Name: Jonathan Chang
Type of Project: Undergraduate Research
Title of Project: Profiling Matrix Remodeling by Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts Using an Automated Collagen Fiber Identification Algorithm
My STEP signature project in 2016 was in the category of undergraduate research. I worked in Dr. Jonathan Song’s Microsystem for Mechanobiology and Medicine (MMM) Laboratory. I investigated how the environment of cancer in the body can affect disease behavior and probed the use of different therapeutic treatments for combating these problems.
During this project, I got the chance to learn the level of persistence and patience required to conduct research. I could spend hours working on an experiment only to result in obtaining one data point (and sometimes I wouldn’t even get a data point). Throughout the course of this project I learned how to be patient and persistent when conducting research. Every week I would run experiments trying to collect enough data to analyze. I also learned during this project how to reflect on my own work. Many times, experiments could fail for various reasons. As a result, I would have to go back and think critically about what happened during the experiment that precluded it from going smoothly. I would make a list of the things that went well and the things that went poorly. This way I could design a more efficient experiment for the next run. It was definitely eye-opening for me to see the sheer amount work that goes into every single experiment that you read about in scholarly articles.
Additionally, my STEP research project allowed me to improve my communication skills. During this project, I got to interact with many different researchers from around the United States. My STEP project helped me learn how to clearly present my work in an understandable fashion. When writing, I had to learn to be as succinct as possible while still including all the necessary details. Additionally, during the course of my project, I periodically had to create presentations in which I was limited by the time allotted. Working under these constraints, I was forced to adapt my presentation style, and this fact enhanced my communication abilities.
In my STEP project, I was fortunate to be guided and mentored by my PI Dr. Jonathan Song and Alex Avendano, a graduate student in the lab. Together they showed me how to design experiments to collect meaningful data. Specifically, from Alex I learned how to seed fibroblast collagen gels into microfluidic devices and how to use fluorescent microscopy. Alex made sure to teach me how to pay close attention to specific details to ensure I was running consistent and meaningful experiments.
Additionally, I also improved my ability to analyze information through the weekly lab meetings that were held. Every week, a member of the lab would either present data from their own experiments, or they would present a journal article to the entire group. Sitting in these meetings, I was able to listen to how other researchers in the field conducted experiments. This occurrence gave me the chance to reflect on both the positive and negative aspects of their work. This process of reflection in turn allowed me to improve my own experiments, and helped me to generate new ideas for future experiments. Eventually, I even got the chance to do my own lab presentation where I took a high impact paper from our field and presented it to the group. I had to make sure that I fully understood the details of the paper to ensure that I could appropriately convey the information. This action also helped improve my communication skills as previously stated.
One other way that I improved my communication skills were through forums and conferences. Over the course of my STEP project, I presented my research on two different stages. The first place that I presented my research was at the Fall Forum at OSU. This forum provided a somewhat relaxed setting that introduced me to the environment of a research conference. I gained valuable practice talking to people of a wide range of backgrounds. I had to present to students of a completely different major as myself as well as professors in my field. Depending on my audience, I learned how to tweak my presentation to more effectively get my point across. This beginning experience at the Fall Forum greatly prepared me for my next presentation a couple months later where I presented at the National Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) conference in Minneapolis. This was a multiday event where I was able to give a poster presentation to many notable researchers in biomedical engineering. Here I utilized the feedback from the Fall Forum to give a more refined and improved presentation.
This transformation is significant to my life because it really confirmed my decision to pursue research as my future career. Before starting my STEP project, I was not sure whether or not I wanted to go into research or medicine, but I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and could definitely see myself pursuing research full time. The next step in my journey is to complete my undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and apply for PhD programs. The STEP project is valuable in the sense that I learned many vital skills that will serve me well as a graduate student. These skills include the ability to communicate effectively. Additionally, the STEP project allowed me to present at two different research conferences where I was able to interact with many researchers from around the nation. This opportunity will definitely boost my resume and help me to reach my future career goals.