Step Reflection

STEP Reflection

Name: Jarid Jones

Type of Project: Research


  1. For my STEP project, I was involved in the sampling and data input for a research project in Dr. Ann Griffen’s lab. The study involved learning more about the oral microbiome and how it develops in our early development. I collaborated with Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University Dental School.


  1. What I learned about myself is that I am truly able to accomplish anything if I really put my mind to it. In the past, I had worked hard in many different areas in my life including academics, sports, and different groups, however, this summer, I continued to push myself in these areas and others. I tested my limits and improved myself in the areas I felt I was lacking, such as health and integrated learning through research.

Also, since coming to The Ohio State University, I have become more aware of the importance of diversity. This experience was a big contributor to that. I was exposed to new people and different lifestyles. I was also given the opportunity to continue to meet new people who have similar interests as me such as dentistry. This further developed my interest in dentistry.


  1. This research through both The Ohio State University Dental School and Nationwide Children’s Hospital gave me the opportunity to dive into a new world of research and learning. I was able to be engrossed in a community of researchers and research assistants who were more than willing to share their expertise and knowledge with me. This helped me develop my integrated learning skills. Also, I was able to experience living off-campus for the first time, which included learning to cook and balancing my life to live and eat healthy.


Interacting with people from a different living area of Columbus is what led to a change and growth in my diversity. Though this research project, I was able to work at Nationwide Children’s Hospital which offered a very diverse environment and allowed me to talk to and interact with people I normally would not have had the chance to interact with. It was a very different area for me and definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone. However, I am so happy that I was given the chance to do it, as I have become a better person because of it.


Finally, getting the chance to interact with current dental students, future dental students, and professors at the dental school was absolutely amazing. It was very beneficial to hear all of their different opinions on dentistry and be able to have all of my questions answered. Not only that, but it was great to have the opportunity to hear different views on questions such as, “Which dental school should I attend?” I was able to meet some amazing people who I am sure that I will stay in contact with for many years.



  1. The change in developing my integrated learning skills, balancing my life, becoming more exposed to diversity, and connecting with faculty, researchers, and students in the profession of dentistry all benefit me by working towards my professional goal of becoming a dentist. Each and every one of these pieces that I have gained from my STEP experience I will use and am already now using to achieve my future goal of going to dental school and becoming a dentist. All of these things help me to balance my life or enhance my education, both of which will help me both get into dental school and do well in dental school. These experiences will also help me to get the most out of the rest of my college experience, which I find very beneficial.

Spencer Miller: Tobacco Sciences Research


Name:            Spencer Miller


Type of Project:         Center of Excellence in Regulatory Tobacco Science Research


As a research assistant in Project Two of the Buckeye Teen Health Study, I was able to spend my summer learning about population-intervention and public health research and statistics. While learning about tobacco research, I worked in the lab for the project and analyzed the reliability of the samples they were collecting for the study.


This project allowed me to look at healthcare from two different perspectives that I had never viewed it from before. First of all, I was able to view healthcare from a public health standpoint. Through meetings with Dr. Electra Paskett and Dr. Amy Ferketich, I was able to see the research involved in exploring the health of communities and the techniques researchers use to extend care to these communities. In addition, I was able to view healthcare from a biochemical researcher’s standpoint this summer. I learned how one can tackle large healthcare issues through online research and by developing questions and techniques to answer specific questions that can contribute to healthcare.

Consequently, this experience allowed me to explore what my role in the healthcare field should be and exposed me to lab techniques that I plan on using throughout my life.


This STEP experience exposed me to a lot of places and people. A lot of my time was spent in my lab. In that lab, working full time, I was able to go through the process of developing a project, completing the project, and reporting the results and findings through a paper and poster presentation in a specified amount of time. Therefore, I was exposed, for a couple of months, to the work schedule and stress of a researcher.

In that lab I was able to interact with post-docs that taught me how to run qPCR and extract DNA. I was able to talk with research managers who had different experiences and advice to talk about. I also met a lot of students my age that are planning on using their education in a variety of ways to promote healthcare. These different viewpoints allowed me to fully see the different aspects of healthcare.

