STEP Experience Reflection 13-14

 

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

Organophosphorus compounds (OPs) are toxic nerve agents used in chemical warfare. These OPs covalently bond with Serine-203, a main catalytic residue in acetylcholinesterase (AChE), to prevent the hydrolysis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. After a given period of time depending on the OP compound, the now inhibited AChE will undergo an irreversible process known as aging, where the OP-AChE moiety will dealkylate and form a stable phosphonate anion permanently inactivating the enzyme. Without functioning AChE, acetylcholine accumulates in the neuromuscular junction and affected individuals can experience muscle spams and eventually death by asphyxiation. Currently, there are no known therapeutic methods to reverse this aging process and regain enzymatic activity. However, inhibited AChE can be restored to the active form before it becomes aged by pharmaceuticals containing an oxime functional group. The goal of this project is to discover a compound that will realkylate the stable phosphonate anion on Ser-203 in aged-AChE, which can then be restored to the active AChE by oximes. Literature precedent shows that quinone methides (QMs) are capable of alkylating phosphodiesters, which are structurally similar to the phosphonylated Ser-203 residue in the aged-AChE active site. Through computational analysis via molecular docking and molecular dynamics, the chemical interactions between the Ser-203 residue and a diverse library of QMPs are being examined in silico. From this critical series of computational experiments, promising compounds can then be identified, synthesized, and tested to discover a lead compound based on observed trends.

 

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.

Throughout my exposure to the research process, I have learned valuable lessons pertaining to the research project itself and life outside of academia. Research is far more tedious than I imagined—it encompasses meticulousness, patience, frustration, and critical thinking. When a step in the process is halted or slowed, one must be creative to find another way to get the end result. This is where the patience and frustration simultaneously arise. It is frustrating to wait for a job to complete, especially if it is has been done multiple times. Patience is required during this task because it is easy to anticipate the following steps. However, one must follow each step meticulously to ensure successful completion. From learning this, I have become better at multi-tasking and preparing for the next step when possible. Outside of research, I have learned a great deal about the people with whom I have worked; I have learned their strengths and weaknesses, and I know who the right resource is for an appropriate question I may have. Thus, I am a part of the teamwork established within the group.

 

 

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 career goal is to become a physician, and as a current applicant for medical school, I feel my STEP experience in research will give me an advantage over other applicants. First of all, because I am doing computational organic chemistry, I have become proficient in a language that not many people can understand. What is important, though, is that I am still able to convey the seemingly cryptic information into layman’s terms. This will help me in my career because as a physician, medical jargon has to be translated for a patient who probably does not know medical terminology. Beyond the factual evidence, my research has prepared me for my personal goals, too. As stated in the aforementioned paragraph, I have learned about the people I have worked with. As a prospective healthcare professional, communicating with people on a personal basis is a significant matter. Communication has the potential to build trust, to establish strong connections with patients, and to offer compassion and understanding. Thanks to STEP, I am participating in something I never imagined myself doing. When I first started college, I did not even think of participating in research, presenting at forums, or writing a thesis. Now, it seems only natural that I am doing so, and the skills I have learned are skill I will carry with me for my academic and professional career and for life beyond medicine.

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.

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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.

WHAT? I have been offered, and accepted, a position as a Student Clinical Research Assistant at the Comprehensive Cancer Center here at The Ohio State University. I will be working for Dr. Maura Gillison on her Genomic Research Study on oral cancer patients and their associations with the HPV virus. I will begin my employment with this team starting May 1st, 2014 and have plans to continue with their study until I graduate OSU in May of 2016.

I have already begun my work for Dr. Gillison and have seen a large impact in my position. Being a clinical research assistant I meet with patients who have been diagnosed with oral cavity cancer that is positive for HPV16, those who are diagnosed with oral cavity cancer and are HPV16 negative, both types of cancer patient’s partners, and those who do not have oral cavity cancer and have no history of any other type of cancer. I perform the same activities with all types of my patients, some just more frequent than others dependent on their cancer status. The first time I meet with a patient is on behalf of a doctor’s recommendation to our study based on the patient’s cancer stage. At this first visit I explain our voluntary study to the patient by reading through a consent form as well as a HIPPA form. After a patient is enrolled we will collect our “baseline” samples, this is for all types of our participants. Our “baseline” samples are categorized as pre-surgery and pre-treatment. These samples include an oral rinse to collect the untreated cells, a blood sample, and three computer surveys. The computer surveys help us to understand the lifestyle habits of each type of participant and possibly indicate a similar type of behavior that is distinct in one group versus another. For the controls, non-cancer patients, and the partners of the cancer patients these are all the samples and information that I collect from them. Both HPV16 positive and negative cancer patients I continue to follow for a 6-month period of time. I attend their surgeries to collect a sample of the tumor that the surgeon excises during surgery. I meet with these patients post-surgery but pre-treatment to collect another oral rinse. For those patients who are receiving radiation treatment and chemotherapy I collect one oral rinse per week for the total 8 weeks of radiation treatment. These once a week samples help us to analyze the cells and their changes throughout the course of the radiation treatment and provide us with information on what the treatment is actually doing to the mutated cells. After the patients complete the 8-week radiation treatment I meet with them again at their 4-6 week post-treatment follow up to collect another oral rinse as well as a blood sample. Lastly, I meet with these patients at their 6-month post-diagnosis follow up and collect one last oral rinse. All of these samples that I collect are brought back to our lab to be processed and examined, and put into a data base system in order to collect the appropriate information.

