STEP Reflection: Research Assistant in the Department of Biomedical Engineering

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 involved working as an undergraduate research assistant in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Over the summer, I contributed to a study of the effects of low-intensity vibration on skeletal health. In addition to working a full-time job as a research assistant, I worked a part-time job at the Chittenden Veterinary Clinic, and I lived off campus for the first time.

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.

This summer helped me learn more about two major aspects of myself: my perspective of research and my ability to live independently. I learned a lot about the inner workings of research projects, and realized that I enjoy how rewarding the work is when all of the information you read and gather can be directly applied to investigating real-world problems. Research experiences are such different learning experiences from classes because in class you learn information in order to apply it to doing well on an exam. During research, all the information you learn is directly related to the problem you are trying to investigate and helps you get closer and closer to a solution. It completely changed my perspective on learning; I found myself curious to learn more, and exploring new information on tangents as I continued to expand my knowledge of the subject matter.

Living independently this summer in an off-campus house without the ease of a dining plan or the comfort of a dorm seemed intimidating at first, but I soon learned that it’s not as difficult as I was originally imagining. I learned important time management skills including how to make time to cook during the week while balancing work, spending time with friends, and making time for recreation. I also learned about the different aspects of living in a house with 5 other people including not-so-equally distributing household chores and day-to-day interactions with people other than a roommate or dorm floor.

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 research position I had over the summer was my first position to give me a large responsibility in my contribution to the project. Rather than helping with tech work carrying out the experiment, I learned a lot about the process of planning for an experiment. Before the study began, we read relevant literature, gathered information on the most effective experimental methodology, and determined the equipment we’d require. Not only did I learn a lot about the beginnings of a research study, but I also became well versed in the subject matter of the effects of high-frequency, low-amplitude vibration on bone development, as well as histological analysis of fluorochrome labels. During the actual experiment, I learned about proper sterile lab techniques, lab mouse handling, and maximizing efficiency of procedural tasks. Along with the benefits of research, the people I worked with made the experience infinitely more enjoyable and made me look forward to going to work every day. The casual relationships with my professor, doctoral student, and fellow undergraduate researcher developed into relationships that I truly value today.

My summer house’s distance from west campus was overcome by finally having a car, which also contributed to ease of buying groceries, running errands, visiting home, and traveling places to have fun. Since I had never cooked for myself before, I was forced into the situation by necessity. My savior was my all-knowing roommate, an amazing cook who taught me everything I needed to know from what ingredients to buy at the grocery store to how to prepare all of it. After overcoming the annoyances of living with a large number of people, like the sink always being full of dirty dishes or the trash always being full, I learned that I enjoy always having someone around the house to hang out with toward the end of the day and on weekends.

My part-time job at the vet clinic also contributed to my development of my time management skills. Working late nights and weekends was stressful and tiring, but rewarding in the end. In addition to improving my clinical skills and knowledge, I also formed valuable relationships with another wonderful group of coworkers. Working in a vet clinic helped me learn more about the valuable skills of running a vet clinic such as treating animals, keeping the pharmacy stocked, and generally keeping the clinic clean and functioning efficiently.

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 summer felt like my transformation into adulthood. I had my first full-time job along with managing a part-time job, and I lived off campus for the first time. My research position helped me develop valuable professional and personal relationships with faculty and fellow students. It also helped me realize that I really enjoy research, and it has opened up biomedical research as a potential future career path. I learned how to cook pretty decent meals, and overall to perform all the necessary duties required for living. My STEP experience helped me develop academically, professionally, and personally, and I had a lot of fun in the process.

STEP Reflection 10.08.17

  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 Step project consisted of me working in a research lab over the summer to study the biomechanical forces involved in the cervix to prevent pre-mature birth. To study this I had to learn how to use COMSOL modelling software, and try to model the cervix to the best of my knowledge from current papers and ongoing research.

  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.

While completing my STEP Signature Project, I had learned how much work actually goes into a research project. Most of the time during this project, I spent learning how to use the software and be able to code with it. Even with my efforts I was not able to create something sufficient enough that could be used in the field, but it showed me how almost every single engineering aspect in my education can be used in modelling software. This project also gave me insight into the community of university research and how competitive it is. To be able to fund anything you must prove a research model first as many labs run on grants. To continue to receive funding, research must be fast paced, as competition with other labs may impair ones research.

  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.

One of the most common interactions I had were the weekly lab meetings with the whole lab. It was very interesting to see how a lab communicated in a professional setting as they solved lab related problems as a team. A common day would include everybody giving an update on their own projects in a sequential order. If anybody had a conference or presentation, they would present their project in a more professional way and constructive comments about the presentation were provided to improve their presentation. Overall the lab meetings were always productive, and no time ever went to waste.

