Jingdezhen and Chinese Sleeping Trains

This summer I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime across China to learn about ceramics and life. My main purpose was to learn and absorb the rich Chinese ceramics tradition, particularly in the context of its porcelain factories in Jingdezhen, but I came back with so much more than that. I am getting my BFA in ceramics at OSU, and so most of this trip was spent doing a residency at Jingdezhen Ceramic Warehouse.

On this trip I spent a lot of time being stared at, yelled at, photographed, loved on, and in state of utter awe and bewilderment. I have traveled some, I went to France one time and then Canada, but I would not have called myself very cultured before taking this trip. Going to Europe and Canada is interesting, but besides the occasional language barrier and better chocolate, everything is relatively similar to home. China is not. I quickly learned that even though I was told that I was going to be surprised, I really had no idea what I didn’t know. Being a tall white female in a rural Chinese city is like being Jennifer Lawrence- no really, everyone thought I was Jennifer Lawrence. Everyone is so generous, but everyone also yells at you all the time. Then you realize they aren’t yelling at you they are just talking, but when you talk it you always yell. I learned that traffic lights are sometimes a suggestion, and Jingdezhen has the best fruit and people in the world.

This trip opened my eyes to what I means to free and to have access to information. It showed me the prevalence of poverty, and illuminated my own immense privilege as an American. I was vaguely aware that I might have those take-aways before I went, but there were other things that this trip showed me that I did not expect. I learned what it means to be part of a collective group and to care about more than yourself. I questioned why and how we assign value, the power of perspective, and the sensitivities of our western socialization.

As I said before, this was a creative endeavor, so the main part of this trip was to go to Jingdezhen, which is the porcelain capital of the world. An artist residency is when you go somewhere and have studio space and your job is just to make work there. We traveled for a few days when we arrived in the country and a week before we returned home, but the majority of our time was spent in Jingdezhen making work. I am a ceramics student as I said before, and I traveled with my professor and three other majors. The traveling at the beginning was mind blowing. We went through Shanghai, and Wuxi (famous for teapots) and Beijing and Xi’an the end.  On the very first night we were there our friend, and program leader, Li Chao took us out to dinner to keep us awake. That was my first experience with Chinese food. I never ordered any food ever the whole time I was there. One person is delegated to pick the dishes, and it all comes out on the table and you add stuff to your own bowl. I was nervous about the food at first but then I realized I had to jump in. The food could be a whole other 10-page paper, so I will save that part for your imagination. We began talking about our phones and internet and eventually got to the topic of Google and government censorship of the internet. Here was where I first encounters what would be one of the biggest takeaways from the whole trip: censorship and conformity. We asked Li Chao if it bothered him to not be able to use google or knowing something was blocked. His response was that it was not a problem because the government had to do it to protect the population from the dangerous things on the internet like pornography. It’s important to know, Li Chao is not a government sponsored guide. He speaks perfect English and lived in West Virginia for 8 years in his twenties, so that is not just the party line. He really believes that. He understands that he can’t see everything on the internet or use facebook, but he genuinely believes it is for the greater good of the Chinese people. It’s like a speed limit, you don’t get to go as fast as you want, but there are less accidents. I know this is not a perfect analogy, but that is the general way many people thing about it, even though we know that isn’t really why the internet is censored.

I was so surprised that night, but as the trip continued I realized that that is the opinion of pretty much everyone. Even when we were at the studio with the local university students, they would say the same type of thing. Once I asked Jia Li if he wished he could look stuff up, and his response was “what would I look up?” I didn’t expect that question, and I didn’t really know how to answer it, and so I said, well anything you wanted to know. Then again he asked me, “but why would I want to look up something that I don’t know what it is?” After having so many conversations like this I started to understand. I saw my own western education and and socialization to question the world and think critically. I could see how that colored my entire understanding of my reality and access to knowledge. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t want to fact check everything around them, and they couldn’t fathom why I would waste my time doing that. It was an entirely different world view that I had not pervious known existed. At first I was sad for them, and then I realized again that this was my western mentality that made me feel sad for them. My perspective of values and my training to strive for the best, the most, and the strongest that made me feel that way. My understanding of “being fortunate” and “blessed” really changed while I was there. I thought more about what it means to be content and happy instead of correct and greedy. It helped me grow in my understanding of a collectivist vs individualist (that’s us) society and in how other people can be so profoundly different then you but so dear in your heart.

