STEP Reflection





For my STEP experience, I re-traced the steps that my own grandfather took in escaping Nazi occupied Europe as a German Jew, as well as researched the role that Jewish children played in the Holocaust. The primary objective of my project was to research Jewish children who have lived through the Holocaust. The project was guided by written memoirs of my grandfather’s experience.  I visited specific places that were important in my grandfather’s life as a child, as written in his memoir and told to me by my grandfather several years ago.  My project combined two of the six experiences of STEP: Study Abroad and Undergraduate Research.


The first destination of my trip abroad was Paris, France, which I flew into on July 16th.  This is where my grandfather and his parents lived for several years and started a laundry business after leaving their home in Germany due to anti-Semitism.  Eventually, after German forces occupied Paris, they were forced to leave and were sent to the camp of Nexon, followed by the camp of Rivesaltes.  My great-grandfather was separated from his family and was later found to have died at Auschwitz.  In Paris, I visited the old Laundromat storefront and apartment where my family lived. I also visited the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, which is a memorial to the people deported from Vichy, France to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.


Next, I took a train to Munich and visited Dachua concentration camp. From this, learned about the treatment of people in these camps. From Munich, I traveled to Laupheim, the hometown of my grandpa and his family.  There, I toured the bank that my great-grandfather was the co-founder and director of, before he was jailed and forced to resign due to the fact that he was Jewish.  A new addition to the bank was recently dedicated to my great-grandfather.  I met a man named Kristoff whom my relatives have previously met in Laupheim. He was good friends with a woman who was writing a book about the history of Laupheim. He found the topic interesting and wanted to get involved so he researched specific families including my family history extensively. By chance, my older cousin met him while she was visiting Laupheim a few years ago and was thrilled to discover that he knew about our family, even more than any of my current relatives had known themselves! We have since kept in contact with him and he has extended an open invitation to meet with and any of my family members if we ever visit Laupheim. With the help of Kristoff, I toured the small city to see where my grandpa grew up.  I visited a museum in Laupheim that is dedicated to the history of Jews and Christians living peacefully together in Laupheim for many years. It was very interesting to see childhood pictures of my great grandparents in this museum and learn more about the town’s history. On my last night there, I went out to dinner with a few people that work at the bank, as well as Kristoff.


Along with my planned itinerary for both France and Germany, I was able to explore other museums and monuments, which really enriched my experience and allowed me to fully take in the culture of each country.


So What:

My trip to Europe was a great opportunity to research my family history as well as learn more about WWII and Nazi Germany.  Although my grandpa passed away 7 years ago, I would like to continue learning about his life so I can pass his miraculous story on to future generations in my family.  It was wonderful to travel to his hometown and visit places that he described in his memoir, in order to get a better understanding of his experience as a child. Traveling to where he lived throughout his childhood was essential to my understanding of the events that took place. It allowed me to further empathize with the horrors that overtook his childhood. Experiencing Dachau concentration camp was eye opening and emotionally intense as it provided a more tangible experience to things that most just read in history books.

In addition, I gained valuable information on a topic that is fundamental in learning about mistakes from the past, and how we can use this information to build a more tolerant society today. On a different note, I think that researching survivors feelings about the Holocaust could give insight on how past events affect people and how discrimination on a whole group of people might be different than individual cases of trauma. I think that the topic of past trauma and how it affects the rest of an individual’s life is very intriguing. It was great to connect this topic with history and see how the Holocaust affected the lives of survivors. The possibilities of psychology research relating to similar topics are expansive and I would love to delve deeper into this subject matter.

Now What:

This STEP experience was life-changing for me and I will remember it as I go on with my college experience, as well as with the rest of my life. I will continue to share my experience with other people as will share my photo journal so that others can have the most realistic summary of the trip. It has also reinforced my desire to pursue further education in clinical psychology. My next goals include completing my undergraduate psychology degree and then moving to a clinical psychology graduate program where I can hopefully further research trauma and PTSD. I am very grateful for the STEP program helping me through this experience, which in turn helped me learn about myself and my goals in life. No matter where my career and personal goals take me, I want to keep in mind the fight that my family went through and always stay determined to carry on and accomplish whatever I may be working at.

