STEP Reflection

Name: Megan Pantaleano

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

My STEP signature project was involvement in undergraduate research for the autumn semester of 2017. The main project I worked on was a mouse study, with a sample size of nine mice. The study looked at the effectiveness of a viral treatment (AAV) on stopping or reversing sarcopenia. I was responsible for conducting the behavioral assays on the mice once or twice a week and compiling and analyzing the retrieved data. I also got the opportunity to view a lot of the other projects completed at the laboratory where I was conducting my undergraduate research.

The largest transformation that I experienced because of this STEP project was my understanding of myself. By doing preclinical work in this laboratory for my STEP project I realized how important it is to me to work toward finding cures and therapies for illness. Doing research towards these outcomes made me feel valued and important. It also showed me that I seek a career in medicine and changed how I viewed my future career path.

Also, this STEP project transformed my view of the world. It gave me such an appreciative and amazing view of the world that I felt I hadn’t really felt before. I understood more my place in the world and felt confident in the good that was present all around me. While in research you are so close to illness, it was the efforts to change those ailments that showed me how positive life can be even in proximity to darkness. Overall, my STEP project clarified all doubts I had as a sophomore and helped me make a confident transition into an upperclassman while transforming my understanding of myself and the world around me.

The three main interactions/activities that led to my transformation I described above are my relationship with my team and PI, my working with the mice as disease models, and the general environment and events throughout my semester in the laboratory.

I got to be able to work with a group of peers and professional to seek out ways to lessen the burden of illness on others. While we may only be one part of the process to creating these therapeutics for the masses it made me see the good in our society. All of the hard work my team is doing makes such a big difference. I worked very closely with my PI. He was the person I sought out to obtain the position in the lab and the person who taught me how to conduct the behavioral assays I was responsible for. He clarified the intent of the study and how physiologically sarcopenia worked. His dedication to his research was something that really stuck with me. It was working with him and other students and professionals that changed how I viewed my future in medicine and how I viewed the world. Seeing the good in these people who worked with illness every day transformed my world view.

Through this project I found out about myself that I also had a real attachment to the mice. While they serve as our models for disease they are often seen as a vessel for learning and treating disease. It wasn’t until I worked with them on such a regular basis that I began to feel a sense of awe when I interacted with them. I often felt introspective. This was because we, as a species, have advanced our scientific knowledge to be able to manipulate the genes of another living creature and use that new creature to our benefit. We translocated a human illness into mice and study and manipulate that disease model to find cures for our own species. I know it may sound odd but being able to do that made me very more understanding and appreciative of life in general. And very simply put, using the mice tugged at my heartstrings. The use of the mice in my STEP project added to my overall experience and transformation in ways I didn’t originally foresee.

Within the lab a lot of work is done on treating disease and trying to find therapeutics for all types of ailments. I found myself being very attached to my work and to learning about the multitude of projects others were working on in the same lab. The laboratory environment bred my curiosity and whenever someone was using a piece of equipment I hadn’t seen before I would ask to observe and learn about their project. I had the opportunity to view many procedures on the mice and to be able to teach my own behavioral assay responsibilities to a student who joined the lab halfway through the semester. I felt like being a part of the lab showed me my love of medicine and the pursuit of knowledge. And I owe that to STEP.

This transformation in my understanding of myself and my world view is so unbelievably valuable because of the impact it has on my future. It relates to my academic, professional and career, and personal goals. Academically, I have created within myself a stronger tie to science and medicine which will be important in my academic future. Because of my STEP project I have decided to commit to Pharmaceutical Science as my major and I intend to continue my education in pharmacy school to pursue a career as a Pharmacist. I really enjoyed the knowledge I gained about drug intervention when working in the laboratory and that changed how I viewed my future career. Also, personally, the positive world view I gained will stay with me forever.

STEP Signature Project- The Identification and Characterization of a Mutation in Zea mays

My STEP Signature Project involved undergraduate research in Hollick Lab which identified and characterized a mutation in the organism Zea mays. My efforts included using molecular techniques like PCR and gel electrophoresis to confirm the unique identity of the required-to-maintain-repression 10 mutation and preparing a RNA pool so that the expression profile of this mutation could later be analyzed.

Throughout the duration of this project, my view of research and the scientific world developed and I had a greater understanding of myself as a scientist. I was required to communicate with a biotechnology company to arrange the preparation and sequencing of an RNA library, which I found to be very valuable in developing my skills in communicating with professionals and making proper arrangements for my goals with this project. I also had the opportunity to use bioinformatic programs developed by other scientists in the field, which taught me about the process of collaboration and how the genetics community works together to drive research forward.

Above all, working on this project has made me a better scientist and I’ve connected with my motivation to do research. Lab work is simply frustrating sometimes. I repeated one procedure over ten times before I was able to see results, and those ten times made me really question if I had the skill to do this work. I now understand my skill in various techniques will always have to improve. I will always find weaknesses within myself, but I must choose to resolve them. Dedication drives these projects forward.

