STEP Experience: Undergraduate Research


The Second Year Transformational Experience Program compensated my work in a cancer research lab here at Ohio State. The lab developed my interest in medicine as I worked under post doctorate mentor and developed my own research project. My research involved in cell culture, mouse-work, and countless other technical procedures.


I hoped to get involved in undergraduate research long before coming to Ohio State, and prior to my STEP experience, I was considering research as a potential career path. I figured the field was always progressing and new discoveries were being made consistently. I joined the lab eager to cure cancer, but after spending countless hours in the lab, I had a different experience than I anticipated. My days usually consisted the same 4 tasks: taking care of my mice, feeding my cells, genotyping my mice, and running western blots. Frankly, I could not differentiate between the scientific advancements I expected and the thankless, monotonous, data deficient tasks I completed. Needless to say, the procedures I performed are essential for scientific progress, so I appreciate researchers much more than I did before STEP. Ultimately, through my STEP project I discovered that I do not want to do research professionally. Instead, I hope to find a job that with more unpredictability and interpersonal interaction.

Many of the tasks I did in the lab were independently completed, requiring little or no interaction with others. I knew what I had to accomplish on any given day, so there were few surprises. Many researchers enjoyed the routine work and the isolation associated with it; almost everyone in the lab listened to music as they worked. I was not so inclined to isolate myself further with headphones, however, because I wanted more interaction in my day. After recognizing how much I prefer team projects to individual ones through my STEP experience, I know what work environment to look for in the future. I want to be able to bounce ideas off my coworkers and have an environment everyone’s ideas are valued in the ongoing projects.

My STEP experience also showed me that I value projects with quantifiable results. Most of the experiments I performed in my research gave me values from which I created facts and figures, but there were numerous that had results based on individual judgment. Procedures with the second description included cell counting—approximation is heavily utilized—and mouse-tissue staining—the results are all relative to a “normal” tissue. This recognition reinforced chemical engineering as my major.

While I learned lots about myself through the lab, my biggest takeaways regarded how to be a more effective worker. Mistakes are part of research (and life, more importantly), and I made more than my fair share in the lab. For the first few months, I became incredibly frustrated when I made a mistake or got faulty results from an experiment. More than once I let a single mess-up ruin my whole day. The best piece of advice I have ever gotten was from a fellow researcher, Mark, after I vented to him about an experiment that went poorly. He said, “Sorry that happened, but you get what you get.” Mark was right that no matter how much I complained, there was nothing I could do about my results: I just had to fix it for next time. Mark advice helped me learn troubleshooting, and I became very good at breaking down every piece of an experiment and looking for potential flaws. I have applied Mark’s advice to countless problems I have had since then, both in the classroom and in my daily life.

Finally, I became a more effective communicator thanks to research. My mentor expected to know about my experiments, results, mistakes, and any updates. Initially, describing what I was working on to my boss was hard to me because I was unfamiliar with the terminology and I had never had a lab notebook before. Only after I was unable to repeat an experiment because I had not recorded all the appropriate information the first time did I realize how important systematic communication is. After that, I developed a routine of writing everything in my lab notebook throughout the day and weekly discussions with my mentor. While my days were long and often boring in my 8 months of cancer research, I learned countless skills and I became more self-aware.

Final takeaway:

Before STEP, I had trouble making decisions and holding myself accountable for those decisions. For example, sophomore year on the night before an important exam, I went to a movie with friends. Unsurprisingly, my grade suffered. I cursed my friends for bringing me to the movie and I blamed my teacher for giving the exam when he did. In retrospect, I cannot believe how unwilling I was to take the blame. The lab was a reality check because I had virtually nobody else to blame when I made a mistake. I was the only one working on my project, so when something did not turn out the way I expected I was at fault. Whether I added the wrong reagent, or forgot to set a timer, or any number of things that went wrong it came back to me. Learning to hold myself accountable has been an incredible takeaway because for the first time in my life, I am in the driver’s seat of my life. Each decision I make is my own, which is an enormous realization to make in order to become an independent adult.

