman year, but the money gave me flexibility to do research instead. For the first two years of college, I was always troubled by a nagging voice that asked me “What are you going to do with a food science major?” Food science jobs are diverse, which may sound surprising because food science is an esoteric topic, but there are many areas of food science. After this summer, I know that I would like to have a career similar to the research and topics that had just done: functional foods, analytical chemistry, and research. This realization, of finding research and the areas it covered very interesting, was a transformation for me. I now have an answer to that nagging question.
What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?
An interaction that led me to the realization that I previously described was the meetings I had with my research advisor, Dr. Vodovotz. She acted as a great mentor by challenging and encouraging me throughout the summer. As I met with her, I could see her passion on the research I was working on and, generically, the area of functional foods research. Her enthusiasm for the topic caused me to reciprocate, and I found myself becoming more and more interested in the research that I was doing. Interactions with a graduate student, Megan, who Dr. Vodototz had set me up with to ask some more specific questions about using the HPLC system, was similar. I saw her enthusiasm for her dissertation research, and realized that there was something special about this lab.
Another event was the gradual process of learning about the topics I needed to do the research. I started to read quite a few papers on similar topics in order to better understand what I should do. Oftentimes, during this process I found myself entering a “rabbit hole” of papers, where I would continue reading studies that others referenced, and eventually reaching one that was no longer relevant and stopping. I also learned about my research topic by talking mainly with Megan and Dr. Vodovotz, but also occasionally other graduate students in the lab. I began to notice the Dunning-Kruger effect taking place– I knew just how much I didn’t know. But at the same time, I knew that I wanted to learn more.
Lastly, physically doing the research was transformative. I liked that the abstract ideas became realized into something tangible, such as a graph or a white pellet. In other words, I enjoyed seeing the connection between Using the instrumentation was different than experiences from labs in class, because the goal of the research was to discover something unknown before, not to just learn about how to use equipment to get graded. When I was in lab working on something, I almost always enjoying it. In summary, these three positive experiences led me to realize that I enjoyed research and the topics that I covered in the research. In turn, this led me to have a much better idea of what my goals in a career are.
Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
This transformation is significant because it will help me choose a plan for my life. In the short term, I plan on continuing to do research during the rest of my undergraduate experience. After that, I will likely attend graduate school in order to be in a job position where I can have mostly independent research projects. In the long term, I plan on finding a career for myself that involves research and is within the realm of food chemistry. Finding a job related to functional foods would be ideal. The STEP experience likely changed my life’s trajectory.