When I decided to join STEP, I had no idea what I wanted my experience to be. As the deadline for the proposal drew near, I felt like I was never going to be able to choose an experience. During Spring Semester 2015, I interviewed for and was offered a position as an undergraduate research volunteer, and I knew I had found my STEP experience. In the summer, I began working in Dr. Mike Ostrowski’s laboratory, a part of the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center. In the lab, I began assisting Dr. Jinghai Wu and a few graduate students with their work on pancreatic cancer genetics. I had no research experience outside of the classroom before I began volunteering in this lab, so I had a lot to learn. I am still currently volunteering as a research assistant, and I continue to learn new things and gain valuable experience all the time. Participating in STEP provided me with a great way to take advantage of this undergraduate research opportunity.
When I walked into the lab on my first day, I was essentially a blank slate. I had never worked in a lab before, and the only limited research experience I had was from class. There were many research methods and procedures that I needed to learn. I was trained on handling live mice, dissecting mice, cell culturing, and genotyping, which involves extracting and purifying mouse DNA, PCR, and gel electrophoresis. After a few weeks of training, I understood how to perform most of these techniques and was comfortable doing more things on my own. As I continue to volunteer in the lab, I am now primarily responsible for genotyping the mice. The process of genotyping involves using genotype-specific primers during PCR to yield target DNA and visualizing the DNA on an agarose gel. The mice we use have a wide range of genotypes, and how we utilize any given mouse is dependent on its genotype. Therefore, it is very important that I work carefully to get accurate results.
A few months ago, if someone were to ask me what I wanted to do after graduation, I would not have had a concrete answer for them. I knew that I loved my major, but I didn’t know how I wanted to use my degree. A few ideas were floating around my head, including medical school and graduate school, but I was not leaning in any particular direction. Now, after spending a good amount of time doing research, I think that graduate school may be the path for me. I enjoy working in a biomedical lab, because I know the research being done has the potential to affect many lives. I want to continue doing research through the remainder of my undergraduate career. Next semester, I plan to enroll in research for credit. I will soon be able to begin my own project and hopefully work on a thesis.
I have always been the type of person who likes to work alone and get things done quickly. However, working in the lab has given me a newfound appreciation for patience and collaboration. I knew that research took time, but I underestimated how long the process really is. For example, many of our mice, if they are the correct genotype, won’t develop tumors for 6 months. It is therefore crucial that the procedures are followed accurately and precisely so as not to waste time. Without collaboration among researchers, who knows how long it could take to get things done. Sharing supplies, results, and knowledge really helps the research process run smoothly. I will now always remember to be patient and utilize opportunities for teamwork.
It is hard to choose just one favorite part from my STEP experience. One of the biggest highlights was that I was able to stay in Columbus this summer and meet other undergraduates who were also spending their summers doing research. My favorite part though was actually going into the lab everyday and working with the other people. Everyone I worked with was super helpful, on top of being really nice people. They are always happy to share their own insights and experiences with me. As someone who was not entirely sure what I wanted to do in the future when I started, it was always great to hear their advice. The people I work with in the lab really make it a great atmosphere and definitely enhanced my STEP experience. I definitely enjoyed my STEP experience, and participating was worthwhile. I would recommend participating in STEP to anyone who may be interested.