An activity that most of my project included was programming and working on COMSOL. I spent countless hours studying how to create models, how to program certain objects, and studying already made models to understand how COMSOL worked. My particular problem of modelling the cervix included me reading many research papers to better understand the correct biomechanics of the cervix. Throughout my struggle I learned to appreciate research a lot more, and how much time is dedicated to even a small model like mine.

These events affected me by teaching me how hard working a researcher truly is. To be able to succeed a team of individuals must be working together and fast enough to get a result. It was mesmerizing to see a real lab perform as a team, and discuss lab challenges, even my projects problems. The criticism they gave was very important to everybody’s improvement, and I even saw improvement in my own project by others helping me tackle my challenges.

Other interactions included one on one meetings with the lab advisor which allowed me to grow as a researcher more. Since many of the problems that I faced regarding my model were tough to solve, I was able to learn from my lab advisor by showing me examples

  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.

This transformation is significant to my life because it allowed to me to learn and experience what a researcher does. This perspective allows me to decide if I want to further pursue research as a possible field that I may want to get into. Since I am a biomedical engineering major with a focus on pre-med, I have the option to also do research as my future career or my academic future. Since I would like to go to medical school, this opportunity for research was beneficial for me as I learned I am interested in the research division of medicine. This lead me to learn that there are PhD/MD medical school programs, and I have become more interested in attend a PhD/MD program than just a MD program.

STEP Reflection

Type of Project: 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.

 

  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.

 

  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.

 

  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.

 

 

  1. As part of my STEP project, I worked in a summer research lab at Ohio State under the guidance of Dr. Anne Strohecker. Dr. Strohecker’s lab focuses on autophagy, an intracellular mechanism that are responsible for regulating many diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s. I learned many lab research techniques throughout my experience, and am continuing working in the lab this fall.

 

  1. One primary realization I came to during my STEP Signature project was that regarding how competitive research is, and how exactly difficult it is to receive funding. PI (principal investigators) are constantly writing grants, whether they be to the NIH or a third party. Obtaining these grants is extremely difficult due to the sheer amount of other research labs also applying for the same ones, and proposals must be extremely polished and substantiated to even fare a small chance. In addition, renewing grants requires displaying significant amounts of data, with multiple trials for each experiment. I didn’t previously realize how intense research was at the university level, as well as the sense of urgency expected each day. Consequently I have made sure that I am always ready to work when I arrive each day, and move fast and efficiently.

 

 

Another change was that regarding my sense of autonomy. I have usually always considered myself a relatively independent person, but at the same time most of my schoolwork and experiences have been dictated in terms of being regimented and having to follow instructions. While there are indeed protocols for certain experiments, research is fundamentally focused on solving new issues and developing plans to solve tasks. This requires quite a deal of independent creativity, and constant tweaking through trial and error. Throughout the summer experience, I have grown significantly in this aspect, and am confident to be creative.

 

  1. While I had heard from both my PI and fellow colleagues regarding the competitiveness of the research world, most of these were words, and my perception was merely theoretical. That all changed one day late in the summer, when I noticed that a nearby lab was moving a large number of items and equipment from one of their bays. Upon asking a member of that lab what the cause of commotion was about, he informed me that his lab’s stream of funding revenue had come close to drying up, and that they were forced to downsize their lab as a result. The friend was obviously downcast, and he sounded bitter as he said that a layoff might be imminent if the drought continued. This shocked me, as I knew that the lab was an upstanding lab that had quality members. However, they had not generated enough publications, and thus were punished. This could be something as simple as just not having experiments work, through no fault of their own. They work just as hard as any other lab, but are punished regardless. I found this inherently unfair, but soon realized that this is an unfortunate reality of research today.

 

Regarding the sense of urgency in research, the adage of “experience being the best teacher” once again held true. While there are indeed bouts of leisure, one must be hyper-efficient with their time. Everyone has a job and is ultimately expected to deliver results to contribute to the well-being of the lab. While everyone in my lab does a great job and has a great balance, there are others in other labs who do not treat their time in lab as a priority, and can often be found on their phones; they also would come late and leave early. For one such friend, his PI was known for being an extremely nice person, so I assumed that the behavior was tolerated. However, after two months I was informed that the student was laid off. I was initially surprised and expressed my sentiment to my mentor, but she explained to me how much time and money was invested in each person to train them and weather through their inevitable trial and error. If they continued to not deliver, then ultimately they represented a net loss for the lab. I was then fully cognizant of the situation, and remarked to myself to never let my guard down.