Stephanie Homan




STEP Undergraduate Research Experience Reflection


During the Summer of 2014 I did research in the lab of Dr. Amal Amer. Dr. Amer works with Legionella pneumophila, a pathogen that causes Legionnaire’s disease in those who have compromised immune systems and the elderly. My project deals with Legionella biofilm. Biofilm is an extracellular polymeric matrix with which bacteria can thrive in environments that have limited available nutrients. Legionella biofilm is the leading cause of infection and biofilm builds up in moist areas such as air conditioners or spa filters. Once a biofilm has developed, it is extremely difficult to eliminate because it is resistant to antibiotics. Because biofilm is a leading cause of infection, we are trying to learn more about Legionella biofilms and find a significant factor that leads to its development. Once a factor has been identified it can lead to new treatments that can target the factor and eliminate the biofilm. In order to identify a significant factor I grew biofilm for JR32 Legionella pneumophila Wildtype (WT) Strain, or non-mutated strain, and JR32 Legionella pneumophila mutant strains.

For each experiment I grew biofilm for JR32 WT and one JR32 mutant strain for 6 days and performed a Crystal Violet Assay at the end of the growing period. The Crystal Violet was used to quantify the amount of biofilm grown by the bacteria. Because we know that JR32 WT does not have any mutations and has the ability to grow biofilm. I used this as the control variable for my experiment. What I hoped to find was at least one mutant strain that was not able to grow healthy biofilm. This would signify that this specific mutant lacks a factor that is significant to biofilm growth. For the summer, I worked with mutants that lacked specific effector proteins and contained mutations in the structure of specific lipopolysaccharides.

During the summer I was able to grow and quantify the biofilms for five different effector protein mutants and three different LPS mutant colonies. Unfortunately, I was not able to identify an effector protein mutation or a LPS mutation that was not able to grow a proper biofilm.

In the future I plan to continue growing various other mutant strains and hope to find a factor that is significant in the production of Legionella biofilm. Once I find a mutation that is unable to grow healthy biofilm, the next step will be to show specifically how the Wildtype biofilm and mutant biofilm are different from each other. For example, I will take pictures of each biofilm with a Confocal Microscope in order to show visually how the two are different in structure. I will also work with a Reometer in order to test the bond forces of each biofilm and compare the two strains.

So What? 

I chose to do this experience because it was a way for me to experience a possible career path and an interest. I have always been interested in doing research and was finally able to have a first-hand experience in implementing the scientific process in a professional setting. Initially I had high hopes for my experiments and it was definitely tough when I came to the realization that my experiments would not produce perfect results or, at times any results, at all. Sometimes they may need to be repeated due to a simple mistake or sometimes you may not even know what needs to be fixed. The most important thing was to just keep thinking of new ideas, making observations, and trying to solve the problem at hand. I also learned that I will not always know everything that is going on, which is fine, but it is my job to learn. Doing experiments is definitely a trial and error process and when something does not work, you need to adjust and keep trying.

In addition I learned that science is a very communicative subject. Yes, you do your own experiments but it is talking through discussion with others that allows you to learn or think of even more new ideas or solutions.

Overall, I very much enjoyed my experience. Working in Dr.Amer’s lab is a privilege and I am excited to continue working here.

Now What?

As stated before, one of my main goals for the STEP experience is to find something I am interested in and experience possible career paths. I am a biochemistry student and graduate school has always been my goal. Through this experience I was able to see what type of work would be entailed as a graduate student. Though my decision is not final yet, I have decided that I do enjoy research and I hope to continue to do it whether it be through graduate school or working in a lab.

In addition, another goal for my STEP experience was to learn more about what I would like to do research on in the future. I have always been more interested in the biology aspect of biochemistry but I wasn’t sure whether or not I preferred microbiology or macrobiology. During my experience, I was able to learn more about microbiology and I now see it as a possible career path.

Undergraduate Research in Cognitive Development Lab


I worked about 10-15 hours a week at the Cognitive Development Lab in the Psychology department during the summer. I did a variety of activities including running research experiments, attending lab meetings, reading journal articles, learning MatLab, and discussing research with a graduate student. The main activity that I really focused a lot f my time was reading research articles and discussing them with my research mentor as I was considering writing a thesis in this research area.

So what?

I enjoyed my STEP experience and while I ended up deciding not to pursue a thesis in this area, the STEP experience allowed me to figure this out in a timely and effective manner. I enjoyed my STEP experience and met some wonderful people through it and learned that I was more capable of critically reading and assessing research articles than I had previously believed.