STEP Reflection

Undergraduate research has been a major focus of my academic life since the beginning of my freshman year. Although I was inexperienced and lacking in some knowledge, my involvement in a microbiology lab has encouraged personal growth, introduced me to important mentors, and allowed exploration into future career paths. The project I continued this summer represents that growth; my developed critical inquiry and scientific methodology as well as my confidence performing independent assays and experiments. My project works to elucidate the role of of Listeria monocytogenes’ key virulence factor, listerolysin O (LLO). Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) is a food-borne, facultative intracellular pathogen that is the cause of the life- threatening disease listeriosis. Deciphering of the role of intracellular listeriolysin O is important to understanding the Lm life cycle and pathogenicity. High risk groups such as the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems, would benefit from the development of drugs that target the life cycles of these pathogens, which is why it is pertinent to understanding the fundamental role of key virulence factors involved in pathogenesis.


Being a full time member of the research group this summer, I was able to design and carry out experiments with the help of my advisor, Dr. Stephanie Seveau, and graduate student mentor. I was able to discover that although I don’t intend to pursue graduate school, the lessons of scientific inquiry learned will be invaluable and a research component may be possible in my goal of attending medical school.


This goal of medical school was reaffirmed through the other activities I participated in throughout my STEP fellowship. One day a week I volunteered at the James Comprehensive Cancer Center through a program called Restful Nights.  I interacted with hundreds of patients by providing books, magazines, and sleep kits to make their stay just a little easier.  I was also able to shadow Emergency Department physicians at Fairfield Medical Center in my hometown during the weekends.


My experience in the lab motivated me to challenge myself by developing new experiments that can answer basic, yet fundamental questions in host-pathogen interactions. The lab has become a place of educational application that allows me to use what I learn in my biology and microbiology classes, to understand the work being done on a much higher level. By combining what I have learned conceptually and practically, I am building upon the scientific methodology learned throughout my educational career. These larger-scale projects gave me an opportunity to undertake more responsibility and independence within the lab.


I also had the opportunity to attend different professional development events alongside graduate and medical students. These included talks by visiting professors and seminars by other students. Witnessing this sharing of knowledge was especially significant because I realized the ability to discuss new discoveries and advancements is synonymous with a career in science.


As a third year at Ohio State, these ideas about how I envision my future are important. The STEP fellowship allowed me to pursue opportunities that I was able to take key lessons from. I have learned more about myself as an undergraduate researcher, and also as an aspiring physician.

STEP Reflection

This past summer, I participated in undergraduate research and worked in Dr. Baldwin Way’s social neurochemistry lab. At the time, my lab’s focus was on acetaminophen (Tylenol) and its side effects. As a research assistant, I was mainly tasked with organizing and analyzing datasets based on the research conducted on Tylenol by my supervisor, Dominik Mishkowski. Dominik found that acetaminophen is able to decrease people’s empathy and increase aggression.

When I first decided to participate in research, I thought nothing of the tremendous dedication put into the entire experience. My involvement in the research lab allowed me develop a new found respect for researchers. The amount of time spent outside of the lab forming ideas, writing grant proposals, and planning the study  was astounding. I had always assumed that their primary focus was on conducting the study and that the end results would come easily. The collected data must also be analyzed long after the experiment was conducted. Being able to observe experienced researchers carry out their work helped me understand the amount of dedication required for research. Though I only analyzed data, I gained more confidence and pride in being a part of the research community. This was a great learning experience and it expanded my knowledge in social neurochemistry.

In my analysis, I focused on examining whether marijuana had any effects or interactions with Tylenol using statistical software. We found that there was a possible link between the two and I found myself very thrilled with the possibility of discovering a new research finding. Although we found no significant effects of the interaction, putting in the work and playing around with Dominik’s data was a rewarding experience in itself. I must admit that although I was glad to clean up and organize Dominik’s data before the analysis, I found it very uninteresting. This made me realize that there are dull periods that researchers must ride out before they get to the “fun stuff” that they enjoy.

This undergraduate research experience exposed me to a possible career path and helped me develop the skills required of a researcher. Being in a workplace environment, I was able to understand the nature of communication and team collaboration by meeting and working with other people. The lab meetings that I went to exposed me to the interactions that took place. I found that Dr. Way managed multiple projects at once and everyone was being held accountable for the work they were doing. I was very impressed with how Dr. Way accomplished his work even though he was being pulled in several directions.

