STEP Reflection

Name: Jonathan Chang

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

Title of Project: Profiling Matrix Remodeling by Cancer-Associated Fibroblasts Using an Automated Collagen Fiber Identification Algorithm

My STEP signature project in 2016 was in the category of undergraduate research.  I worked in Dr. Jonathan Song’s Microsystem for Mechanobiology and Medicine (MMM) Laboratory.  I investigated how the environment of cancer in the body can affect disease behavior and probed the use of different therapeutic treatments for combating these problems.

During this project, I got the chance to learn the level of persistence and patience required to conduct research.  I could spend hours working on an experiment only to result in obtaining one data point (and sometimes I wouldn’t even get a data point).  Throughout the course of this project I learned how to be patient and persistent when conducting research.  Every week I would run experiments trying to collect enough data to analyze.  I also learned during this project how to reflect on my own work.  Many times, experiments could fail for various reasons.  As a result, I would have to go back and think critically about what happened during the experiment that precluded it from going smoothly.  I would make a list of the things that went well and the things that went poorly.  This way I could design a more efficient experiment for the next run.  It was definitely eye-opening for me to see the sheer amount work that goes into every single experiment that you read about in scholarly articles.

Additionally, my STEP research project allowed me to improve my communication skills.  During this project, I got to interact with many different researchers from around the United States.  My STEP project helped me learn how to clearly present my work in an understandable fashion.  When writing, I had to learn to be as succinct as possible while still including all the necessary details.  Additionally, during the course of my project, I periodically had to create presentations in which I was limited by the time allotted.  Working under these constraints, I was forced to adapt my presentation style, and this fact enhanced my communication abilities.

In my STEP project, I was fortunate to be guided and mentored by my PI Dr. Jonathan Song and Alex Avendano, a graduate student in the lab.  Together they showed me how to design experiments to collect meaningful data.  Specifically, from Alex I learned how to seed fibroblast collagen gels into microfluidic devices and how to use fluorescent microscopy.  Alex made sure to teach me how to pay close attention to specific details to ensure I was running consistent and meaningful experiments.

Additionally, I also improved my ability to analyze information through the weekly lab meetings that were held.  Every week, a member of the lab would either present data from their own experiments, or they would present a journal article to the entire group.  Sitting in these meetings, I was able to listen to how other researchers in the field conducted experiments.  This occurrence gave me the chance to reflect on both the positive and negative aspects of their work.  This process of reflection in turn allowed me to improve my own experiments, and helped me to generate new ideas for future experiments.  Eventually, I even got the chance to do my own lab presentation where I took a high impact paper from our field and presented it to the group.  I had to make sure that I fully understood the details of the paper to ensure that I could appropriately convey the information.  This action also helped improve my communication skills as previously stated.

One other way that I improved my communication skills were through forums and conferences.  Over the course of my STEP project, I presented my research on two different stages.  The first place that I presented my research was at the Fall Forum at OSU.  This forum provided a somewhat relaxed setting that introduced me to the environment of a research conference.  I gained valuable practice talking to people of a wide range of backgrounds.  I had to present to students of a completely different major as myself as well as professors in my field.  Depending on my audience, I learned how to tweak my presentation to more effectively get my point across. This beginning experience at the Fall Forum greatly prepared me for my next presentation a couple months later where I presented at the National Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) conference in Minneapolis. This was a multiday event where I was able to give a poster presentation to many notable researchers in biomedical engineering.  Here I utilized the feedback from the Fall Forum to give a more refined and improved presentation.

This transformation is significant to my life because it really confirmed my decision to pursue research as my future career.  Before starting my STEP project, I was not sure whether or not I wanted to go into research or medicine, but I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and could definitely see myself pursuing research full time.  The next step in my journey is to complete my undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and apply for PhD programs.  The STEP project is valuable in the sense that I learned many vital skills that will serve me well as a graduate student.  These skills include the ability to communicate effectively.  Additionally, the STEP project allowed me to present at two different research conferences where I was able to interact with many researchers from around the nation.  This opportunity will definitely boost my resume and help me to reach my future career goals.

Research: Genetic Mechanisms of Cardiovascular Disease

Name: Komal Paradkar

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

My STEP experience falls under the “Undergraduate Research” category. I worked at The Ohio State University’s Biomedical Research Tower in a pharmacogenomics lab. Specifically, I studied the genetic mechanisms of coronary artery disease. Through basic laboratory techniques such as gels, PCR, and restriction digests, and computational methods including programming languages and access to large databases, I gained a holistic view of the genetic contribution to disease and basic research processes.

The STEP funds helped me take part in this independent research experience, where I was able to gain an understanding on a disease that is the major killer in the world today. I learned the basics of research, starting from lab etiquette to performing various techniques, such as pipetting. Being in lab full-time allowed me to experience the world of research. However, at first, I found it hard to apply my research outside the walls of the lab. Once I started attending lab meetings and reading published papers on genetics and cardiovascular disease, I was finally able to make connections and relate my knowledge and my findings with currently available information. I realized that while I may not witness it first-hand, there are people who can benefit from my research. This thought inspired me to continue my project and work harder to find novel information.

