STEP Reflection

My STEP Signature Project was doing undergraduate research in Dr. Laura Schmidt’s Sports Rehabilitation and Recovery lab. In the lab, I helped analyze data and helped some with data collection. My area was more focused on articular cartilage defects and I got to present a poster at the Denman Research Forum on the influence of defect location on sagitt al plane gait mechanics in individuals with knee articular cartilage defect.

 

Through my STEP Signature Project, I learned a lot about what I want to do with my career and my role that I can have in research. In respect to what I want to do with my career, I learned that I actually don’t want to be a full-time researcher. The experience was amazing, and I am still helping out in the lab today and plan to continue in the future, but it showed me that it might not be the only thing for me. I learned that I can help out with research on the side in the future, which would be neat, while working a different job full-time too.

 

My view of the world that changed through my STEP Project was how incredibly important research really is to the world. I got to learn the ins and outs of what goes on behind the scenes. I learned how to properly run a research study and the importance of always publishing your results, whether significant or not, so that people have the information out there to look at and then they can possibly take another angle at a particular research question.

 

Through my STEP Signature Project, I got the opportunity to work with multiple awesome graduate students, as well as Dr. Schmidt in the lab. They all helped me learn the process that goes along with research and were some of the nicest people that I’ve ever met. They showed me the importance of research and made it an enjoyable experience to come into the lab and get to work. These relationships made me enjoy research and helped me grow as a person and researcher in the lab. They helped teach me how important research is to everyone and how big of a role it plays in society, including the field of Physical Therapy, which is what I plan on going into.

 

Another major part of my STEP Signature Project that helped change me was the process of preparing for the Denman Research Forum. This whole process helped me become both a better researcher and presenter. In preparation for the forum, I had to remain organized and do a lot of literature review in an effort to explain what the research we did was showing and why it was important. It helped teach me the whole process that is involved within research and how it is not all just data collection and analysis. There is a lot that goes into any type of research and being a part of that process is really eye-opening in my opinion and from my personal experience.

 

Probably the biggest impact from my STEP Project that led to my transformation would have to be through the relationships that I made. I got to meet amazing people in all levels of learning, from Dr. Schmidt as a faculty member to graduate level students to fellow undergraduate students. These relationships helped me shape the way I look at research and made doing the research more fun. They all helped me continue to learn and grow through research.

 

The changes that I experienced are very valuable for many reasons. I went into this project already thinking that I didn’t see myself doing a lot of research in the future but wanted to experience it and learn from it and that is what I did. At the end of the day, I still want to be a full-time Physical Therapist, but I have much more interest in research now than I ever did before. I am thinking about having a research focus in Physical Therapy school, which is something I never would have seen before. It also will help me in my future career as a Physical Therapist by making me more interested in research and more likely to keep up on all of the new research findings that could impact how I do therapy and work with patients. The whole experience is very directly correlated with what I want to do with my career and led to me being more interested and wanting to at least somewhat stay involved with research and all of the new findings.

Research Experience in Cancer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital

I had never saw myself working in a wet lab. When I started looking for labs to work in, I wasn’t sure what exactly I was looking for in doing research. I just knew that I wanted to be able to apply what I’ve learned in my class to apply it in a real-world setting. I also at that point was interested in doing research to improve treatments or find treatments for existing illnesses. I was pretty much interested in anything and everything so I stated reaching out to many professors and researchers in the Columbus area in hopes of entering a lab. The first researcher to get back to me was Dr. Chang who has a lab in the Nationwide Research Institute Center of Cancer and Blood Diseases. I accepted the position as an undergraduate research student. I’ve learned a lot since last year; about myself and about cancer. My project was based on testing a treatment with a drug by the name of Rocaglamide and Didismethylrocaglamide on Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor cells and Benign Meningioma cells.