These professional and personal transformations occurred because of the never-ending support and mentorship I receive from my P.I. and the other members of my lab. With their help I was able to navigate communicating with the biotechnology company and deciding the specifications of the RNA library. They have also guided me through the different steps of the project and helped me troubleshoot when I struggled with certain techniques.

The graduate students in my lab have also provided me with a wealth of information about being a student and completing research. I have learned a lot about applying for and being in graduate school, and can see the responsibilities of being of a graduate student first hand.

My personal development as a scientist came in the face of failure, not unlike many other professions. I used to see failure as a judgement on myself or my skills instead of what it really is–feedback. Failure is a sign that something can be improved, which is valuable information when trying to complete a project and answer a research question. It’s not about who made the fewest mistakes when making a discovery, it’s about making that discovery. It was all this effort that went into my project is what made it so fulfilling.

These professional and personal developments are valuable to me as a student, scientist, and just as a person. Undergraduate research is fantastic preparation for graduate school and will help me write an effective application when I apply. It has also helped me develop the skills necessary to be a scientist. Not only have I learned the basic lab techniques used in my field, but I have learned how to make and give an effective presentation during lab meetings and how to communicate scientific ideas through writing. I have learned to be skeptical and use evidence to create and test a hypothesis. These skills extend beyond a career in science–my ability to communicate evidence clearly and effectively will follow me throughout life.

Finally, the personal improvements I’ve made in my time conducting research has been valuable beyond my academic and professional career. My knowledge of a topic or my ability to perform certain techniques in the lab would mean nothing without the dedication I need to bring to my work. I would never complete a project if I couldn’t handle and use failure. Success will begin and end with me, and I’m prepared to do what it takes to find that success.

 

 

While this image may not look like much more than some grey and black lines, these were the data that confirmed this locus defined a unique mutation. With this information, I began the characterization of the mutation now called rmr10.

STEP Reflection: Controlling Müller glia to regenerate the retina

This semester, I worked in the lab or Dr. Andy Fischer studying how the harnessing of cellular signaling in the Müller glia could be used to treat retinal degenerative diseases.  My project sought to study how the NF-KB signaling pathway affected this mechanism of retinal regeneration.  This signaling pathway has been shown to be inactive in proliferating neuronal stem cells, and is activated upon initiation of differentiation, suggesting that it plays a role in mediating this mechanism of retinal regeneration

This project offered me an in-depth view into the world of full time research.  Not only did it allow me to see just how much work goes into completing a project, but also to see how interconnected the research sciences are.  Over the course of this semester, I have had the opportunity to work on animal models, develop new animal models, and to learn more about neuroscience and the retina that I ever could have expected.  Daily, I would meet with my research mentor to discuss the project and what we could do to help to make it stronger.  Every week, my whole lab would read a published article and discuss it as a group.  Each person would be assigned a series of figures that we had to close read and present to the class.  This helped me to increase my confidence in reading, interpreting, and presenting research to a group.  I learned from all of this that I am fascinated with the research process and am interested in pursuing research further in the years to come.

One of the first things that helped me to discover my love of research was my interactions with my lab mentor.  She was the person who initially helped to train me in the techniques that I use in lab daily and has helped me greatly by offering insight on drawing conclusions from data and by making suggestions on further ways to pursue the project.  This helped to show me how far research could go into discovering the intricacies that control retinal regeneration.

One of my favorite things that my lab did this semester was a weekly journal club.  Every week, one of the graduate students in my lab would pick in interesting article related to neuroscience or the retina to read.  Each member of the lab would read the paper and be assigned a figure to present to the lab.  I was able to receive feedback from the members of my lab both on my interpretation of the research and on my methods of presentation that helped me to hone my skills for future research forums.  I discovered that I enjoy telling the story of research projects and building a presentation that allows each piece to be a foundation for the next.  I hope to be soon working to write a manuscript for my project that will allow me to do this for my own research.

Finally, I gained an appreciation of the time and effort that goes into every scientific achievement that is published.  I was able to see firsthand how experiments are carefully planned to give the most accurate conclusions and how the review process allows this research to be doublechecked for everything.  This gave me a new appreciation of how important research and research funding is in creating a healthier world.

This research project has allowed me to grow both as a student and as a researcher.  I have been able to learn both how research is performed and how it can be best represented to display novel discoveries.  I plan to keep these experiences with me always as I pursue my career as a research physician.  I will have a better understanding of how research is performed and will be able to use the skills that I have developed this semester to better interpret newly published discoveries.  This will ultimately help to make be a more successful physician and will allow me to provide the best possible care for my patients.

STEP Reflection OhioMod

Jonathan Baetz
Undergraduate Research

Brief Description of the Project:
The STEP project I participated in was an 8-month research project that concluded with a biomolecular design competition in San Francisco. During the 8 months, I worked with a group of seven other undergrads with two graduate mentors on an optimization project in the department of Nano-engineering and Bio design. Our research involved the usage of a technique known as DNA origami, and its capability to be used as a drug-delivery vehicle. Utilizing the folding technology, we wanted to optimize the best structure to uptake the most cancer treatment drug. And with the knowledge we acquired design a new structure that would be able to take the best elements of each of the structures we tested.