 

For the bulk of my hours in lab during the summer, I worked during the day, while everyone else was in lab; if I had a question or clarification, I could ask my mentor, or another person in lab. However, one day I had to spend a late evening in the lab due to the constraints of my experiment, and found myself completely alone. Part of my experiment involved culturing my cells and seeding them for a next-day step. However, my plans took a turn when the cells appeared to be inexplicably dying. My first instinct was to notify my mentor, but I quickly realized that I was alone. After a brief second of panic, I took a deep breath and analyzed the situation. I walked through the entire process, and made a quick optimization to compensate for the cell death. I noted the change in my notebook and proceeded along with the experiment. I did not know if I was 100% correct, but trusted my judgement. The next day, I experienced a great sigh of relief, as my mentor informed me that I did indeed make the right call. The overall day taught me that I do not indeed need to rely on other personnel, as I had grown comfortable enough in lab to be able to self-direct myself.

  1. The growth in my autonomy and self confidence is luckily a skill that is not just applicable to lab, but something that is transferrable to all other aspects of my life. From time to time, I tend to have self-doubt while engaging in tasks. This slip in confidence can impede me from proceeding with something through which I otherwise would be totally prepared to do. It is merely a mental correction, but the benefits would be huge. In addition, I have become even better this summer at honing my overall productivity and efficiency, and can apply these skills to my life, whether they be through studying faster, learning dancing moves faster, or finishing projects more efficiently. I can then repurpose the accrued extra time to even more beneficial tasks, whether they be recreational or educational.

 

STEP Reflection: Undergraduate Research with LSVR

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 was to conduct research with the Laboratory of Sound and Vibration Research at the Ohio State University. The research I conducted involved measuring the vibrations produced by a driving car using an accelerometer.

Slam Stick Accelerometer Enginer Block Mount

Slam Stick Accelerometer Driving Data

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.

One of the largest changes that came about from this project was that this shaped my view of research in academia. I went in with an expectation of that similar to how labs were performed in my classes. But, I learned that research is a lot more open ended than a lab. This opened up my view of research. Before, I thought that research was very narrow and specified, because applying to research positions often came from very focused research positions. But, doing research myself showed me how open it could be.

The research I conducted also defied my expectations on the level of freedom I would get. I expected to work under the professor a lot more and have more guidance with projects. I ended up getting a much more self-guided project, where I could work at my own pace. This had its pros and cons, but it definitely helped me see what it was like to have a hands-off research position. Overall, the research I did for STEP has helped inform me on what engineering research was like and if I want to pursue it in grad school.

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 view of how open ended labs were changed because the assignments I got during my research. I was given the task of collecting vibration data on a car using different road surfaces, given an accelerometer, and had nearly the rest of the experimental design in my own hands. I had to make a multitude of decisions on my own about the experiment – where in the car to mount the accelerometer, the settings of the accelerometer, the routes to drive, etc. This was a positive thing a lot of the time, but it also had its setbacks. I had to redo aspects of the experiment sometimes because of incorrect methodology and other limitations that I did not know before going into it.

Another thought that changed was that I learned that research was not necessarily as narrow and specified in the early stages, but this happens as the research goes along. A lot of times, it seemed like the meetings with my professor would just be spent coming up with how to use the previously collected data. This adaptability in the research showed me how these research ideas evolve from simpler experiments. Based on the data received from mounting the accelerometer on the inside of my car, the next experiment was done with the accelerometer mounted near the tire to reduce the shock absorption that showed up in the data.

The open ended-ness of my research was due to my professor having a partnership with a corporate company so that I could only meet with him once a week. This left me with a lot of independence in my research. This was probably a good thing for the future or research, as more and more of my research will be independent as I get to graduate level. The downfall of this is that I had to sometimes re do some of the trials if an aspect of them were wrong. For example, my first tests of gathering vibrations from driving was sampled at too low of frequency, setting me back about 20 hours of experimentation. This was a good test in adaptability though, as I had to conduct similar trials to the first in a different environment, because I did not have access to the original roads that I used the second time around. This open ended-ness of my research taught me of the importance of being an adaptive with your research.

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 transformation of my view of research is very relevant to me because I want to go to grad school for engineering. By delving into engineering research, I will have an easier time getting started with the research, as I already am familiar with the process of how to set up experiments, record the experiments, and communicate them to a professor. The experience I had will also help me decide what type of research I will want to look for in the future. At the moment, I want to make sure that my future research projects are under a more present professor so that I can ask questions and take the research faster in the beginning. Also, I will make sure that I get research positions where I am not working as an assistant researcher, because I like the freedom of being able to construct my own experiment.  Overall, my STEP research project has made me more sure of my choice to pursue graduate school and a future in research.