Food science research

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.

My STEP Undergraduate Research Experience: “The Formulation of Quick Dissolving Vaginal Films by Hot Melt Extrusion to Create a Contraceptive Against Sexually Transmitted Infectious Diseases”

STEP Reflection:

Amanda Micklo

Undergraduate Research Experience

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

For my signature project, I worked in an infectious diseases translational research lab at Magee Womens Research Institute. My project consisted of completing the characterization of Dapivirine films by conducting chemical and physical tests, such as drug content, dissolution, disintegration, water content, and puncture strength, using a High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), Sotax dissolution instrument, a Texture Analyzer, and more.  The ultimate goal is to produce easily accessible vaginal films for women to further prevent sexually transmitted infectious diseases, such as HIV and HSV-2.

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

Before completing my STEP project, I was unsure if I could see myself truly fitting into the research world as a career.  After completing the project, I definitely see this field as a career possibility.  I proved to myself that I could thrive in such an environment, pushing the boundaries of my problem-solving and creativity skills. Being in a specifically translational research lab, it is essentially bench to bedside.  Therefore, I felt I was truly contributing a great deal to society, for the vaginal films I was working on this summer will ultimately go to clinical trials in African countries upon their finalization in the very near future. Working in this lab was highly progressive, fast-paced, and very inspiring, all traits I was initially skeptical of. This summer my lab experience greatly exceeded all of my expectations.

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? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

I was given the absolute best mentors this summer to guide my research.  Having two mentors that were so dedicated to their work and trusting of me allowed me to evolve as a student researcher, immensely.  I was taught how to complete certain tasks, and my mentors were fully confident in my abilities to complete the task correctly and efficiently.  This pushed me out of my comfort zone, at first, but then to prosper in this field at my project assignments.  Moreover, teaching moments were frequent and met with open arms by all.  My mentors knew I did not come into research knowing absolutely every single detail, so they made a great effort to teach me many different subjects along the entire journey.

Furthermore, my laboratory, as a whole, was very cohesive and great at communication.  No matter what, I could go to any of the 30 members in the lab for assistance whenever I needed it, and my PI was very visible day to day, checking up on me.  This was very reassuring and helped me to get quickly comfortable in the lab.  Every other Monday, we had lab meeting where every member would give quick updates on their project and general lab duties.  This was vital, for everyone felt included in decisions and was well aware of all being conducted in the lab.

Finally, being at Magee Womens Research Institute has opened my eyes widely to all the areas of research I am and could be interested in.  The institute has a very communal environment and researchers from differing sectors of studies are always willing to speak on behalf of their research to prospective students like me.  I was able to hear Principal Investigators discuss with me research studies involving Preeclampsia and Breast Cancer, just to name a few.  Overall, the institute was a welcoming place for educational pursuits.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

This transformational moment was both quite significant and valuable in my life.  Currently, I am pursing a Health Sciences degree on a Pre-Medicine track. Now, this experience is making me evaluate my future career goals, and possibly look at pursing an MD/PhD program after I finish my undergraduate career.  Additionally, this summer undergraduate research experience has allowed me to transition into another research aide position this upcoming semester at Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Infectious Diseases Institute.  I am so thrilled to have been granted all of these outstanding opportunities.  I cannot wait to work within this new position in infectious diseases research and continue my growing passion!


High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) instrument. The HPLC was used to measure the drug content of the vaginal films to assure the % weight by weight was constant across all of the produced film.

STEP Undergraduate Research

Hello, my name is Emma Hnat and for my STEP signature project I worked as an undergraduate research assistant for Dr. Christopher Simons’ research lab. Dr. Simons’ lab focuses on food perception and liking by investigating food-evoked perceptions, reward, and behaviors.