It was a challenge, however, when I had to present at a lab meeting. By this time, I had discussed my results with several lab members so I felt confident in my ability to communicate my findings to others. The struggle was staying composed and delivering my presentation in front of a large group of people successfully. After thorough research on current knowledge and several practice sessions, I finally gave my presentation and received positive comments and constructive criticism. Armed with this feedback, I then prepared myself for the Fall Poster Forum. I quickly overcame any nerves as undergraduate students, graduate students, doctors, and researchers stopped by my poster and asked me questions and gave me guidance. Through the discussions, I learned new ways to look at my results and possible future avenues of research. Overall, it was a great experience being able to see different perspectives and different explanations. Listening to students and how cardiovascular disease has affected their loved ones also helped me see the benefit to doing research and how it is impactful in changing lives of people across the globe.

I realized that while doing wet lab research it is easy to get sucked into the technicality of the research processes and methods, and to solely focus on achieving prime results. I learned that to be able to extrapolate my findings and to be able to apply and explain my results in a real-world setting was eye-opening.

Research is something I never thought I would enjoy. In the beginning, while I was simply pipetting hundreds of samples a day and doing other beginner-level tasks, I was not sure research would be so transformative for me. However, it has changed the way I think about and tackle problems in my daily life. I am now a much more patient, observant, and critical thinking person. I think the biggest impact research has had on me is due to my MD/PhD mentor in lab. She taught me everything I know about research and I have developed a sisterly bond with her. Since this was an independent research endeavor, having her to guide me through the hypothesis, methodology, and analysis helped strengthen my research foundation. Discussing journal articles and my findings with her also shed light on potential explanations I had never thought of.

My public speaking skills have also significantly improved as I presented at one lab meeting and multiple poster forums. What once gave me crippling anxiety no longer serves as a weakness. Instead, I am able to take constructive criticism from previous presentations and apply it to future ones in order to become a more effective speaker.

I think that the most eye-opening thing throughout my undergraduate research experience has been realizing that what I do in lab affects people around the world. I may not see my direct impact, but through discussions with other researchers, students, friends, and family, I have realized just how deep cardiovascular disease penetrates the lives of those around me and across the world. I have not always had encouraging results, but my primary investigator taught me that even unexpected results can reveal a lot of information.

I have had a lot of personal and professional developments throughout this research experience as I have witnessed new perspectives and gained new skills. My research experience has definitely been valuable as I am a pre-medical student. As such, it was my first experience in the medical field where I didn’t have direct patient interaction. Even thought, I have learned that research is one avenue through which breakthroughs in medicines, therapies, and technologies come from. I will take the valuable lessons that research has taught me as I continue with my studies and professional pursuits.

AAAS Annual Meeting

Claire Erickson

I had the opportunity to present at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. There, I presented the Parkinson’s disease research I have worked on since my freshman year. Before this meeting, I had never presented at a national conference. Having the opportunity to do so encouraged my passion for science and a career in science policy. It was also my first time in Boston and being in one of the oldest cities in the United States further garnered my appreciation for American history.

Autonomy would be the word I’d use to describe my STEP project. From applying to planning to execution, I made all the decisions. It may sound silly to say, but this was the first time I fully planned a trip and travelled alone. At first, it was daunting and I questioned if I should even go. As I read more about the different sessions that would take place over the duration of the conference, I was convinced I needed to attend.

Once there, I was struck by the beauty of Boston. Although I was there in February, it was the one week it didn’t snow and in fact, the weather was perfect for exploring a new city. Upon arrival to my hotel, I walked around Back Bay, finding a quaint restaurant to get dinner at. The next day, I hopped on the tourist double decker bus to get to the other areas of the city. I saw Paul Revere’s home, the church he hung the lantern in, Bunker Hill, and so much more. Growing up, I was obsessed with “secrets” in American history and movies like “National Treasure” so to be in a city that was the birthplace for those stories was unreal.

Now time for what I was in Boston to do, present some science and soak up knowledge. My presentation session lasted almost 4 hours and I talked to countless individuals during that time. It was an absolute blast sharing my science and discussing its implications. Once my poster session was complete, I had the rest of the conference to go to a slew of sessions ranging from archaeological discoveries to “Dealing with Alternative Facts and Defending Science”. The theme of the meeting was science policy and my favorite session I attended dealt with the science policy and how young scientists can get involved. There, I met with some big wigs in the field and discussed opportunities through the AAAS after graduation. I even talked with a man that had been to an Ohio State game and sat in Gordon Gee’s box!

