Hawaii Coral Reef Research Experience

For my STEP signature project, I traveled to O’ahu, Hawaii to participate in a coral reef field study. For four weeks, I worked as a research assistant for the Grottoli lab group (OSU School of Earth Sciences) and helped to complete a 3-year long study of the affects that increasing oceanic temperature and pH have on coral reef populations. During this time, we took measurements of photosynthesis, respiration, and feeding rates of dozens of coral fragments that had been exposed to different pH and temperature conditions for extended periods of time.

This experience taught me how to apply prior knowledge to real-world problems. I began to make connections that I hadn’t before and to draw conclusions from past lectures that I had originally memorized and never given another thought. These skills and new-found love of learning have accompanied me into a new semester. I find myself making even more of these connections, between classes and even with my past research experience. I go to class with a determination that I’ve never experienced.

Another thing that this experience has taught me is that research is hard. I was able to witness first-hand how difficult it is to pursue a PhD. I was shocked by the number of unpaid, unacknowledged hours that are spent simply trying to answer a question. Although it is difficult, I can see how it can also be rewarding. We as a society wouldn’t have gotten very far without the almost insane determination of our researchers.

I feel lucky to know a few of those crazy researchers. Throughout the trip, it was humbling to realize that I was surrounded by remarkable people. These people had the work ethic, leadership skills, and dedication needed to complete such a massive project. I am so grateful that I was able to learn from them.

In the future, this project will aid me in my vet school application, my knowledge of research processes, and in future career/learning exploits. Also, its a pretty awesome conversation starter.

STEP Signature Project: SBS-Microbial, Infection & Immunity lab

The STEP Signature Project I chose to do this past semester was in the research lab I have been working in over the summer. The main goal of this research project is to determine if vitamin D modulates IL-34 and inflammatory cytokine responses in the CNS. In a larger context, we (the research lab) are investigating if early life vitamin D plays a role in the susceptibility of Multiple Sclerosis.

While I was undergoing my STEP Signature Project, I was able to get a better aspect of what medical research looked like. As a student exploring options in medicine, it was an interesting and fun experience working in the lab. I have shadowed doctors and worked in a clinic before, but I’ve always wondered what happens behind the scenes, such as research on animals, lab work, etc.. In my research project, I was able to experience all that and much more. One of my favorite tasks was to remove brains out of mice, an experience I will never forget. Completing the STEP Signature Project has opened a new door for me after graduation. It is definitely an option I could see myself pursuing.

As a Neuroscience major, I am constantly learning about the brain, many different diseases, and how they affect us. However, I don’t enjoy being stuck in a classroom all the time. The most convenient part of this whole experience while working in a research lab was the flexibility. I was able to work around my schedule and go in whenever I want. This didn’t put any pressure on me and allowed me to schedule things I needed to complete more easily.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking a break from class and going to the lab, especially because it is such a different environment. My lab had many hands-on components of the project and it has helped me learn better than just listening to a lecture. During my time in the lab, I was exposed to a wide variety of skills. To list just a few, RNA/rtPCR, Animal Husbandry, Tissue preparation, Data Analysis, ELISA, and cell culture. The skills I’ve learned are not only important for this specific research lab but are easily applicable to other research labs.

The relationships I have made while working in a research lab are tremendously helpful. I was able to make new friends, not only with some of the undergraduates but also the graduate students and the post-docs. Having a close connection with the other researchers could potentially open new doors for me in other research labs, where I can continue and apply the skills I’ve gained.

One of my main goals as I first started college was to work in a research lab. I’ve always wanted the hands-on experience because it is something I enjoy and helps me learn well. I dream about being a neurosurgeon or a plastic surgeon but that is way far ahead in the future. However, my STEP Signature Project gave me a slight taste of what it felt like. Although it’s not nearly the same as an actual neurosurgeon, there were times where I felt like I was. Removing the entire brain or dissecting the hippocampus out of a tiny, day-old mice gave me the adrenaline rush many that people seek for. I was conducting research on a deadly disease and at the same time, I was always excited and never bored doing it. I believe that this STEP opportunity gave me something very valuable because I learned that this is something I very much enjoy doing, expanded my knowledge in the field, and a potential career path.


Andrea Grottoli Coral Lab Signature STEP Project

The STEP Signature Project I decided to do was a research project already existing in the College of Earth and Sciences. This project studies the affects of ocean acidification and climate change on different biological qualities of corals such as respiration, feeding, and photosynthesis. These are all important factors when studying how bleaching events affect corals and how corals can be resilient and continue to grow in the face of stress.

When I first joined the lab I had little or no experience in the research field. I learned quickly just how much work it takes to successfully complete a project. Many of the graduate students had been working on their projects for three or more years and had not published their findings because they still had data to collect or analyze. The amount of hours they put into the projects was astronomical and I don’t think anyone outside of the field really takes a moment to think about that. I began to understand that this field of work was full of unbelievably talented and hard working individuals that put their blood, sweat, and tears (sometimes literally) into their work.