My summer focused on assisting Amy Andes, a graduate student in the lab, with her project focusing on the sensory aversion to food/drinks, specifically in people with autism, and working to identify the mechanism of the aversion (focusing heavily on textural cues in the oral cavity). First, I completed my CITI Program Training for Social and Behavioral Human Research and OSU RCR Core. This training included over 20 modules that discussed ethical principles, risk, privacy and confidentiality, and other information required to know before conducting research. Next, one of my first tasks was to review literature discussing food textures and compile a list of words commonly used such as thick, thin, crunchy, smooth, or gummy. From there, I helped with narrowing down the list of textures that children would be familiar with and grouping them into textures that go together. Amy also taught me a lot about the research process. She explained to me the IRB process and how to design an experiment. I also learned a lot about different software’s that are used within the lab. Currently, I am working on compiling a list of foods that are associated with the final textures that were chosen for the study.

Apart from working directly on Amy’s study, I attended weekly lab meetings to stay up to date on other lab members research and learn more about what is going on in other aspects of the lab. Some lab meetings were “Journal Club” meetings where a piece of literature was chosen to be analyzed and discussed. These meetings taught me how to critically analyze and critique a previously conducted study and brainstorm ways to have conducted the study more efficiently. I also participated in another lab members study were I was able to experience how a study was run and how the data is analyzed.

During my STEP project, I faced many transformations. Not only did I transform my knowledge by learning all about a research lab and how to conduct a study, I transformed personally. I became more comfortable with working directly with a professor and graduate students, I learned how to think critically and solve problems, and I became better trying new things that I might have not been comfortable with before. I really enjoyed helping in Dr. Simons’ lab and I learned so much that is going to help me with my future in the food science industry.

STEP reflection

Matthew Wen



1, Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.


I worked on this project finding the correlation between the sales of textbooks of a company made in each school and the different enrollment rate of each races in each school. Given the data collected by sales department concluding the sales summary nationwide in 2017 and after I filtering the data removing all the nulls and incomplete ones, we get around 1073 schools’ data. And I tried to see the sales trend for different races.


2, What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?



Through doing this project, I learned how to work with others and communicate in the professional world, how a big company functions and how each members of a team cooperates with each other, what truly goes into policy that gets implemented, and how it is evaluated. Professionally, I learned a lot about expectations and how to work on a project with collogues. I also gained a lot of confidence in my technical skills and myself and I became more comfortable talking to people in senior positions and ask for necessary help from them. Before, I’m not totally sure what impression I was under about how policy got implemented and evaluated. I understood the company’s policy towards confidential data. I learned about the importance of conducting an analysis research that is not biased and how this can be used to maximize the profit of the firm. One of the most valuable things that I learned is that something that may work somewhere, and benefit people may not work somewhere else and you can’t generalize the diverse populations and regions of the United States.




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?




When I was working on the project, I found that the data was incomplete, so I held a meeting with both my boss and my colleague, they agreed that my finding was correct, but the data was not collected by them, so it was not likely for us to make it complete. After a few discussions, we decided to pull more data from the system so that the result can be more accurate and removing those incomplete ones wouldn’t affect our result.


Besides, by working on the project with my colleges, I also gained the experience working with others who I am not familiar with. And began to know how each member with different background cooperate with each other. By working with them, I learned to communicate with people with different background, different characteristic and different positions.

Through this event, I will be someone who can get used to the professional world easily and will learn how to start and work on a project working with other people. Meanwhile, I became friends with my colleges who barely talk to me before.






Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?


All of the things I learned and experienced this summer made a significant change in my life and this is valuable to me in many ways. These developments are going to help me in my academic, personal, and professional goals along with my future endeavors. Step program supported me to do a lot of meaningful things this summer which makes me transformed successfully from a sophomore that barely knows anything to a junior who is ready to find my own career.  These changes helped my academic goals because it motivated to pursue an advanced degree and shaped what classes I want to take. This also relates to my professional goals and future plans because it helped me in many ways become more confident and learn professional skills that you can only get from experience. This also was valuable for my life because it shaped my personal goals and helped me incorporate my personal goals into my academic and professional ones. Who I want to become as a person is not exclusive to who I am outside of my career, I want my personal goals to coincide with my career goals and my academic goals. I want to choose a career path that allows me to focus on all my goals and allows me to continue to grow in all aspects of my life.