When we weren’t talking about our different worlds or making work we were eating. Eating is an important community event in China, and it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I will be honest and say I don’t like Chinese food. I never ate it growing up, and I never liked it. Nevertheless, there I was in China for five weeks with nothing but Chinese food- even for breakfast. Even considering that, eating was one of my favorite parts of the day. Everyone talks and if you put food on a plate you get laughed at because the plate is just for bones. All the food goes in the bowl. I learned on my first day at the studio that you eat everything in your bowl. Not a single bit of food was wasted. There was not a trashcan in the kitchen because the concept that you would throw away food is not a thing. I realized that this is a reflection of the history of the people I was with. Many of the people alive in China today experienced the devastating famines and watched millions die. Because of that, you always eat as if you are starving. They eat every part of everything even the blood of the slaughtered animals gets jellied for dishes. This awareness of food availability struck me in a powerful way. Beijing and Shanghai are what we know about when we talk about China as westerners or in school. Those places are really not that different from any other western city expect the language and the food. As soon as we got to Jingdezhen, which is in a much more rural area it was like we stepped back into 1950 in a lot of ways. If there weren’t cars, you wouldn’t know. The poverty and quality of life was striking. Once again, the converse to that is what really transformed my thinking on this trip. I saw poverty and oppression and people who were lacking. No Chinese person around me saw that. I returned to the same conflict with my western world view. The people who are living in what I would consider poverty are overwhelmingly happy, and completely content to be where they are. “I have a good job, and a happy family and I am proud of my success,” is what those people who I considered impoverished would say. You can argue that this is because they don’t understand what they could have, but I don’t think that is true. They all watch Friends and American tv, they know what America is like. They don’t feel that need to be bigger and better than they are because they are content with what they need. That was such a powerful realization for me. The level of peace that people had with the world they lived in inspired me to think more about what I am doing and why. I realize that there are many people who this is not true for, because the government is oppressive and does hurt people. Poverty and lack of access to medical care is devastating in many ways, and I am not trying to brush that off or sugar coat it.  I am only speaking to the different perspective I got from talking to people. I asked the students in the studio if they would ever like to live in the US, and they said they would love to visit but they would always want to live in China.

Much of what I have touched on so far has been of the cultural nature, and that is because that was the most impactful part of my trip. Nevertheless, I did go there to learn some real skills, so I want to touch on those briefly. The Chinese Ceramic tradition is unique and prolific. What the ancient Chinese people discovered in ceramics went on to influence much of what we do in the ceramic world today. Jingdezhen was the center of the first porcelain factories that produced the blue and white ceramics that became so popular in the west and that you might be familiar with. The success of the ceramic tradition is a result of production efficiency. Division of labor is the name of the game. You are not an artist who does the whole piece you might just do the outlines for the image and then the next person only does the filling of the image. If you throw, you throw and you never trim. You probably wouldn’t even know how. This is so different from how we do ceramics in the US and the rest of the world. When I make a vase for example, I do all the parts. In Jingdezhen, one vase might be touched by 70 different people starting from the mine all the way to the firing process. In this way the artisans who are making these works consider this their job, not necessarily their art. Some might consider themselves artist, but that title is still reserved mainly for sculpture. Functional ceramics is producing a product, and it is not about and individual people’s artistic interest necessarily. We did a lot of observation of throwers, trimmers, painters, and glazers. No one spoke English but luckily ceramics is something you can learn from watching.

When I tell people here about how the ceramics are made in Jingdezhen I get a similar reaction most of the time. People say, that is so sad that they are not part of the whole process and that they are only able to do one small part. I will not go into how that is a very western response because I think I touched a lot on that earlier. What that response does relate to is what I am going to do moving forward and how I will use what I learned from my STEP project.

The idea of value is something I thought a lot about while I was in China and once I came back. Is value given or earned? and how is value related to making process in the context of an artisan artifact? I have to do a senior thesis BFA show in the spring, and I am basing my show around these questions I got from my experience in Jingdezhen. Here is a quick version of my project proposal I developed as a direct result of this transformation of my thinking about ceramics. It is important first to know that I primarily make functional ceramics (that is pottery).

What has always interested me most about ceramics is the creation of objects. The end product of this craft/art is a thing, a being that exists in the world. It is tangible and tactile. Being able to turn something from mug to an object is magical in a way that other art is not. A derivative of my fascination with the object creation in ceramics was my interest in functional objects. What can be more down to earth object then functional pottery. When we have an object that we use with some regularity we develop a relationship. That relationship holds value. That value intrigues me. I want to know what allows for that relationship and even what invites that relationship. What type of value do we draw for that relationship? Considering all those questions brings me to questions about my own role as the maker. What is my value as a creator of this object? How can I understand how to manipulate my role in the end value and relationship and object from my hands will have?

I hope to investigate these questions by doing what I do best– making. I went to China this summer to see the ceramic community in Jingdezhen, China. In Jingdezhen the whole pottery industry is based on division of labor, and it has been that way for centuries. The throwers never trim and the painters never throw nor do they know how. I got a lot of stuff to roll around in my head after that about what the value of those objects are in the context of their many makers. Does the division of the process retract form is overall value as a ceramic object in the end- basically no, Chinese ceramics has been done this way for centuries and it has been highly sought after and replicated since then.

Since I cannot recreate the ceramic process from ground to store self in the Chinese method I am going to investigate inherent vs. given value in a different way. I will be creating a mass of objects, mugs in particular, to see what effect repetition of process and impact of a large group of the same objects has on those 2 concepts of value and relationship formed

I am excited to see where these new ways of thinking and understandings of the world will take my craft. I am so grateful for the opportunity provided by STEP to do this trip. It has enriched my life, and I am a better person for it.