Before entering college, I never expected to work in a research lab or that quantitative measures would be interest me at all. By dedicating a considerable time this summer to learning about a lab, I really gained a better understanding of research and what goes into research. I also surprised myself because I found it a lot more interesting than I had previously thought!

While I decided not to keep on working in the lab because I wanted to pursue other interests, the ability to work in the lab made me realize this earlier on in my college career. I learned a great deal of what goes into research and have a greater appreciation and understanding of research.

Now What?

My experience in STEP has helped me move forward in all areas of life. I really wanted the opportunity to research because I was not sure if I wanted to go into a career with research. This opportunity allowed me to see many aspects of research, and while I decided not to continue, I also realized that if I found a topic that interested me a lot- I would able be to and want to pursue research in it.  This has helped me narrow my academic focus and helps confirm that counseling, instead of research, may be the best route for me.

I was helped personally by my STEP experience because I challenged myself to read and discuss articles, which I used to be intimidated by. I gained more insight into my capabilities and confirmed that if I put enough effort into something, I can exceed my expectations.

My life goals have become more narrowed since my STEP experience. I learned the importance of trying something out short-term before completely dedicating my whole life to it. I am now pursuing ways in which spirituality and psychology intertwine because I have some experience with research and now have a better sense of how I want to pursue it in my future.








Etiology of Malignant Melanoma

Coming into my Undergraduate career as a freshman I didn’t have a clear plan or idea of what I wanted to do after graduation. All I knew is that I was aiming for the Healthcare field, and at the very least I knew I needed to incorporate biological sciences into my future.

First semester of freshman year I took a one-credit hour class called Research and Career Opportunities. It was a random course that I chose to fill out my schedule and it was taught by Dr. Anita Hopper, the chairwoman of the Department of Molecular Genetics at the time. Her class opened my eyes to the diversity of career paths which involve science. Seeking guidance in deciding which path to pursue, I went to Dr. Hopper’s office hours a couple of times.

Dr. Hopper suggested that I try my hand at laboratory-based research by securing a student position at the university. Her knowledge of the staff of the department helped me to select a couple of faculty members who would be interested in mentoring an undergraduate researcher. After perfecting my resume, sending a handful of emails and completing an interview, I began working in the lab of Dr. Christin Burd in January of 2013.

After months of basic training and becoming comfortable in the lab, Dr. Burd finally felt I was ready to undertake my own project in October of 2013. My project would use mice to investigate the role that genetics and UV radiation have in the development of malignant melanoma. Melanoma accounts for roughly 75% of deaths by skin-related cancers, and its occurrence has been increasing steadily for many decades. Scientists have established an undisputed correlation between UV light exposure and melanoma incidence, but have yet to decipher the direct causal relationship.

I spent the remainder of the 2013-2014 school year working hard on my project. I was in the mouse room every day, becoming more independent by the week. I devoted all of the time and energy to my project that I could, and as the semester wore on, summer loomed. I did not have the money to stay in Columbus and continue my work and Dr. Burd could not afford to pay me. What would become of my beloved project?  The mice could not simply be abandoned—if I left for the summer, my project would be reassigned to another researcher and I would have little to nothing to show for my labors.

Fortunately for me, STEP was able to facilitate a summer undergraduate research  opportunity for me in Dr. Burd’s lab. Not only would I be able to continue my project, but I would be able to make leaps and bounds of progress in my work.

Spending the summer in Columbus performing research was a dream come true. I worked well over 40 hours a week but I loved every minute of it. I met regularly with Dr. Burd to discuss my project and I immersed myself completely in a research environment. I also began meeting with other faculty members studying similar things, both networking and getting feedback from them about my results as well as how to proceed in my project. I learned a multitude of new lab techniques that I never would have been able to utilize on my own without continuing on in the summer. I learned how to use immunohistochemistry to stain slides, how to use imaging software to quantify microscope pictures, how to create a genome library and much more. For me, my STEP experience was the opportunity of a lifetime to explore a future career option and to allow me to learn a variety of useful skills.

My STEP Experience allowed me to be immersed in the research field and helped me to decide what it was I wanted to do with my life. If I doubted it before, I now know that I want to end up in medical academia. It also gave me many networking connections that will benefit me as I continue on to higher education.