Doing Archaeology in the Alaskan Interior

Name: Hannah Nelson

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research


For my STEP signature project, I went on an archaeological dig in interior Alaska with Adelphi University. During this dig, most of our time was spent learning about different archaeological techniques and methods while digging the recently discovered Holzman site in the Shaw Creek archeological area. We camped for the duration of this trip while learning about the history of Alaskan archaeology and about different interpretations of the peopling of the Americas.

One of the biggest transformations in myself that I believe came about through my experience in Alaska is the lessening and disappearance of many of by physical fears and anxieties. I am not physically the biggest or strongest person around, in fact, I’ve always self-identified only somewhat jokingly as a pansy. Therefore, the thought of spending an entire month camping and doing very physically-demanding tasks was daunting to me. I had only ever been camping once before going on this trip, and then only for three days. While in Alaska, I found that I could accomplish far more physically than I ever would have thought possible. Due to the nature of the class, I basically just had to throw myself at every challenge that faced me. There were no alternate paths of less resistance to take. When a giant mound of dirt needs to be shoveled, all you can really do is shovel it. I discovered in myself a love for manual labor that my former self would never have thought possible and a strength to do what needs to be done and to not only survive, but thrive in situations I would have before considered nearly impossible to exist within.

Another transformation I noted was a distinct shift in my relationship with both my femininity and in the way I present myself to the rest of the world. Where before I had been borderline obsessed with my outward appearance and with being able to control how people perceive me, now I am far less concerned with both of these things. I also have been able to find myself in different, alternative expressions of femininity that I would never have even attempted to inhabit had I not gone to Alaska. Though this change is mostly for the positive, it has led me to call into question some of my prevailing assumptions about femininity and sexuality as a whole which I have subsequently been grappling with.

The biggest influence on the lessening of my physical fears was undoubtedly just the situation of camping in Alaska as a whole. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an intense phobia of spiders. I could hardly escape an interaction with one without launching into a full-blown panic attack. In Alaska, however, the spiders were everywhere, and I just had to deal with it because I wasn’t going to be able to escape them. The most harrowing part of this specific part of the experience was the first few nights where quite a few spiders made their way into the space between the rain fly of my tent and the tent itself and would just sit on the mesh of my tent, silhouetted against the blue of my rain fly in the midnight sun. Even just getting out of my tent in the morning meant having to navigate through the spider-infested rain fly while choking down every panic instinct that threatened to overcome me. By the dawn of the second week, thankfully, my fear of spiders had lessened drastically in part due to being forced to be around them whenever I slept or used one of the several outhouses on the property and in part due to the massive and omnipresent mosquito swarms. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, after all.

Another aspect of this program that contributed to the dissolution of my physical anxieties was the intensity of some of the aspects. Most of my anxiety about my physical abilities came from my insecurity over whether or not I would be able to perform physical tasks if necessary. In Alaska, as I previously mentioned, I had no real choice regarding whether I would do something or not. I had to do it, so I did. Be this digging massive holes, hauling wheelbarrows full of wet dirt up hills, lighting a propane stove, or climbing mountains. The final point specifically, climbing mountains, was a massive turning point for me. In the final week of the program, after we had successfully completed all of the units we had been scheduled to dig over the course of the program, we spent a morning hiking Donnelly Dome, a dome with an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet and an incredibly steep path up the side of it. Over the course of a little less than two hours, I found a strength within myself that I had never had to rely on before. Upon reaching the top and being able to look out over the snow-covered Alaska Range, I was overcome with the enormity of the change I had experienced. In light of all that I have accomplished and all that I have overcome, I am no longer able to refer to myself, even jokingly, as a pansy.

