Undergraduate Research Endeavor
My STEP project consisted of 3 months of full-time summer research in Dr. Jonathan Godbout’s Lab assisting with the traumatic brain injury project (TBI). This summer concluded with travel to an international meeting to present my research in Toronto, Canada.
While completing my STEP Signature Project, I learned a lot about myself and the world of professional science. As it was my third full-time summer working on the TBI project, I was able to complete a lot of work independently from idea conception all the way to preparing figures for research publications. Having a hand in every step of this long, stressful process because of the time I was able to dedicate day in and day out without distraction gave me a new and more realistic perspective on the scientific process. At the end of the summer, I was able to present my work at an international conference, and there I was able to learn even more about the greater world of academic research, as well as the importance of networking for the purpose of progress and collaboration. By the end of the summer, I felt transformed into a more competent and experienced scientist, with a better grasp on the research process and the greater scientific community associated with the field of neurotrauma.
This third summer in Dr. Godbout’s Lab supported by STEP taught me a lot about the failures and frustrations associated with scientific investigation, and also the sheer amount of work that goes into the preparation of a paper for publication. Being allowed significantly more independence in designing and executing experiments also meant being far more emotionally invested in the outcomes, especially being the person who analyzes the data and is first to interpret the results. This summer has made me far more comfortable with disappointments and lack of progress in a research setting; sometimes you spend weeks on something, pouring time into it every single day, and at the end all you get out of it is a slew of negative data. It can be hard to justify all that time and effort seemingly wasted, but I learned that negative results are still results. They still tell us things about science that are important, even if it the thing they tell you is that your hypothesis is wrong. For example, this summer in particular, the project I intended on completing during my STEP project was not the project I ended up working on due to negative results. Despite my excitement for that project, I was able to adapt to the idea of a new project quickly, which still allowed me to make significant progress despite a late start.
I also learned more than I anticipated about the importance of networking, something I always associated with fields other than science and previously assumed would be irrelevant to me. Preparing for and attending an international research symposium made me realize just how important it is even to just introduce yourself to another person. Because I am applying to many of the programs that were represented at the conference, I was thankful I did research in advance to identify potential research mentors and become familiar with their projects so that when I was able to find and speak to them over the course of the week, I knew who they were and why they were important and was able to make a good initial impression. This was the first time I ever had to “network,” and I learned a lot about how who you know has an impact on your science and success.
Despite these excellent experience detailed above, I think the greatest catalyst for my transformation this summer was my graduate student mentor. Her unwavering trust in me and my abilities had a massive impact on the way I feel about not just science, but myself. Even three years back, when I knew practically nothing, she was never hesitant to pull me away from more “classic” undergraduate duties, like dish washing, sit me down at a lab bench, and trust me to work on experiments I thought were far too important for my unexperienced hands. She has always been an advocate for me and is the primary reason that I not only was able to attend an international conference, but the reason I believed I belonged there. Without her faith in me and willingness to correct my mistakes as I learned everything hands-on, I would not be the scientist or person I am today. I cannot imagine who I would be without her mentorship and support, I truly believe I have her to thank for all of my successes as an undergraduate student researcher.
This transformation is significant and valuable to me because of how it relates to my personal and professional goals. Independence and willingness to work hard despite failure and adversity are qualities that I think would be valuable in a graduate school candidate and I believe this summer of research allowed me to be able refine and build those attributes. Additionally, the connections I was able to make at the research conference are ones that may still be in place even 20+ years from now; many researchers were talking to me about their own first conferences almost 20 years prior and how many of the connections they made back them were important to their science and career progress. Overall, this opportunity has been an instrumental and transformative part of my undergraduate career, and I feel very grateful to have been supported by the STEP Program.