STEP Reflection

What?  This summer, I was honored to use my STEP funding to work at the College of Dentistry, Division of Biosciences under Dr. Brian Foster. Dr. Foster is a new professor here at OSU, who just started in July. Previously, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. I used the first part of my funding to visit him in May in order to start my project before he started here. I was trained on how to orient, take pictures, and analyze microCT scans of  mandibles and measure histomorphometry data for my project. With tooth development critical for proper function, my project aimed towards defining the spatiotemporal role of PHOSPHO1, a haloacid dehalogenase. The funding was left after my visit to NIH was used for summer experiences, such as rent and utilities to stay in Columbus.

So What?  I was not sure what to expect when I signed up for STEP, although nobody really did as it’s a new program. I enjoyed getting to know my cohort and advisor. She has continued to be a great mentor to me, and I appreciate the work that advisors devote to this program. I was surprised about some of the more personal topics that came up in our discussions, but once everybody’s faces were familiar, it was easy to connect on such a personal level. I can’t say that I was always excited for a meeting, but they were all worthwhile and allowed us to explore each topic in detail. It helped me to rule out some of the experiences, but also made the decision difficult. After seeing some of the great things that students around campus are doing, and hearing peers plan awesome proposals, I wanted to make sure I would be just as excited for my project. And I’m glad to report that I was!

The laboratory that Dr. Foster was in previously at the National Institutes of Health was one that I had also worked in, so it was a privilege to be there visiting for a week and exciting to see co-workers. Pertaining to my project specifically, it was rewarding in more ways than one. First of all, I was able to learn more techniques that will be valuable as I move forward. I am also able to build my resume and experience by participating in presentations and research forums with my findings.

Now What? As I move forward towards a career as a dental clinician researcher, this experience will be very valuable. It is a rare opportunity that I will now be able to put on applications and talk about at interviews. Additionally, it has opened up more doors for me with networking, presenting, and writing scientifically. Being able to work in the dental school has been a great experience  and allowed me to get to know the building, students, and staff. I look forward to presenting this research and improving my skills with each talk. Working on a research project will only help me in applying what I learn in the classroom. On a personal level, this project has solidified my intent to aim for a career in academia. I have taken more from STEP than just my project, as I eluded to earlier. The projects that I did not pursue also helped me learn about myself. I took time to learn more about STEP experiences that I was considering and look into what those options would mean for me. The decision making process was valuable in itself. I look forward to continuing to uncover how my STEP project will help me in the future!

STEP Reflection- So what?

This has been an incredibly formative experience for me. In the lab, I have learned new technical skills including thin layer chromatography, enzyme activity assays, cell culture methods, ELISAs and DNA extraction. More importantly, I have learned how to be a better scientist. My previous training was interrupted, and I never learned simple things like how to keep a lab notebook, how to efficiently plan a study, simple things like that. I was able to get by, but could always tell something wasn’t quite right. Under the guidance of my supervisor, Dr. Mühle, I learned that I should write down everything I do in my notebook, how to plan out a study efficiently, how to be more organized and more precise. The technical skills I would have learned at some point as needed, but these fundamental scientific skills I will be able to take back to OSU and use while working on my honors thesis. I also gained a new perspective on depression research in general: all of my previous exposure had been to animal research. In fact, I always viewed clinical research as inherently limited and not very useful. This lab, however, combines both human and animal research to overcome the limitations of both. I am now convinced that this is the best path to discovery in depression research, and hope to some day be involved in both clinical and preclinical studies. This has altered my search for graduate schools- I now would prefer a school that has both preclinical and clinical options to allow for collaborations on specific topics, like I have observed here.
The topic of our research is also significant to the medical community. In our research on sphingolipid metabolism and glucocoticoid receptor sensitivity, we are attempting to identify biomarkers of depression. Right now, the only diagnosis for depression comes from a psychological interview and the personal opinion of the psychologist, making consistent diagnoses difficult. Furthermore, scientists now think that depression may be an umbrella dignosis, incorporating multiple types of depressions that we are currently unable to differentiate between. Establishing biomarkers can aid in the diagnosis and treatment of depression by providing a more personalized approach.
One thing that has struck me during my travels around Europe is the impact of World War II on not only the cities but also the minds of the people. It is rare to go to a city without a historical site for the Nazis or a monument to those who perished in concentration camps. Learning about World War II from an ocean away is very different from seeing the huge arena where Hitler had his rallies, imagining the magnitude of the crowd to fill such a site, or standing in the square of the Jewish ghetto where Jews were rounded up to be sent to concentration camps. It made it all so much more real. And despite all these wars, particularly those over disputed territory, there are no landmarks or any indication when crossing country lines. We make a bigger deal about crossing state lines in the U.S. than they do about crossing country lines here!
This trip abroad has also given me my fist opportunity to meet people from other countries, and I am taking away from this experience that we are all the same. There is no difference between a Canadian, a German, a Spaniard, an American, a Russian, and Italian, an Argentinian- we may speak with different accents but we are really all the same. I appreciate how big the world is, but also how small.

