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.

 

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