Author: Tracy Okine
Type of Project: Undergraduate Research – Undergraduate Research Assistant
College : Arts and Sciences
Department(s): Psychology, Neuroscience
This summer, I had the opportunity to gain research skills and knowledge by working as an Undergraduate Student Researcher in the lab of Dr. Laurence Coutellier. Starting in May and concluding during the first weeks of August, I worked on understanding the mechanisms by which stress impacts Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) cognitive dependent abilities by using various behavioral and molecular tests. This project allowed me to realize my interest in research and inspired me to continue working in the lab even after its conclusion.
In order to successfully complete my project, I dedicated at least 12 hours per week to working in the lab. A typical day for me included analyzing the behavioral component of the project in order to gather data, and completing PCR runs in order to gather molecular data. In addition to working on my independent project, I also took this time to learn valuable skills from other members of the lab. I sometimes shadowed Ryan, the lab’s research assistant, to observe other tests and projects the lab is also focused on.
Reflection and Growth:
Participating in Undergraduate Research this past summer through the STEP Fellowship Program provide me with the opportunity to grow both professionally and personally. Prior to this summer, my research experience in a Neuroscience lab was very limited. Though I have been interested in science and the medical field for as long as I can remember, my prior experiences were through hospital and nursing home volunteer programs and summer internships with research components that were more in class and less lab work. However, by working in Dr. Coutellier’s lab, I was given the opportunity to choose my own project and work side by side with Dr. Coutellier in analyzing the results and determining the direction of the project. In terms of professional development, this project allowed me to learn/ develop valuable scientific skills such as 1)Critical Thinking 2) PCR 3) Running and Analyzing Statistics 4) Observing and Analyzing behavior of subjects and many more other techniques related to Neuroscience research.
On a personal level, living on campus over the summer to conduct research certainly challenged my time management and leadership skills. I had to learn how to properly manage my time in order to do well in my summer classes (I was enrolled in three!), successfully conduct my research, participate in fun leisure activities, and explore the great city of Columbus. One lesson I learned early on in this experience was the importance of BALANCE! I realized that stressing too much about my classes or weekend plans limited my creative ability in the lab and vice versa. Thus, I made sure that when I was in the lab, my entire attention was devoted to that, and when I was outside of the lab, my entire attention was devoted to enjoying whatever I was doing. Granted, I do believe that making connections between one’s academic interests and every day life is important, I took time to note things around me that helped me further understand my research topic. Learning this early on really allowed me to make the most of my summer.
Catalysts for Growth:
Learning balance was key, however, was not an easy lesson to learn. As an individual, I tend to be really skewed in what I focus my attention on sometimes. As I grow up, I realize that although this tendency can be beneficial sometimes, it often hinders my ability to be innovative . Many events, interactions, relationships,and activities I was involved in this summer helped me come to this realization. These include my participation in the SURI program, my volunteer-abroad experience in May, and my family and friends.
SURI: As a summer undergraduate researcher, I was really grateful for the opportunities to partake in leisure and social activities that SURI provided. For one, I really enjoyed playing soccer on a team with some of the other students that were here this summer. Participating in soccer allowed me to form new friendships with students I would normally not interact with due to the differences in our academic interests. Although I did meet some Neuroscience majors, I got to befriend students of other majors! Having this diversity of friends really exposed me to a variety of opinions that changed my perspective on how to approach my research.
Global Brigades: Prior to officially beginning my project in June, I had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua with the Ohio State Global Medical Brigades! This chapter is dedicated to medical and global health trips so I thought it was the perfect fit because I want to work for Doctors without Borders one day. For the first few days, our team served the people of El Naranjo and its neighbouring communities through a medical clinic we set up in a school. I had the opportunity to talk to patients (through a translator,of course), take their vitals, shadow a doctor, and help gather medications to be distributed to the people. Oh, and I also got to play duck, duck, goose with some beautiful children. For the next few days, we worked on public health projects. There were three houses that needed help with construction so I worked on house 2 with some friends, and by the end of our trip, we were able to complete the flooring, bathroom, toilet and septic tank for the house! Weaved through these experiences were birthday celebrations, salsa nights, non-stop card games, intense conversations about bowel movements, and friendship formations. My experience in Nicaragua inspired me to pursue independence, cultivate confidence, and reflect on who I am, and who I want to be, and why I want to be that. Seeing the positive impact we 20 something college students were able to have on the beautiful community instilled in me the confidence I needed to get back to the lab and continue my project.
Family and Friends: While reflecting on my summer, I am very thankful for the advice and companionship I received from my family and friends. I was fortunate enough to live with one of my really good friends, and fellow scientific researcher, Jenna, and this friendship really allowed me to relax and literally rock-out when needed. On my birthday, Jenna and I decided to head down to Cincinnati for the annual Bunbury Concert Series. We had the opportunity to see the Black Keys, Walk the Moon, Matt and Kim, and Bleachers live! This was definitely one of the highlights of my summer because not only did I get to sing out loud to Shut Up and Dance with Walk the Moon on my 20th birthday, but I had the opportunity to be inspired by all these great artists who shared their stories about pursuing their musical careers despite hardships and personal difficulties. In watching Walk the Moon and the Black Keys perform, I witnessed how much these musicians were passionate not only about sharing their music, but also about using it to have a positive i
mpact on society. Walk the Moon’s Work this Body and Different Colors became my anthems for the summer, and part of my soundtrack as I worked in the lab.
Additionally, my family played a key role in helping me to relax when needed. Their overwhelming support and care packages were the inspiration I needed to keep going!
Why this matters:
Learning the importance of balance matters to my academic, personal, and professional future plans because it matters to my health and wellness. This summer, my project was focused on understanding stress’ impact on the brain. In doing so, I took a step back and tried to apply what I was researching in the lab to my own life. I think that as students it is very easy for us to fail to make that connection. Somewhere in between syllabus week and the struggle that is finals, it is easy for us to be focused on memorizing mechanisms, equations, and theories in order to get the grade, instead of trying to make the connection between our academics and other aspects of who we are as individuals. Balance encourages us to realize the importance of keeping our selves healthy in order to contribute the healthiness and happiness of the world as a whole!
As a physician in the future, I can pass on this lesson to the patients and people I interact with. One current trend in the medical field is diseases related to lifestyles that are unhealthily skewed be it in terms of diet or stress levels.Therefore, I intend on using my personal experience to encourage my patients to practice balance in their own lives.
To take the time out to smell the roses when needed and be equally as passionate as pursuing their professional endeavors.