Summer 2015 STEP Undergraduate Research Project- HPV E2 and Head and Neck Cancer

Nick Musgrave

Undergraduate Research at The James

My project is a comprehensive investigation of the E2 protein in HPV head and neck carcinomas and their susceptibility to radiation. I am still involved with this project and have actually taken the lead on it.

I have seen a change in myself due to this experience. Before the research project, I was satisfied with mediocrity. I was happy with the student I was and, quite frankly, became somewhat lazy with my schoolwork. I would go to class every day and then go home, do my work, and go to bed. This project has invigorated a passion in me that I haven’t felt in a while. I enjoy the fact that I am a small part of something so much bigger than myself. Due to this project, I expect more from myself. I am more inquisitive now that I have been part of the research process. I think this will pay off in great dividends for my future profession as a doctor.

I have also seen an increase in my own compassion. I have seen first hand the sequence of cancer and the ferocity of this disease, and I feel that I can better empathize with these patients because I have dabbled in what they are experiencing.  I think that this will be pivotal in the future as many of the people I hope to treat one day will be cancer patients. Even if someone with whom I am interacting is not diseased by cancer, per se, I feel that my experience with this disease has lead me to be a more compassionate person. It has changed my world view in that I am more grateful for every day that I have because I have experienced first hand those with the disease.

This STEP project also helped me to become more understanding of other cultures and more aware of the world around me. For instance, I work in a lab at The James and am the only American researcher. Before, I would have been intimidated by this fact, but now I revel in the opportunity to work with people from all over the world. It really drives home the idea that humanity is one large conglomerate and not separate people. We team up with researchers from all over the globe to help eradicate a devastating disease, and it calls us to wonder why we cannot team up as easily in other global situations. The world would be a more harmonious place if people from different countries worked as synchronously together as the multiple nationalities in my lab do.

In interacting with the patients with head and neck cancer, I became more compassionate. One aspect that people like to criticize doctors for is their “bedside manor.” Many are called inattentive, or even condescending to their patients. In watching the doctor who removed tumors for my research, I was exposed to true compassion. He handled terminal patients with the utmost care and I could tell that the patients trusted him. I can only hope to have the same traits as a doctor, but I have already seen this change in myself with my everyday interactions with friends and family.

One other key experience that shaped my own change were the times I stayed at the lab until the late hours of the night to finish my experiments. I was so enthralled by my research and so passionate about what I was doing that the hours ticked away and before I knew it, it was midnight and everyone else had left. It was in these times that I would not accept mediocrity. If mediocrity was an option, I would have left at 5pm like everyone else; however, I wanted to continue working. I will hopefully take this experience into a surgical residency someday, working 80 hour weeks and giving every patient world class care at all hours of the day.

As I have been hinting through this whole post, I hope to use the experiences I was fortunate enough to have with the STEP program to better my profession as a surgeon in the future. All too often, surgeons have the reputation of being nonexistent to the patients, conceited, and, for lack of a better term, possessing a massive God complex. I hope to use the experiences and skills I have learned in this project to be the exception to this stereotype. I want to be a neurosurgeon, so not only was the clinical aspect of this research beneficial, but the understanding I gained of the brain and its diseases will hopefully help my clinical outcomes in the future. Most importantly, I learned how to be accepting of others and compassionate to those that need my help. I hope to use this experience for the rest of my life, and I am very grateful to the STEP Program for providing this wonderful opportunity.


One thought on “Summer 2015 STEP Undergraduate Research Project- HPV E2 and Head and Neck Cancer

  1. It sounds like this was a truly transformational experience that led to development of some of the soft skills that will set you apart from others in the medical field! Great job!

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