STEP Reflection

STEP Reflection Prompts


Name: Nicholas Craven

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research


  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 involved conducting research in Dr. Wood’s protein lab. Different techniques that I frequently utilized were buffer creation, cell culturing, and protein expression.


  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.

I think I learned the most about myself in a professional sense. I learned that I really love the flexibility working in a lab entails. Also I found that problem solving skills are by the most important because a lot of working on your own project is figuring out what you think is best with little guidance. And a good educated guess saves a lot of time then wild guesses. I also learned the difficulties that I’m going to face while doing research, and how I’m going to have to overcome those to be an effective researcher. For instance, preparation is incredibly important because otherwise it can be very easy to not stick to a schedule and that makes the project tend to drag out much longer than intended. Finally, I also learned the importance of organization. With so much going on at once, being incredibly organized is crucial so you can quickly get the information you need to continue to make effective progress.

  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.

I think I learned the most by tackling this project alone. While working more directly with a graduate researcher like I have in the past, you always have someone else to make the final decision on important problems. Without someone like that, I was forced to face the issues myself and use all of the resources available to me to come up with what I thought was a manageable solution.

Also, talking a lot with the other people in the lab was very helpful. Seeing different methods people employed in their research gave me a lot of good ideas for how I would approach my own work. I also got to learn about others projects and what parts of graduate school I should be looking forwards to and which parts I need to more heavily prepare for.

One of my biggest concerns in the coming future is finding which graduate school that would be the best fit for me. Because of this, having lots of people around who had already gone through that experience was very helpful. I learned about what to look for in schools that would be a good fit, as well as all the different fields that are available to do research in in my field.

  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.

Academically, this transformation and learning has significantly helped me feel more prepared for the coming graduate school experience. I have always known that I wanted to move on to it, but until this project didn’t know fully what that would entail. Being around so many people to look up to and learn from was very impactful on my upcoming decisions and hopefully will lead to me making the best decision possible. Armed with this information I hope will significantly impact my future success in research.

STEP Reflection – Undergraduate Research Focusing on Coral Adaption and Acclimatization to Global Change

For my STEP signature project, I participated in undergraduate research, as a lab assistant for Dr. Grottoli’s Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry Laboratory.  Her lab focuses coral adaption and acclimation to the rise in seawater temperature and ocean acidification due to global climate change.  While her lab covers a large range of topics, looking at changes in the phenotype and genotype of the coral, I mainly worked on preparing samples for isotope testing.

This project was very insightful to the process behind the creation of knowledge and the scientific process.  Most of the science that I have done has been in labs, usually lasting about three hours, and has a predicted objective and outcome.  Another form of science that is familiar to many are scientifically published articles, a few pages that compresses years of research down to less than an hour to read.  The science done in this lab gave me an entirely different perspective.  I was only in this lab for a year, but while I was there, I learned how complicated the process of science really is.  It would take me three hours to turn about six samples of coral slurry into a host and algal sample.  This is only one step in the process of turning the collected samples into data, that could be analyzed and plotted.  Another step in this process was taking these small, metal tins with organic material inside, and folding them up so that their isotope composition could be processed by the mass spectrometer.  This rolling of tins, also was a very time-consuming process, and took about 15 to 20 minutes per tin.  Looking at this in a large scale, multiplying these processes by hundreds of samples, and this creates years of work.  The dedication to science that is needed for new knowledge to be created is tremendous and I am so proud of the people that I have met during this experience, including not only Dr. Grottoli, but her three graduate students, and many lab assistants.

One example of this unwavering dedication was a graduate student, Kerri.  She was working with a total organic carbon (TOC) machine to look at the organic carbon in different samples, but this machine often had many technical difficulties.  This would hinder her progress, but I never ceased to see her in the lab, running other tests, and being in a cheerful mood.  Dr. Gottoli once emphasized that in order to work in the scientific world, you must be able to keep your head down and continue working through all the mishaps, because there will be many throughout the long process of research.