STEP: Undergraduate Research Reflection

My step signature project involved the early stage of completing my honors research thesis looking to develop a polymer to enhance corneal epithelial wound healing. This involved synthesizing various ratios of known biocompatible polymers for testing with cell compatibility and learning how to take care of cells and prepare a lab to handle cells.

Throughout this summer I learned how to better manage my time. While working on the early stages of my research thesis I was also studying for the MCAT. This was a lot of work to take on during the summer months. I was forced to learn how to better manage my time so that I could still make time for other things I find enjoyable such as hiking, reading books, and cooking. I was able to always give myself at least one night/day on the weekend to do whatever I wanted to do with friends or alone and be able to allow a couple nights a week to cook a nice meal. These little things helped me to stay focused on my research and studying and allowed me to use my time more efficiently. This experience gave me a good idea of what it is like to work in a research lab full time. I would go into lab all day Monday through Friday and have things to do outside of the lab as well. This schedule changed my idea of what it would be like to eventually be on my own. I realized how busy life can get and how lonely it can be when living alone and was able to make changes in my daily routine to fix this.

I met regularly with my PI, Dr. Swindle-Reilly, to help me stay on track with my research. These meetings also gave me an opportunity to get professional advice on how to handle a busy schedule and how to run a lab. Dr. Reilly’s lab is still fairly new on Ohio State’s campus; therefore, there are still things that are not fully set up for some experiments such as cell culturing. Although there are two incubators and a sterile hood for cell culturing, the incubators had to be set up and all the materials for cell culturing obtained. Dr. Reilly allowed me to be pretty independent in obtaining the materials and handling the incubators. This independence was a great experience in running my own experiment and part of a lab but it did not come easily. It was a lot of trial and error at the beginning to figure out how to communicate best with Dr. Reilly and how to get things done in a timely manner. By the end of the summer I had a much better grasp on how to be more independent in the lab and still be there to help out the Graduate students with their own projects.

Dr. Reilly has worked with Dr. Chandler in the ophthalmology department on the medical campus at Ohio State in the past. Through this connection I was able to meet with and shadow two of Dr. Chandler’s graduate students to learn how to properly handle cells. They showed me how to passage cells and how to thaw and freeze cells. At the end of the meeting they also gave me their protocols. This resource was extremely helpful in showing me not only the techniques but also all of the chemicals and tools needed to take care of cells in a lab. Following this meeting I was able to make a list of all the chemicals and tools still needed to have cells in our lab and Dr. Reilly placed those orders.

These experiences this summer with Dr. Reilly and the graduate students in Dr. Chandler’s lab gave me an opportunity to have multiple mentors that could give me advice on time management. I learned that setting hours aside for tasks and planning out my week helped tremendously in improving my time management skills. If I made a schedule at the beginning of the week with the exact times I would spend on various tasks I was more efficient and was able to have more time at the end of my days to read, cook, or go to a trivia night. I also learned more about how to live independently and how to work independently. Up to this point in life I have not been solely responsible for any major projects. With this project with Dr. Reilly, she is counting on me to make a certain amount of progress and giving me complete independence to complete this project. This meant that I had to know when to ask for help and make efficient use of my time to keep the project moving. While progress was always wanted I also learned how setbacks can happen a lot in research and through Dr. Reilly and Dr. Chandler’s guidance I was able to take a step back and look at setbacks objectively to fix them and prevent them from happening again.

This change will prove beneficial for the rest of my life. I have grown significantly over the summer and have become more responsible and organized as a result of this experience. I now know myself better and know that I cannot study efficiently at home and I know when I need a break. This experience has also taught me how to handle setbacks in a research lab and how to keep a project moving efficiently with the help from mentors and peers. Through this stressful summer I was able to become more aware of the signs when I was getting too overwhelmed and was able to step back and take a break before reevaluating the situation. These simple improvements in knowing when to ask for help and working independently will be useful in my future schooling and career in helping me to achieve my goal of becoming a physician.

STEP Reflection

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

For my STEP Signature Project, I chose to conduct summer research at The Ohio State University as part of the Nagib lab.  The focus of my project was developing a selective route to b-amino alcohols through C-H amination of simple alcohols via a radical chaperone strategy.

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

Through this research experience, I learned a lot about myself and where I see myself in the future. Although I initially planned to study organic chemistry in graduate school, I discovered that the subject was not the best fit for me and have decided to pursue other research interests. It was difficult to change the plan I had laid out for myself and to admit to others that I had a change of heart. However, this experience has helped me to be more honest with myself about what I want and what will make me happy. I am grateful for this research experience because without it, I would have ended up in a field that I am not passionate about.

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?

Conducting research during the summer was a different experience than working in the lab during the school year. Spending most of my time in the lab focused on my project helped me to realize that organic chemistry research is not for me. As the summer progressed, I noticed that I was becoming less productive because I was not as excited about the research as I once was. I learned that being passionate about a subject is very important because that is what keeps you motivated and productive in the lab.