So What? This job has given me many skills that I may not have learned inside the classroom otherwise. Although there is no opportunity for me to lead my own independent research project since this is a national study, I still am exposed to what is necessary for Dr. Gillison to conduct this research. I have seen what it takes for her to keep and apply for grants to fund her research, I am trained on proper ethical guidelines for human research, and all the different aspects that go into conducting a national research study. The most important skill that I have gained from this project is my patient care interactions. I have actual experience in a clinical setting working with doctors, nurses, patient care assistants, dentists, nurse practitioners, surgeons, and so many more people. The patients can test my knowledge and challenge me to look up or research questions that they have and that I may not know the answer to. I also have developed skills that have allowed me to interact with people who may be in their absolute worst state of mind. I sometimes see patients in the same day that they have been told that they have cancer, which for most is an extremely emotional time. I also follow these patients throughout their radiation treatment, which could arguably be the most detrimental experience one’s body could endure leaving the patients in significant amounts of pain, exhaustion, and for some the desire to “just want to quit.”  Being thrown into these difficult situations has allowed me to become a more understanding person, and have a more mature response to those dealing with difficult times, which may just be my friend who is stressed about an upcoming exam.

Now What? My experiences that I have gained inside the hospital as well as in the office have assured me in my decision to pursue my goal of becoming a pediatric oncologist. Without my STEP participation I’m not sure that I would still be on the track of going to medical school. Sitting in class is not always a good motivator to continue the extremely difficult track of becoming a doctor. Seeing my patients gives me the motivation to work even harder when school becomes overwhelmingly stressful. The skills and habits that I have developed throughout this job has transformed me as an individual and provided me with the ability to appropriately respond in situations that I would not have been able to before.  With my grant money I was able to accept this job and be reminded everyday why I am choosing to become a doctor.

International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition STEP Experience

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace

What?

In August of 2014, I travelled with members of the OSU Cognitive and Systematic

Bukhansan National Park

Bukhansan National Park

Musicology Laboratory to Seoul, South Korea to attend and present at the International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition (ICMPC). At ICMPC, I encountered cognitive musicologists, neuroscientists, musicians, and interested individuals from almost every part of the globe. A wonderful aspect about this conference was the fact that so many dedicated teams and individuals assembled together for the purpose of sharing knowledge which only further enhanced the growth of music cognition and the overall understanding of the function of the human brain. To me, that is an immensely powerful and positive reason to congregate. I look forward to attending similar events in the future. Apart from gaining invaluable research experience and insight, I was also fortunate enough to indulge in the astounding beauty of Korean culture, hospitality, and history.

I learned a considerable amount about conducting research in my STEP experience. At the end of 2013, I began a research project with graduate researcher Kirsten Nisula in the Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory. In this study, we found that in sad music, lyrics are sung more slowly but it is because of arousal not valence. Arriving at this conclusion took more work and time than I original assumed it would. I came to learn that when conducting research, one must be constantly aware of thoroughness and consistency of methods, data, and communication of information. This information has proven to be extraordinarily useful as I move forward to new projects.

 

So What?

Bukchon Hanok Village

Bukchon Hanok Village

Personally, this experience was extremely satisfying with respect to life my life goals. Since becoming involved in the Music Cognition Lab, I have looked forward to working on a scientific study and it is worth noting that this was quite a stellar first time experience. In my sophomore year of school, I was not anticipating starting such at an ambitious project and then having it published and presented at an international conference. In a way, this goal was completed before I realized that it was something for which I really wanted to aim. Originally, I was just hoping to help out in the music cognition lab while learning about neuroscience and music. Ultimately, I received an unforgettable experience that has forever changed my outlook on how I plan to spend the remainder of my professional life

Now What?

In Korea, I learned a lot about what I want to do with my life. I got a taste of the other side of the globe and had the opportunity to compare that completely different environment with my home, Ohio. That comparison helped me decide to dedicate myself to constant world travel and, in the near future, living abroad. This is not in an effort to leave my home, but it is an effort to share my experience of life as an Ohioan and achieve a greater understanding of humanity through interaction with different peoples. If anything, by leaving my home, I realized that I love and

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul, South Korea

appreciate it more than words can express. Though I have travelled a considerable amount within the United States, in going to Asia, I came to realize, or at least imagine, just how diverse and unexplored the world truly is. Given that spending ten days in one city afforded such a generous experience, I am eager to visit other parts of South Korea and the world as a whole.

 

David Youssef-Undergraduate Research

For my research project, I tested the effect of a glaucoma drug, Latanoprost, on the collagen content of corneas in order to access the change in biomechanical properties of the cornea. This involved culturing corneas in one of two mediums, a control without the drug and a treatment medium with the drug. The corneas were cultured for 24 hours. After culture, the cornea samples were uniformly cut, homogenized, and put through a series of reactions to produce a mixture whose color reflected the concentration of collagen. After putting the samples through the spectrometer, the relative amounts of collagen were determined for the two treatment groups.