My Projects Influence on My Understanding and How It Changed Me:
While participating in my STEP project I was granted the ability to get a glimpse of the experimental process and participate in the design, experimentation, and presentation of a project. Having the ability to see this first-hand was enlightening. I have always had the curiosity of exploration and discovery. Also, I’m intrigued by the inner-workings of objects and how everything works together. What I did this past summer gave me an insight into the real way things are put to the test. I was given a hand in the inception of a project and my group created an experiment to work together on. I do have to say that seeing the process gave me a lot more insight into just how tedious the process is. Also, it instilled the idea that you really have to think about how much time you have and if what you want to do is actually feasible. While that sounds like a no-brainer, it really is difficult to design a project that is able to be done with time and funding restraints. It takes a lot of prior research and investigation that I did not consider prior to this experience. In addition, I got to see very quickly that practical science is extremely challenging. Often, things do not go as planned and it is very difficult to trace back why and correct the error you had made. Sometimes another issue is that it is not even an error you made, but maybe an error in the sample you used. So I did experience many frustrations while participating in the project.
This experience also allowed me to see just how much can get done in what seems to be a pretty short period of time. When I started the project with my group I felt like we had so little time to complete everything that we wanted. We had a gamut of structures that needed these particular tests done on them and each repeated 3 or more times. So naturally early on the feeling of a time crunch set in. But as time went on I realized that working as a team was very conducive to managing the heavy task at hand. This all may sound very cliché but, not much is done as group projects in college. At least in my experience thus far. In high school, a fair amount of group work is done, but it always feels lopsided in who does the most work and who doesn’t participate enough. My research group allowed me to see how much can get done when there is a group of likeminded students with a strong work ethic. We managed to get everything done that we had set out to accomplish with some time to spare at the end. This cohesiveness that I experienced excites me for my future endeavors and gave me a great idea of what a strong team looks like as well as how it functions optimally.

How the Project Influenced the Change:
Being able to conduct a whole experiment from inception to completion allowed me to experience the tribulations and led to a deeper understanding of the process that I would not have gotten without this opportunity. With the guidance of our mentors we could create something that although daunting was manageable for the 8 months that we had. The idea of looking through other research articles and trying to come up with something testable was new. But reading over other research and discussing it with my group member was very thought provoking. I always wondered how experimenters come up with what they want to test and to be part of the process was very enlightening. I feel like the design of an experiment as well as the format of presentation for the competition increased my creative capacity. The presentation was not a normal formal presentation, but one where the teams tried to engage the audience through skits and interesting presentations. As well as the creation of a short movie and website to showcase the project we had done.
Not only did this project enrich my ideas of what research is but it provided me with a huge expanse of new experiences. Each week I was able to watch a different lab member present updates on their research. My group had the chance to present not only to our lab, but at the competition in front of the other 21 teams. Those experiences were great to practice taming nerves during presentations and to just practice giving large presentations. In addition to presentation experience everyday lab work gave me the chance to learn a great amount of new processes, but also great common lab experience. I became more proficient at correct pipet techniques and performing gel electrophoresis. I was able to watch the loading of different imaging slides. Such as the loading of an electron microscope grids and observing the imaging of the DNA nanostructures we folded.
As I stated before the ability to work with a great team really opened my eyes into what can get done when everyone is excited about what they are doing. I had an amazing group of peers. I was able to network and make connections not only on a personal level, but as well as on a professional level. At our presentation conference in California I met and spoke with many of the other students who participated in the competition. They were from all over the world: Taiwan, Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, etc. My mentors whom I enjoy and appreciate a lot were great. They were always there when we had questions and were great about steering us in the correct direction. Also, they were always personable and were willing to listen to more than just things about the project. These relationships I made with my group and mentors are definitely long lasting.

Significance of the Project:
My STEP experience was important to my life for many reasons. I for a time have considered going to graduate school, and this project gave me a glimpse into what I would be doing. My mentors also were able to give me advice and I could see what their lives were like. This insight into research gives me a better idea of what I would be doing prior to making any large life decisions. Also, the experiences, technology, and protocols that I learned in lab training and while doing my project can be translated into work experiences as well as other labs that I could pursue. The amount of lab experience that this past summer gave me greatly expanded my abilities when it comes to wet lab work. In addition to lab work my group presented to our lab three times and also presented at the competition in California. Although it was a bit nerve racking they were great experiences and at least in the lab presentations we were given constructive criticisms and a lot of feedback. In applying for internships and jobs post college I am excited because of the weight that this experience holds. Additionally, from this experience I have been offered a position on another project within the lab.
This experience has changed my life more than I ever thought it could. From it I have gained so many new friends and connections that I never would have believed I could before. It has provided so many new options for things I can pursue and has given me a huge amount of knowledge and insight. Working in the lab helped to develop more of on the spot decision making skills and helped to increase my lab proficiency. I also learned a lot more about working with others and explaining things in a way that is easy to understand by others. Overall, this experience was extremely enriching and I am so glad that I was able to take a part.

 

Link to our Projects Website: http://www.ohiomod2017.club/