My five day trip may seem insignificant in length of time but it will have a lasting impact as one of the most memorable things I did at OSU. For one, I found a love for a city I’d never been to and am hoping to return to Boston. Secondly, I dipped my toes into my future career (hopefully). I will be attending UW-Madison in the fall through their Neuroscience and Public Policy program. STEP allowed me to have a phenomenal introduction into the field. Finally, I won my poster session, which reaffirmed my love for science and passion in sharing it with others. In winning the session, my name was published in an edition of “Science” magazine and I received membership to AAAS. Moving forward, I hope to present at future AAAS annual meetings and will also be pursuing my PhD in neuroscience to further cultivate my passion for the field.


Linguistics Research in Mexico City

During the spring semester of 2017, I conducted research in Mexico City under the advising of Dr. John Grinstead of the Spanish and Portuguese department. The project, which fell under the STEP category of “Undergraduate Research”, is multiphase study, as it investigates the interpretation of implicatures of certain universal quantifiers amongst various populations of monolingual Spanish speakers, with the eventual goal of discovering how children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) generate said implicatures. During my time abroad, I ran the study with adult Spanish speakers (between the ages of 18-35) and various children (ages 5-6).

As a result of the opportunity made possible by STEP, I have grown both personally and professionally in ways I never imagined. First and foremost, I never foresaw myself participating in research, or at least not the type that involved lab coats and test tubes. To my pleasant surprise, conducting a study in the realm of social and linguistic sciences involved building relationships and extrapolating results, not heating Bunsen burners. I can envision myself continuing with research in some form, and am beginning to explore postgraduate options to do so. Additionally, I experienced substantial growth and development regarding cultural assumptions and my general view of the world due to my STEP project. As a Spanish major and strong advocate for the Latino community, I will not exaggerate and say that I drastically dropped a racist mentality as a result of my time abroad, as that would be untruthful. However, I gathered real world experiences and cultural understanding that complement my previous academic knowledge about the Spanish language and culture, specifically that of Mexico City. Instead of viewing Mexico in terms of population, politics, and other large-scale figures, I now have an intimate understanding of the history, food, traditions, and dialect, as well as strong interpersonal relationships, which I will further discuss as they relate to my transformation.

Finally, on a more personal note, my STEP project has played a key role in the continued positive development of my self-image. I have wanted to live abroad for as long as I can remember; nevertheless, a part of me doubted that I could actually accomplish this dream. I feared my Spanish would not be understood, I would be rejected for my nationality, or I would get lost in the monstrous 20 plus million habitants of Mexico City. Thankfully, my fears were not rooted in reality, as I had the most incredible experience of my life working and living abroad. I feel significantly more confident and capable after completing this project, and feel both empowered and inspired to continue working in other Spanish speaking countries post graduation.


When I reflect more deeply upon my time in Mexico City, several relationships and experiences stand out as especially transformational. As noted in my budget, most of my funding went towards renting a room in the home of a monolingual Mexican family. In a truly small world way, the father of the house, Victor, was the brother-in-law of Ximena, one of my coworkers on the project. I cannot accurately recount my experience abroad without giving this incredible family the credit they deserve. Firstly, they helped me to drastically improve my Spanish by teaching me endless new vocabulary and gently correcting my grammar and pronunciation. Furthermore, I was given an inside view into the home and life of a typical Mexican family; because of their inclusivity and kindness, I got to experience foods like molé and pozole, learn the history behind landmarks like the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and get to challenge opinions about deep rooted stereotypes in thought-provoking political conversations. Often we are unable to exactly pinpoint those who help us to grow into the people we become, but I fortunately can say otherwise. This relationship proved incredibly transformational.

Another specific event that stands out from my project pertains to actually conducting the research. As aforementioned, our study is not necessarily confined to a lab, as it involves conducting surveys, playing videos, and recording the responses of our participants. Thus, we were required to travel to multiple locations. I was born in, raised in, and have never really left Columbus, Ohio, with a population of less than one million inhabitants. I was now living in the largest city in the Western Hemisphere, with a greater metropolitan area that surpasses New York City. Studying maps, navigating the subway, asking for directions, and occasionally getting lost all proved to be very key parts of my experience. I developed a sense of direction that I never knew I had, and became much more confident and self-reliant as a result of my daily adventures in navigation.

Lastly, some of most transformational interactions I had were not about profound topics nor in remote locations: they were simply those I had in Spanish. As a non-native speaker, I knew I would learn a great bit living and working abroad. What I could not foresee was just how much that would be. From my first day, when I went out to a restaurant with my new family and ordered a “sope” thinking it was a soup (the actual word in Spanish for soup being “sopa”) and instead received a flat blue corn tortilla piled high with beans, chicken, lettuce, and cheese, I knew I was in for a very interesting few months. I spent a lot of time listening, writing down new words in my journal, testing out slang phrases with friends and strangers alike, and for a good bit of my time, found myself not being understood as a result of my accent, pacing, or true misuse of a word. While at times this proved frustrating, my Spanish began to flourish as I gained more confidence and spoke more. I went from handling the paperwork and logistics of the study to running trials independently, of which I feel incredibly accomplished. Since I have been home or have spoken with Latinos from other dialects, I am often asked “Eres chilanga?” which means “Are you from Mexico City?”


