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.

 

The Implications of RIP1 and DOR on ASIC-mediated Neuronal Death

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.

STEP Reflection

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.

 

My project consisted of comparing physical activity in different altitudes across the United States. For instance, I ran with an Apple Watch in Ohio and traveled to Colorado and compared my heart rate, respirations, and physical exertion at both places. I compared my workouts for over a full semester (about 5 months) and recorded my results.

 

  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.

 

Over the course of my project, I discovered multiple things about myself. Not only was I working out more because I had to, but I found myself trying to become a better person each time I ran. I would constantly try to beat my goal from my last run to my next run. I even found a friend who had an Apple Watch as well so we compared our results to each other. Also, from traveling to Colorado, I got to experience a whole new environment and take my runs to the next level. It was so amazing seeing new people and meet people that enjoyed doing the same hobbies as I did even though they grew up in a different place. As the months went on, I transformed into a person who not only ran on a weekly basis, but enjoyed running, breaking a sweat, and being active.

 

  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.

 

My goal for my STEP signature project was very realistic at the beginning. At first, I told myself I would do two physical activities per week (running and/or walking) because I did not know if I could commit to more. By the end of August, I was able to run almost five times per week. It was not because I felt I had to do it but more that I wanted to run. I was used to running and it felt good to run, exercise, and stay healthy. I got into a routine that helped me form good habits and become who I wanted to be. I wanted to be more active and have fun doing it.

Aside from working out, I got to meet new people in Colorado. I met with friends to save money and avoid hotel costs. When I met with my friends, they also had more friends come down to meet with them. I was able to bond with people who were from California, Ohio and Colorado. My friends moved from Ohio to Colorado so it was interesting to see their viewpoints on certain topics. For instance, I was able to talk to them about what environment they liked better and how they compared people in Ohio from people in Colorado. It was interesting to see their viewpoints.

This research project really allowed me to experience new people, their cultures and respect where people come from. I have only been out of the United States once, and never been out to the Western area of the United States. As a nursing student, it is important for me to understand where people come from. The more I learn about different areas of the U.S., the better care I can provide for my patients. Traveling to Colorado allowed me to see new places, experience new sights, and learn about the history in somewhere other than Ohio. It was wonderful to see mountains and small little towns where everyone knew each other. Also, having to talk to new people makes my communication better with my patients.

 

  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.

 

In my life thus far, I have not traveled much. Because of this, I have not met many new people and experienced different cultures. Traveling and meeting new people is one goal I met from this project and most definitely made a positive impact to my life. It will further my nursing career because I will be able to relate to my patients more. Further, I will be able to provide better care for them and be a better nurse, which is ultimately my main goal as a student and moving forward. I love being able to talk to people and the more I experience new cultures and ways of living, the better nurse I will slowly become.

Also, I will be able to take my experience and knowledge about healthy living into my career. I learned from my project how exercising regularly helps our physical bodies feel so much better. I have gotten so much more energy, focus, and determination just from exercising a few times a week. Not only has this project transformed me into a healthier person, but I will be able to educate my patients on healthy living as well, hopefully improving their outcomes as a patient.

Research on Intervertebral Disc Degeneration

My research focuses on investigating the factors in the intervertebral disc that affect neurovascular ingrowth into and sensitization of the intervertebral disc. This summer, my step project focused on the neurovascular ingrowth component of the project, which generally entailed cell work and image analysis.

Before I entered into my STEP project I was unaware of how research was actually done over the long term. I had done part-time research work previously in college, as well as lab work associated with courses, but this was different. I realized that the lab work that I was doing, which I initially found fascinating, was not at the pace that I want in my future. I always thought that I was a biomedical engineer who was more focused on the biology component of that degree, but I think I need to be more technically focused.

I think the moment that most illustrated to me how much I enjoy technical work rather than lab work is when I was working on contracted work at the same time as my project for another company. This work was focused on computer science and network management, and it was really enjoyable. It was frustrating, long hours, relatively low pay, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. I was not as conceptually interesting when describing it, and the impact was lower, but when I was actually working on the project I could work for a long time without feel like I was working.