I have gained a vast array of knowledge and am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to explore the research field. Interacting and meeting with other people during my experience was very beneficial. I was able to experience a taste of being a researcher and view things from a researcher’s perspective. Everyone at the lab was extremely helpful in answering my questions and gave me great feedback. This was an invaluable experience and I feel more prepared about the future through this opportunity.

Although I enjoyed my time as a research assistant, this STEP experience helped me eliminate research as a career choice. I discovered that I lack the enthusiasm required for research.  The amount of stress focused outside of the current experiment was not appealing to me. Nonetheless, I decided to continue working as a research assistant to conduct more studies and continue my search for a hidden passion towards research. I set out to explore other career options as well, should I decide that research still isn’t fit for my future. I am still unsure of my goals after graduation and hope to someday find my calling. However, this experience helped me affirm my passion for neuroscience and psychology. I  find the study of human behavior as it relates to the brain to be incredibly fascinating.  This led me to delve into the concept of pursuing a graduate degree in order to become a clinical neuropsychologist.

STEP Experience

     My STEP experience was a research fellowship through N.I.D.A.. The National Institute on Drug abuse (N.I.D.A) is a federally funded research institute under the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.) which specifically aims to add to the scientific body of knowledge as it applies to drug abuse and addiction.

As a N.I.D.A. Intern, I was stationed in the lab of Dr. Galizio and Dr. Bruce in the psychology department of The University of North Carolina Wilmington. This lab receives funding for its research through N.I.D.A.. As an intern, my main objective was to learn about how research in health is conducted and the process by which this information is made available to government policy makers and healthcare providers.

     The lab’s main focus is on the effects of popular club drugs such as roofies, dizocilpine, and methamphetamine on episodic and working memory. Episodic memories are those very specific ones in which you actually place yourself back in the situation and remember sensory information such as smells, tastes, and feelings. This specific type of memory was chosen because it tends to be the first type to decay in Alzheimer’s disease. Finding that rats possessed this ability would not only help with understanding the effects of drugs on the human brain, but also possibly pave the way in using animal models to create early detection strategies for Alzheimer’s disease. Working memory is a form of short term memory in which small pieces of information are remembered and manipulated for a brief period. Dizocilpine was one of the drugs of increased interest because of its action as an NMDA antagonist. The NMDA receptor is a key receptor for the excitatory neurotransmitter Glutamate in the brain. Glutamate is hypothesized to be key to Long Term Potentiation within the brain.

    Research in the lab really taught me a lot about myself in terms of my work ethic. While I already knew that I am willing to study hard to do well in classes I feel like that often goes unnoticed.  I had never really had the amount of responsibility that this internship thrust upon me, but was able to to really make an impact in my lab. Things that I have always done when no one is watching such as attention to detail and staying until the job my goals are accomplished, soon became points of admiration from other researchers.

In terms of career goals this internship showed me that research is very different from the labs that you take as courses in college and that this work can be very fulfilling. While I do not plan on pursuing a career in psychology, I will use certain things that I learned such drug effects and information on how the brain works for future classes and work. This internship also put me in a position where I could prove myself and earn a letter of recommendation from a distinguished faculty member. My favorite thing about this research was that I had the opportunity to work with and learn from so many different types of people.

While I will not be returning to my research position this summer, I do plan on presenting some of the findings at a conference with this research group in the spring. This STEP experience allowed me to take a chance and pursue an out of state opportunity. Since this summer I have found a new lab at Ohio State University in which some of my skills have transferred over.

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STEP Reflection

Name: Steven Back

Type of Project: Research

For my STEP experience, I decided to work in a research lab in the Chemical Engineering department at Ohio State. The research lab I worked in was the Catalytic Material Design group, a group that researches heterogeneous catalysts and finds new ways to apply these findings to industry and to advance other areas of catalysis research. My project involved developing a novel way of immobilizing catalyst molecules onto mesoporous silica.