In addition, as part of the project, I got to go to Appalachian fairs and Columbus farmers’ markets to help recruit participants for the study. I also got to go to research seminars to learn about other peoples’ research. At these places, I was reminded of how much I enjoy working with and interacting with people of different cultures. I was reminded that I want to interact with people of different viewpoints throughout whatever career I choose.


This learning experience has had a large impact on my life goals and my values. Before the project, I imagined that the only way I could help patients was by becoming a doctor. But I have developed a love for population-intervention research as well as clinical laboratory techniques. I still want to provide care for others as I always have, but now I want to do it in a way that better fits my talents and interests. I am now training to be a Medical Laboratory Scientist, and I am looking at working in impoverished nations in order to fully provide the patient care of which I am capable.

STEP Undergraduate Research Experience

Olfaction demonstration at STEM Camp

Olfactory demonstration at STEM Camp

Dr. Claflin's laboratory in the new Neuroscience and Engineering Collaboration (NEC) building at Wright State University

Dr. Claflin’s laboratory in the new Neuroscience and Engineering Collaboration (NEC) building at Wright State University

For my STEP Project, during the summer of 2015, I worked in a behavioral neuroscience laboratory at Wright State University under the direction of Dr. Dragana Claflin. The main activities which this experience entailed were all centered around the idea of learning how to employ eyeblink classical conditioning in order to assess learning in a rat model. Therefore, I performed tasks such as assisting with preparation for small animal surgeries and helping to run behavioral testing trials, as well as learning how to slice animal brains in order to study anatomical and functional changes. In addition, I took part in Dr. Claflin’s capstone course, which culminated in giving neuroscience presentations to junior high and high school students.

For me, the key change that took place during my STEP Project was coming to understand what exactly was involved in working in a behavioral neuroscience laboratory. While I had been a neuroscience major for two years prior and had volunteered at a center for children with developmental disabilities, I had no idea what to expect in a neuroscience laboratory. This experience really opened my eyes to the methods and processes that researchers use to study the brain. Furthermore, through Dr. Claflin’s capstone course, I was able to give a presentation at a STEM Camp to 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students about brain plasticity and sensory pathways. This also helped transform me by helping me to gain more confidence and experience in presenting neuroscience concepts to an audience.

One event which transformed my understanding of the workings of a behavioral neuroscience lab was the whole process of moving a lab. When I began in the lab at Wright State this past summer, it was in the process of transitioning to a space in the newly constructed Neuroscience and Engineering Collaboration building (NEC). Therefore, through this event, I learned about all the different equipment and supplies that had to be organized in the new space. In addition, I was even able to help set up the specific equipment that was used to employ the eyeblink classical conditioning, which gave me a much better understanding of what was actually occurring during the experiments.

In addition, I was transformed by learning how to work with the other assistants in the lab and the relationships I built with them. I found that communication was imperative in making sure that the correct rats were taken to the correct boxes and conditions. Also, by working with the more experienced lab members, I was able to more efficiently learn how to slice brains using a machine called a cryostat, which enables one to cut the brains in very small cross sections. Through these relationships, I also learned the importance of not being afraid to ask for help. It is always better to know exactly what you are doing before you begin because it may not be reversible. Also, after spending so much time with these other students, sometimes 8am to almost 10pm on trial run days, I have gained several new, valuable friendships.

Another part of my STEP Project which played a role in my transformation was my interactions with students during Dr. Claflin’s neuroscience education capstone course. During this class, I learned about methods and things to keep in mind when teaching grade school and high school students about the brain. We discussed different types of activities to engage the students, as well as different learning styles and how male and female students often learn differently. There were four other students in the course, so we broke up into two groups to develop presentations which we would present to students at a STEM camp at the end of the course. The overall theme was brain plasticity, so my group chose to focus on sensory systems and the other group focused on how different drugs affect the brain. While I was apprehensive at first about presenting neuroscience ideas to the students, it became easier as the camp progressed and I gained more confidence. Through the process of planning activities and creating a lesson plan, this experience gave me a taste of what teachers must go through every day. I never realized how exhausting it could be to keep a group of people engaged for that long. Also, I think this experience will help me to be more confident in the future when giving presentations about neuroscience research.