I also have a new appreciation for American and my own culture. Having never been outside the U.S., I have never had anything to compare it to, never had any reason to really appreciate the little things about the United States. I can now tell you that I love the fact that water is free in America. I like how we only serve still water, not carbonated, so I don’t have to spend 10 minutes trying to make sure that I buy the right water. I appreciate big grocery/convencience stores like Walmart and Target so much more than I ever thought I would. I miss our high end fast food- Chipotle, Fusian- I also miss food delivery. I have a whole new love for the English language, because that is the only one I understand, and it has been three months since I have been in a country where it is spoken. I am also so thankful that I am from a country where English is the first language, because I wouldn’t be able to get by knowing any one other language. Going to a foreign country and being unable to speak their language has given me a sense of patience and understanding for those who come to the U.S. unable to speak English. Before I would get annoyed, wondering why they were here if they couldn’t speak English. I am thankful that I never experienced that sentiment here.

STEP Reflection- What?

This summer I spent ten weeks working in a biochemistry lab in Erlangen, Germany studying glucocorticoid receptor sensitivty and sphingolipid metabolism as potential biomarkers in depression through the DAAD RISE program. This was a clinical study that analyzed cells from the blood of four groups of individuals: non-medicated depressed/bipolar patients, medicated depressed/bipolar patients, people who have been in remission from depression/bipolar disorder for at lest two years, and healthy controls. A large part of my responsibility was optimizing a reaction buffer to study the activity of neutral sphingomyelinase in depression. The lab had previously found that acid sphingomyelinase had significantly higher activity in depressed individuals, and for the first time we were analyzing neutral sphingomyelinase. This optimization took significantly more work than expected, because of an interaction between two components of the buffer- detergent concentration had different effects on enzyme activity depending on sodium chloride concentration. In addition, we saw unexpected (but exciting) high variation in NSM activity between different patients, which only compounded the difficulties in determining the optimal buffering solution. Once I had the optimal buffer concentrations, I used samples from a previous study in which healthy male volunteers were administered either an antidepressant or placebo, to see the effects of antidepressants on NSM activity. In addition, I will be working with a parallel study stimulating blood plasma with LPS to produce a cytokine response, as measured by ELISAs. Previous studies have suggested that administration of dexamethasone, a glucocorticoid agonist, inhibits the production of cytokines in repsonse to LPS in healthy individuals, but this effect is dampened in those under chronic stress. I will be studying the effect of dexamethasone on LPS-induced cytokine production in blood plasma to determine a relationship between gluccoorticoid receptor sensitivity and depression.
In addition to my work in the lab, I have spent a lot of time traveling this summer. I have been to Munich, Berlin, Salzburg, Heidelberg, Zurich, Hamburg, Cologne, Vienna, Nuremberg, Liechtenstein, Krakow and Warsaw. I got to visit sites like Hohenzollern castle, Auschwitz, the Baltic sea, and Lichtenstein castle. I still have plans to go to Prague and Budapest and visit the famous Neuschwanstein castle. I have loved seeing each city’s different personality, and enjoying the historic and beautiful sites. Vienna had an artsy feel, each building achitecturally ornate, with multiple operas, musicians on every corner, and at night the people dressed up for a night at the theater. Hamburg was a party town, known for their red light district and full of bachelor and bachelorette parties. Berlin gave off the feeling of being modern, while at the same time having more history than any other place I visited. Zurich was a little stand-offish, clean and of course, rich. My appreciation and respect for other cultures have grown over the past few months; it is quite a different experience being a visitor in someone else’s country as opposed to simply learning about it while in the comfort of your own country.