When I got to the field institute, it was straight to work for the next five weeks. I began to understand that I had the mental capability to work long hours every day for more than a week. I learned more and more everyday about how sometimes work was not necessarily physically exhausting (although sometimes you don’t realize how tired you are until the end), but more of a mental game than anything. Counting thousands of zooplankton a night, reading off even more numbers, and doing the same thing day and night begins to wear on the mind. Looking back I realize that this experience has shown me the capability I have to continue, to not give up, and to do hard work without complaint. More than anything, this experience has been an unbelievable professional development opportunity and has taught me what the professional world can be like.

During my time in Hawaii doing field work, the work hours and people there really helped bring about an understanding of how I am as a teammate and worker. I have realized I am a “get at it” kind of worker, in truth, we all were. We all just got to it and that’s the only way we got the amount of work we had to do done in five weeks. The transformation I saw in myself wasn’t exactly a light-bulb moment, it was more of a, “chisel away at the old pieces to see what is underneath,” kind of transformation. I believe the work ethic was always there, but it was the mental resiliency that really came about, and I attribute that to the people I had the pleasure to work with.

This project has made me realize the direction of my career and the relationships I’ve made here will (and have) helped me look for future opportunities in related fields. I believe this experience has kick started a variety of potential opportunities coming to me in the next year or so and I am beyond grateful.

Looking ahead I know that the work ethic, mental resiliency, and contacts I have made during this project will always stick with me. The understanding that although I may not be looking to make a career out of research I know that I can bring the skills and qualities I have developed through the STEP signature project to any career I pursue. This really has been a transformation for me because now I know that even when I’m unsure or nervous about what I’m getting myself into I can see it through to the end.

More than anything this has been a learning experience. That is why it has been so valuable. I was able to learn that I can make an impact on a project, work consistently, and enjoy the work all at the same time. I also learned that I can be on my own thousands of miles away from anyone or anywhere I really knew. Going into the project, the group had not really gotten to know each other but throughout the duration of the experience we all became friends and learned a lot about each other. This showed me that I can take a leap into the unknown and come out okay. The STEP signature project relates to my life in all aspects and will always be apart of me wherever I go.

STEP Signature Project- Analyzing Mechanisms of Cancer Metastasis

Over the past semester my STEP project was to work on undergraduate research in the research lab I have been working in. My research project was focused on analyzing different factors that contribute to cancer metastasis on a micro level. Because my research was unpaid, I used my STEP money to cover living expenses.

While completing my STEP signature project, I was able to get a very good picture of what the field of academic research looked like. This was a great opportunity to gauge whether or not I want to pursue a more research approach to medicine after I graduate or if I want to remain more clinical. I was also able to acquire a vast array of research skills such as extracting and culturing bone marrow cells in a mouse model, performing immunohistochemistry protocol, and performing qualitative polymerase chain reaction and reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction protocols. These skills will help me as I continue on my path to medical school and being a doctor. Aside from the actual research procedures and information I learned along with them, creating my STEP poster has helped me learn how to compile and put together all of my research findings. This is a skill I will need when I present at future events such as the Denman, and when I apply for future research grants/opportunities.

Although the actual project itself helped me realize I can really enjoy bench work in a laboratory setting if I am passionate about the subject matter, this experience also helped me develop in other ways. One of these ways was to actually begin to live as an adult. Since I was out of the dorms and had the STEP money to pay for my living expenses I was able to budget my money, go grocery shopping on my own and be in charge of paying my utilities and rent on time all without the direct supervision of my parents. For me this was really important because although I was 20 years old, I still really didn’t feel like an adult. In a few years I will going to medical school and will be in charge of everything all by myself. I could be as far away as Texas for medical school and although I know I can always count on my parents for advice and help, I feel learning to live more independently has aloud me to mature greatly. Without a doubt my project that STEP helped me complete has helped me develop into a more mature person.

Over the course of my project I was fortunate enough to continue to strengthen great relationships I have made in my research lab. The relationships I have with my project advisor and with the graduate student in my lab have helped me tremendously in expanding my understanding of the field of cancer research as a whole. I have learned so much in regards to the mechanisms and pathways that cancer uses to spread along with how different genes play different role in induction. My relationships throughout this project have definitely helped me feel more comfortable with discussing research in an academic setting and have helped me to improve professionally.

On a personal level there were many different things that I felt helped me mature. Among these was opening up a credit card in order to begin to build a line of credit. This is something that will be incredibly helpful in the future as I will need to take out loans for medical school, a house, and a car. Keeping track of and paying my rent and utilities on time also helped me develop independently and keep track of my responsibilities. During this project I also learned the importance of building a budget, and applying that budget. All of these experiences have helped me develop skills I will need once I graduate and become independent.

In terms of professional development, there were many experiences throughout my project that I felt helped facilitate my transformation. Specifically, building my poster and monitoring my progress throughout my research helped me gain experience with tracking and preparing research. This helped me develop more academic responsibility. Also, I know presenting my research at the STEP expo will help me further develop my public/professional speaking skills which I know will be very helpful for my future.