Several different factors played into the evolution of my relationship with my femininity over the course of this trip, not least of which was my decision to shave my head before leaving. I decided to do this because with my hair type, I found myself needing to shower and wash my hair almost every day to keep it from becoming oily and unpleasant. I knew that I would have no access to running water for the month I was to spend in Alaska, and I didn’t want to deal with my hair, so getting rid of it felt like the most straightforward option. Shaving my head was a fun experience and one that I’m glad I had, but with my hair also went my most concrete connection to my outward presentation of my femininity. Without my hair I was adrift, the clothes that I used to wear looked wrong when I wore them without my hair. I seemed to myself to be someone caught awkwardly between androgyny and femininity. When I left for Alaska, however, this awkwardness resolved itself in two distinct ways. First, the dig clothes I wore day in and day out were boxy and shapeless, but that, like my hair, just didn’t matter. My clothes were there to keep mosquitos off of me and to shield me from the elements. They were functional above all, and my hair was much the same. Where before I had spent time agonizing over whether or not my hair matched my clothing and my desired aesthetic, in Alaska, all that mattered was that we moved the dirt we were supposed to move. Furthermore, there was not a single mirror in the entire campground. For weeks I just had no clue what I looked like. The acne I could feel on my face and the weird angles I just knew my hair kept making didn’t bother me because I had no opportunity to stare at myself in a mirror and pick apart the facets of my appearance I was dissatisfied with. This was a bit of an adjustment at first. In the first week of the field school, I found myself seeking out the distorted image of my face and body that would stare back at me from the side of the site’s pickup truck. But as the weeks went on, I found that I was less and less concerned with how I looked and far more concerned with allowing myself to experience fully my environment and the people I shared it with.

Undoubtedly, my newfound confidence in both my physical abilities and in my relationship with my femininity will have a massive impact on my life moving forward from this project. I have learned that the best and most effective way for me to face my anxieties and accomplish tasks that need to be accomplished is to just tackle them head on. I expect that this knowledge will help me achieve both personal and professional goals as I move through the second half of my undergraduate experience. I also am far less afraid of physical tasks that would have seemed entirely too daunting to me before. My new relationship with my femininity will allow me to move through the world differently than I did before. I had always thought that I didn’t really care what people thought of me and of how I presented myself to the world, but shaving my head made me realize that that wasn’t quite true. It allowed me to challenge my assumptions about how I viewed myself in relation to others, and I expect that I will continue to learn and grow from this experience for months and even years to come. Overall, I am incredibly grateful that Ohio State provided me with the opportunity to participate in this program as I feel that my relationship with myself has been irrevocably changed for the better.

Cardiac Research

Name: Julia Evans

Over the course of the summer, my STEP signature Project involved numerous experiments that analyzed the effectiveness of a mutated form of calmodulin protein as a means of cardiac treatment. These experiments consisted of analyzing the effects of differing concentrations of calcium, RYR peptide, and calmodulin using the titrating technique. In addition, I performed gel electrophoresis as a meaning of genotyping the mice of another ongoing study to determine their genetics.

I believe multiple aspects of myself have undergone transformations. These transformations involve different qualities that make up my character and beliefs. From my experience, I am now confident that I am able to problem solve and think critically. In addition, I persevered through a type of resistance I have never experienced. At the beginning of my project, I was under the false impression that research always runs smoothly and yields positive, agreeing results.  In my mind, I was only thinking of the positive side of research, associating it with life changing findings. My project has definitely helped me realize that research often yields findings that are opposite to the expected result or do not agree with one another. In order to continue on, I had to think about all of the contributing variables and determine which of the experimental controls could be altered in order to produce more congruent results. This meant that a single experiment was run a large number of times in order to produce data that I felt could be reproduced by others within the research field. In addition, this meant that altering the same experiment by a very slight factor also needed to be replicated a large number of times. With this being said, I learned to develop a new type of patience and accept that the accomplishments of research require time and do not take place over night.