My data in this project matched my hypothesis that the treated corneas would have less collagen than the untreated corneas. However, this result is not statistically significant, so nothing can be concluded about the effect of the drug on corneal collagen content. With this conclusion, I learned a lot about how hard it is to conduct research. One may believe that they have considered all of the possibilities and factors in an experiment, but find that there was something they missed. Going into this project, I thought the ideas and concepts involved were interesting but not as much as other things I have learned about. As I would troubleshoot through the problems I encountered, I found it harder to stay motivated to do so because I wasn’t in love with what I was doing. I learned that it is really difficult to conduct a good research study if you are not completely invested because it needs a person’s all in order to succeed.

As I said in the previous response, I found out that I wasn’t as interested in ocular mechanics as I had thought. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad field to get into, it just means that I need to work in a field that I find more interesting in order to be happier and succeed. I have already made changes in order to do so. I have always known I was interested in neuroscience and how it can be augmented and treated using engineering but wasn’t aware that there was a laboratory on campus that did so until I was completing this project. After completing it, I told my principal investigator of the ocular mechanics lab that I was planning on moving on and she was very understanding. I contacted the professor of the neuroscience laboratory and he accepted me into his lab. In a broader sense, this project affected how I view my trajectory. I learned that I need to be having relevant experiences in order to be more successful and work in the field I hope to work in in the future. I also learned what motivates me and that I am most successful when I am working on these things.

STEP Undergraduate Research Experience – Multiple Myeloma and Natural Killer Cells

What?

This past semester, I was able to use STEP funds to make progress on a research experience. I work in one of the cancer labs in the James Comprehensive Cancer Center. I specifically study Multiple Myeloma (MM), a type of blood cancer, as well as the Natural Killer (NK) Cell, a type of immune cell in our bodies. The main goal of the project was to study how an anti-myeloma drug affects the interaction between the MM and NK cells.

Lab reagents can cost easily hundreds to thousands of dollars. With the money that the STEP program provided, I was able to get enough research materials to see how the drugs affect NK cells. Since my research advisor, Dr. Don Benson, is an M.D. Ph.D., I was able to get patient blood samples from MM patients in his clinic. Using techniques I learned over the semester, I was able to pull out NK cells (and a few other immune cells) out of the blood. After extracting the NK cells, I maintained them in culture, and was able to give them the drug at various doses for various time points. These sorts of experiments allowed me to ask further questions such as “how much drug can I administer and still keep my cells alive?” or “what kinds of proteins are released by the cell when the drug is administered?”.

Many of these questions are still being answered. It’s impossible to learn everything in this field; however, my goal for the time being is to continue to seek answers and eventually publish my findings.

 

So What?

I felt as though my STEP research experience was much different than the typical research experience. I actually started during the Summer of 2014. After three months of working on an entirely different project, our lab came to the conclusion that the project was not viable. There was even a second failed attempt at a project before I started working on the current work. I felt as though I had wasted both time and money, however this was far from the truth. The time I had spent culturing cells, running experiments, and failing was not meaningless. Over the summer I began to understand how researchers go about finding answers to their questions. I was able to improve my skills designing experiments, as well as my basic lab techniques.

Around September, I had finally chosen my current project. I guess third time is the charm! After extending my STEP experience, I began to work on the project right away. It does not take long to figure out that in scientific research, 99% of your theories are bound to fail. Even though that may seem discouraging, it is the 1% that makes all the difference in the long run. Throughout the past year, I have also been able to get more involved in understanding Multiple Myeloma.

A few friends and I got together and created the first Multiple Myeloma awareness group on campus, and we are currently working with an MM awareness organization as well as Team Buckeye to put on events to spread the word on the disease. This would have never happened had it been for my research experience, so I am really glad that I was able to benefit from the experience both inside and outside the lab despite all the setbacks I faced.

 

Now What?

Working directly with patient samples, drugs, and cancers was really amazing, but it was actually the writing part of my experience that was the most beneficial of all. After I had preformed preliminary experiments with STEP funding, I was able to get a deeper understanding of the potential behind my project. I decided that during the start of the Spring Semester, I would apply for as many grants and scholarships as I could.

During the months of January and February, I wrote numerous drafts of all sorts of formats on project proposals to get more funding. The trickiest part is to explain all the science in layman’s terms such that someone with most basic understanding of science could grasp the significance of the project. I believe that this was the most significant part of the experience, because it allowed me to develop skills in communication that I definitely lacked before.

So far, including STEP, I have been able to get about $9,000 in funding and research scholarships, I fully intend to independently to try to pay for my own project independent of lab grants. I have also had the opportunity to present at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum, and I hope to present my research some more next Autumn after I gain more data. This project will go into my honors thesis, but ultimately, I hope I can get a research publication out of it.

I aspire to go into medicine, and while I am not exactly decided on whether I want to focus on academic or clinical side, the skills I have learned – persistence and effective communication – will be crucial in any area of medicine.