While I could continue to recount my anecdotes from my travels, I must also look forward to what this experience means for my future. My development as a result of my STEP project is simply key to my academic, personal, and professional life. I can truly say that I understand and speak Spanish fluently, almost as well I do English; as a Spanish major and someone who plans to work with Latino populations for the foreseeable future, this accomplishment cannot be overstressed. Additionally, I learned and am still learning so much about linguistics, SLI, and implicatures because of this research and my continued research for my undergraduate thesis. I am currently unsure how I will incorporate this exact area of study into my future plans, but I have a much better understanding of the work that goes into designing and creating an experiment, which is invaluable if I choose to continue in the research field. However, above all else, I think the most significant part of my experience is I now have an intimate and personal understanding of what it is to be an immigrant. Although I felt well prepared and thoroughly enjoyed my experience, I also learned how confusing, overwhelming, and down right lonely life can be alone in another country. In a moment where immigration is an extremely hot topic issue, I feel as though I can positively contribute to the conversation, especially regarding the situation in Mexico. I am incredibly grateful for all that I have learned and gained through my STEP project, and hope to be able to use this knowledge to impact both to my field and society at large.

Horror Musicals and the National PCA Conference

My STEP Project began with independent research on horror musical films and the ways that both separate genres, horror films and musicals are combined within them. My specific focus was on the manner in which the sonic differences between the two genres keep them from successfully combining. This led to a conference paper and presentation at the National Pop Culture Association Conference in San Diego from April 12th to 15th.

During my time doing this research, I also had several other opportunities to do independent research, both within classes and the OSU community more broadly. By the end of this project, I was not only far better at the process of doing independent research, but I have become much more confident and capable of presenting my research in a larger forum than just a paper written for a class, only to be read by a professor. Because I was presenting at a national conference, I not only had to write a conference paper, but also develop a Powerpoint to be given in front of a crowd far bigger than one I had spoken in front of before.

Because this was completely independent, there were times where it was difficult to keep myself accountable, but I developed the skills I needed to complete my research successfully and write a paper that I believe is a very good exploration of the topic of my research. I have even thought about continuing this research through to a larger forum, by potentially seeking some form of publication. One of the other major facts I learned is that even if research is independent, it never really is. Although I didn’t have major supervision over the majority of my research, I was constantly discussing my research with classmates, professors, friends and family, which allowed me to develop my own understanding of the research to the point that I could explain it to anyone of varying levels of knowledge of film and genre studies. This proved extremely useful once I reached the conference, as I was surrounded by individuals presenting on everything from the historical basis of Japanese horror to NFL fandom. Because I had been able to practice my presentation with countless people, I was perfectly capable of describing my research both to those who were far ahead of me in the same field and those who like me were presenting for the first time.

One of the major experiences that changed me during the time of my STEP experience was completely unrelated to STEP. During the summer after my sophomore year, as I was just beginning my research for STEP, I received the opportunity to do research with the Theatre Research Institute within the OSU library system. This research revolved around a film projector that was in their collection that they had little previous information on. I was given the opportunity to research the history of this projector, and provide understanding towards their uses and why they were significant to film more broadly. This was the first time I was doing major research, and more importantly, I was doing research on a topic that had not seen major research that I could rely upon. Due to these conditions, I was forced to rely upon primary resources and develop my own conclusions. This set me on a path where I was able to discover the enjoyment that I get out of doing research, specifically in areas that had not seen much previous research.

Because of this experience, I devoted myself much more thoroughly into the research I was doing with STEP. I had known before that horror musicals were a niche topic, but once I discovered that there was only a single paper that focused on horror musicals, and it was a paper that I disagreed with at points, I knew that this research was not going to be a simple paper where a go over previously existing claims with new examples. In total, I probably watched about 30-35 films for this paper and read anything and everything I could about genre theory and film sound. While I generally do not skimp on research, it was through this STEP project that I discovered just how much I enjoy research, and the accumulation of knowledge and examples and facts to prove my thesis.

Between my research for the Theatre Research Institute and STEP, I have discovered a true passion I have for unique, and at times seemingly bizarre research. Because of these two events, I make the decision to always do a research project if given the opportunity in classes, but also think about films more critically than I once had in every day life. As I continue watching films for classes and on my own, I am constantly thinking about the ways films connect and differ and all of the different possible topics of exploration in each film I watch. When given the opportunity to do research in classes, these experiences have pushed me to explore topics that are further and further from the mainstream, and more importantly further from the research I am seeing done around me. For example, in a Japanese film class, I wrote a final research paper that explored gender within Japanese cyberpunk and its descendants. This was a topic that I knew no one else would even consider writing about, and thus a topic that I could dig deep into and fully explore without falling into reciting previous work.