I feel that I discovered a lot about myself through my project. I had never had the opportunity to participate in such an open-ended problem solving endeavor as research offered. I remember listening to my survey teacher freshman year telling our group about research opportunities that we could participate in and thinking that there was no way I was creative or smart enough to participate in that, but now I have overcome that barrier I set up for myself and have contributed to the field before I have even graduated, and that is a wonderful feeling. I discovered that I have what it takes to be a researcher and come up with new ideas. I also assumed that graduate school was not for me. I did not really want to take the extra time to pursue a master’s degree or a doctorate, and felt that I would be better off completing my bachelor’s degree and going into industry. I now think that I might want to go to graduate school and complete a higher degree. This has opened up my career options and gotten my thinking about what I really want to do with my career.

One event that led me to realizing that I could do research and had skills in open ended problem solving is when I discovered a new solvent interaction in lab. My project involved testing the interactions between MIDA boronate and silica surfaces. MIDA boronate was found to “stick” to silica surfaces under certain solvent conditions and flow freely in under other conditions. I began thinking about these interactions and started looking in academic journals to see how much people had investigated these interactions. What I found was that few people had taken the time to examine these interactions in much detail. I then set up a series of experiments involving thin layer chromatography testing of the MIDA boronate in different solvents to see how it moved. The silica used on TLC plated allowed me to test this movement on a small scale and allowed me to predict how it would move when placed on mesoporous silica materials of interest. What I found was that it was completely immobile when used with DCM, which was completely unexpected. This discovery allowed me to advance my project. I found that when I put in the effort, I had the capacity to discover new things on my own.

A relationship that I developed through the STEP experience was a relationship with my lab PI. Never before had I had the opportunity to interact and work with a professor as closely as I did through my research experience. We had weekly meeting to discuss my progress where he could offer advice or answer questions that I might have and I turned in detailed reports every month that recorded my thoughts, progress, and literature that I had read. Through these interactions, I was able to effectively apply his input to my own work in order to enhance what I could have produced completely on my own. My interactions with my lab PI allowed me to discover how much I really knew and the friendship I forged will be a great asset in the future.

Interacting with my lab PI as well as grad students I worked with were the main cause in my change of thinking about graduate school. Research offered me the unique opportunity to talk with and work with graduate students who had made the decision to advance their education beyond the bachelor level. We discussed what we wanted to do after college extensively, and through bouncing ideas off of them about my future and listening to them talk about why they were earning their advanced degrees opened me up to the idea of doing something besides going into industry. This has opened up a wide range of possibilities for my future that simply did not exist before.

These changes are very significant and valuable to me. I had always wanted to work in a lab and discover new things. I think that this dream is common one that many kids develop when they think of scientists at a young age. They want to wear the white lab coat and blue gloves, and mix chemicals while discovering new things, and I was no different. I had the opportunity to live out my childhood dream and found that I could do what I had originally dreamed of doing when I was a kid. Forging relationships with high level people in my lab will be very helpful in the future. Whether I need a letter of recommendation, advice on my future, or just someone to bounce ideas off of, forging the relationships I did with the members of my lab will be very useful in the future and will allow me to do what I want to do with my degree.

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STEP Reflection

For my research experience, I took a five-week Field Zoology course with a laboratory component at Stone Lab, located on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie. The main goal of the course was to collect, identify (down to at least order), preserve, and properly label 100 different  native or nonnative Lake Erie species from 12 different phyla and 50 different orders over the course of four weeks. Our class did just that, but we also learned about biological problems facing Lake Erie like the annual harmful algal blooms and invasive species like the round goby and zebra mussels, the geological history of Lake Erie including the Wisconsin glaciation about 20,000 years ago and glacial erratics, and we learned how biologists work in the field, from seining, to electro-fishing, to trawling. Stone Lab Field Zoology was an outstanding experience; not only did I learn tons about the biology of Lake Erie, but I gained hands-on practical knowledge of a biologist’s work, met lots of people who are just as excited about biology as I am, and realized more about my future in biology.

When I applied to Stone Lab, I did not expect much. I only had a vague idea of where and what it was, and I almost did not apply because of my ignorance. Thank goodness I did. I learned a crazy amount of information about Lake Erie, met people who I still see at Ohio State, and received hands-on experience in a class that I loved. I also found work as a volunteer on the island when I did not have class, and I actually got hired on for three extra weeks after my class ended. I felt in my element and excited the whole time I was at Stone Lab; I even received the Mad Collector award for my Field Zoology course. Macrobiology has been my passion for years, and Field Zoology was a constant flow of it. I felt as though I got to see behind the curtain of “biology” and witnessed research in the field firsthand. I loved the entire experience, and I wish I could go back for ten more summers.