There was also a lot of work that goes into research that is not thought about.  For example, many of the lab assistants and I spent hours on data entry.  Not only is there science that needs to be conducted, but the results need to be organized in a way that they can be easily found and analyzed.  One specific task that was assigned to the lab assistants was to organize different photographs of coral online into folders.  Each coral photo had a corresponding time period, time 1, 5, or 22, all indicating how many months that the coral samples were in treatment.  While it seems like a simple task, there were hundreds of photos and it took weeks to complete, even with multiple people.  Another seemingly basic task that most people do not consider when thinking about science, is the time it takes to clean and sterilize all the supplies.  Again, other lab assistants and I spent many hours cleaning glassware.  This process was very specific, as each piece of equipment had to be washed in three separate baths, dried, and then baked before it could be used.

Not only did I learn the many steps that go into research, I got to learn about the people doing the research.  As the reality of all the different steps and all the time that is necessary for research sets in, it seems like a daunting task that only superhumans are able to take on.  While this soaks in, I also realize that the people doing research are ordinary people outside of the lab, just like you and me.  Dr. Grottoli had lab meetings with only the lab assistants about once a month, and during these meetings, we talked about our lives, we were able to vent, we were able to joke.  These meetings made me see Dr. Grottoli as a mother, as a world traveler, instead of just a research professor.  This awareness that ordinary people can do extraordinary things given a problem to solve and the determination to find answers, has made me realize that I can do anything with the right mindset.  This first-hand account of not only the process of research, but also the people doing research, has given me a deeper appreciation for the scientific community.

Before this experience, I had never really thought about the research process in depth as in society there always seems to be a veil between scientist and non-scientists. Throughout my STEP experience, this veil was lifted.  Now that this barrier has been broken, I have a better understanding of all hard work that goes into the research that I use on a daily basis, for school and work alike.  This insight into how research works and is created also helps me in my professional life.  I am majoring in Environment, Economy, Development, and Sustainability, which connects science and applies it to business and different aspects of society.  With this undergraduate research experience, I have a better ability to use and understand science and apply it to non-scientific aspects of society.  Without this understanding, I would use scientific articles and knowledge, without fully understanding how evidence and theories were proven.

Picture 1: Dr. Grottoli’s lab members at her end of the year lab party.









Picture 2: I am in the process of rolling the tins mentioned above.



STEP Reflection

For my STEP project, I participated in undergraduate research at Ohio State’s Injury Biomechanics Research Center.  My project was to develop a custom MATLAB code that could create stress-strain curves and quantify material properties from dynamic structural tests of individual human ribs.  The next step in the project is to find predictors of material properties.

Over the course of the project, I have furthered my knowledge of the scientific process and learned how to drive a research and problem solving effort.  Through this project I have learned a great deal of perseverance.  At almost every step of the project, I have encountered at least one issue that required me to implement and hone my problem solving skills.  This process has greatly increased my ability not only to problem solve, but to think critically.  This critical thinking ability has applied to both others and myself, and the ability to do this is critical for pursuing science and reasoning what the proper course of action is.  This transformation and growth was a key part of my STEP experience.

When developing a computer code, there is much trial and error, and subsequent problem solving.  In order to write a code that would take the data we had obtained and output the stress-strain curves and model we desired, there were many different steps of data processing and manipulation needed.  Once one portion of the data was formatted and processed in an appropriate manner, the next section needed to be formatted and processed.  There was a great deal of trial and error in each step and significant problem solving that, through each step, honed my skills and strengthened my perseverance.

Throughout the entire process I gained a higher appreciation for the scientific process and expanded my knowledge of how to best pursue it for this process.  Throughout the duration of the project, I had the chance to develop relationships with several primary investigators in the Injury Biomechanics Research Center.  From them, I was able to learn a great deal about how to properly investigate, interpret and analyze data.  Beyond that, I also learned how to think critically and learned to check and double-check my work.  I have learned that this is very important to ensure that each step makes sense.

Additionally, I had the opportunity to present my project at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum.  Through this experience, I was afforded the opportunity to speak to many different people about my research.  I spoke to a great variety of people, ranging from high school students to experts in biomechanics.  This was a great opportunity because an important part of science is explaining your work to others and helping them understand why your work is important.  This Forum helped me practice those skills and learn how to present my work.

This STEP project will me help as I pursue a career in medicine.  Research is an important part of medicine and learning how to properly conduct and present research early will certainly benefit me throughout my career.  The relationships I have formed through my project will help me as I apply to medical school and continue to pursue that career.  The skills I have learned, such as problem solving, critical thinking, and presentation will be further advantageous throughout my life.