Overall, I do not know exactly how this has changed my future plans, but I do know that it has reconfirmed the plans that I had to further my education. Because of the joy I have discovered in doing research, I definitely plan on doing more, and I want the ability to do stronger and even more original research, so I feel compelled to continue on to graduate school. While I still feel very passionate about my initial plans of film preservation and archiving, I also know that continuing into academia would be something I enjoy immensely, giving me more options for future plans and broadening the possibilities I once saw for myself. The STEP program has proven invaluable to me and something I will always treasure.

Society for Neuroscience 2016 Annual Meeting

Since May 2015, I have worked in Dr. Terman’s lab, where we are creating computational models of the brain during ischemic stroke and perform mathematical analysis. After creating an accurate model of one astrocyte and one neuron, I submitted an abstract for the Society for Neuroscience 2016 Annual Meeting, the largest neuroscience conference in the world. Once my abstract was presented, I worked on collecting data for several months and presented our lab’s results at the conference in San Diego.

During my STEP project, especially toward the end, I realized that I had myself changed during the entire process. Previously, I had not been too methodical and deadlines did not seem to be that important to me. By the time I had completed my project I was elated that I was more organized and on time for most of my work. I also learnt how to be more responsible so that people could depend upon me. While in high school I almost expected that there would always be people there to help me out – however during the project I realized that the buck stopped with me. I personally had to do all that was necessary to present my poster.

Very quickly, I realized my deficiencies – I was forced to overcome my shyness and became far more comfortable in dealing with people whom I didn’t know. I went out of my way and made all arrangements for the project and presenting it at San Diego. I learnt not to make assumptions but to take a more open attitude while dealing with people. I felt a lot more optimistic and felt that there were a lot of good people who would help me.

Multiple events and interactions led to these changes within me, with some actually occurring prior to the conference, back home at Ohio State. Since I was the only one attending the conference, I was responsible for my project, separate from but related to our group’s current work, and for representing the lab well. Previously, I mainly did what Dr. Terman had asked and contributed my opinions. Now, I had to decide upon the idea and hypothesis of my poster and what methods I would use to obtain results – ultimately, I focused on the importance of the sodium-potassium pump for my project. I was also responsible for making sure I submitted many things (like SfN membership application, an abstract, travel arrangements, etc.) well before any deadlines, without anyone looking over my shoulder. I was forced to grow up and felt more like an adult, as I made decisions myself. Though at first I didn’t like assuming more responsibility and being more disciplined, I am grateful for the experience, as it made me more mature.

Though this project was self-directed, I also got insight into how important team work is in any project of this nature. During the initial part of the process, Dr. Terman and the other lab members were always willing to answer my many queries, whether about designing an experiment or collecting the results. Multiple people read and edited my drafts and sponsored me so that I could apply to become a Society for Neuroscience member. In the past, I had always assumed that a single person could drive a research project – I now understand that research will always require the advice and input of many people. This is a lesson that will remain with me in the future, when I become involved in other research endeavors. Just as my lab helped me, I hope to help my future colleagues and to be a team player.

When I was all alone in a gigantic hall in front of my poster I knew that I would have to get my message across effectively – there were no excuses to fail! Almost automatically, my diffidence seemed to disappear, as I talked to people from all over the world with various backgrounds in neuroscience.
That is until one gentleman came to my poster: he started asking me rather difficult questions and challenging the methods I used– it felt like an interrogation. While I didn’t know all the answers, I answered his questions to the best of my abilities. Upon leaving, he explained his own expertise in the field and revealed that he was trying to encourage me to think more critically. While I was feeling intimidated at the time, I gained more confidence in myself, as I could explain the most complex aspects of the project clearly. Thanks to him and others I talked with, I became aware of the holes in my knowledge and began learning more about those topics.

After presenting my work, I attended other poster sessions where I became the questioner. When I took part in discussions with other neuroscientists, I continued to acknowledge how little I knew – this made me more determined to pursue my studies in neuroscience further. I also become more organized in my approach of learning more. During the Q & A sessions following lectures, I became comfortable asking experts questions without feeling too conscious about my own ignorance. On a side note, I was amazed to see how humble some of these experts were. Overall, by being exposed to research in fields both similar and dissimilar to my own, my passion to learn more about neuroscience was renewed when I returned to Ohio State.

At the end of it all, I realized that I had changed tremendously. My lack of confidence was gone, as I became more self-reliant. I grew more open to new ideas, while also becoming more methodical and rigorous. Going forward, I will always try to be a generous team member, as so many have been to me. I have gotten a taste of how scientific research is performed and how knowledge is spread internationally. Most of all, I am far more positive about my goals and the world in general, having been inspired by all the great work being carried out. These lessons that I have learnt will be useful for my entire life and will prepare me for my professional life as a doctor and researcher.