Four weeks into the course, my teacher, Mr. Thoma, wanted us to learn about fish species activity at different times of the day. In order to compare daytime and nighttime fish activity, our class went electrofishing at two different times on the same day and in the same area. Electrofishing is a technique utilized by biologists to gain a better understanding of the fish populations living within a particular ecosystem like diversity of species or number of fish in a population. Electrofishing boats have a cathode and an anode that are placed in the water and turned on at a low current. The fish swim toward the anode, and the electric current is increased, knocking the fish unconscious for no more than two minutes. When the fish are knocked unconscious, they lose control of their swim bladders and therefore lose control of their buoyancy, rising to the surface of the water.

My classmates and I were on the boat with long nets, and our orders were to catch the fish on the surface and place them in a large tank on the boat so we could record the number of fish and their different species. During the day electrofishing period, we did not catch many large fish, mostly getting minnows and a handful of freshwater drums. However, the night shift was completely different. Three of us with nets had to work together to lift forty-pound carp, channel catfish, and small-mouth bass out of the water. When it was time to release them back into the water, each of us got to hold the giant carps. It was amazing.

Every Thursday night, the residents of Stone Laboratory all gathered in the meeting room for two-hour research and biology-related seminars with guest speakers and Stone Laboratory’s own researchers. We got to learn about current research on Lake Erie and the process of research as it was being carried out. The speakers would also explain how they came to be in their current professions, and it was extremely interesting and inspiring for me to hear how they began around where I am right now and progressed in their work to their current positions. These sessions were academically and personally educational for me, as it opened up the possibilities for what I can do with my future degree in biology if I decide to change career paths.

My Field Zoology professor, Mr. Thoma, was impressive throughout my time at Stone Laboratory. He had so much information to pass onto our class that he was like a walking encyclopedia for nature. Mr. Thoma’s true passion was crayfish, but he could look at a plant, seashell, or insect and tell us its scientific name, habitat, and its place in the ecosystem of Lake Erie. I felt privileged to learn from a man with such a rooted knowledge of biology, and I hope to emulate Mr. Thoma and acquire more information about biology through experience and classes. Thanks to Mr. Thoma, I learned a plethora more about Lake Erie and zoology than I could have ever done in a traditional classroom setting.

Because I took this course over the summer, I will now have time to complete an Animal Sciences minor. I always strive to do my best in my classes, and Field Zoology was no different. I came out of the class with a high “A” and a boost to my overall GPA. I have also wanted to meet professors and other people who I could come to and ask for a good recommendation in the future when I apply to jobs or vet school, and I believe that I met a few people who saw my enthusiasm about biology and would write great recommendations if I asked them. I wanted to meet more people on the biological sciences track, and I met a lot of new people who I still see at Ohio State. Personally, I am always afraid that I chose the wrong major or area of study, but this experience helped reassure me that I was on the right track. While I have an interest in undergraduate research at Ohio State, I realized that I enjoyed getting hands-on experience more, so I have joined the Pre-Vet club in the hopes of gaining real-life experience on top of applying to research positions. I wanted to learn more about different types of organisms and biological diversity for the career I hope to have, and I learned a plethora about different types of organisms and the ecosystem in which they reside.

AVC - Longnose GarElectro-fishing - Day 2Seining




My STEP Summer Research Reflection

For my STEP experience I chose to pursue undergraduate research. I partook in a project to create engineered skin for use on burn victims to reduce the need for skin grafting. The purpose of the project was to create engineered skin that mimicked actual skin as closely as possible.

I learned early on in this project that I would need to be very independent in my role in this project. I was so used to being told everything I needed to do to complete a project during class that it was a bit of shock to transition into having to take the initiative to get stuff done on my own and to request what I needed from my advisor to get my part of the project done. I wasn’t used to having to get stuff done on my own so it did take me a couple of weeks to get used to “being in charge” of my part of the project but this experience has really helped me become a more independent person.

