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.