My understanding of the science world changed while completing my STEP Signature Project. I started out very clueless about what research entailed. I thought it was scientists sitting in a lab together just pipetting chemicals from one flask to another. I originally thought it would be more competitive and individual than it was. I truly found out how collaborative basic science can be and how it’s about the team and not just one person. I learned from my principal investigator, Dr. Chang form his story that even if you have 1 good scientist in the lab, it doesn’t mean anything if he isn’t willing to share his talents with others in the lab or work with anyone. I saw science as being more collaborative and have carried this mindset on to my classes and my organizations where I help to become a peer that is truly a team player. I truly have learned to become a team player in my lab experiences working with other undergraduate researchers and also senior scientists in the laboratory.

Another assumption of my world that changed is that I didn’t realize how intertwined clinical and laboratory science were. I saw the “behind-the-scenes” work I was doing in lab and how it pertained to clinical experience by participating in tumor boards. Tumor Boards were meetings at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Hematology and Oncology Unity designed to talk about interesting cases and get perspectives from cancer researchers, physicians, therapists, genetic counselors, and nurses on what to do for these cases. I thought it was interesting because in my lab work, I was doing very detailed work in that I was focusing on a specific drug of a specific tumor that targets a specific protein. I didn’t realize how my findings played out in the larger picture and going to those tumor boards and hearing my principal investigator discuss what we were doing and the drugs we used in lab, and the clinical trials he had me read to the physicians, it made me see how it was all intertwined with one another. I truly saw the value of what I was doing in lab and how it played out in the clinic. I also saw how findings in the clinic influence what we do in the lab. In that there was a tumor presented that was very strange and my principal investigator suggested it be sent back to the lab to be tested for different amplified genes to be able to look for a drug that could reduce the tumor in the patient. My view of research changed in that I didn’t see a linear timeline of research to clinical, I saw that they were side by side and connected to one another. I think it truly influenced what my future career plans in the future look like and how I want to be able to use laboratory science in my future clinical practice.

Another way I have transformed is in my habits. I was not what you call a planner, I tend to do things on the fly but doing research has taught me to become more of a planner. I’ve gotten a lot better at my time-management skills I found quickly that it was what you make of it and it’s a process you must keep improving yourself and continually keep refining your techniques. Even though I learned something once, it doesn’t mean I get to stop at that point. Research is a process you must always challenge yourself to get better at even if you know a protocol to an experiment step-by step. I got really impatient in that I wanted to jump right in lab and do experiments for the first few months and would get bored of observing, but I soon found out that not everything was as easy as it looked. I learned to look for specific details and ask questions pertaining to those details. I never used to be a detail-oriented person, but being in a laboratory setting, I now think of everything that I need to know to do an experiment that I should ask when observing. My principal investigator always told me to watch carefully and to ask more detailed questions, and learning to do so helped me not only in lab but in classes when I have to learn detailed concepts. You have to constantly review and learn from your protocols to get better. I also learned to be patient in that when my experiments would fail, I learned to retrace my steps and find what was wrong instead of just redoing my experiment again without changing a thing. This later helped me when in other areas of my life to revaluate what I have done wrong in classes and made me a more patient person in general. My creativity was tested. In finding what was wrong, I had to think about how I could improve or when I was lead to a dead end, I had to think about other options I could try. Working in Dr. Chang’s lab, I had to learn to ask questions carefully and be proactive of everything that could go wrong in my own experiments when observing the more senior members do experiments in lab.

At the end of the semester, I had to present at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. It was honestly very scary. Presenting has never been my strongest area. It makes me nervous because I’m afraid I’ll get something wrong. Presenting at the Denman was overwhelming but definitely a worthwhile experience. I learned about ways I can feel more prepared in presenting. I enjoyed seeing how hard my friends have worked. I also enjoyed sharing about my research because it felt like a long school project that I worked very hard on.

As a student researcher, it was easy for me to get caught up in the menial tasks and the experiments that I did daily. Putting the poster together, I saw the larger picture of what I was doing. I saw that it was important to stay grounded to why I’m doing what I do. To eventually treat patients. I saw this in action as I went to more tumor boards at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I saw how research translated to the clinic with treatment of patients. How research helped characterize and plan treatments for patients.