After almost two years in the lab, I am still infatuated with the work I do every day. Without knowing anything about research before beginning in Dr. Burd’s lab, I couldn’t have had any idea that it was something I would want to be involved with for the rest of my life. Having completed my STEP Experience helped steer me towards my future career, provided me the opportunity to do meaningful work and laid invaluable groundwork for my future success as a medical researcher.

Metastatic Cancer Migration Studies on Biomimetic Nanofiber Substrates

What? – My STEP experience was designed to promote growth in three dimensions: research, education and lifestyle with a  cancer prevention based theme. The research dimension, was done with a Biomedical Engineering graduate student and Dr. Lannutti, an Ohio State Materials Science and Engineering professor. During this position, I learned to perform cell migration studies using special computer software and create migration vectors of various drugged cancer cell lines. I learned cell culture techniques like growing, passaging, and freezing cancer cells. By the end of the summer, I worked with cell lines for three lung cancers, three melanomas, four head and neck cancers, and one breast cancer. Figure 1 shows an example of a cell migration study prepared for numerical analysis.


Figure 1: MDA-MB-231 Breast Cancer Migration Study Treated with AKBDEX

The cells above are MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells treated with chemotactic AKB and DEX drugs. Colored lines following the selected cells (stained green) are the result of several images overlaid upon one another like a flipbook. These images when played track a metastatic cancer cell as it migrates along a nano fibrous substrate. Performing these studies was the basis of my research position in Dr. Lannutti’s lab.

The second dimension was devoted to reading literature on cancer pathology. Such texts discussed vasculation, intravasation, metastasis, Epithelial-Mesochymal Transition (EMT), cancer associated fibroblasts (CAFs), and tumor associated macrophages (TAMs).  These provided me with a foundation to my research.

The third dimension was to develop a healthier lifestyle and included rock-climbing at the Outdoor Adventure Center (OAC) and playing pick-up games at campus soccer fields. I believe a healthier lifestyle was necessary for set the tone desired for my STEP experience.

So What? – Becoming comfortable with my STEP experience’s expectations was not as seamless as I anticipated. My prediction was if I remained zealous about gaining experience I would advance quickly and easily. I imagined with the right attitude I could learn techniques and procedures quickly, grasp experimental theory easily, and contribute ideas confidently. I quickly discovered this is not the case. Maintaining steady hands, proper sterile technique, and other lab techniques were challenging to execute.

Yet, several weeks later I noticed improvement. I dosed, fed, passaged, and lysed cells according to conditions, explained procedures to new coming members, and understood intentions behind labs. I offered suggestions towards assembly of patient-tumor biopsy assays and MATLAB program. I also proposed a model for new electrospinning apparatus.

At the end of my STEP experience, I was proud when presenting, explaining, and defending a poster project at the Fall Student Poster Forum. This was an inspiring and rewarding experience for me, since I had never presented in nor attended an event like this.

Now What? –Reflecting now, I consider STEP to have been a successful growing experience. Through STEP, I was able to contact Dr. Lannutti, and was given an opportunity to research in the fall and upcoming spring.

In Summer 2015, I aspire to have applied for, and hopefully receive a Pelotonia fellowship to continue cancer research with Dr. Lannutti for another year. Then I would have the opportunity to design and build a project of my own, become familiar with designing experiments, perform key assays, face experimental decisions, read scientific literature, and attend conferences. Thus, becoming a Pelotonia fellow became an emerging goal while working the lab. It seems to be an excellent continuation of the research and education dimensions established by my STEP experience.

In addition, STEP led me to aspire for the Pelotonia because it would enable me to continue along my third dimension: a healthy lifestyle. I would like to participate in the Pelotonia One Goal Bike grassroots bike tour, and work towards 150 miles. I have decided that training and participating in the annual bike ride will be a once in a lifetime training experience and would return inspiration to my research and education.