As mentioned above, my project relied entirely on the laboratory technique of performing titrations. With this being said, this technique is one of extreme detail and precision. Adding a little too much or too little of the substrate would yield a titration curve that is entirely different than a previous titration performed under the same conditions. This being said, this technique required that I master the skill before being able to begin my main project. To yield publishable data for a protein, 3 identical or very similar titration curves needed to be produced. As I started to learn this technique, the replication of three identical curves for one experiment seemed impossible. I was growing extremely frustrated as I thought the procedure I was following for the first titration was identical to the second, yet they produced drastically different curves! Again, this required that I observe what could possibly be varying between the two different titrations. Many, many titrations later, I am now able to say that producing three identical titration curves is not as impossible as I initially believed. With time and a large amount of patience, I was able to learn a skill that again could not be acquired overnight.

Before performing any titrations to analyze the mutated calmodulin protein, the goal of the mutation was to design it so that it would have a greater binding affinity for calcium ions within the cardiac tissue. As I began titrating and adding calcium to the calmodulin protein, the beginning results started to yield the exact opposite to the expected and desired result. In my mind, I became very confused and somewhat frustrated that this mutation my laboratory designed yielded data that was the furthest from what we wanted. In order to confirm that these initial results were valid, this experiment was repeated multiple times. My next approach was to try to think outside the box and consider variables that I believe may be having negative effects. These variables involved time intervals between calcium additions and the concentrations of the calcium being added. The experiments for these slightly altered variables were repeated multiple times. After all of these experiments, the data still showed that this mutated calmodulin had a weaker binding affinity for calcium within the cardiac tissue. While the end result did produce a protein that behaved in the opposite manner that I would have liked, the findings of all the experiments did agree. Value knowledge regarding a specific calmodulin mutation was gained and I was able to think critically. This really demonstrated to me that research does not always yield that desired results, but any kind of finding is valuable for the future.

Gel electrophoresis is an extremely important technique used within my laboratory. It provides us with the means of determining whether the bred mouse carries the gene we are interested in. This being said, it is smart scientific practice to repeat each gel twice to make sure that the genotypes for a litter of mice match. Over the course of the summer, however, there were instances in which the bands for the genotypes of some mice were apparent but not quite as apparent as the bands for a mouse that was surely positive for that gene. This was incredibly problematic because this uncertainty in genotypes could have a large and lasting impact on the future generations of the experiment. Ultimately, our gene of importance could eventually be lost. After changing multiple factors, I was finally able to discover that using primers that were too old produced the faint mystery lines!

Desiring to be a future physician, my developed skills of active problem solving and thinking critically are beyond valuable and applicable. There will be circumstances and situations as a physician where a patient may suddenly and strangely develop a life threatening symptom. In these situations, it will be my responsibility to first stabilize the patient but also to figure out the trigger of such sudden conditions. Most likely, this trigger will be multifaceted, requiring me to consider all of the contributing factors and variables. In addition, the life threatening state means that I will need to be able to do this rather fast.

My new appreciation of patience for slow progress will also be applicable to my role as a physician. Often, treatments for chronic ailments will need time in order to yield any possible progress. If a patient has suffered from an illness for a large period of time, it makes sense that the treatment may also require time to help fix the sizable amount of damage. In addition, I am aware that the patients may not always been entirely compliant and follow my orders that would yield the most progress. With both of these considerations, patience is needed in order to work with the current conditions and make progress for the future, no matter the rate.

Example of one of the many gels!



STEP Undergrad Research Reflection

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project

My STEP signature project is an undergraduate research with the general theme of achieving a Design of Experiment (DoE) for Temper Bead Welding. During the summer, I was able to design and implement several functions including trapezoid meshing and post-processing, which are critical in fulfilling the ultimate goal of DoE.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

Honestly, I didn’t anticipate to learn such a lot of things in this project. Firstly, although as a Computer Science student I’ve written a fairly large amount of codes in the past, this is actually my first time writing something that has uses in the real-world context as the code will be put in a commercial-use software that is popularly used in industry and academia. Also, this time most of my work were the modification and optimization of some currently-existed codes written by someone else, which I didn’t do very often in the past. Thus, during this process, I got a great chance to learn other’s coding habits as well as strengthen my skills in reading and modifying codes. Another thing which I totally didn’t expect is attending and presenting in some meetings with our research sponsors as well as other experts in industry. During the entire process, I realized that doing research isn’t solely writing codes or doing experiments, it’s more of a comprehensive process which includes not only conducting research, but presenting the result as well as other works such as attending meetings and discussing with teams etc.