Being in the lab setting for over forty hours a week helped me get a feel for what graduate school would be like, since a majority of graduate students’ time is spent in the lab. I greatly enjoyed the research process and the laboratory setting, as well as the collaborative nature of research, which is why I am confident that I want to continue to do research in the future.

After looking into other graduate programs, I became interested in food science as an option for my graduate studies so I met with a food science professor at Ohio State. Discussing the field and graduate program was intriguing and got me very excited about research in food science. This was a critical turning point in my decision to pursue higher education in the subject. I believe food science will be a great fit for my interests because it builds on a foundation of chemistry that I have studied during my undergraduate courses.

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

My STEP signature project allowed me to grow as a person and helped guide me on a different path for the future. Through this experience, my plan changed from initially wanting to study organic chemistry to pursuing food science in graduate school. I am the type of person that always likes to have a plan and know what lies ahead. Being able to adjust my goals for the future was an important step for me in being able to accept change and realize that I might not always have a definite plan.

Research: Creating an interactive dashboard for wrestling data analytics

My STEP Signature Project was to create an interactive, real-time dashboard of stats for the OSU Wrestling team. This dashboard was intended to provide the wrestling coaches with a quick overview of how each wrestler is doing in terms of weight, recovery, endurance, and strength so that they are able to better plan and prepare workouts or rest periods for each wrestler.

This project helped me to be much more accountable for tasks that I say I will complete, and it has helped me to realize that I can be much more flexible with my time than I used to think. Working alongside the varsity wrestling staff made me hold myself to a higher standard and to take time to complete tasks with good quality. With the work that I was doing, there were a lot of edits and updates that needed to be made. I would get a text or a call from the Data Analytics coach working for the wrestling team and he would tell me that he wanted a different data set or he wanted to see the data differently. This helped me to manage my time better and be able to respond quickly to requests.

One of the most memorable interactions I had during this project was when I met Kyle Snyder about a year ago. I had gone over to the wrestling facility for one of my initial meetings with the Data Analytics coach on the team. He gave me a tour and we ran into Kyle who at the time was about a month past winning the gold medal in the Olympics. It was a very cool experience to meet him and I’ve been fortunate enough to run into him a couple more times when I’m at the facility.

This interaction stuck with me because it showed how dedicated Kyle was to the team. He was already back and practicing with the team as a gold medalist. That’s when I realized the value in the work I was doing. Not only did it help the coaches get a better idea of where the wrestlers were at on an individual basis, but it helped each guy become more aware of his actions and how it helps the team as a whole.

Since the project began, I’ve helped build a couple other tools for the team in addition to the dashboard. Something that the Data Analytics coach wanted was a shorter summary report for each wrestler so that the Head Coach Tom Ryan could look at only a few numbers instead of a bigger list and still know how each guy is doing. I also helped create a radar graph for the coaches to use that visually shows a few data points standardized against the rest of the team. This was very valuable when the coaches sat down and showed Athletic Director Gene Smith what we were working on.

This change is very valuable for my future as I head into the workforce. Being able to respond quickly and effectively to requests is a very important skill and this project has definitely helped me to be better at that. My time management has also gotten much better and will help me when I’m working on more than one project in my job. It is also already helping in my academic and personal life as I’m able to better balance my schoolwork, student organization, and friendships.

STEP Reflection: Summer Bioinformatics Research Experience

My STEP summer project was a research experience with the Dr. Ralf Bundschuh and Dr. Pearlly Yan bioinformatics research group at the Ohio State University. Over the course of four months, I helped analyze the effects of cystic fibrosis on DNA methylation in a mouse model. I helped design a computational workflow to do this, and it could also identify possible genes and their interaction networks that are affected by cystic fibrosis.

This experience was nothing short of amazing. The learning curve to participate in bioinformatics was steep, but the level of difficulty I had in learning the subject accelerated my growth in the field. Every day in lab presented a new challenge, and I noticed my abilities as a researcher and lab member improve after each obstacle I overcome. I became significantly better at both programing and presenting my weekly findings at group meetings. I noticed my confidence and public speaking skills transform after just several weeks of my STEP experience. I gained insight on the politics of academic research; grant proposals, interactions with other research groups, and departmental politics were aspects of research I never considered before this past summer. After reflecting upon these new insights, I now have a much more mature perspective on academic research in the medical setting and clear vision of my career path.

During the first month of my STEP project, my research advisor challenged me to implement a particular analysis program on our sequencing data and understand how that program processed said data. This assignment required extensive knowledge of the literature surrounding the program and nature of next generation sequencing. I spent hours a day testing my code and analyzing my results for consistency. I was also required to present my results and articulate my understanding of the subject, which served as the perfect medium for me to gain both understanding and confidence in the lab. Undergoing this challenge significantly furthered my understanding of bioinformatics and served as the footstool for my future projects.