Beam Profile Monitoring on the Proton Synchrotron Particle Accelerator Using an Arduino Yún

Summer Research


This summer, I worked within The Ohio State University ATLAS group under the mentorship of our head of engineering, Dr. Shane Smith, on the development a data acquisition system for beam profile monitoring on the Proton Synchrotron particle accelerator at CERN. That probably makes no sense to anyone who has never dealt with particle accelerator before.  I know it didn’t to me when I was first working on developing this project with Prof. Kagan and Dr. Smith. Beam profile monitoring (BPM) is the process of detecting the amount of radiation passing through an area in some period of time. In the case of this project, I had to design a system that would be connected to a thin foil detector with between 40 and 50 square regions that would be placed in the beam in front or behind of an object being irradiated. Each square region generates a current on the scale of pico-Amperes. The system I designed, integrated these currents over the duration of a single spill (the period where particles are bombarding the device) from the particle accelerator, about 400 ms in this case. This integration gave a usable voltage that was scaled, inverted, buffered, and read by an analog-to-digital converter connected to an Arduino Yún. The Arduino Yún controlled the entire system from determining when integration was to occur, to what channel to read the voltage from, to determining when to collect data based on input signals. It also collected and sent all data out over the Internet to servers operated by CERN for analysis and display. Currently two BPM data acquisition systems are at CERN, connected to their respective sensors and reading data out. Two more are ready to ship but are being held back until six more are manufactured so that they all can be sent at once in time for the beginning of experiments in Spring.

A picture of the internal workings of the BPM data acquisition system that I created for CERN this summer.

A picture of the internal workings of the BPM data acquisition system that I created for CERN this summer.

The first BPM data acquisition system manufactured a few minutes before it was packed for shipping.

The first BPM data acquisition system manufactured a few minutes before it was packed for shipping.

Data from the PS particle accelerator being read out from BPM data acquisition system 1.

Data from the PS particle accelerator being read out from BPM data acquisition system 1.

In addition to working on the BPM data acquisition system, I assisted in the repair of a pulsed ruby laser power supply operated by my research group. I assisted on a variety of other projects in the lab from a robotic test system for diamonds that has yet to be finished to manufacturing a variety of mechanical parts to repair various items around our lab.

So What?

I worked over the entire in a research lab. I went in when I woke up and went home when I felt that I could not accomplish anymore in lab. Most of my time in lab was spent researching parts or topics which I had not covered in classes. In addition to that, I often had to request samples of parts and build test circuits to determine if what I was designing would work. I used every researcher in the group as a resource at least once a week. I ended up performing the same work as many of the graduate students in the physics department working on designing experiments. But unlike the graduate students, I was an electrical engineer working with two full-time electrical engineer staff members and a full-time technician.  We were a group of people who knew how to design circuits and how to help others design them. On an almost weekly basis, we had graduate students from other groups coming into our lab asking for help on their research. Whether it was a simple op amp circuit or fixing a complex piece of electrical hardware, every one in our lab helped solve problems for the entire department. Of course, when we had questions about physics, we ended up talking to whatever physicist we could find nearby. And seeing as our understanding of physics was more focused on the application than the theory, this was a fairly common occurrence. I learned how to find the resources I needed to solve my technical problems. I became for the summer, essentially a member of research staff. I learned that I thrived in this environment. And I decided that I would go to graduate school.

Now What?

I am currently working, albeit slowly, on designing a test system for a diamond amplifier created by the two full-time electrical engineers in my research group. While I haven’t had as much time this semester to work on my research as I would have preferred, I have made slow but steady progress on getting the remaining BPM data acquisition systems. I currently oversee two research assistants working on manufacturing the systems for CERN. I plan on applying to graduate schools next fall after I either continue research next summer or get an engineering internship.


CARE Connect: Community Research at Stowe Mission Pantry


This past summer I worked at a south side Columbus food pantry with Dr. Colleen Spees from the Medical Dietetics department of the School of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences on her grant, CARE Connect. Our mission was to study health disparities among a food insecure population. Food insecure households often rely on food pantries for emergency food assistance, yet this supplemental food assistance often fails to meet the dietary needs of food insecure households. The chronic lack of access to healthy foods leads to health disparities that make food insecure families more vulnerable to chronic disease, including type 2 diabetes. The focus of my research will look at the characteristics of the food insecure diabetic population.

This project aimed to assess health status, provide education, and refer participants to health care services for further health assessment.  Health professionals from areas such as physical therapy, respiratory therapy, mental health, and dietetics participated in performing health screenings on pantry participants. I spent 3-4 days each week at the food pantry collecting data related to cardiovascular health. Basic anthropometric measurements such as height, weight, and waist circumference were collected. By collecting a small sample of blood, I was able to obtain cholesterol, glucose, and Hemoglobin A1c values. Blood pressure was measured using an automatic cuff. Using the data obtained, we were able to assess cardiovascular health and triage participants for referrals to community healthcare providers.

