STEP Reflection: Project SWEAT

My STEP Project was a research position on the main research team for Project SWEAT here at OSU. Over the summer, we conducted interviews with several families with children enrolled in local Columbus City elementary schools in order to study the weight gain of children over the summer. We began by recruiting families at the schools to participate in the study in May and throughout the summer we meet at their homes or other places on three different occasions for roughly 2 hours at a time to take food inventory, perform standardized tests with the kids, and question their recreational and eating habits.

This project was initially somewhat intimidating for me as I would be going into urban areas of Columbus asking very personal questions to people who I had never met. To say that these interactions changed my perspective of others would be an understatement. Growing up I was blessed with 2 loving parents who provided me with a life full of privileges that I am grateful for. I was rarely exposed to environments that differed from my own and thus had preconceived notions of those who lived differently that I did. These preconceived ideas and stereotypes that I once held were shattered this summer when I did my first interview with Project SWEAT.

These families lived in low income neighborhoods with neighbors so close you could see inside from one living room to another. They often lived off food stamps and would have fridges and pantries with little to no food sometimes. Originally I could not imagine growing up like this but overtime I noticed their appreciation for things that I took for granted and it was extremely humbling. Perhaps the greatest change in my ideals came from talking with the children. These kids had no idea that their parents were struggling to get by and they seemed just as happy if not more happy than I remember being as a child. Their quality of life wasn’t based upon what they had, but who they had. I realized soon that this in fact was the best and most fulfilling way to live life. They were some of the most accepting and kind people I have ever met even though they had very little. They appreciated each other and not material goods which is I like to believe rubbed off on me and my ideals. While I was supposed to be helping these people in the long run through this research, they ended up helping me almost immediately.

One interaction that sticks out was one of my last interviews toward the end of the summer. This family had 4 children in the study, none of which who were biological siblings but were all adopted. During this interview I had asked about their activity level and one of the kids began talking about playing outside but upon further questioning, I was told they had 1 basketball and a mini trampoline. As I was questioning how they would play outside so much with such little equipment his brother came around the corner with two sticks tied together with rope and called them nunchucks and he proceeded to play with them for 2 hours. This experience really hit me as I realized that these kids enjoy life just as much as others even if they have less. While they may have a more difficult living situation they are still children and have no problem finding fun with what they have.

Another experience I had was more related to the focus of our research. In July while conducting an interview with a single mother and her two daughters I was completing a food inventory and noticed that they had less than 10 items in their refrigerator. Although I had to hide my emotion for the sake of the research and its integrity, I was truly saddened to see such a thing in the home of such amazing people. As I was completing the interview my partner and I were caught off guard when the mother offered us dinner. We denied but she insisted we eat with them. This was one of the most eye opening experiences this summer. She had so little yet insisted that we eat her food that she made to be polite. Her kindness and selflessness brought about a feeling in me that it difficult to explain. Judging people on their income, “quality of life”, or social status was now, to me, the most ignorant thing one could do.

The last thing I will take with me from this research was the work I did with my team and the PhD candidate in charge of everything. Throughout the summer there were countless interactions between myself and others where we had to adapt to changes in the research because of its nature. Families would cancel, plans would change, data would be missing. All of these things taught me that in community research you have to be understandable and flexible in order to get accurate results. This is experience that I hope to take with me into medicine and dealing with real people. While research in a lab is fantastic, I believe the skills that I gained will help me immensely in the future when having to consult patients and work with them in order to achieve mine and their goals in regards to their well-being.

That being said, I know that this research experience greatly prepared me for my future in medicine. The first thing I learned was not to be judgemental of others and approach others with no predispositions or assumptions about them. When meeting patients and their families, I hope to be as kind as the mother who offered me food and as grateful as the children playing with sticks in my approach. I want them to feel like I want them to be there and not that they need to be there. I hope these experiences and relationships will help further this love for others that I have and continue to change the person I am for the better.

The next thing that I gained from this experience that will directly help in the future were the need for strong attention to detail as well as my ability to adapt to changing situations. As a physician, I know that I will be required to listen closely to patients to diagnose them or focus strongly during surgeries and collecting this data helped me tune these skills. During interviews I had to pay diligent attention to everything that was being told to me in order to answer each question with accuracy. Along with this, I had to be able to adjust the questions and my mannerisms based on the situation that I was in order to not offend any of the participants when asking the very personal questions.