This overall transformational experience of learning how to work in a behavioral neuroscience laboratory and presenting neuroscience concepts to an audience is valuable for my life in a number of aspects. First of all, it relates to my academic career because it gave me the knowledge and experience of how to work with an animal model in neuroscience research. This is so important because I am now in a lab here at Ohio State which also uses an animal model, and it really helps that I already have some experience and know more of what to expect. The speaking skills and confidence I have gained are also crucial in my field for when I will need to give presentations at research forums, or if I teach a class someday. Moreover, this experience has helped me to develop personal relationships and gain professional contacts with the other lab members, Dr. Claflin, and even other professors in the department. These contacts and relationships will help me in working toward my future goals of becoming an autism researcher by helping me to connect with even more people in my field. This may prove especially helpful in the next step toward my career goals, which is applying to graduate school programs.



Undergraduate Research STEP Reflection

1. My STEP Signature Project was undergraduate research completed during the summer of 2015. I spent my summer working in a neuroscience/biochemistry lab under Rene Anand at OSU that I had previously worked in, but with the STEP funding I was able to take extra time to learn and dive into the subject material, instead of spending all my time working a part time job to pay for living expenses. My lab is working on stem cell research as it applies to Autism and Parkinson’s Disease.

2. My assumptions about the world of academic research changed dramatically while I was spending my summer focused on my research. I was able to witness first hand all the work that is put into grant writing and idea generating by the principle investigators in their labs at OSU. Meeting grant deadlines is a full time job in and of itself. Since academic research is a career goal I have set for myself, this first hand witnessing of behind the scenes work is crucial to keep in mind when considering a possible career path.

With this new found knowledge in mind, I learned that although research is my desired career path, there are other options than just academic research. I learned the intricacies of academic research and explored many career options that can arise from obtaining a doctorate in the field of neuroscience. This has changed something in me because I have never considered any other career path. It has encouraged me to keep my eyes open for any sort of opportunity because experience will help me find my passion.

3. What lead me to ultimately explore other career paths and keep my eyes open for all opportunities within the field of research was the sheer time and stress that my PI and the lab manager go through every single day. Every waking moment of their lives seems to be spent on thinking of new ideas or stressing about grant money or the current experiment. From receiving emails at midnight and then again at 3am, I realized that the job really never stops. Although this is something I want to eventually do, there are other jobs out there that I need to consider and experience other opportunities before I settle on the field of academic research.

Thanks to my principle investigator, I was thrown first hand into the idea generating and grant writing that he goes through every day. We were assigned topics to research and to know inside and out, and then we were challenged to use that in depth knowledge to come up with an original idea for solving neurodegenerative diseases. This proved to be one of the greatest challenges I have yet faced in school. I had been assigned a task that scientists spend every waking moment of their life trying to solve. With every idea I came up with, a quick search of the literature showed that most everything had been attempted already, and had failed. I realized I needed to think outside of the box and take a risk if it was to pay off in the end, something I was uncomfortable with and terrified me. Eventually I came up with an idea, but the time and stress I put into that project was above and beyond what I ever would have expected.

Initially this questioning of my career goal really stressed me out because, for once in my life, I didn’t know if I was on the right path. I felt lost and confused, as well as majorly concerned I had life all wrong. I soon realized that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. I’m not supposed to have every step of the way planned out and set in stone. There are plenty of options in the field of neuroscience research, especially since the field is up and coming. I really aspire to do academic research and I know I will do it someday; I just want to explore other options before I settle. I desire to find my passion within the broad field of neuroscience.

4. With this newfound freedom from my single-minded ways, I set out to explore other possible options with a PhD in neuroscience. I realized this summer that I really love genetics and am also considering pursuing a career combining neuroscience with genetics. All in all, this summer spent researching taught me more about myself and life than I could have ever imagined. Life isn’t supposed to be planned out moment by moment, and I don’t have to have a set idea of where I’m going. I know I’m passionate about neuroscience and genetics and I can’t wait to see where that passion takes me in life.

