STEP Research Experience
My STEP project was part of a bigger research project being preformed in Dr. Guo’s Laboratory for Biotronic Engineering. The formal title of the project is The Functional Wiring of Cardiomyocytes and Motor Neurons through Gap Junctions for in vitro Engineering of a Biological Neural Pacemaker. The project is working on developing an immunocytochemistry protocol to identify structural components involved in the formation of a gap junction between motor neurons and cardiomyoctyes. Gap junction protein, Connexin43, is largely found in cardiomyoctyes, and a lentiviral vector will be used in the motor neurons to over-express the protein in motor neurons. Specifically, I worked with Jordan Prox, a graduate student in the lab. I practiced HL-1 Cardiomyocyte cell culturing and staining actin, HL-1 cells, and connexin proteins.
My STEP experience gave me insight into an interdisciplinary lab. I learned how the hierarchy of labs work and what some of the work in an artificial intelligence related field is like. There were obviously specific technical skills that I learned in lab, but I also gained a lot of insight into how a graduate student typically conducts research. There was a lot more independence in graduate school than I thought. The experience helped affirm that I want to pursue graduate school.
I learned a lot during my STEP experience. Technically, I gained a lot of pipette skills, staining skills, and cell harvesting protocols. I have been in different research labs before (cognitive neuroscience, computer engineering, microbiology), but I had never been exposed to a lab as interdisciplinary as the Biotronic Engineering Lab. I was exposed to a neurobiological environment that allowed me to synthesize a lot of the knowledge I had gained from my previous labs, and from my neuroscience major. Bridging the gap between microbiology and neuroscience was a very rewarding process for me.
Working with my graduate student, Jordan, was a very rewarding experience. I primarily communicated with him about the work I would be conducting for the week. He often set dates for me to come in and practice a technique in order to expose me to work that they were conducting in lab. I often talked to him about his life as a graduate student and I appreciate all that I learned from him. I learned about the typical schedule of a graduate student, which consisted of a lot less class than I anticipated, and the framework of writing a thesis. While daunting, Jordan’s insight affirmed my decision to apply to graduate school.
The general independence and self-management required was definitely an eye opening part of my semester. I did not interact much with the lab advisor, mostly just Jordan. Additionally, Jordan seemed to work primarily individually, save the weekly lab meetings. The discipline and motivation required to conduct a four yearlong research project is vast. I was lucky to have a graduate student who possessed that motivation and diligence and consequently, I gained some myself.
My research experience provided me with the opportunity to gain an understanding of a research lab that is practical to my future plans. I am applying to graduate school next year in an artificial intelligence related field. The time I spent in the lab provided me with exposure to real work being done and verified that I want to be doing this type of work in the future. Additionally, the time I spent in the lab will aid in graduate school admissions considering I now have practical experience in an AI related lab. I also gained personal skills that will help me in the future. Academically, the past semester was heavy so I had to learn how to manage my time more wisely and find a balance between work, school, lab, and my personal life. The past semester was invaluable for my personal development as a student.