Working with Project SWEAT this summer was something that has undoubtedly changed my outlook on life, view of others, and my personal ideals.

 

 

STEP Reflection- SPR Poster Presentation

  1. Project Description

My STEP Project was to present a research poster at and attend the annual Society for Psychophysiological Research Conference that in 2017 took place in Vienna, Austria. My poster was titled ‘Effects of Misspecifying Respiratory Frequencies on Developmental Shifts in RSA from Ages 8-15 Years’. In short, the research was about how RSA (Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia) generally is incorrectly analyzed in children.

  1. Transformations that Occured

Starting with myself, I never would have imagined myself presenting a poster at an international research conference, even just a year ago, and I never would have imagined it to be as it was. I gained a lot of confidence in myself because I am an undergraduate engineering student presenting at a psychology conference that is annually attended by tenured faculty from across the world. Also, I was told by the people in my lab that I did a good job of presenting and I am also proud of myself that I managed to learn so much about RSA in such a short amount of time (~1 year). In terms of the world, I got to visit Vienna, which I had never been to before. I had only been to Europe once before this trip, but seeing it again and with who I am now (before I was 16 when I visited), I was much abler to appreciate the differences in cultures and appreciate the city a lot more due to where I am in my life now.

  1. Causes and Effects of Transformation

For events, the actual presentation session at the conference and the lecture sessions I attended affected me. I have never before taken a psychology class, so when I was accepted into this lab in August of 2016, it was all a lot to take in. But after a little over one year, I was able to knowledgeably present a poster and understand lecture sessions I attended. So, in terms of transformation this helped me with confidence in my skill set and in the results that hard work can bring. I also learned an incredible amount about RSA in over a year, which is just something that’s cool and it could even help in my future career. For example, if I get a job in a health-related field, knowing how to properly analyze time intervals of heart beat variation, basically what RSA is, in children verses adults, as well as people with and without psychopathy could be a very valuable skill.

For interactions/activities, again seeing Vienna as a city, especially in the middle of semester when everything can begin to build up and be stressful, it was amazing to see another culture and experience it for a few days. It definitely opened my mind to focus more on what is/is not important in the grand scheme of things. For example, grades are obviously important, but I didn’t do too great on an exam a bit before I had left for this conference and I realized it’s okay, it will all work out as long as I keep working hard in my academics. Seeing the world in a very different setting than what I am used to help given me a reassurance that everything in my life will work out okay, as cheesy as that may be. It also helped me reprioritize my life a bit more, and focus my energy on what truly is important.

In terms of relationships, this project helped me grow closer to a few of the graduate students I work with, which I am very grateful for. They are all wonderful people, and I have learned a lot from them, as they were a big part in guiding me through this project and helping me every step of the way. I know I can ask them for anything, and they are all good connections to have in the future. I also met other graduate students and faculty at the conference, which I hope can be good connections in terms of networking.

  1. Transformation Significance

This transformation was valuable in many ways. Firstly, I am much more developed professionally than I was a year ago, or even 6 months ago. I have made networking connections through this conference and I am able to add a poster, and subsequent paper, to my resume. While I’m not certain I want to go into the field of psychology for a career, I am very confident in having it as a back-up career of sorts. While I do want to go into engineering research, it is comforting to know that if something goes wrong and that doesn’t work out, I can still have a stable enough career ahead of me. Academically, this project has challenged me to keep up with academics while using this project to pursue professional avenues for me. Through the entire time I was gone, I kept up with all assignments and turned them all in in a timely manner. And lastly, personally, I was able to experience another culture while in Vienna.

STEP Reflection-OhioMOD Biomolecular Research Team

1.Description of Project

I worked with a team of undergraduates called OhioMOD to participate in research as part of a international competition called BIOMOD. The research took place in Nanoengineering and Biodesign Lab in Scott Laboratory. The research focused on biomolecular technology specifically using DNA origami for drug delivery applications.  Link to project website: http://www.ohiomod2017.club/

2. Transformation

Through this project, I gained a better understanding of academic research and biomolecular technology. Previously I had no research experience and real lab experience. Being in an academic research lab performing experiments and collecting data gave me a better appreciation of this type of work. Also, attending the international competition gave me a broader view of the type of research that occurs around the world. I also learned that research is something that I’m interested in pursuing in the future.