My STEP funds allowed me to focus on my research instead of holding a summer job and paid for my commute to Stowe Mission every week.

So What?

As a senior in high school, I did community-based diabetes research with a professor in Human Nutrition. Having this experience provided me with basic knowledge about the research process but also peaked my interest in diabetes. In 2012, reportedly 29.1 million people in the United States had type 2 diabetes and 8.1 million of those were undiagnosed. I think it’s important to understand the pathophysiology and treatment of this disease, but I believe prevention is an area that can be studied further. Studying food security and its role in the development and progression of diabetes is an important area.

Going into this summer, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had no idea what it would be like to collect data in a food pantry. Before being allowed on-site, all students completed two days of training. This was a time to explain what a community setting is like, what types of people we might meet, and to voice any concerns we might have. Any concern I might have had before going into the pantry quickly dissipated when we began our research.

Participants often had to wait to be seen and were juggled between assessment stations. This would probably be a frustrating experience for me if I were a participant, but many people were just grateful they had the opportunity to come and get their cholesterol or blood sugar checked. Although we were in the community to collect data, I felt that by the end of the summer we had developed a connection with the community on a personal level. Participants were given comment cards at the completion of the study to provide feedback. One participant wrote on the comment card, “I felt like I was listened to and that they cared about me.”

Moving forward, I have a greater appreciation for the life that I lead and the many opportunities and resources available to me that many of the people we saw do not.

Now What?

Moving forward, the data collected over the summer will be analyzed and will be incorporated into the poster I plan to present at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. After presenting my poster, I plan to publish a manuscript of my findings in a national research publication. Being able to start from the very beginning with data collection and follow it through to presentation has instilled in me a greater appreciation for the research process.

Working with a population who has very little but appreciates so much is a humbling experience. As a society, I believe we take a lot for granted. It is only when you have very little that you realize you don’t need much to be happy. As I continue my education, I hope to attend graduate school, whether it is for a degree in Public Health, Health Policy, or Food Science. Any one of these degrees helps me reach a large group of people and affect health and nutrition status. It is my hope that when I become a registered dietitian I can spend time working in a community setting improving the health outcomes of a historically underserved population. Without STEP, I would not have been able to grow and challenge myself both academically and personally.

step bloodhan

Hannah Hart Medical Dietetics

Psychophysiology, Emotion and Cognition

Q: What? A detailed description of your STEP experience.


A:     This summer, I continued working in the Emotions and Quantitative Psychophysiology Laboratory (EQP Lab) run by Dr. Julian Thayer within the psychology department. I have been working in this lab since September 2013, so this was my first summer research experience. At least initially, my duties within the lab remained unchanged. I was still in charge of running experiments and monitoring participants throughout the duration of these experiments. Unlike other labs within the psychology department, the EQP lab’s REP experiments are run on an individual basis, so naturally, experiments are much more tailored to that specific participant. While this tends to make things run much smoother, occasionally there are individual accommodations that must be made. As the saying goes however, this is simply “part of the job”.

    In addition to running and monitoring experiments, I also gained much more a creative influence within the lab which has continued into this academic year. However, this process was not an overnight type thing and became a weeks and even months long process. I was given more autonomy in terms of specific projects and creative endeavors within the lab. For example, towards the end of the semester I was placed in charge of submitting an abstract with a colleague to be presented at the Society for Psychophysiological Research’s 54th Annual Meeting, a national, widely-lauded academic conference.

    After the submission of these abstracts, my duties within the lab only became more independently and creatively driven. A major turning point occurred closer to the midpoint of the summer, when I was placed in charge of creating and submitting a manuscript to SAGE open publications. The manuscript focused on pain perception and pain experience in various Norwegian prison populations. This project helped me grow immensely as a researcher and gave me an idea of what research, specifically at the undergraduate level, was really like. The process of shifting my writing from a more rhetorical basis towards a more scientific and academic one was truly a transformative process as both a researcher and a student.


Q: So what? A personal response to your STEP experience, including feelings, thoughts, judgements, and what you learned about yourself and your assumptions from what you did and how you reacted.


