1. My STEP signature project this summer was working as an undergraduate researcher in the Spinal Therapeutics Laboratory on Ohio State’s campus. The focus of my project was studying methods of degeneration of the intervertebral disc, specifically its cartilage end plate region. Lower back pain affects up to 80% of the human population at some point during a person’s life; degenerative disc disease contributes to a large portion of this number. Throughout my project, I worked alongside a PhD student, developing various lab skills and gaining exposure to the hands-on aspects of the biomedical research field.
2. My STEP Signature Project proved to be very transformative for me. Since deciding to major in biomedical engineering, I have assumed that my ultimate career goals involved working in the research field and being on the forefront of biomedical discovery. After working in a lab all summer, however, I am no longer sure that this is the case. I am extremely thankful for the opportunities I was presented with this summer, but I now know that it will also be beneficial for me to explore my other career options. There is a good chance that I still end up in the research field, but this summer showed me that working in a research lab might not allow me to accomplish my ultimate goal of being able to help people—at least not in the ways that I had imagined.
I also learned a lot about myself this summer. I learned a lot about how I operate as a part of a project team, how to accept guidance from others with more knowledge and experience than me, and how to push through in times of frustration. I was reminded of how thankful I am for the opportunities I have had and the people I’ve met throughout my life. I was humbled through constant exposure to the depths of science, even for something as specific as one very distinct region of the body. Additionally, as the summer went on, I recognized in myself a lack of confidence that could prove inhibitory in my future endeavors. Overall, this summer helped me to grow as a student, a researcher, and a person, in professional and personal ways.
3. There was not a singular event or interaction that made me realize that I might not want to do research, but rather, the combination of many things, none of them specific to the lab I was working in or the subject matter I was studying. Research requires an incredible amount of patience; a single experiment can take months (or even years) and even then might not yield results. One thing that I learned this summer that really surprised me was that research is not something from which you can ever really “go home”. Outside of time spent in the lab itself, research requires many hours of reading previous research and writing papers or grant applications.
As I was exploring my options for graduate schools and career paths, I realized that what I was most interested in was clinical engineering or rehabilitation engineering—engineering disciplines that will allow me to interact with the patient population. My passion lies in helping to better people’s lives, and I want to do this in a tangible way. Through my research this summer, I learned how much work has to go into researching something before it can move into a clinical setting. In the future, however, I think that I would prefer to work in the later stages of such projects, so that I can see the effects that my efforts on having on people and their lives.
This summer, I was exposed to different personalities, work ethics, and approaches in the others working in my lab. One of my lab mates and I had opposite approaches to pretty much everything. While I am more likely to ask questions every step of the way, my lab mate is much more confident and is willing to take some risks. I admired this quality and realized the value in finding a balance between confidence and caution.
4. All of these changes are valuable as I continue forward in my life. Throughout my summer of research, I not only learned technical lab skills, but also had my eyes opened to my passion for people and my need to consider my career goals. These three things combined will influence my actions throughout the next couple of years. Now that I have research experience, my goal for next summer is to secure an internship in an industry position. Afterwards, I will be able to compare research and industry to see which better fits my skills and interests. If I decide to go to graduate school, my research experience will look good on my applications and provide me with a base skill set to continue to develop. If I decide to go into industry, my research has provided me with real world context to many of the things that I learn about in my classes. No matter where I end up, my understanding of the processes involved in the early stages of research will grant me a greater appreciation of what it took to get to where we are in biomedical advances today.