Once I completed my initial training on how to use the imaging tool, the optical profilometer, to take images of the samples I was largely left on my own. This was quite different from my initial experiences in class working on long projects where everything was planned out and the professors would check in with the group periodically to make sure we were on track to finish.
It was strange for me to experience all this freedom in deciding how to make my schedule to complete my part. Oh, I should probably explain my part first. My role in this project was to confirm that the gel molds that the skin was to be grown on were retaining their shape from their own molds. We were testing how either square holes or features created rete ridges to mimic the structure and function of skin. I did actually get used to taking charge though rather easily. It was nice to make my own schedule so I could progress through the research at my own pace.
I also got used to communicating through one of the grad student working on the project. It was weird at first because I had initiated all the contact with the professor at first so it was a little strange to switch but, the grad student was really nice and took their time helping me through the training and explaining everything to me so I knew what I was doing. Once that relationship was established it became easy to send her emails requesting when I wanted the samples ready for imaging.

This change is very valuable to me because I did become more independent and I think that helped my confidence a lot in approaching others for things I need and being more assertive. I’m usually a pretty timid and quiet person around people I don’t know very well so it was really good for me to learn how to be independent during this project and learn how to be on my own during a project and how to manage my time for a project. This project will really help me in all areas of my life as being confident and independent is going to be important to my personal, academic, and professional life.

I blogged about my whole experience while I was working on the project to share what progress I made and also what did on my downtime. I am so glad I took part in the STEP program. I really feel I grew a lot with this experience and I had a lot of fun during this program.

STEP Reflection

Name: Nicholas Young

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

For my STEP project, I worked with Dr. Heckler in the physics department on understanding student difficulties with graphical and mathematical representations of oscillatory motion. This summer, we developed a 30 item test to probe student reasoning about topics such as determining the period, angular frequency, and phase constant from a graphical representation, and determining how a change in one parameter of a simple harmonic oscillator, such as the period, would affect a different parameter, such as the maximum velocity. After more than 100 students completed the task, I was responsible for inputting all the student responses into a spreadsheet and to begin analyzing the data to determine what students had difficulties with.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

While completing my STEP project, I became more aware of the difficulties that students have with physics. Previously, I had thought that difficulties in the classroom came only from not understanding the material rather than due to a variety of factors. For example, prior beliefs and interference between different concepts can make learning and understanding the material more difficult regardless of the effort a student puts into the class. Due to this, students not only struggle with the material but also must learn material that seems to contradict their life experience. By working with students and looking into these difficulties, I have a greater understanding of why physics is seen as a difficult course.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

A combination of interactions and activities led to the transformation I mentioned previously. Since my research centered around understanding student difficulties with oscillatory motion, I had to read scientific literature about know student difficulties as well as various methods other researchers have developed in order to probe for student difficulties. Through this reading, I became more aware of variety of difficulties that students have when learning physics. For example, some of the difficulties students experience are a result of their prior beliefs while others are caused by a lack of prerequisite skills and still others are caused by a failure to reconcile contradictory beliefs. Developing this knowledge was essential for the next part of the project.

The second part of the project consisted of having students take tests in order to see where the students had difficulties and what the nature of those difficulties was. From the results, I was able to see instances of interference between different concepts the students were learning and cases where the students lacked a firm conceptual understanding despite completing homework problems and attending lectures on the topic. Because most students tended to answer similar questions in a similar manner, I was able to pinpoint which concepts students struggled with compared to concepts where students only had mild difficulty.

In addition to simply having the students take tests, I also observed students doing what are called a “think-aloud” tasks. As the name implies, while doing a “think-aloud” task, the student verbalizes what they are thinking and doing as they go through the questions and solve the problems. This was possibly the most important contributor to my transformation. By listening to students’ thought processes, I was able to see where students were having difficulties as well as gain some insight into why the students were having difficulties. In a few notable cases, the students verbalized why they were confused and how different topics they had learned in class seemed to be contradicting each other.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? 