A:     This summer was a truly instrumental in defining my interests as a student and who I aspire to be in terms of academia and throughout my life moving forward. Having this increased role within the lab and becoming more creative in my day to day efforts really opened my eyes to the world of academia and scientific research as a whole. Throughout the past few months I have gone from working countless hours and long nights honing my skills with mindware, microsoft excel, kubios, and a handful of other computer programs to writing abstracts and manuscripts, collaborating with a host of colleagues, and pitching ideas for future lines of research to graduate students and post-docs. The continuation throughout the summer of my just under 15 months of working in the EQP lab has really immersed me in the world of scientific research and has successfully given me a glimpse into the life of a graduate student and a research scientist.

    Although this was technically past the summer, my feelings and thoughts about the EQP lab and research in general were solidified this past September, when a handful of colleagues and I flew out to Atlanta for four days to present our recent findings at the Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR) annual meeting. Attending and being a part of such a fascinating international event was truly an experience that has shaped me as a person and will be one I will never forget. Throughout my time in Atlanta, I met researchers from places throughout the world such as Germany and Australia, and places as close to three doors down in the Psychology building. I’m almost positive they were talking to me purely based on Julian Thayer’s name on my research poster, however as an undergraduate I’ll take whatever I can get!

    As a whole, my experiences throughout the summer and the past few months have been essential in shaping who I am as a person as well as in the development and manifestation of my aspirations and inspirations moving forward.


Q: Now what? Discuss how the things you experienced and learned during your STEP experience will affect your academic, personal, and life goals moving forward.


A: Expanding my role within the laboratory throughout the summer as a result of the STEP experience was a decision I look upon with great admiration, in retrospect. Spending the so called dog days of summer inside of a laboratory reading papers, running participants, and even having the opportunity to come up with future ideas and even write a few papers and abstracts while forming both business and personal relationships that I now value very highly in my life is an opportunity I can never be adequately thankful for. Despite the often-referred to horror that comes with enrolling in a graduate/PhD program, those forty hours per week in the lab for three months made me realize that moving forward towards the last few semesters of my undergraduate career, there is nothing else I could envision myself doing.

    As of this fall semester, I now consider it an academic goal to successfully apply and hopefully enroll within a PhD program sometime after the conclusion of my undergraduate career. Ideally, I would like to enroll within a cognitive psychology program in order to effectively blend my love of neuroscience and brain research with my interest in emotions and psychophysiology research. I am currently undertaking a study regarding pain catastrophizing (perhaps more commonly classified as pain anxiety and worrying about pain) and the relationship it shares with various cardiovascular indices such as heart rate.

    Regarding my personal goals for the near future and beyond, having a full time laboratory job greatly helped me with time management and productivity, especially during the summer months. Looking forward to the next calendar year, I hope to become more productive throughout both the academic year and summer term in terms of research manuscripts and publications, as well as attending and presenting my research in as many national and international conferences as possible.

    I cannot thank the STEP program as well as a handful of other helpful sources and mentors enough throughout the past few months for giving me a clear vision of my goals and aspirations for the next few months, the rest of my undergraduate career, and beyond.

Summer Research


I was an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Nelson’s lab, a lab that focuses on neuroendocrinology. The graduate student I worked with, my mentor, did research on disruption of circadian rhythms in mice.She evaluated the effects of high fat diet and light at night on the metabolism of mice and how it can lead to obesity and other medical problems, physical and psychological. Her studies also look at metabolic changes in mice pups and at what time exposure to dim light leads to either leptogenic or obesogenic factors depending on sexual maturity. All of her studies focused on observing the effects of dim light at night. Exposure to dim light at night disrupts circadian signaling to both the central and peripheral organs leading to impaired mood, cognition, metabolism, and other homeostatic properties. Dim light at night also has a diminishing effect on the clock gene and protein expression, especially the liver clock. Another study included how dim light at night in hamsters could lead to epigenetic modifications in successive generations, without necessarily causing weight gain. I helped her with behavioral tests like elevated plus, forced swim test, and tail suspension. I scored these tests to analyze depression and anxiety levels in mice. We also carried out glucose tolerance tests on mice to analyze how effective the uptake of blood glucose is. I also helped with the daily care of the animals, as in changing their cages, recording cage activity, weighing specific food, and weighing the mice on a weekly basis.  I helped with tissue collection of mice; collected brown adipose tissue, heart, brain, liver, adrenal glands, and spleen. To better understand the projects my mentor was doing, I read articles and journals on the topic of circadian rhythms, epigenetics, and the suprachiasmatic nucleus.