Interacting with my research advisors and collaborators gave me insight on the qualities a good researcher must have. Many of our lab’s projects are collaborations with other research groups. After witnessing the amount of interdisciplinary collaboration modern research requires, I realized that good researchers must be able to build relationships with other groups and articulate their works and intentions succinctly. In short, a researcher must be able to communicate well. This is necessary to obtain funding for projects, handling business with other groups, and asking for assistance from others. My experience with researchers impressed upon me that progress is made as a collaboration. Until my STEP experience, I was so used to doing academic work that did not necessitate collaboration with others such as taking exams. This shift to a collaborate mindset is one of the most important personal transformations of my STEP experience.

My research experience also helped mature my perspective on medicine. Many of our collaborators are from the James Comprehensive Cancer Center, and I also have aspirations to attend medical school. There were many occasions during the summer when our lab went to seminars given by these physician scientists. Listening to their lectures and meeting these physicians first-hand gave me invaluable perspectives on medicine and clinical treatments. I was not only able to build connections with these doctors but also to gain insight on the practice of medicine.

If I am accepted into medical school, I definitely want to pursue research where I can apply my abilities in physics, math, and bioinformatics. My STEP experience has prepared me for this; I now have a much more holistic perspective on research in the medical setting and the necessary qualifications to succeed in such an environment. I was able to gain confidence in articulating my research to others, and this improvement in communication will help me in future interviews and collaborations. Most importantly, I am a much better scientist than I was at the beginning of my STEP experience; and I can not thank STEP enough for giving me this opportunity.

STEP Reflection

My STEP project was to develop a software component for Complex Numbers using Java. I did most of my coding in Eclipse and I chose to use the OSU software component standards as a guideline during my development. Then I worked on a GUI application to test out my component.

When I first started working on this project, I had assumed that the development process would be straightforward. I thought that I would write out the main functions that I wanted my component to perform and then start coding right away. But after getting feedback from my mentor, I came to realize that the process of software development is not as simple as I had assumed. I had to scrap most of my initial design and use a different approach to coming up with the functionality of the code. I also had to think ahead while planning out the functionality and think about how the implementation would be done. I realize now that if I had gone on with my original design, the implementation for that design would have been very unwieldy and would not have followed best practices of software development. The process of learning the development process helped me gain a much better understanding of why certain practices in software design are considered “best practices” and how to approach design in general.

I think one of the key aspects of the design stage of my project was accepting the fact the process was not going to be linear and that I would have to go through many iterations in order to work out all the kinks. Also accepting the fact the after all that work put in, the design wouldn’t be perfect or flawless, but would be implementation-ready. Going through all those iterations and having to discard so much work made me become more critical of my own work. I have found that this way of looking critically at my own work has improved my work even outside of this project or even coding in general.

Another key aspect of this project was during the implementation stage, where I was writing the code to actually implement the design. In this stage I had to be aware of all of the industrial best practices as well as the OSU standards that I was using as guidelines. Writing code that followed qualitative guidelines meant that I had to do a lot more analysis of the code, as well as look up documentation of lots of different types of software components to learn how these guidelines are interpreted and followed.

Working on the GUI application was a completely different sort of challenge. Whereas the design and implementation had been self-contained, the GUI part of my project had a lot of parts which were heavily dependent on each other. Working with so many different pieces of code and their dependencies meant that I got experience in handling multiple parts of a project simultaneously which I feel is an important skill in management in general, not just coding.

Overall, I think that my experience has taught me to accept my mistakes and how to move on from them. I learned to become more critical and analytical of my own work. Whether or not, I go on to a career in full-fledged research, I think that these skills are very useful to have and can be applied to any of my work in the future, be it coursework or a job. I look forward to employing these skills in more projects like this in the future and continue working on my analytical skills along with coding skills.

STEP Reflection: Undergraduate Research

My project was to experiment with a fluorescent protein, miRFP670, in order to determine its characteristics for use in single molecule imaging of DNA mismatch repair (MMR) enzymes. I determined optimal expression of the protein as well as collected its emission spectrum on a spectrofluorometer. I also constructed a fusion protein construct consisting of MutS, an E. coli MMR protein, and mEos3.2, a fluorescent protein, that yields these proteins covalently linked to one another upon expression.


This project taught me a lot about research in general. It was the “next step” in my journey as a researcher and I learned many new techniques including overlap polymerase chain reaction (PCR), polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE), and fast protein liquid chromatography (FPLC). I gained a lot of scientific knowledge about fluorescent proteins and their applications as well. Through this project I was able to learn how much perseverance is needed to do research. Tweaking an experiment a little bit but many, many times is a tiresome act, but necessary if one wants to achieve the best possible results. I had to do multiple trials, with multiple cell type and multiple conditions for each cell type. Each expression took a day and it took another day to run the products on a gel so I could analyze the results. Completing good research takes time and patience. Having this patience will not only make me a better researcher, but will help me in virtually any career I choose to pursue. I must also be able to be flexible given a change of circumstances; I must be able to adapt to still reach my goal, which I learned that I could do in this project.


