For my STEP project I conducted research with Dr. Vadivelu at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. During this time, I worked in a lab focusing on moyamoya disease, a brain vasculature disease that occurs in children at a young age and causes ischemic strokes.
My project and lab experience was transformational. I never really enjoyed research before and I dreaded being in a lab, but working at Children’s changed my outlook on medicine and my future. I knew that I always wanted to be a physician and I did everything I could to get myself on that path. However, it was not until my STEP experience that I understood the importance of research and medicine – the two are so intertwined and crucial to one another that you cannot separate them.
Therefore, I changed my career path. Instead of pursuing just a M.D., I have decided to pursue a M.D. PhD in my future endeavors. I have decided to dedicate half of my future studies to research, more specifically neuroscience research in developing pediatric brains. I want to have a career in which I translate research from my lab to the clinic and vise versa. It is crucial to know both aspects of the story – the molecular and the clinical – and changing my career path is the most successful way I can achieve this dream.
I realized this importance during my first summer at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. With my lab mentor, I learned a variety of different techniques that I had not been exposed to before in my undergraduate experience. More importantly though, I sat in on conferences and meetings interacting other physicians how held labs at Children’s. From them I learned that science without research or research without science was impossible. They spoke to understanding their patients better because of the scientific lens they also had. They taught me that it is crucial to understand and love both to become a great physician.
During my second summer our lab lost 2 of the lab technicians and I was running the lab by myself for a month before the new hirers started working. This was the largest learning curve that I have experienced in my undergraduate learning career. I fell in love with research at this point. I did everything in the lab from staining to managing the mouse room to working on publications. I was a part of every aspect of the cycle, and although the work was sometimes too much to handle, I grew to appreciate the work before me. I loved what I was doing and knew that I wanted this to be a part of my future.
The hard work payed off as I went on to present at various conferences, earning a 2nd and 3rd place prize at two of the conferences – on national and one at at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the University of Cincinnati. The hard work and hours gave way to these amazing opportunities and this recognition. When I tell people about my research, it leaves them intrigued – wanting to know what our results of our next project are. I enjoyed being a source of good news when I tell interested individuals that we may have a new screening method for children other than an MRI. All these experiences have lead me to the decision to incorporate research in my career path.
This change makes me excited about my future. I truly believe that the 2 to 3 extra years of schooling will help me become a better physician, as I grow my knowledge base. The experience only reinforced my love for neuroscience confirming my path of becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon. It made me realize that this was the way I can create change in my life, and this is the way I give back to a country and community that gave me a home. I am grateful to STEP and my mentors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for this wonderful and transformational experience.