Andrew Vidalis: Undergraduate Research

BAM Set-Up Isotherm

1.) I performed a variety of surface tensiometry experiments on palmitic acid. Studies were done to determine its equilibrium surface pressure and examine its relaxation characteristics. This information is useful to better understand aerosols formed from the top most layer of the sea surface.

2.) During the course of my STEP project, I began to gradually realize that my critical thinking ability had transformed into a sharper, more refined skill. Coming into the experience, I had routinely practiced critical thinking in the classroom on topics that were well-known and explained in detail to me. However, I was weaker at thinking critically on novel concepts that required further investigation and experimentation from me. Now, I know that I can solve unique problems by logically creating a plan to approach the situation and then executing a series of steps to resolve the issue.

3.) My experiments on equilibrium surface pressure showcase how I improved my critical thinking on novel tasks. I was tasked with determining the numerical value for the equilibrium surface pressure of a system of lipids, a type of experiment that the Dr. Allen lab group has never done. To start, I had to determine the most effective plan of action to save both materials and time. For weeks, I did a comprehensive search of the existing literature and compiled information of the various experiments. For example, I would note the experimental conditions like pH, whether the authors spread solid or liquid samples, and the numerical values obtained from the experiments. Eventually, I was confident that I had weighed the pros and cons of each experimental set-up to begin experimenting.

The first experiment was fascinating as I learned new things. I observed what appeared to be a metastable state for the system and the crucial need for high humidity to prevent evaporation that leads to the loss of surface material. Since my original approach was not successful to match the values I obtained from literature, I had to think of ways to improve my experimental design. Over the course of a few experiments, I had changed the relative humidity levels and switched from using a Petri dish to a Langmuir trough to hold the water and palmitic acid. Changing these experimental parameters allowed me to see the situation from multiple angles and develop a better comprehension of the system. While I have yet to perfect the technique, I am getting closer.

Another project that displays my maturation in critical thinking occurred when I had to construct the Brewster angle microscope (BAM) set-up with Curtis, a first-year graduate student. Both of us had some experience with BAM but have never built the set-up. I read materials on how BAM works, proper alignment techniques, and part specifications to understand the system before beginning. We approached the BAM build by following a logical order like setting the stage height then working distance of the lens, learning the corresponding computer analysis software, and obtaining images first from a simple gold plate then water before finally doing a stearic acid monolayer, the most complex to image. There are only a few components to BAM so we had analyze systematically the interconnectedness of the pieces to deduce which piece or pieces might be problematic. In the end, our work led to a proper BAM configuration soon after.

4.) The strengthening of such a crucial skill is invaluable. For instance, it is imperative to enhance my critical thinking since it will play a significant role in determining my levels of success. While my STEP research experience will strengthen my resume for medical school, the mindset I refined from it will help me in the medical classes. Beyond academics, critical thinking will continue to define what I can achieve. As a doctor, I will need to think critically about novel situations when the patient’s symptoms are not a perfect match from the textbook examples. Ultimately, critical thinking will be essential for the rest of my life.

STEP Reflection

Name: Aaron Dadas

Project Type: Undergraduate Research, Cleveland Clinic BME Dept.

Project Summary: Between the months of June and August, I worked as a research assistant in a lab that focused on neuropathology and tissue engineering. I worked alongside two supervisors, whose respective projects involved 1. studying the presence/function of cytochrome p450 enzymes in the brain, and 2. studying the histological differences in lung tissue of patients diagnosed with lung cancer. Assisting in these two projects meant that I was exposed to many practices of clinical research, including immunohistochemistry, ELISA protocol, and providing scientific writing/co-authorship for journal articles.