One specific thing that taught me how to be adaptable was a big change in my project after much work. I had made a lot of progress on expressing iRFP670, I was almost ready to purify it. However, it was discover that miRFP670 was a dimer and thus could not be used in future lab experiments. The lab had to order a monomeric version of the protein, miRFP6670, and I had to start over with that one. This took nearly a month of work and threw it away. This taught me how to deal with major changes in my project and how to get past it to still conduct quality research. It taught me how to adapt to the situation and proceed to my final goal despite a major setback. Unexpected delays of varying duration can occur in many, if not all, career paths; this experience has help teach me how to deal with it and move on.


Something that required a ton of perseverance in my project was completing and optimizing the overlap PCRs that I had to do. For the first 6 or so reactions I got no product. When I eventually did it was barely any and I had to repeat it multiple time to get a usual amount of product. Additionally, when I tried to amplify this product via PCR it did not work. It took much perseverance to keep on trying new things and see each one fail to achieve the goal, especially after so many attempts. I had to keep repeating the protocol that gave me little product multiple times every time I need more DNA. Eventually I optimized it, but it was not until the 25th attempt that I got a substantial amount of product. This taught me to keep on going, to keep on thinking of new ways, new things to try, to achieve my goal. It helped to develop my ability to preserve in the face of challenges. It took awhile, but eventually it paid off. This is an attribute that I will absolutely need to have in my future plans.


Another thing that I did in this project was mentoring a high school student about the research process. This took a tremendous amount of patience, as she was unfamiliar with the laboratory experience outside of high school science classes. I showed her what I was doing in my project and some basic techniques. This took time away from doing my project, as teaching someone to do something is slower than doing it yourself, but it was worth it to share the knowledge that I have gained from being in a research lab. I was able to learn more about the basic processes that my project relies on as instead of “learning” them I had to “teach” them. I had to reflect on them and think about them in a new way. This all took patience, but it was gave something both to myself and to the student I was mentoring.


Patience and flexibility are things that are very good for physicians to have. I plan on going to medical school so those will help me greatly in my future. The situations will be different than research, but the skills will still be very useful. I will have to integrate information and see how it fits with previous data, something that I had to do in this project. I will also need to adapt to new techniques as they come out and master them in a timely manner. Patience is necessary for all physicians. Whether it be studying in medical school, learning how to deal with rotations, and trying to reach a patient that is being difficult, the physician/medical student must still maintain a tremendous work ethic. Having a large amount of patience is essential to achieve this. The skills that this project has taught me will be very beneficial toward reaching my future goals.


STEP Reflection: Undergraduate Research

Name: Carolina Ortiz

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed

For my STEP Signature Project, I spent the last four months working on a research project in the field of Neuroscience. As part of the Askwith lab, I have been studying the process of neurodegeneration in diseases such as MS, ALS, and stroke and the cognitive decline that is associated with these diseases. My main activities have involved culturing neurons and cell cultures then isolating proteins with different experimental treatments. In addition to the lab work, my project has entailed a great deal of independent experimentation, hypothesizing, and data analysis.


  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

I spent a large portion of this past summer trying to troubleshoot an experiment I have been performing as part of my Undergraduate Research Thesis in Neuroscience. After separating a co-immunoprecipitation of two of our proteins of interest through gel electrophoresis, I began to see a non-specific band that was almost the exact same size as the protein that we were trying to image. As part of my independent project, I began to troubleshoot the conditions of my experiment to see if I could optimize my protocol to minimize the appearance of this non-specific band.

At this point, I needed to maintain an inquisitive yet critical mind as I consulted scientific literature that included similar experiments, researched reputable sources online where other scientists troubleshooted similar situations, and reached out to other faculty. I tested both my patience and consistency by completing the experiment in total over twenty times while challenging my analytical skills as I developed a statistical test that would standardize each experiment in order to find the relevance of each variable that I changed. I was actively engaged with this problem for over two months and I finally succeeded in independently optimizing the conditions to a standard that both the Principal Investigator of the project and I were satisfied with. While these problems tested my perseverance and occasionally frustrated me with the slow progress, they ultimately furthered my understanding of myself in terms of my patience and my self-confidence in my resiliency and analytical skills.


  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? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

The three main aspects of my project that lead to my transformation were the mentoring I received from the head of the research lab, the relationships I built while reaching out to other faculty members for assistance, and the presentation I gave for my scholarship group where I reflected on my summer experience. The main aspect that spurred my personal growth was my mentoring relationship with the Principal Investigator in my lab, Dr. Candice Askwith. She prompted me to devise my own independent project for the summer and encouraged me to search further than what I had already been studying. With her help, I crafted a project that was out of my comfort zone and posed quite a few overarching questions and hypotheses. She truly encouraged me to take on a more difficult project, and then when problems began to arise with my experimental designs, she was my first line of reference for advice and moral support.

In addition to reaching out to my research mentor, while I was struggling with my project and trying to gain the critical analysis and patience needed to complete my experimentations, I reached out to various faculty members for their assistance. Whether it was a correspondence through email or an in-person visit during their office hours, I struggled at the beginning to accept that I was having difficulties with my project and needed assistance. While asking for help and admitting my faults have never been my strong suits, hearing the positive and helpful feedback I received from the faculty members instilled in me a sense of self efficacy and confidence. Through these relationships, I was able to gain invaluable lessons in admitting areas of confusion and reaching out for assistance when appropriate.