In comparison, much of my project over the summer was to analyze images for the experiments that I ran in attempt to quantify them. This was agonizing at first, as I did most of the quantification by hand rather than have a method to do them automatically. Eventually, I learned to use an image analysis software which allowed me to significantly reduce the amount of time I spent quantifying images, and that was extremely gratifying.

When the research went well, or produced interesting work, it was extremely gratifying. But there was a lot of dead space, and frustration that led me to reevaluate the areas that I wanted to go into. Much of the technical work that I did was still research-related, so I learned that I need to find a way to integrate that into my work in the future to remain happy.

The development that I value technical work for its short-term satisfaction in addition to more interesting work for its long-term satisfaction is incredibly valuable moving forward in my life. I will need to ensure that moving forward in my selection of graduate school or career I will need to keep these balanced to keep satisfaction in my job. Although I did learn that there is a large component of my own field that I very thoroughly enjoy, which will be extremely gratifying in the future.

Research at Fishel Lab

By: Olivia Noall

Photo of me captured in front of HPLC machine

Throughout this past summer working in Fishel Lab, I have worked on our mouse model project assisting our study of Naproxen and Aspirin in Lynch Syndrome. Lynch syndrome or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (LS/HNPCC) is an autosomal dominant genetic disorder caused principally by mutation of the human mismatch repair (MMR) genes HsMSH2, HsMSH6, HsMLH1, and HsPMS2. My primary responsibilities were taking care of lab mice, performing autopsies on deceased subjects, and extracting subject DNA in preparation for extracted tumors to be sent for Next Generation Sequencing (a type of DNA sequencing technology used in genomic research). Given my success on this project, I have moved on to another project of mine to modify the wild type human protein PMS2 by introducing a triple amino acid substitution in the interaction domain of this protein with PCNA.

The work I did at Fishel Labs this past summer was extremely transformational for me, but not in the way you might think. Most people envision a sort of paradigm shift when they hear the word transformational. My summer project gave me further clarity and confirmation rather than a change in my underlying assumptions about my desire to dedicate my professional life to medicine.

Having the opportunity to be involved in lab work allowed to me to see a whole new side to science. It gave me the chance to step off my laser-guided track towards medical school. This was integral to my development as a medical professional as it gave me the opportunity to challenge myself by stepping out of my comfort zone and into a realm that previously I had never been able to take part in. Most of my extracurricular involvement at Ohio State has been centered on building my interpersonal skills that will eventually become crucial as a practicing physician. From taking part in medical service trips to volunteering my time at the Columbus Free Clinic, my involvement has kept me in a place where listening to and understanding people are the primary focus.

Working in Fishel Lab has opened my eyes to the other side of the coin. It put me in a much more structured research setting where my time was spent performing daily lab tasks, developing problem-solving skills, and following new protocols. Having an active hand in this type of work gave me the satisfaction of contributing to a cause greater than myself. But while it showed me the importance of what goes on in a medical research lab, it also helped me reaffirm what I truly have a passion for– working with and understanding people. I was able to discover that I will never find the same satisfaction that I do in the interactions I have with patients. This inherent enjoyment of helping those around me through meaningful interactions lets me know in my heart that passion for becoming a physician will never falter.

There were many interactions and activities that were integral in my transformation this summer. One such interaction was the one that routinely had with my lab supervisor Juana Martin Lopez. Juana was a very charismatic individual who is passionate about her research and is great at what she does. She has a welcoming personality and is a great mentor. Her kind demeanor enabled me to have a clear image of the kind of contribution that I wanted to bring to the lab. She helped show me how things worked and taught me how to perform various lab procedures such as the DNA extractions mentioned earlier. She enabled me to use what I had learned in the classroom and be confident in my ability to perform the extractions and be confident in my decision-making. This was integral to my success seeing as lab work was totally new to me and I was a little intimidated by the day-to-day flow lab activities. This relationship helped me see the value of empathy and active listening, two things that I know are important in being a successful physician. Juana demonstrated these qualities and made me want to do so as well.

