My STEP project involved performing undergraduate research under the supervision of Nicholas A. Brunelli in the Chemical Engineering department at The Ohio State University. My project aimed to create novel products using novel materials by enhancing Zeolitic Imidazolite Frameworks, an important and fascinating subclass of metal oxide frameworks within the scientific research field. These molecules play an important role in the gas separation, DNA sensing, and drug delivery industries.
It was not until midway through my STEP project and during my mid-summer evaluation meeting when I was made aware of how much I had progressed as an undergraduate research student. During that meeting I was verbally reminded of how naïve and arrogant I was when I first began my research journey. I recall the fear that filled my body during my first few weeks and the uncomfortableness of starting something new and different. After finishing my STEP experience I was able to see the progress I had made.
As I reflect back upon my two month step project, I am now able to understand that the changes in my method of thinking, developing, and constant curiosity were a result of me positively benefiting and transforming from my STEP project. Towards the final month of my STEP experience I began asking questions to further my knowledge and gain a deeper understanding of my research project. I noticed myself advancing in my thought process and desiring to take further steps into my own hands. I began deriving and performing my own experiments without being given guidance each step of the way. I found myself pushing my own personal limits and those of the individuals that surrounded me. It was obvious to myself that I had transformed from a timid, scared and arrogant research student to a motivated, curious, and ambitious research student.
My STEP experience of performing undergraduate research was accompanied by various events and interactions that allowed my transformation to occur. One of these interactions involved working closely with my lab team and research mentor. Having a small lab team composed of three graduate students and four undergraduate students allowed for an environment that was tightly knit. Each week I had the experience of sitting down with my respective graduate student and research mentor for a meeting to discuss the previous week and what would be happening in the week to come. This meeting allowed for a time when questions could be asked and guidance could be given. It was during these meetings when I found myself asking questions when I felt stuck or receiving guidance when I felt lost.
Along with weekly individual meetings were weekly group meetings. Once a week the lab group would get together and listen to one of the group members present about his/her project. This meeting allowed for our team to grow and learn together as well as provide one another with insight and guidance. Being forced to prepare a presentation, and present findings in front of others personally allowed me to dive deeper into my project and ensure that I was fully aware of the direction in which I was taking. This also allowed others in my lab team to provide me with feedback, ask questions and give advice on ways in which I could advance and excel my project in the future.
Finally, consistently being surrounded by other research students allowed for an environment filled with learning and lack of judgement. I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into a lab team with graduate students that were supportive and willing to assist, teach and guide me each day when I was in need of help. This interaction with the graduate students within the lab allowed me to receive help from those that have been in my shoes before and understand the difficulties that come with beginning undergraduate research.
Experiencing undergraduate research allowed me to make progress in regards to my personal career path. College in itself is scary. We are abruptly forced to pick a major that will lead us to success or failure throughout the course of our lifetime. Entering into the engineering field was not something I picked out of a hat. It was merely a decision I made with careful consideration and fear. I had loved my classes and enjoyed the material I was learning, the idea of advancing society appealed to me, yet I felt as if I was missing something. My fear of never experiencing hands on what a chemical engineer could one day do scared me. My STEP experience allowed this fear to be diminished. Being able to experience only a fraction of what my future may entail fascinated me and provided me with the reassurance that my career path is in fact headed in the right direction. However my STEP experience did not only provide me with reassurance, it also provided me with hands on experience that allowed for advancement within my professional journey.
Being able to work in a lab during my two month STEP experience allowed me to begin developing the skills and mindset that any research career may entail. Having the opportunity to perform undergraduate research allowed me to work laboratory environment and develop the comfort and mindset that may be required of me within my journey. My hope is that this opportunity provided me with a head start in regards to knowledge, technical skills, and thought processes, allowing for advancement within my career path in the near future.