Undergraduate Research STEP Reflection

Name: Charu Tiwari

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

  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.

I conducted initial research on the mechanism for liver sinusoidal endothelial cell (LSEC) injury following cancer drug delivery. My work entailed standardizing antibodies and controls so that a human LSEC cell line could be tested for the expression of CD33, a target receptor.

  1. 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.

This project gave me valuable insight into a research career. This was the first time I worked full time in research, so I experienced spending almost 40 hours a week in the lab. It was really important for me to understand whether being in a wet lab for that long is conducive to my working style. I found that I struggled with the lack of routine that comes with research—the unpredictable nature of the job gave me anxiety that I did not know how to initially handle. I realized how important a routine and regular work schedule is to me—I discovered that it helps me plan around my hobbies and spending time with family and friends. I also struggled with feeling inadequate about the progress I was making, especially when experiments did not work or needed to be repeated, or had to be delayed for certain reasons. I thought deeply about my desire to be a physician and how well that career truly lined up with what I wanted from a job—I realized that when working with patients, I wouldn’t feel like any time or day was a “waste”, because even if you cannot cure somebody’s disease, every moment you spend with them has the potential to be positively impactful in their life. This is not really the same for research. I struggled with feeling like sometimes I wasting my time when things did not go right.

Although I have a deep respect and appreciation for biological research, in a job I need to be working more closely with people. Most of the research I did this summer was fairly individual other than lab meetings. I like working with team members throughout a project and sometimes being in a lab by yourself all day can get fairly lonely. I have gained a better understanding of the aspects I am looking for in my future career.

  1. 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.

The unpredictability of research that was referred to above presented itself in many forms. I am a planner—I feel most comfortable when I can lay out ahead of time what my goals are for the week and then in order to feel satisfied with myself, I need to accomplish those goals. During my research project this summer, the work that I had expected to complete totally did not happen, and the work I was able to complete took significantly longer than expected. For example, I was trying to standardize an antibody for a particular cell line; I started out using the antibody with just positive and negative controls. But, it was not working with the positive control. I spent almost a month trying to change variables such as temperature, the machine used to analyze data, antibody concentrations, etc. in order to figure out why the positive control wasn’t working. It turned out that this antibody does not work on fixed cells—they have to be fixed after the antibody is used. This experience frustrated me significantly because what I thought would just be one quick experiment took almost ten different experiments.

In relation to the frustration I felt when my plans could not be carried out, I also became anxious about the supposed lack of progress I was making with my project. I had wanted to take about half the summer to standardize antibodies and reagents, test them on the liver sinusoidal endothelial cells, and then explore the mechanisms for sinusoidal damage. However, because the standardization took so long, I was unable to get to explore the mechanism part of the project, which I had been looking forward to the most.

And finally, I realized how important it is for me to be working actively in a team. Although a lab is a team, the day-to-day work that I experienced was fairly individualized—I spent most of my time alone. Even if there were other people in the lab, my need to concentrate on my own work forced me to isolate myself either physically or by putting on headphones. I am a fairly social person that needs to engage with others on a daily basis in my work to feel satisfied with my job—I found that the type of research I did this summer failed to provide me with that. I again thought back to my physician shadowing experiences and remembered how they discussed everything together and worked as a team with nurses and other physicians every moment of the day, and how much that seemed like a better fit for me.

  1. 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 research project has allowed me to learn and reflect on what it means to go into research, especially biological, as a career. This was very important to me because I have been fairly confused about what I want to do after graduation. I was considering going into research, applying to medical school, a public health field, and even teaching. Because I have been doing part-time research since my freshmen year, it was the most logical option. I had simply had more experience with it. However, I had never worked in research full time and was always balancing it with school. I finally worked full time in research this summer and found that it failed to fulfill key qualities I discovered that I needed in a job.

Although I am not considering research to be a significant part of my future anymore, this experience did make me more confident about my decision to apply to medical school to become a physician. My whole high school and college experience I’ve been trying to better understand myself so that eventually I can go into a career that will make me happy because I want to help people, but I cannot do that if I am not happy myself. Everything that I felt I was not getting out of research would be there for me in the role of a physician. I would be glad to continue contributing to research during my breaks in medical school, for example, but I feel that my personality is better suited to the role of a physician than for research.

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