The changes and transformation I experienced as a result of STEP project have helped prepare me for my future goals in a number of ways. First, my project helped me mature and take steps to live independently once I graduate college. This was probably the most transformative part of my experience. Second, my project helped me visualize how I want research to be a part of my life as a doctor. My project made me realize that I am very passionate in the field of oncology and that is something that I will definitely carry with me as I continue on my path of becoming a doctor. Finally, my project helped me develop and improve my academic literacy. My experience has allowed me to discuss cancer research on much deeper level along with helping me become more familiar with the different aspects of scientific research in general. Through STEP, I feel that this experience helped me mature both personally and professionally, and that my path to my goal of becoming a physician is as clear as ever.STEP Research Picture-t27qsn

STEP Reflection: Nisonger Center Research

During the summer and fall semester of 2017, I began a volunteer research position at the OSU Nisonger Research Center. The main focus of the research I was working on was to test alternative methods of helping children on the autism spectrum. These included essential oils for quality of life, probiotics for GI problems, investigative medicine compared to placebo medicine, neurofeedback study and the study of molindone for severe aggression.  Though there were many different areas of this research, I worked most closely with Taylor Wong who was a BS Clinical Research Assistant.

While completing my STEP project, my view of the autism disorder was completely transformed. Previously, I just saw the disorder as kind of this abstract idea that I hadn’t really seen up close in a clinical setting. Previously seeing it in a classroom setting was a totally different perspective. I was able to learn different methodologies in clinical research and became familiar with protocols and data collection. The fact that I was able to see the data from a one on one perspective it allowed me to put a more concrete idea to the disorder. Collecting data changed my whole idea of how I thought of children on the spectrum because I could see that they were more than their disorder. They are able to be analyzed which allows for change. Researching these disabilities allows us to see that there is a way to help these individuals which can give many people hope that they never would have had.

I had one interaction in which I was playing with a patient while his mom was speaking to a clinician. This experience led to the transformation that I felt because I was able to put the disorder to the data. The data was no longer just numbers on a paper or computer, the data was this little boy. It was amazing to basically see the numbers come to life. It made taking the data that much more rewarding because it wasn’t just tedious work, it was worth while.

This transformation is significant for my life because I plan to continue my career in psychology. I might go into applied behavior analysis and work with children on the autism spectrum so this opportunity has further allowed me to see what I’ll be doing in the future. I plan to get my PhD which will require me to take and analyze a lot of data which was the majority of my work during this project. My project has also broadened my understanding of the disorder which will in turn better me as a person and be able to educate others.

STEP Reflection – Investigating Irregular CHH Methylation Patterns

William Powers

Undergraduate Research


For my STEP Signature Project, I conducted undergraduate research in the fields of biophysics and bioinformatics. I worked with Reduced Representation Bisulphite Sequencing (RRBS) to investigate methylation in DNA. Methylation is an epigenetic factor with important links to cancer and other diseases. For my project I investigated the significance of methylation in the infrequent CHH context.

Conducting research for my STEP Signature Project helped me learn about the process of scientific research and what a career in a research oriented field could look like. Before my STEP project, I had minimal experience with scientific research.  Now that I have some experience with research, I have more confidence in myself and I feel ready to pursue graduate school. Additionally, I learned much about doing data analysis on large data sets using high performance computing. These skills are adaptable to many fields besides bioinformatics. I am considering studying either biophysics or astronomy in graduate school. Computational skills are highly relevant in both fields

For my research, I primarily worked on data analysis. I would analysis data sets consisting of nearly 40 million reads. To process this by hand would be impossible, so I used the resources of the Ohio Supercomputer Center. To do this I had to learn how to write scripts to run data analysis software on the supercomputer. I also had to write code to interpret the processed data. And in a few cases, I had to write the some of the analysis code myself. These skills are valuable, and not limited to bioinformatics. Much research in physics and other sciences now involves large data, and relies on computers to process data.

Throughout my research, I had to report on my progress at biweekly group meetings. By attending group meetings, I improved my presentation skills. Due to conflicts with my courses, these meetings could not last long, so I learned how to succinctly and effectively communicate a message. I learned how to effectively present data and figures in a way that is easily and quickly understood. I also used this time receive advice and constructive criticism from other group members, and to collaborate on our various projects.

While the general topic of my research remained the same throughout the project, the details of it changed significantly. In a project that another undergraduate researcher was working on, there was an unexplained phenomenon in the data related to DNA methylation. Certain samples exhibited bizarre patterns in CHH context methylation. As we looked into this project, it turned out that it was related to the topic of my research. This then became the major focus of my project, and could yield publishable results. This experience demonstrated the importance of collaboration, and furthermore the importance of flexibility in research. The research process generally does not follow a straight path, and can lead to unexpected discoveries.

After I graduate, I plan to go to graduate school in either biophysics, or astronomy. The data analysis and computer skills I learned from my STEP project will be valuable in either field. More importantly, having experience in research has shown me some nuances I did not expect in research. Now that I have experience in research, I know what to expect and what to look for in these research-heavy graduate programs. Thanks to my STEP project I now feel more confident in my career plans.