3. Causes of Transformation

For this research project, I worked on a team with 8 undergraduates as well as 2 graduate mentors. We performed experiments over the summer and planned for the international competition. In addition to developing a project, performing experiments, and collecting data, we also had to create a website and video describing our project. Performing experiments and collecting data taught me the importance of patience. Experiments were often tedious and time consuming in addition to not always giving clear results. This project transformed me because I came into this project not knowing about biomolecular research, DNA origami, and general lab practices. Now, I have a decent understanding of these topics and can share my experiences to help me with future opportunities like finding a new lab position or finding a job. Also, I helped create the website for our project which helped me learn about the process of setting up a website, coding, and using GitHub.

Working with a team of motivated people in a research lab was a great way to make connections with people who share similar interests. I made new friends and created new opportunities for myself by meeting people who worked in academic research. Although the project involved hard work, it was a lot of fun working with others towards a common goal. Everyone in the lab was very friendly and excited to tell us about their research projects.  The mentors and other graduate students were very helpful and willing to spend time to answer any questions I had.

Attending the competition was an amazing experience because I got to learn about cool projects around the world that related to the field of research I was involved in these past few months.  It made me realize how awesome this type of technology is and the potential applications it can have. Not only can it be used for biological purposes but also for improving the environment. Learning about other projects gave me a better appreciation of research and made me realize that I was a part of something that could one day make the world a better place.

4. Significance of Transformation

The transformations from this project are significant and valuable to me for my academic and professional goals. I had always wanted to participate in academic research and this project provided me with the opportunity to achieve this goal. Also, having research experience looks great when pursuing opportunities in other labs. In addition, this experience was something that I could put on resume and talk about at interviews. This opportunity gave me valuable experience working with a team on an open ended project. The skills and knowledge I gained from working on this research team will definitely help me with my future endeavors.

STEP Reflection

My undergraduate research experience was with the Molecular Genetics department. My project involved identifying critical amino acid sites in two critical proteins Mps1 and Sas6 that have the ability alter the way the protein function during centrosome duplication. This is a form of cancer research, because an over-abundance of Mps1 results in genetic instability and aneuploidy, which is a hallmark of breast and prostate cancers.

This summer experience has mainly taught me how to troubleshoot failures. If a certain experiment does not go as planned I would have to figure out using diagnostic techniques and critical thinking skills how to fix it. I learned this summer that many times your response to failures allows you to learn more about what you are studying. Many times, while fixing a failed experiment, I learned more about the properties of Mps1 and Sas6. This would translate to my profession as a physician as well. The best physicians must know how to respond to failures and always have a backup plan. You can never give up after a failed diagnosis or a complicated surgery. I learned through this experience the complexity of molecular biology, allowing me to appreciate the field even more. I hope to integrate what I have learned into my career as a physician.

Through this experience, I have gained some very meaningful relationships with my genetics professors and fellow classmates. The best working environments are those where people support each other and assist each other when needed. I am grateful for all of the graduate students who took the time to answer my questions and demonstrate procedures to me. Because of them, I now want to pass on the knowledge I have gained to help others like myself. I have applied to be a teaching assistant for organic chemistry.

Another lesson I have learned involved the importance of the small details. When I first began my project, I found that many times I would miss small details which affected my experiments. Since then, I have learned to keep an organized lab notebook which has every calculation recorded with every procedure written out in full detail. I learned to not be afraid to ask questions, because it is better to ask a question and do an experiment properly. It is important to ask the right types of questions as well. Rather than “I do not understand the process of site-directed mutagenesis”, I learned to ask questions such as “how did you find which amino sites needed to be changed, and can you show me an example on a vector map?”

Lastly, I just gained an extremely in-depth knowledge of my major and its applications through this experience. My research experience has allowed me to excel in biochemistry and upper level genetics classes because I am able to picture the reasons behind basic facts. For example, my genetics exam just tested us on fluorescence microscopy and its applications. I performed indirect immunofluorescence microscopy in my lab, so I was able to answer those questions and develop possible experiments in which this technique can be used.

This things I learned from this experience will surely be applied in my life as a physician. I have come to understand the complexity of human disease, which inspires me to be a physician even more. I have found that I physically loved to perform longer, more hands-on experiments, which I am sure will help me do surgeries and procedures as a physician. Also, the support I have been given from all of the graduate students, teachers, and classmates in the lab as provided for me an outstanding example of teamwork. The best physicians are those with the best teams.