STEP Reflection

STEP Reflection Prompts

As you may recall from your STEP signature project proposal, your STEP signature project was designed to foster transformational learning—that is, learning that challenged you personally and helped you gain broader and deeper understandings of yourself, others, and the world around you.  Please address the following prompts to help you reflect on your experiences completing your STEP signature project; please give careful and critical thought to your responses.

Name: Alissa Cullen

Type of Project:  Undergraduate summer research

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

For my STEP project, I focused mainly on summer undergraduate research here at Ohio State along with doing a focus on photography in my free time.  The funding from STEP allowed me to cover living expenses for the summer and the cost of a Nikon DSLR.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

I have- for a very long time- known I wanted to pursue a career in genetics.  It is one of the main reasons why I joined a lab so early on in my undergraduate career; I started officially in my lab for credit the second semester of my freshman year.  However, my time in lab was always cut into small pieces because of classes, activities or other previous commitments I may have had.  This summer, I was able to work in my lab full time- approximately 8 hours a day, 5 days a week- and get a much better look at what a life as a full time researcher means.  This was extremely important for me to experience so that I can know for sure that this is what I want to pursue for the rest of my life.  Not everyone can come and work in a lab for 8 hours every day.  But I love what I do and I discovered I love it even more when I have so much more free time on my hands to work on my own research project.

I also have always been interested in photography.  But my project this summer for that- a focus on the difference the actual camera taking the photo makes rather than the subject of the photo itself- allowed me to dive deeper into the more creative side of myself.  This allowed me to truly realize that photography is something I want to keep with me for the rest of my life.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

Each research lab here at Ohio State has a Primary Investigator (PI).  My PI is Dr. Keith Slotkin in the Molecular Genetics department.  He has helped me grow and learn as a researcher my entire time here at OSU, but especially during this summer and the time leading up to it.  I have met with him on multiple occasions, and still will, to discuss where my project is at, make sure I understand what the data I’m creating means and where it fits into our research as a whole, and to keep a strong sense of communication between him and myself.  I also have email correspondence with him whenever I either produce new data or need help troubleshooting a problem in the lab.  His quick and always helpful responses have shown me that it’s always good to continue asking questions no matter what stage you’re at and his great teaching skills have accelerated my learning.

My research lab also has a number of graduate students.  One of which, Andrea, I have a long lasting relationship with as she has been my mentor and trained me since my freshman year.  She, however, was completing her thesis and graduated this summer.  Thus, she had not been in the lab as much and I have moved on to being much more independent in my lab work.  However, hearing her talk about her thesis and watching first-hand the amount of work that goes into it has been a great learning experience for me.  I at some point will also have to write a thesis and defend it so it is a good experience to be able to see the kind of work necessary for it.  And it is also good to know that I am completely prepared for that kind of work and ultimately look forward to it.

One of the biggest things that caused this deeper understanding of myself and what I want to do for the rest of my life though is the fact that I was assigned my own research project for the summer.  This has allowed me to become extremely more independent than I was before.  I, for the first time, actually have a clear research path and project ahead of me and am producing my own data to contribute to the lab.  Beforehand, I was helping Andrea with any work she needed to do.  But now, I have my own project and am taking great steps towards being the independent researcher I strive to be in years to come.

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? 

This transformation of not only my independence as a researcher, but also the realization that this is truly what I want to do with my life is valuable for pretty obvious reasons.  I’m investing a lot of time, effort, and money into my undergraduate, graduate, and post-doc career and so I want to make sure that this is actually what I want to do for the rest of my life.  This STEP funding has allowed me to truly experience the life I have ahead of me, and I have loved every moment of it.  This experience was valuable beyond words for me and I would not have wanted to spend my summer doing anything other than researching; it’s what I want to pursue for the rest of my life.