Finally, when I reported back to my scholarship group about my activities for the summer, I reached another milestone of acceptance of my progress. As part of the Eminence Fellows program, I gave a presentation detailing the work I completed over the summer and focusing heavily on the data that I was able to personally collect (see Picture 1). Although my audience was extremely supportive, it was difficult at first for me to accept that I had not made quite as much progress as I would have liked. However, while creating my presentation, I was able to relive various of the “Eureka moments” I had in the lab and I realized that my patience really did pay off in that I was able to solve my problems and now I have an idealized protocol for my experiments moving forward. I am also looking forward to the “Reporting Back” portion of the post STEP reflection process as another venue for personal growth.


  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

Overall, research has taught me how to accept mistakes and how to troubleshoot when results turn out differently than expected. Throughout my undergraduate career, and during this past summer as part of my STEP project, I became committed to finding ways to improve the prognosis of neurodegenerative diseases through research to provide a more viable therapeutic target for patients recently suffering from ischemic stroke. Forming and testing my hypotheses, seeking and receiving grants, and presenting at conferences and for my scholarship group have cemented my fascination in the human body and my commitment to the improvement of human health. I look forward to continue honing my analytical skills and investigative drive as a medical student and in my future as a physician. As a physician, there will be endless times when a patient’s symptoms vary from the expectations, and working with experimental variability through this project has given me the resilience and tenacity that will become so valuable as a future physician.

Picture 1: Presentation given to Eminence Fellows discussing my project over the summer

 Picture 2: Completing lab work during the summer

My STEP Project: Bacteriophage Research and Education

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

I designed my STEP project to give me more than just a research experience. The first half of my original project was to isolate bacteriophage from the environment that could infect F. columnare, a bacterial pathogen of fish. Bacteriophage could then be used to treat ill fish and, unlike antibiotics, would not disrupt commensal microbes both in the fish and the environment. This however did not work as originally planned- F. columnare did not grow well at all on all the media I tried and required fetal bovine serum to grow enough for my purposes. This was simple impossible cost-wise and by working with the STEP office I was able to instead focus on the host range of bacteriophage- seeing whether bacteriophage isolated from M. Smegmatis could infect Arthrobacter or a version of M. smegmatis that already contained a bacteriophage in its genome. The second part of my project was to bring a laboratory experience to the high school I graduated from. I spent 4 days spread over 3 weeks helping the biology classes to isolate their own novel bacteriophage from soil using M. smegmatis as a host.

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

My project really helped me gain a better understanding of myself and my own goals. Going into this project, I was heavily questioning whether or not research and teaching was something for me. My previous experiences with research had been having a graduate student tell me to do something and me following that request without knowing why it was needed or what the purpose was. I was nervous that, once I had to do research on my own and work through issues myself, I would find that I really didn’t like it. Instead I found the complete opposite. Being in charge and having to think through problems is stressful- but also extremely satisfying. I’m a senior now and my path has permanently changed from what it used to be. I had planned on working immediately after graduation, but now I am studying for the GRE and looking into graduate programs. In the teaching aspect, I found my passion. Those four days I spent giving students a laboratory experience were extremely satisfying. While not every student is going to be interested, I felt that I was able to give the handful of students who were a piece of my passion and hopefully encourage a few to keep pursuing it on their own.

3. 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?

The two research projects I experienced both had a lot of hurdles and I got to experience both failing and overcoming a hurdle. The first project, despite having to be dropped, somehow never truly felt like a failure. I tried 5 different types of plates, made many batches of top agar and media and spent countless hours digging through literature to find a solution. When I finally found the solution to be lots of fetal bovine serum at $650 for 500 mL, I knew that from a cost standpoint I simply could not complete it. This was the exact type of failure I had feared and yet I was still satisfied with the work I had done and the experience I had gained.

With the second one, I spent the summer trying to desperately find the source of a mystery contaminant. After going through the same process as the first time and several months of trying, I found that it was simply the desired host clumping due to being cultured at a certain temperature. I was able to change parts of my protocol and immediately had success. Both of these projects were extremely frustrating, just like I had feared, and it only made me more certain about wanting to go into research.

When I was teaching at the high school, I found it to be extremely satisfying to give the students something I wish I had experienced myself in high school. Science was never an emphasis at that school and I didn’t get a lot of hands-on experiences. I feel that, by giving these students this type of experience, I gave some students a reason to pursue something that had always been dismissed. The most notable example came slightly after the project ended. A student that had been in one of the sections I taught sent me an email to let me know she was looking into pre-veterinary programs and would be on OSU campus for a test-run that is offered. She hadn’t been considering careers surrounding biology to be a real option and thanked me for showing her it was. Knowing that, for a handful of students, I encouraged them to do something they love makes it all worth it.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable to your life?
This change in how I view research and teaching is extremely significant to my life because it changed some of my goals and reinforced ones I had been debating. I now know that I want to teach and do research. While I had considered these things in the past, they were surrounded by a lot of doubt that kept me unsure of what I wanted to do post-graduation. I am no longer doubting if graduate school is the right choice- it’s something that I want now.