Presenting my poster

Outside the Convention Center

STEP Undergraduate Research

My STEP project was a research project with Dr. Buford in his Motorphysiology lab during the summer and last semester. We studied the role of pontomeduallary (PMRF) neurons in upper limb movement through a method known as directional tuning. Previously collected datasets with measurements of direction and force were used in conjunction with PMRF neuron activity to discover a relationship between the factors.

This experience allowed me to gain insight into many areas. I had previously thought research to be a fairly cut and dry process, following the scientific method. However, I have learned that research requires creativity and problem solving. Research also requires a lot of resilience. The plan that is set out to answer a specific question almost never works exactly like expected, but something can be learned from every attempt and an approach can be modified based on what you learn every time. Finally, research is very collaborative and humbling. It is an experience that requires you to seek outside help and the expertise of others. It has always been hard for me to ask for help in my studies, because I tend to figure things out for myself, but I realized that I couldn’t do that in the lab.

Dr. Buford and Alexis Burns were both very helpful in helping me grow as an undergraduate researcher. They helped me gain an understanding of the field as well as the methods and expectations of research. The relationships discovered in previous experiments in ipsilateral and contralateral recruitment of the arm muscles by the PMRF, were hard to understand. Through reading the papers done in other labs and our own lab, I was able to gain a broad picture of the purpose of the field, and specifically where my project fit in. This process showed me the process that is required when entering a field. There are a lot of nuances that must be learned from experimentation techniques to research purposes for each study. Each experiment builds onto the body of work but also contains a unique question.

While creating the analysis methods for the force, direction, and neural data, I learned to apply many of the skills I have learned through engineering classes into the field. We had to create a new script that would analyze the neural activity, match it to the force data, and then create a separate script to run the statistical analysis. This challenged my programming knowledge, and ability to synthesize new ways to analyze data from previous experimental methods.

Through my research, I also experienced some frustration. The data that I had was not ideal, and that was something I had no control over. Multiple equations were tried before any seemed to make sense. It was hard to see relationships in the data, and even more frustrating when it seemed that nothing was there. Dr. Buford helped me to not be stuck throughout the project and suggested other ways to come up with a solution. We also looked at previous methods to adjust certain aspects of our methods. This was when I realized that researchers need to be creative and approach a question from different angles, and to move one to different approaches when one doesn’t work.

Overall, this experience allowed me to dive into research, and gain appreciation for the process. I learned what it means to have ownership on a project, and be able to problem solve to answer a question proposed by me using the available resources. Previously, research seemed to be a very daunting part of academia reserved for those with years of experience in the field. I now see that with dedication and good mentors, even as an undergraduate student I can make my own contributions to a field and gain an understanding of the surrounding research.

Undergraduate Research Experience: The Social Psychology Lab

  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.

I worked in a Social Psychology research lab in the autumn semester. My work consisted of running experiments studying the influence of perception on behavior.



  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.

At the beginning of the semester, I made three goals for myself concerning my role in the lab. I wanted to gain a better understanding of the research process, learn more about Social Psychology and do well in my job as an RA. I feel that I have accomplished these goals, though there is undoubtedly still room for improvement. Throughout the semester, I have run several experiments. I feel that this has given me insight into the nuances of how research is conducted and allowed me to see how the concepts I learned last year in my Social Psychology classes can be applied both in the lab and in the real world. I also feel that I have done well in my job, as I have been a punctual and a diligent worker for the duration of the semester.


  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.


I stated that I wanted to gain a better understanding of the research process, learn more about Social Psychology and do well in my job as an RA. By setting up, over-seeing and concluding the experiments, I have gained an understanding of how experiments are run and how participants navigate the lab. I also feel that I learned more about Social Psychology when I was asked to read about the history of the Libby Lab instead of running experiments. By doing so, I was able to learn about the past research the Libby Lab has conducted and gain an understanding for what the lab is trying to accomplish. While this improved my understanding of the research currently being conducted, I also benefitted from the different examples of research and experiments given throughout the article. I also feel that I have a better context for my specific job as an RA.

Learning about the experiments was both interesting and informative. We discussed the experiment Zach is currently conducting, which looks at the effects of first and third person perspective on peoples’ expectations. I learned about the different variables included in the experiment and the results he hopes to find at the end of the trials. This conversation brought me closer to my goals because I learned more about Social Psychology and about research in general. I found the research very interesting because it connects to many of the principles I learned in the Social Psychology classes I have taken.

My tasks for the experiments included calling the participants, leading them to the lab, reading off instructions and giving them the REP slips afterwards. Running the experiments related to my goals because it allowed me to assist a fellow Psychology students in their work while also learning about psychological research in the process. By learning about the different experiments, I was able to gain more knowledge about the diversity of subjects one can study when learning about Social Psychology, as well as the real-world applications of psychology in general. Additionally, learning about the assumed influence of perspective on people’s interests connected to some the content covered in my Social Psychology class last year, which was personally interesting for me.