Another activity that led to my transformative experience was our weekly lab meetings. These weekly roundtable discussions put me in a setting, which allowed me to actively listen and ask proactive questions, skills that are essential in diagnosing future patients. These meetings also gave me a chance to present my work from the past week and receive feedback from my peers. The interactions I had with my fellow scientists discussing my work specifically were value-added in numerous ways. I was able to receive diverse opinions and advice from tenured researchers as to how I could improve and learn. Seeing the value in collaboration was eye opening for me. Envisioning myself as a physician one day I would previously see myself acting alone. However being around fellow scientists working toward a common goal showed me the value in working on a team and having meaningful interactions and relationships. It further showed me the importance of the social aspect of medicine.

Lastly, one activity that was crucial in my experience this summer was the work I performed on the lab mice. My duties required me to be in situations where I would have to perform tasks that I was uncomfortable with. Some of these tasks included being around mice feces, dissecting deceased subjects, and disposing of their remains post-tumor extraction. While these activities were uncomfortable at times, it was imperative that they were performed correctly as they had huge implications on lab results. I frequently felt pressure when performing these activities from either lack of experience or from the implications of executing incorrectly. This again required me to be confident in myself as result of my training and knowledge. Bringing this self-confidence to the forefront helped me perform under pressure.

The personal transformation I experienced this summer at Fishel Labs was integral in helping me develop a confidence in my abilities, as a scientist that I did not think was possible at the collegiate level. Having the chance to apply what I have learned in the classroom has given me a wider understanding and a deeper appreciation for what I am studying. In addition to having an active role in lab work, my time this summer reaffirmed my love for science. Getting to know my fellow lab workers and having the chance to speak with them about their research allowed me to further my development as a future physician. It showed me that no matter your view or whatever your way of thinking might be, you can come together to solve a problem collectively. The lab was full of personalities with some of these personalities changing from day-to-day. Learning to juggled these fluctuations in the work environment helped build my critical thinking and problem solving abilities.

Overall this summer was very transformative for me on a personal level. It put me in a new environment that I was unfamiliar with and from an academic standpoint, one that I had little experience working in. The scientific community can be intimidating. Working at a professional research lab at a university as large and respected as Ohio State was unsettling at first. I knew very little about lab activities, or about the kind of work that I would be doing. I was presented with a lot and given a lot of responsibility. However even with this immense amount of responsibility I remained confident in my ability to learn, grow and succeed. I believe learning the importance of self-confidence was the most valuable lesson I learned all summer. There are many great minds at Ohio State, but not everyone is confident in their abilities. Some are afraid to take those challenging leaps and discover things that they didn’t know about themselves. My time working in Fishel Lab this summer has given me a thirst for this type of self-improvement, something I know that I can find again in the next step of my academic career. I am grateful to have had this opportunity and in turn grateful for the STEP program. Without it, this transformative experience would have never been possible.

Resistance Training in Postmenopausal Women

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

My STEP Signature Project consisted of working on a dissertation study and another research project called CLIP-OA. The dissertation study focused on postmenopausal women and resistance training. CLIP-OA was focused on comparing and creating a nutrition and workout plan with people with knee osteoarthritis.

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 was put out of my comfort zone during these studies because I had to constantly interact with participants that I had never met before. I learned that I am able to keep a conversation and connect with people that are completely different than me. In addition, I learned how and when to be professional in different situations. Also, I was able to connect with faculty and graduate students. This allowed me to have multiple mentors to not only help me with the studies, but also build connections for my future.

Throughout the study I was able to apply what I learned as an exercise science student into real world out of the classroom experiences. I was able to explain a variety of scientific topics learned in class to participants to help them understand not only exercise, but also the study better. It pushed me to not only understand topics learned in class, but to also be able to break them down to people that had no scientific background. This helped me realize that I need to be more confident in myself because I am capable of doing many things I didn’t think I was able to do.

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.

An important aspect of my experience was with the participants in the study. They were all great people volunteering their time and energy for science. I was able to work on my communication skills throughout my time working with them and hear so many amazing stories while being able to train them and stay on task. I realized how important the resistance training program was for them because many had not worked out in years. I was able to teach them how important resistance training is for postmenopausal women because without it their bone and muscle mass continues to deteriorate at a faster rate.

Another important aspect of my experience was working with the graduate students. I was able to get so much invaluable experience with them. I learned how to take lactate, watched blood draws, centrifuge blood, pipette the blood, and more. These experiences taught me many new things that can’t be learned in a classroom. Also, I learned a lot from just talking to them and their wisdom. They mentor me and continue to inspire me in the exercise science field.