3. 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?

First off, I’ve learned pretty a lot of technical skills during the entire period of research. In programming side, by regularly reading and modifying a fair amount of codes from others not only enhance my code-reading ability but also helps me gain a better sense of how to write codes more professionally as people in industry do. What’s more, since I’m not a Welding Engineering major student, this research provides me a great opportunity to get to know about this giant subfield of material science. It was really a fascinating experience to visit OSU’s tremendous welding lab, and learn some terminologies I’ve never touched before such as temper bead welding and meshing.

However, more importantly, as I discussed briefly in the previous question is that this research offers me a chance to practice other skills such as oral communication and public presentation. In the summer, since our project is sponsored by and cooperated with a 3rd party company, I need to regularly write emails and attend telephone meetings with the representatives from the company in order to make sure the project is on the right track. Besides, in a temper bead welding meeting in Denver in June, I was given some time to present what I’ve done in front of several industry and academia experts, which is actually my first time doing such a professional oral presentation.

Overall, given that this is my first time doing undergraduate research, it’s fairly an interesting and fruitful process. In the 2 months’ period, I’ve been fully exposed to almost all aspects of a typical research including writing codes, creating prototypes of a concept, writing professional documents, making presentations and attending meetings. By doing all of these things, I realized that doing research is not solely about conducting theoretical research itself, but also about expressing one’s ideas and building up social cycles within one’s field of studies. Therefore, there’s definitely a lot of aspects that I can improve on as I continue doing more research in the future. As for impact of the future, this undergraduate research opportunity certainly triggers my interest in doing more research in the remaining 2 years of undergraduate studies, and also make me become more determined in going to graduate schools.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

I think a very important thing this research brought me is that it helps me get more prepared for the future, with respect to both academic research and industry jobs. In the research aspect, before the summer, I had almost no clue of how the research process works, but right now, except haven’t written any sort of thesis, I basically tried all the works that a PhD or master student would do every day. Thus, I’m now much more familiar with conducting undergraduate research and looking forward to do more in the future. In the industry side, since this research needs routine telephone or email communication with the 3rd party company, I got chances to talk to different company representatives, which I believe would be an essential and basic work after I graduate from school and go into industry. Altogether, it was really an amazing experience this summer, and I’m totally expecting to continue on with this research as well as finding new ones in the near future.

Undergraduate Research with the Cognitive Development Lab

Hi! My name is Amelia Le, and during the summer of 2018, I completed an Undergraduate Research STEP project. For my project, I worked with the Cognitive Development Lab in the department of Psychology. At any time, the lab has multiple studies occurring involving children as young as a couple of months old to college aged students. The lab studies a wide range of topics, but their main focus is on the developing mind and the ways in which children learn and obtain new information.

I have always been more on the quiet and introspective side. Going to college has definitely helped me to step outside of my comfort zone, but for the most part, I typically tend to stick to things that are familiar and comfortable. My STEP project was extremely transformative in that it helped me to develop people skills that are just not able to be taught in a classroom. I learned how to deal with and handle uncomfortable or difficult interactions, and how to move on and continue to work even when the circumstances are less than optimal. I no longer see myself as shy and timid, but rather open to new experiences and ready for whatever is thrown at me.

As a research assistant for the Cognitive Development Lab, my primary responsibility was recruitment for the various studies hosted in the lab. I was also able to run short 10-15-minute studies on children aged 4-8 at the Center for Science and Industry, or COSI. Multiple times a week, another undergraduate researcher and I would head to COSI with a laptop, touchscreen, and plenty of recruitment forms. We were there for around four hours a day, and we would split our time between recruiting and running. We would set up in the Little Kidspace, an enclosed area for parents to interact and play with their children while also allowing them to explore on their own and work with their hands.