Being a part of this lab enabled me not only to view the intricacies of clinical research from an inside perspective, but also witness the ongoings of research from a bureaucratic standpoint, with regards to managing grant funding, revising protocols, and submitting journals for peer review. I had quickly learned that the research process is not as fluid and linear as one might assume from the outside. I had it in my mind for quite some time that research centers as prestigious as those at the Cleveland Clinic would have ample financial support for project goals, and that researchers only really needed to concern themselves with their experiments. This is not the case. I came to understand that much of a researcher’s time may be spent writing grant proposals and vying for proper funding, regardless of the lab’s prestige, as financial availability for research is often limited. This is a simple fact of clinical research, that receiving the required funding for your project is sometimes a project in itself, and that careful management of such finances, internally, is crucial for the continuation of the lab. For somebody who aspires to one day manage a research project, coming to an understanding with this facet of the clinical research world was a very important and perception-altering experience.

One of the most significant interactions that led to the transformation discussed in the previous paragraph occurred with my primary supervisor. At the end of my first summer in this lab, she was a member of the lab specializing in molecular medicine. Upon returning for my second summer, an unexpected change in management had occurred, and she was required to take over as the Primary Investigator. Being under her supervision during this time, she insisted that I observe the transformation that the lab was going through, so that I may be better prepared if this were ever to occur in a lab in which I was employed.

A vast array of detail went into the process of changing management in a clinical laboratory. Every single document needed to be revised, in order to properly convey the new position of each member in the lab. Active protocols needed to be resubmitted to each involved party, from the Cleveland Clinic itself to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) from which we obtained test samples. Throughout every step in this transitional phase, my supervisor was clear to explain why things needed to be changed, and the procedural guidelines that were being followed to enact this change in management. Learning about such experiences may seem mundane and outside the realm of interest for an undergraduate researcher, but to have my supervisor walk me through this process came to be extremely significant in my understanding of how a clinical research lab is operated. This is an experience that many undergraduate researchers would not be a part of, and one that I may not have gained so much experience from had my supervisor not taken the time to explain the entire process to me.

This same supervisor provided me with an opportunity that remains to be one of the most developmental experiences I have gained thus far: the chance to include my own original writing in a publication. This experience required much background research on my part, in order to better understand the material being written about, but being trusted to co-author a journal is a research milestone that has had a great impact on me. This publication revolved around the significance of cytochrome p450 enzymes in the brain, and how they have many distinct and vital roles in the metabolism of both exogenous and endogenous substances. I worked alongside my supervisor to better understand the process inherent to writing and revising a publication, and the most effective methods to making your work as highly rated as possible. This level of continuous guidance allowed me to take a subject that I had never heard of before, and work to a point where I could provide scientifically accurate authorship on the topic. I believe that this mentorship will have a long-lasting influence on how I conduct myself in the research world.

One of the largest realizations I had, upon beginning my college search three years ago, is that many individuals who aspire to be in the top percentile of success have a roadmap idealized, a roadmap of where they would like to be in the next 3-5 years. This does not always apply, and is more often a loose idea than a static schedule to follow, but ever since this realization I have made it a point to maintain a roadmap of where I would like to be in the next 3-5 years. Doing so involves understanding the steps and milestones that will put you closer to that goal, and in what timespan these accomplishments should be achieved. I believe that the transformation I experienced while working at the Cleveland Clinic was one of the most impactful milestones I have encountered thus far. It was my first foray into the professional research world, and will likely remain the most beneficial in terms of experiences and networking for years to come. I improved academically, as I learned how to better manage time-sensitive tasks and conduct clinical research procedures, as well as the intricacies of scientific writing and authorship. I prospered with respect to professional goals, as I have now begun corresponding with a neurosurgeon at Stanford University about the prospect of working under his lab before graduation. This would occur immediately before I apply to Stanford for my graduate studies, and would be critical in my chances of being accepted. Lastly, I grew personally. My experiences in this lab have led me to better shape the idea of what I would like to do as a profession, and what I am most passionate about in life. Going into the Biomedical Engineering major, I was unsure of exactly what it was that I wanted to do once I graduated. But after being a part of this internship for two summers, I have begun to understand that clinical research can be a vastly rewarding profession, and is something that I could see myself participating in for years to come. All in all, I feel that my time spent working at the Cleveland Clinic provided me with a much improved understanding of what my future roadmap entails, and I feel as though I am better prepared to take on the challenges that lie ahead.