So What?

I really enjoyed doing the research projects over the summer. Since I was taking only one class, I could focus my time on research, as compared to the school year. I not only learned about neuroendocrinology, but I was also able to observe the interactions between graduate students and the PI and lab technicians. I joined a research lab to help me decide if I wanted to go to graduate school or medical school. Through this experience, I learned to appreciate what research is and how much work goes into carrying out a proposal. However, I realized that I want to pursue being a doctor over being a researcher. There is  a lot of trial and error, repeating experiments and waiting time that occurs in research. I think I prefer doing new things and interacting with patients more than I do conducting experiments. I still find research interesting in that it is the future of medical advancements. So, to be a part of figuring out what could be the causes of certain physiological problems, is a privileged experience.

I learned how to take care of animals and how important it is to adhere to every small detail of the protocol. There are so many factors, known and unknown, which affect the study. The goal is to minimize as many as possible, and have enough controls so that the results are just due to the aspects being manipulated in the study. Tissue collection was the most interesting part to me. I was keen in learning how to dissect mice and to see the differences between the mice on regular diet and high fat diet.

Now What?

I would definitely like to do an honors thesis my senior year. I hope to be able to start on my own project next summer. I would probably continue one of my mentor’s projects. I’m especially interested in the sex differences that occur in the dim light at night studies. The females seem to act differently than males as they don’t gain as much weight from being exposed to light at night. It would be interesting to try to figure out what factors are behind this phenomenon. One of our studies found that the females try to make it up for eating high fat diet by being more active than the males, and this could contribute to a decreased weight gain.

I think the undergraduate research experience will be a much better learning experience once I get my own project. With my own project, I would be more committed to learning all I can about the subject and be more determined to set aside more time for research. Writing my own protocol will help me understand what goes into planning an experiment and how much background work must be done to write one. I will also learn how to schedule everything, plan a budget, keep in mind the goal of the study the whole time, and how to deal with frustrations and obstacles that come in my way during the experiment. I hope to present my findings at a research forum, and especially aim to present at the Denman. The summer has been a big step in being involved in research in college, and STEP has given me the push I needed in the right direction.

STEP Reflection Haley Meek : Summer in a Research Lab

STEP Reflection                                                                                                                                                  Name _Haley Meek_____

STEP Experience _Undergraduate Research____________________

What? – A detailed description of what you did during your STEP experience.

For my STEP experience, I spent a summer working in the molecular genetics lab of Dr. Adriana Dawes. The lab studied the types of proteins involved in embryonic cell polarization and used C. elegans (nematodes) as a model organism. While at the lab I worked under a postdoc focusing on the proteins involved in pronuclear rotation in the embryos. To do this I analyzed videos using a program called ImageJ of early embryonic development and recorded and organized measurements from said videos. I also spent time assisting the postdoc in creating a genetic sequence for a new nematode strain to be used in further experiments. To do this I learned about designing a sequence and performing PCR reactions and other laboratory techniques to produce genetically altered nematodes.


So What? – A personal response to your STEP experience, including feelings, thoughts,

judgments, and what you have learned about yourself and your assumptions from what you did

and how you reacted.

I really valued this experience and am glad that I had the opportunity through STEP to participate in it. I learned so much about what it is like to be in a research laboratory setting and to help me decide if pursuing a career in research is something I want to do. I also learned valuable laboratory techniques that will highly benefit me if I decide to pursue a career in research. I also learned that I have much better problem-solving abilities then I had first thought, through working through common lab problems and arriving at a solution. I was also able to see just how vast the field of molecular genetics can be and how almost everything within the field can be applied to most living organisms and the limitations there are when it comes to some of them.


Now What? – Discuss how the things you experienced and learned during your STEP experience will affect your academic, personal, and life goals moving forward.

Through this experience I learned so many valuable research and lab techniques that will help me to continue pursuing a career in research. It also has given me a better understanding of topics covered in some of my core classes and given me the extra edge of seeing this topics in action. Also, by participating in STEP I was able to find a lab which has resulted in a continued undergraduate position beyond my project. Because of this I will be better prepare for graduate school and a possible research career.Nematode Plates