For recruiting, my partner and I would split up and work the floor. We tried to interact with as many parents as possible and informed them about our research and how they could get involved by having their child participate in hour long studies at the lab on campus. Prior to this summer, the Cognitive Development Lab had no formal recruitment process, so I was lucky enough to be able to work very closely with one of the lab managers to assist in developing one. We developed a pretty precise schedule and plan for the most successful recruiting. Part of the plan included being very concise and brief when talking to parents. Though most of the parents at COSI were very receptive and interested to hear about what our lab was doing, they also had to keep an eye on their child. It was vital for us to be able to get the most important information about the studies across without being intrusive. For me, the most difficult part of this entire process was feeling as though I was bothering the people who just wanted to relax and enjoy their time at COSI. There were definitely people who were very wary of giving their name and email address to allow us to contact them, and unfortunately my partner and I encountered some very uncomfortable situations. Though we understood why people may not want to talk to us, it was often hard to bounce back and return to the floor after having a not so friendly interaction. We often relied on each other to be supportive and encouraging, and I learned how important teamwork and mutual support can be in maintaining motivation.

As far as running studies, my partner and I would approach parents who had children who looked to be in the age range of 4-8. With our laptop and touchscreen, we had three different games/activities for children to participate in the lunchroom area of the Little Kidspace. These games took about 10 minutes, and they studied aspects of learning such as strategy development and word association. This was hands down my absolute favorite part of my research experience. I have always loved working with children and being able to see them learn and understand our activities was incredibly fulfilling. It was also amazing to see how interested some of the parents were in the science that we were doing. Though I wasn’t always able to explain exactly how some of our studies worked, I was able to have incredible discussions with parents about how they have seen their child develop and the psychology behind the entire process. Through the running experience, my people skills improved tremendously and I now feel that I have the confidence to talk to a very diverse group of people.

Though I am not a Psychology major and do not plan on going into the field of Psychology, I had such a formative and incredible experience this summer. In the fall, I will continue my work with the Cognitive Development Lab by assisting in running the studies given to college students through the Research Experience Program, or REP. Through my experience, I have learned how to be resilient, a better partner, and what the research process is truly like. Research can be tedious and frustrating, but I have seen what my efforts, along with the efforts of all of the other members of the lab, can do. Our PI, Dr. Vladimir Sloutsky, has published over 50 studies that have all been so vital to learning more about childhood development. I feel so fortunate to have been able to be a part of the process.

Undergraduate Research at the Cognitive Development Lab

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

My STEP Signature Project allowed for more involvement in undergraduate research through the Cognitive Development Lab at Ohio State. I served as a Research Assistant who was tasked with recruiting, scheduling appointments, and running the studies when families came into lab. Additionally, I worked on a project with Nathan Blanco, a postdoctoral researcher, examining how children make choices and learn from rewards.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

Spending the summer in Columbus to become more involved in psychological research was the most positive experience for me since coming to The Ohio State University. Going into the Signature Project, I felt it necessary to get additional research experience because of my desire to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology. It became clear that thought was a fallacy because I was so narrow-minded in my future career path. This experience made me come to the realization that research makes me less happy than getting to work face-to-face and help other people. I learned from being a Research Assistant and project collaborator the value of rigorous psychological research. Conducting research as a career may not be as fulfilling as other psychological professions. I have not shut the door on research as a career yet because I recognize all fields of psychology can have varying levels of fulfillment. I am happy this experience forced me into thinking about other exciting career paths in psychology.

3. 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?

