Ana’s STEP Research Experience Summer 2019

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

My STEP Project featured the beginning of my undergraduate senior thesis project in developing cellular targeting technology therapy for breast cancer. In my third year at OSU, I proposed an undergraduate research thesis for Dr. Gallego-Perez’s NanoMedicine Lab to carry out during my final fourth year. Applying my STEP funds towards this opportunity enabled me to receive the necessary training and experience in lab work over the 2019 summer that would provide an advantage to me in pursuing my project in during the school year with some already developed skill sets.

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

My STEP experience grew and developed me as a rising scientist. When I first entered the lab, I was timid and lacking in confidence in my scientific ability, because I had never worked in a biomedical engineering research lab before. I was overwhelmed by the project I had worked so hard to propose, and I often lost faith in myself whenever a mistake occurred. It was difficult for me to through this phase of doubt and negativity, as I was not used to having to repeatedly perform procedures that would almost always fail only to get positive results after perfecting my methodology. I soon learned that improving my performance would require not only following the protocol but have an understanding of what is occurring in each step. I also learned to separate the idea of equivocating my ability to do something with the outcomes of my experiments: science is not a clear-cut field and many things can influence your outcomes, most of which you may not have direct control over (or even fully understand). By the end of my summer research experience, I had performed a variety of procedures multiple times, and developed an efficient method on approaching and understanding protocols.

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?

When I first began my project in May, I had little knowledge of the practical side of performing biomedical research. I was very ambitious and attempted to prepare myself for the lab work by deciphering the scientific literature I guessed would provide me the instruction I needed. However, I soon learned that there exist a vast amount of types of protocols and procedures which are unique to each laboratory. Reading another lab’s documented procedure would not serve me any clarification on what steps I needed to perform and understand. When I had my first gene isolation protocol handed to me in the lab, I was overwhelmed at how many steps were involved and the different types of reagents I needed to use. I would try and fail, many times, without a clue as to why I end up with the same (unusable) result. However, with time and help from graduate students that provided insightful explanation, I was able to overcome this and to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

One typical workspace set up in the lab for harvesting tissues from animal studies. Having your space set up properly and in a work-flow environment improves speed and reduces risk of mistakes!

My relationship with my graduate student project advisor greatly influenced my development as an early scientist. A lack of confidence in skills and ability cannot serve anyone well in a starting position, and she could see that I was stuck in this depreciative cycle and would not be able to make progress due to it. I was challenged every day I came to lab to metacognitively think through the procedures I performed and analyze each step, in order to think for myself scientifically. I also practiced designing my own experiments, applying my background knowledge to work with concepts she would help me understand. I learned a great deal from working with her over the summer, as I have become more comfortable performing extensive experiments and gained confidence in scientific ability. I am grateful for her guidance, and I look forward to continue learning from her mentorship throughout my project.

The skills and confidence I acquired from working in the lab also enabled me to help train the incoming undergraduate research volunteers to the lab. From this, I discovered my excitement in communication information about science and research in an accessible and understandable language to people who may be first coming across it. I am passionate to share about the work I am doing and get others interested and or involved in science! This other side of research, communication of goals and how we aim to accomplish them using the scientific method has helped direct me towards continuing a career in academic research.

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

My experience working the summer on my undergraduate thesis project clarified my career aspirations to pursue graduate school in biomedical engineering research. Although I have only just begun with my research experiments, this project has been the most rewarding experience I have been a part of in my time at OSU. My fascination in biomedical research has grown exponentially, as well as my respect for the scientific community for all their endeavors and investment in educating undergraduate students like me who want to pursue a scientific career.