  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, I found working as an RA to be a good and transformative experience. I found conducting research to be both interesting and fulfilling. I liked working as a team with the other RAs and graduate students to collect and analyze data. I think these skills will be useful to me in the future as I enter graduate school. In the future, I plan to pursue more research opportunities in Social Psychology, perhaps at the graduate level. I will use my skills and experience from the Libby Lab to design my own experiments, hopefully contributing my own findings to the field.



STEP Undergraduate Research

Name: Mikayla Dantuono

Type of Project:  Undergraduate Oncology Research

Using Next Generation Sequencing, patients can receive personalized treatment based on driver genetic alterations identified. However, a gap in the field occurs for patients with uncommon fusions or with fusions occurring in intronic regions of DNA. The goal of my summer STEP project was to develop an assay enabling the characterization and discovery of novel fusions through sequencing of precise DNA breakpoint locations.

In terms of self-discovery, my summer in the lab served to bolster my belief that working with a team will always help to solve a problem. The project that I was on included several members from the wet lab and the bioinformatics team of the Roychowdhury lab, as well as people from other colleges. To help us achieve our goals, we even had to utilize papers published by other labs and databases created online about our research question. While there were only a few members of the project physically present in the lab, the amount of people that went into helping us solve the problem was larger than I expected. Just the same, everyone that was involved provided something that helped us with the study. A problem as big as the one we were trying to tackle can’t be solved with only a few people: rather, a team has to come together to all work towards a common goal. Everyone was receptive to other peoples’ ideas, which ultimately helped us in the lab.

Another thing my summer in the lab taught me is that research is a slow process, and that to be involved you have to be extremely dedicated. Not every experiment that I did was successful: in fact, I would say that a good portion of the things I tried to do ended up giving me unhelpful results. Nonetheless, the project went on. The people I worked with all seemed to understand that their research would take a long time, and that it wouldn’t often yield the results they wanted to see. Despite this, everyone was extremely passionate about what they were doing. Similarly, the amount of time it took us to solve a problem only made our success that much better. Patience was key, as well as accepting the fact that not everything would be perfect. I learned to appreciate when something worked out, and to learn from my mistakes when something went wrong.

Outside of the project and a bit outside of the scientific aspect of lab itself, I learned the importance of patience and perseverance in research. When starting the project, the cell line LC2 was sequenced with the expectation that the probes would pick up a well known mutation. When the data was analyzed, however, it seemed there was a different fusion from the one we. With this fusion being unsupported in the literature for the LC2 cell line, suspicions arose as to whether or not the fusion was real, as well as the viability of the probes we were using to detect fusions. Instead of chalking it up to a probe design mistake, several members of the lab sat down to collaboratively look at the data and bounce ideas around as to what could have happened. When it was suggested that perhaps the tube that the supposed LC2 cells were thawed from was mislabeled, everything seemed to come together. RT112, a cell line that was used in one of the previous projects that the lab, contains the fusion that the probes picked up in what we thought was the LC2 cell line. With this in mind, samples of a collection of our cell lines were sent to Nationwide Children’s Hospital to undergo STR profiling, or short tandem repeat analysis, where the suspicions were confirmed.

Despite the time it took to solve the problem, everyone worked together until the solution was finally found. While it wasn’t necessarily a good result, the process it took to get to the answer was a perfect demonstration of the lab getting together to solve a problem instead of simply attributing the results to strange data. Although it may have been frustrating, nobody gave up, which is the essence of productive research. No matter how difficult or confusing results may seem, it is always worth it to dig a little deeper and figure out how the results were achieved. Just the same, this process taught me that not every problem can be solved on your own, which goes back to the importance of teamwork. Had we not sat down with several members of the lab, the problem may not have been solved. Because we had people from several different backgrounds looking at the problem, we were able to come together and figure out what went wrong. This was much more productive than simply giving up or thinking that the mistake was just a weird piece of data, and really reinforced in my how important it is to work together.

A specific relationship that helped me learn was the one between my lab mentor and I. While everyone I worked with in the lab was extremely helpful, she really stood out to be as somebody who wanted to see me and the other undergraduates succeed in research. Whenever I didn’t understand something, she was always willing to sit down with me and explain the process we were working through. She never seemed frustrated when I performed a failed experiment, nor did she scold me when I made a mistake. She taught me that every mistake can be learned from, no matter how big or small it is. Another thing she showed me was just how much dedication it takes to work in a lab. My lab mentor was always the first one at work and the last one to leave. She would even put in extra hours during the weekend to make sure that everything was ready for the upcoming week. While doing her own projects and helping me with mine, she was still able to assist other members in the lab if they had any questions of their own. By seeing her work, I think I now have a good example of what a teacher and team member should look like.