The project collaboration with Nathan Blanco was also an eye-opening experience that will shape what my next academic endeavor will be. The Token Game study is looking at how children arrive at their choices and if rewards play any factor into this. The game was a real-life adaptation of a previous study ran by Nathan on a laptop and touchscreen. We moved to a real-life adaptation because it is possible that with more tangible rewards for the kids (4-5 years old), that they may be more inclined to take the highest reward available. My job was to help develop a counterbalance measure, run participants, enter the data, and learn the statistical analysis and how to write a paper once enough data is collected. We are currently at 26 out of 30 participants. Doing this study made me realize how I enjoy running the study more than I enjoy the rest of the research process. I am thrilled labs, like the one I work at, conduct research on the cultivation of a child’s growth so they can succeed in the classroom or in society. I appreciate the research that underlies these discovers, but I realized I would like to be more direct in assisting children to reach their full potential.

When I came to this realization, I began to explore other options for graduate school in the psychology field. I was passively searching The Ohio State University Graduate School Catalog when I came upon the School Psychology section. I started to read the mission statement of both the PhD and the EdS program and was extremely excited. The School Psychology programs take a blend of developmental psychology and clinical psychology and adds in helping children achieve in an academic setting that may have adverse situations to overcome. With the newfound confidence in conducting a formal interaction, I reached out to the program director of the EdS program. One week later, I had a meeting with her to discuss the program in-depth. This meeting would have likely never happened had I not been funded by STEP because of how far my home is from campus.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

As the conversation progressed with the director of the EdS program, I became increasingly excited about the opportunity of being able to extend my academic career in Columbus. Since I got to spend a summer in Columbus without most of the pressures of academics, I fell in love with the city. Upon graduating from the EdS program, I would be placed in a one-year internship in one of the Columbus area school districts as a School Psychologist. This would open up the opportunity to stay in the area and start a career. What the program director said to me, as we were saying our goodbyes, lifted a great deal of pressure off of my shoulder. She said that “I hope you apply, I think you would be a great fit.” The fear of uncertainty of my future had dominated most of my undergraduate career up until that point. While still pushing for success, knowing the pressure to get into the EdS program is much less intense is freeing. Unless another opportunity presents itself, the EdS (or PhD) in School Psychology at The Ohio State University is a journey I cannot wait to start.


Ecotourism Research in Flores, Peten, Guatemala

This May I worked on a team of four undergraduate assistants and collected over 1,000 surveys of tourists in the Peten region of Guatemala, where the Maya Biosphere Reserve is located. Our places of collection were the Island of Flores, Mundo Maya airport, Tikal National Park, and the Peten bus stop. This is a development economics project related to willingness to pay for certain touristic amenities; and we will also be collecting demographic and preference data as well.

This project has made me much more assertive when dealing with conflict and rejection, and much more comfortable talking to random people. In addition, I have gotten and will continue to get lots of experience working on a team for the first time in a non-classroom academic setting. After being in a remote region of Guatemala for a month with barely any Americans, I realized that the US may seem like the entire world nowadays, whereas the reality is that the US constitutes only a small percentage of the world’s population, and our country as a whole is egotistical and selfish. This may seem like a dark realization, but it only gives me an increased drive to make our country a better global citizen and steward of the environment.

I realized these things through my interactions with Guatemalan, Spanish, Canadian, German, Irish, and Honduran people. For example, a Honduran couple I met was trying to scrape together enough money to get to the American border during the family separation crisis. Meanwhile, the Irish guys I met were astounded that one doesn’t pay for plastic bags in the United States. I always used my reusable bags before this anyway, however I am now a strong advocate for steep prices for plastic bags. Dead whales washing up on shore have hundreds of pounds of plastic in their stomachs. I got so exhausted over simply agreeing with the Canadians, Germans, Spanish, and Guatemalans, about the harm our current president is causing to our shared planet.

This change is significant to my life because I have a much more cultured perspective on America’s role in the global community. I will be graduating right as Trump (hopefully) leaves the Oval Office, which I hope will mean that there are much more jobs for environmental economics majors to undo the harm that he has inflicted. I continue to encourage others’ day-to-day actions to be more consistent with their thoughts and feelings about our world.