Since I plan to be a professor of physics, understanding where my students will have difficulties is essential in helping them become successful students and to maximize their learning. From my personal experience, I have found many people are “turned off” by physics since they perceive physics to be difficult and too challenging. By being aware of difficulties that students have, I hope that I will be able to alleviate some of the difficulties students have so that their physics courses will not appear as daunting.

Additionally, as I become more aware of difficulties that introductory students have with their physics courses, I am starting to notice where I have difficulties in my courses so that I can target those areas. Using what I have learned this summer, I have a framework to analyze my own learning and can work to improve my own learning.

STEP Reflection

Name: Daniel Gage

Type of Project: Undergraduate Student Research

My STEP Project entailed exploring the effects of a novel STAT3 inhibitor on the growth of pancreatic cancer and melanoma. This was accomplished by running multiple tests, including MTT assays and Western Blots as well as flow cytometry.


Throughout my experience this summer, I think that multiple things about myself changed. One thing that I learned was that scientific research is something that takes a large amount of time and energy. Looking at scientific publications before I started working in a research laboratory this summer, I never quite understood the amount of effort and number of people that go into collecting data and organizing it in a way that allows other people to understand the results. I was thinking in terms of weeks instead of months or years, and I do not think that I fully understood the process. It gave me a lot of respect for how science works and the lengths to which we go to make sure that we can support our claims.

Something else that I can say that I learned about myself was my own ability to persevere and maintain focus on my goals. There were many times throughout the summer that tests were not done with the best technique or I made a procedural mistake. A large amount of this could be blamed by the fact that I was learning how to do many of the techniques for the first time. While frustrating, these errors became more obsolete as the summer went on, and I found myself becoming more proficient. The repetition has given me the confidence to continue running these tests throughout the school year. Overall, my desire to find the answer to my question drives me to push forward.


The first month of my STEP experience was spent learning how to run specific assays and scientific tests. I had worked in my research laboratory throughout the previous semester, but due to classes, I was not able to put in as much time to be able to learn tests that took multiple hours. During that first month, the postdoctoral researcher that I am currently working with taught me new techniques such as how to run Western Blots using a new technology called LICOR to analyze the results. Each Western Blot takes a total of around six hours spread out through two days, something that I was not familiar with when I started working in the laboratory. In total, my project requires that I run many of these (around fifty to seventy-five individual gels). It makes me respect the process and efforts that researchers put in to get the answers that they desire.

Another part of the experience that I realized as the summer went on was the number of people that are involved in the process of completing a project. From other laboratories to surgical collaborators, it is more than just the laboratory workers attempting to do it on their own; there are other personnel that are usually eager to help out. One of the postdoctoral researchers in our laboratory, for example, was doing research on the effects of the stromal cells of the pancreas on pancreatic cancer, and he routinely received specimens from our surgical collaborator at the time. I got the opportunity to shadow one of the surgeons in this practice multiple times throughout the summer, and I routinely heard him talk in the clinic about working with our Principal Investigator. Laboratory research is a team effort with multiple people depending on one another to complete their tasks.

When it comes to my transformation in my ability to focus for long periods of time and push through tough times to continue moving forward in my project, there are a couple examples of times that showed me this. One clear example that strikes me is a day early in the summer when I was learning how to make protein lysates for the cell lines that I needed to test by Western Blot analysis. This can be somewhat of a long process spanning multiple hours, and I remember having about thirty samples that day. In total, this cell harvest took about six straight hours. This was a very long day that took extreme focus, but I pushed through it because I saw the value that these samples were going to add to my data collection for my project. Seeing the long term goal has kept me motivated to continue moving forward.

Overall, the experience that I gained during this summer is invaluable with respect to my future career aspirations. I hope to go into a career in medicine, possibly in surgical oncology. I have gained a plethora of knowledge about cancer and its effects on the immune system, and I think that what I learned about the research process thus far will help me be successful in a career field that will constantly challenge me to learn new information and push my knowledge further. Through shadowing, this experience has also given me to opportunity to get a glimpse into the life of a physician, affirming my decision to continue on to medical school after receiving my undergraduate degree. My work in the laboratory has also given me many connections in the research field that could be valuable in the future as I continue on to new projects in the laboratory. This experience as a whole has been a defining part of my time here at The Ohio State University, and I am excited to move forward given all that I have accomplished thus far.