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.