STEP Experience Summer 2015

STEP Experience: Undergraduate Research 


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

I began working with my principal investigator (PI) Dr. Ian Krajbich, spring semester of 2014. His lab focuses on neuroeconomics, which is the discipline of decision making. When I first began working in the lab, I helped graduate students in his lab with their projects. I was often their first pilot subject for experiments, I found images that they needed for their experiments, created excel documents, and helped them with other little projects. At the end of fall semester of 2014, my PI, another undergraduate student in the lab, and myself began running experiments for a project my PI and a colleague of his were interested in pursuing. They were interested in reducing the frequency of groupthink. We finished collecting data (running experiments) at the end of spring semester 2015, conducted some analyses on the data, and presented our findings at the Denman Forum in March 2015. After the Denman, we conducted one more experiment and continue to perform analyses on all of the data we have collected. This project will be fully completed by early August this year.

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.

From my STEP experience of being involved with undergraduate research, I learned that I am capable of achieving my goals. I learned that I can take a full load of classes, get good grades, and work in a group towards a serious research goal. While enrolling for spring semester 2015 classes, I thought that I was not going to be able to keep up with taking 17 credits and be heavily involved with research. However, I set a goal of receiving a 4.0 gpa that semester and presenting a poster at the Denman Forum. I achieved both of those goals and learned that I am capable of achieving whatever goals I set for myself. I never pushed myself that hard in high school or even earlier in college; without this undergraduate experience, I truly believe that I would never have known how capable I am of achieving my dreams.


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

My initial goal of helping Dr. Krajbich with his research project was to understand what area of psychology I would want to study in graduate school, completing the research project helped me realize that the field of clinical psychology is where my interests lie. When I began my research project, I was very interested in neuroeconomics, which is within the field of cognitive psychology. However, after finishing the project, I learned that cognitive psychology is not the field of future study for me. The field of cognitive psychology does not connect with everyday human problems the way I thought it would. While working on this research project, learning so much about the research process works and about the broad field of cognitive psychology, I was also taking classes for my clinical psychology minor. The combination of those classes and doing cognitive psychology type of research encouraged me to further investigate the field of clinical psychology.

At this point of my senior year, I believe that pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology fits my interests best. I want to become a clinical psychologist so that I can personally help people live better lives by helping patients learn how to cope or how to fix their personal problems. I still need to refine and understand what my research interests are within the field of clinical psychology before I apply to PhD programs in clinical psychology. To facilitate that process, I am taking a year off from school after spring graduation to volunteer at a variety of clinical psychology related places. I also hope to become a nanny to understand if studying children would be something I want to do. I learned from this STEP experience that having some undergraduate research experience is very helpful in the application process for graduate school. Not only did I gain research experience, but I learned more about the research process and about where my interests for graduate studies lie. I also learned more about the field of decision science and how to present myself in a professional academic setting such as poster presentations like at the Denman Forum. Participating in STEP has overall helped me refine my post-graduation goals.


2014 American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists Annual Meeting & Exposition

STEP Reflection

Name: Becca Makii

STEP Experience: 2014 American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists Annual Meeting & Exposition
What? – A detailed description of what you did during your STEP experience.

I attended the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists Annual meeting and exposition and participated in their workshop with the Controlled Release Society on Animal Drug Delivery Systems Research and Development in San Diego, California (Nov 1 & 2, 2014). I participated in the lecture series to learn more about veterinary drug delivery systems and utilized this experience to develop my own undergraduate thesis. Taking on a research project under Dr. Sylvan Frank in the College of Pharmacy I developed a proposition to create a new formulation for a successful product utilized in the treatment and prevention of canine periodontal disease. Additionally, this opportunity was a good experience into what continuing education is like in the professional health sciences and taught me about current issues in the field of veterinary pharmacy.

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.

As the only undergraduate student to attend this workshop, I was really proud of how I understood most of the presentations, sat up front, and asked questions. I was concerned that no one would really care that I was there because I wasn’t representing a pharmaceutical company or business partnership, but I received an excellent response from several attendees. I was surprised at how supportive everyone was about me being interested in the field so early. I even was asked to apply to the veterinary program at University of Dublin! I learned a lot about the options I have and that there is potential for me to create my own professional pathway in this industry.
Now What? – Discuss how the things you experienced and learned during your STEP experience will affect your academic, personal, and life goals moving forward.

This experience helped me to gain insight as to what I hope to achieve as a researcher in the field of veterinary pharmacy. Prior to this experience, I didn’t fully know the potential areas that I could get into—but now I have a better idea of what my future goals are and can communicate those goals clearly as I currently apply to veterinary schools. I also found that I really enjoy literature research, not just hands-on work. Prior to this experience, I thought that literature review would be boring and wasn’t really worth my time. However, my opinions have completely changed and I now realize that literature review is an integral component to research. I am looking forward to continuing research while I attend professional school. I also hope to eventually get my PhD.