Although I have always been pretty certain that I want to have a career in research, the summer I spent in the lab only helped to solidify this desire. The process of research never loses its novelty for me, even when none of my experiments seem to go the way I want them to. Because of this, instead of changing my future career goals, this experience only makes me more sure of what I want to do. It also taught me the the patience and dedication I need to work in research. If it’s changed anything, it’s been the type of research that I want to do. When I first entered the lab, I had very little research experience and wasn’t quite sure of what direction I wanted to go in. Working in a precision cancer medicine lab has given me keen insight into how a clinical lab runs, and the types of improvements that can be made through cancer research. It also helped highlight to me just how important research in patient care is, and how much I want to be a part of helping improve people’s lives. Though I wasn’t quite sure about doing research in a health field, this lab has convinced me that it’s what I’d like to do, and has taught me how to be a receptive team member when I do eventually graduate. Research with a human impact is insurmountably important, especially when involving a disease as prevalent as cancer, and I would like to dedicate my time to it. While all research is important, working in a lab that focuses on improving patient care has greatly swayed me towards wanting to do research that has a similar impact. In the future, I would like to work in a lab that has the same sort of end result that the Roychowdhury lab has: improvement of patient care.


STEP Signature Project Reflection

For my STEP Signature Project, I conducted undergraduate research under Dr. Carlos E. Castro in the Mechanical Engineering Department, Nanoengineering and Biodesign Lab (NBL), studying DNA Origami, nanotechnology. As president of OhioMOD, I mentored and trained 7 undergraduate students for the BioMOD International Biomolecular Design Competition. The OhioMOD team developed a research project, conducted research, created a 3:50-minute video and website and finally presented all in the BioMOD conference in San Francisco in October 2016.

The STEP Signature Project project was instrumental in transforming me into an undergraduate researcher and leader of a group of undergraduate research assistants. Prior to this project, I considered myself an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Carlos Castro’s Mechanical Engineering Department, Nanoengineering and Biodesign Lab, as I took direction from and completed experiments under the graduate mentors.  I thought of myself as an individual who is passionate about science, extremely hard working, and able to absorb and apply information needed to advance the research.  As President of the OhioMOD team, I took the lead to mentor and direct the other team members work and ensured that the team was meeting project deadlines. Through this experience, I realized my true potential as a scientist, researcher, engineer and woman. I am now confident that I will be pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering with the end goal of becoming a lead researcher and professor in academia.  

My transformation into an undergraduate researcher began when Dr. Castro, anointed me as President of OhioMOD.  As President of OhioMOD, I felt the need to become independent of my mentors and become a good mentor to the other 7 members of the OhioMOD team.  What transformed me was having to address research issues and questions on my own. Through this opportunity, I was able to reach a stage in my scientific experience where I am able to take a step back and not only analyze the results at hand but plan for later experiments. This new role required me to take on more responsibility as a lab member, become more organized with data and push myself to learn more skills, for example being trained on the Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM).

What transformed me into a leader and mentor was mainly the relationship I built with each member of the OhioMOD team. I constantly pushed myself to understand each of the member’s skills and talents as well as what they hoped to gain from the experience. My objective was to train all OhioMOD members in the lab as well as providing them opportunities to gain other skills that would set them apart from their peers while propelling the project forward. I ensured that I matched the team members skills and interests to the required project tasks.  In addition to laboratory skills, many team members learned new skills such as video making and animations, computer programming, web design, 3D animation and computer modeling.

A turning point was meeting pioneers and experts in DNA origami, such as Dr. Shawn Douglas of the University of California San Francisco who created caDNAno, the universal design program for all DNA origami researchers and Dr. Paul Rothemund of Caltech University, a pioneer in DNA origami nanotechnology.  Seeing their work and hearing their stories has inspired my path as a researcher and professor is academia.

The final event that transformed my future aspirations was a conversation with an OhioMOD team member at the conclusion of the project.  This team member and I were talking about our future plans. He mentioned to me that the OhioMOD experience has changed his life and that I was a major part in that change. He elaborated that since this experience he had decided to continue his education and pursue a Ph.D. in engineering and biotechnology rather than begin working in industry with his bachelor’s degree. After that conversation, I realized that in addition to my passion for science and engineering, I also have a passion for providing opportunities for others and this has been truly transformative for me and my future.   This event in addition to meeting the leaders in DNA origami galvanized my plan to pursue a Ph.D. in engineering and stimulate future scientists as a researcher, professor, and mentor.

My participation in the STEP Signature Project was instrumental in my transformation to an undergraduate researcher and mentor.  The many experiences I had while working on OhioMOD have opened a clear path for my future. During this project I took on the role as primary researcher while directing the work of the 7 other team members, organizing data and learning additional research skills.  I developed leadership and mentoring skills as I assessed the objectives and interests of each team member and assigned resources to project tasks to ensure they developed new skills that would set them apart from their peers while propelling the project forward.  In the end, I solidified my objective to pursue a Ph.D. in engineering with future plans to develop a career in research or teaching within academia.