STEP Research Project: Ibrutinib Inhibition of Hepatocellular Carcinoma Progression

1. For my research, I examined the anti-tumorigenic functions of Ibrutinib in Hepatocellular Carcinoma cell lines. In lab, I explored the potential inhibiting effects Ibrutinib on downstream regulation of pathways of EGFR. I also investigated several genes that may be involved in the EGFR pathway, which also lead to regulation of cell proliferation, cell cycle and anti-apoptotic pathways in cancer cells.

2. My understanding in the field of research has changed through working in the lab. My assumptions on how research is conducted, especially in wet lab research, which is what my lab primarily focuses on, along with process of conducting research, such as receiving funds, buying/using materials, coming up with research topics, working with others in lab, learning how to use different machines and the mechanisms behind the use of the machines, and presenting research to others. Also, my views on the extent of how extensive the process of research and the significance of time dedication, focus/passion, and teamwork/mentorship that goes into research has changed through being in the lab.

I also learned that in research, things don’t always turn out as I planned, and how results might be unpredictable, depending on the research conducted. Although this is a difficult aspect to learn regarding research, I realize that no research method is perfect, and that is why it is important to have supportive mentor and lab members in the team to help out when in need. In addition, I learned the reason why research is a slow and ongoing process in the scientific field, and it is often rare to discover things “overnight” and that it is rather a process that requires tremendous effort and revision.

3. By working in lab, I learned various lab techniques that I have never tried before joining the lab, such as RT-PCR, gel electrophoresis, mouse-tail DNA extraction, cell culture, colonogenic formation assay, Western-blotting, and animal handling among other basic lab skills.  Learning these lab skills alone took me a long time. Even though I have been part of the lab during the school year, between academics and extra-curricular activities, it is often hard to find extended periods of time to dedicate to research. Hence, being able to focus solely on research through the project experience has helped me learn and concentrate on my research project. Through this experience, I was able to fulfill my goal of strengthening my skills in research, to develop working relationships with the people in my lab and to foster professional skills and connections important in the field of research and my career goals.

Conducting research has been (partly) an emotional and mental rollercoaster for me, as some days experiments went really well with good results and I would be extra motivated and excited about my research, whereas sometime things didn’t always go in the direction that I wanted. One of the biggest lesson I learned, as I’m sure many others have faced, is the conflicts that come up when conducting research and the ways to deal with these obstacles. The hardest times for me when conducting research was when I would spend several days growing cell lines, extracting protein, then running Western Blots, to see results not show up on the blots, or when I would pour hours upon hours growing cell lines, extracting cDNA, only to see that results didn’t really correspond to what I was expecting. There were other minor struggles such as cells not growing in a timely manner, for some reason, which would mean the experiments had to keep getting pushed back, and other time related hardships that interfered with producing results. But because I wasn’t under immense time constraint, I was able to work under relatively lower stress than during the school year, when I would have been more frustrated.

Through listening to the discussions of my PI and other members about grants our lab could apply to fund our research, I learned that research wasn’t only about actually conducting and doing experiments, but also about finding ways to support the research project. Also, working with other lab members taught me the importance of team work within research. I learned that because research is such a vast and gradual process, collaboration is a key component in achieving greater means in research. Collaboration ranges anything from borrowing other lab’s equipment, to asking others for help in an uncertain research methods, to discussing with others during lab meetings and receiving suggestions on ways to improve your research project in ways that you may never have thought of before. Also, by learning technical lab skills, and presenting my research project in front of my lab members and PI during lab meetings, it has helped me gain valuable experience on communicating and explaining my research to other members of the lab who may not be as familiar with my research topic. Through this, I learned to not only conduct and collect data, but also to analyze the data I’ve collected along with being able to delve even deeper into my research, as I had to be prepared to answer and explain questions about my research and incorporate feedback from my lab members about my research.

Being involved in research has taught me that there is more to the medical field than just health care and being a health professional. Through these experiences, I have a new found appreciation for the researchers in the science field, who work tremendously hard and work together to help make progress in improving the medical field.

4. Although I am uncertain whether I will continue with the same field of research as part of my career, I am interested in conducting cancer research in the future, as my research experience has significantly influenced me as an individual and shaped my future goals. As I have spent months working and conducting my research project, I felt that I am interested in research and the different aspects that research has to offer. Although I am still planning on applying to medical school in the future, this has not stopped me from considering research as part of my career. Even if I end up becoming a medical doctor, I want to continue to conduct research in the future as this opportunity has made me look into ways that I can get involved in research while being a doctor.

Through this opportunity, I was able to get involved in research project in my lab, as I continue to pursue my goal of being part of the field of medicine. I think funds such as STEP is a critical part of the university, and it is crucial that Ohio State continues to encourage students to get involved with what they are passionate about. I am truly grateful for STEP in providing individuals like me an opportunity to pursue their passion.