Lastly working with so many participants made me realize how much they appreciated the work we were putting in. It made me feel good helping others better themselves physically and learn how to be safe when lifting. This helped solidify my dream of becoming a doctor. I love interacting and helping people. I realized I needed to be around and constantly meeting people and working with them. This experience was important because now I know for sure that I want to go to medical school.

 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.

This experience is valuable for my life because I had always wanted to get involved in research, but becoming apart of this program was the extra push I needed to start emailing people and pursuing it. Participating in research gave me amazing mentors that are willing to go above and beyond for me. Also, I was able to receive research credit. This is important because medical schools will see this on my transcript and I will be able to talk about my experiencing in interviews.

Another important reason this was transformative because I was always somewhat nervous talking to new people I met. Being apart of this participant based research study, I was not able to be shy at all. I had to be able to hold a conversation with all the participants. This helped me branch out and become the person that I always wanted to be. I am confident that as a future physician I can connect with people and be able to relate to them after this experience.

Antibody Conjugated Magnetic Nanoparticles for the Analysis of Troponin in the Blood

Name: Mahnoor Naqvi

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

My STEP signature project was to do independent undergraduate research in developing a handheld device that assess the risk of a heart attack for someone showing precursor symptoms with the help of another student, Spandan Shah, and my research advisor, Dr. Nima Ghalichechian. While the end result was no where close to finished, it did involve a lot of the steps required to creating a new product such as cycling through the steps of research, planning, and testing.

Coming into this process, I was pessimistic about the results of the project. I had almost no research knowledge and knew that this was a hefty task to take on, even for someone with more credentials than I. However, it was amazing how much I actually did end up learning once I let go of the fear of failure because the process is where I ended up learning the most. By immersing myself in the process I knew nothing about, the learning curve was much higher than if I had made it a much slower process.

I had to learn how much creativity is needed in order to come up with an original idea, especially since we were trying to build upon research that was already done to minimize how much additional work we had to do. The brainstorming portion proved to be really important because if we picked an idea that required more experimentation but had less outcomes, it would be both a waste of money and time. Deciding what materials to buy was also important because the experiments required ELISA kits, nanoparticles, and anti-bodies which were expensive and could only be used for one trial run each time. Therefore, it was important that all the necessary materials were bought before hand so that we wouldn’t be left with an incomplete experiment. In this way, the success of the project was hugely dependent on planning.

The way the funds were allocated for supplies meant that we could only afford to run the experiment twice the entire summer so we had to make sure that the trials we did run counted. During the first run, a lot of the proper equipment required to effectively perform the experiment was not available. The micropipettes were too small to use for larger volumes; most of the steps required volumes of 500 µL or greater. However we had only purchased a 100 µL micropipette and the procedure took an unnecessarily long time to complete, which was a large source of error as the ELISA procedure is time sensitive. To make up for the added time in the procedure, some of the instructed incubation times were cut short.

After the appropriate supplies were bought and the procedure was adjusted for changes for the second trial, we ran the second trial. Although the second trial had better results than the first, difficulties caused by human error meant a section of nanoparticles were lost during the washing process. This was a big disappointment since it was the final experiment and a mistake that could have been easily avoidable. However, it was a good way to realize that an experiment almost never ends being executed the way it was intended. For research to bring satisfactory results, it requires an investment of prolonged time and commitment. Despite our heavy planning and our best efforts to condense the project into two experiments, unforeseen mistakes prevented us from reaching the results we desired.

This experience was my introduction to research. Having never have taken upon a project of this magnitude, this experience had been crucial in exposing me to the amount of work that goes in conducting a good experiment. Specifically, I appreciated the extensive planning required in conducting satisfactory research. I presented this project with my research partner Spandan at the 2016 Fall Undergraduate Research Forum. We were pleasantly surprised to find the judges found the results to be encouraging and were interested in the future of how our experiment would evolve.

While I doubt I will continue this project, I plan to go on to get my Masters and continue research. The independence in choosing everything from the direction to the process to the materials prepared me to the enter the research intensive world of graduate school.