It changed my career plans because I didn’t want to do research as a physician before but now I’m thinking about incorporating it into my education. I plan to apply to medical school in this upcoming summer and will look at schools with strong research focused program. I’m continuing to do research in cancer at Ohio State and I am presenting my further findings at the Undergraduate Research Festival.

STEP Reflection: Senior Thesis

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 Signature Project entailed working towards completion of my senior thesis. The thesis was focused on investigating behavioral preferences in children ages 9-10 and comparing these trends with household factors. This was an independent study that used both original experimental and survey data that were studied through regression analysis..

2. 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 major thing that I learned in this project was that a PhD in economics is not my next step. Although I love behavioral research and discovering why people make the decisions that they do, I would like to have more of an impact in my career that I don’t feel research alone will provide. For this reason, I would like to pursue social science research in a non-profit or civil service setting where my findings and results could be used to reconstruct benefit systems or organizations that directly assist marginalized citizens.

I also began to recognize more deeply how the conditions we grow in are direct factors of the path we take in life. This has made me more passionate about revitalizing our school systems such that children have individualized attention and adequate nutrition. For this reason, I would like to pursue involvement in local or state public policy or office within the next ten years.

3. 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.

Conducting research with human subjects can be pedantic due to the regulations set by the Institutional Review Board. Research with children is particularly tricky because they are considered “at-risk”. To participate in the study, the children’s parents had several forms to fill out. While a majority of the parents in wealthier school districts had a good turnout for signed forms, the lesser resourced schools were far more scarce. This led me to think about what representation these children have to access resources. If their parents are either unable or unwilling to sign a form for a small study, could there be necessities or other programs these children do not have access to? This is something that I care deeply about and would like to ensure is rectified.

Furthermore, the results of my study also had an impact. While I found little evidence of differences between cohorts for risk or social preferences, I did find that motivations to increase payoff in games were statistically significant with mother’s education. In the study, I used mother’s education as a proxy for household income and general socioeconomic status, as it correlated significantly with other socioeconomic variables. So this finding generally suggests that affluent children in the fourth grade are generally more concerned with increasing payoff than their peers. These results really made me think about the prominence of financial wellness as a matter of urgency. Are children from wealthier families genetically predisposed to think about payoffs or did they learn this from their parents. I believe the true way to investigate this is by researching younger children.

The results of my study also played a major role because they made me discover that while I like research, there was little I contributed to actually solving the issues in question. It made me realize how young  I truly am and how many years I have left to make real change in this world. This paper will not be published in a major economic journal, but very few, if any, undergraduates do have that opportunity. The planning and motivations of this project allowed me to see my potential, while the results left me wanting to redirect those efforts in the future.

4. 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.

As previously mentioned, this experience was one of the greatest factors in redefining  my career goals. While throughout my undergraduate career I wanted to pursue a PhD in Economics, I now want to shift my focus to law and civil service. I want to make a change and contribute to society in the six years that would otherwise be spent taking classes and doing narrow research. I am now taking steps to develop a platform and gain experience in other ways.

In August of 2018, I will begin a Master’s in Applied Mathematics at Ohio University. During that time, I will be preparing myself physically and academically for an application to become and Air Force officer. As a commissioned officer, I would like to begin as a behavioral or analytical scientist with a focus on promoting efficiency and benefits to other airmen. After serving for a few years, my next step would be applying to become a Judge Advocate General with a focus on international law. I feel that in this path I can serve the people that have allowed me to develop, while also honing my skills to better prepare for my time after the Air Force. However, I never would have realized this if not for the time I took to complete my thesis and the resources the STEP Program provided that allowed me to do so.

STEP Reflection

I worked under Dr. Guatelli-Steinberg and Dr. John Hunter in Newark and Columbus on dental anthropology research. Under their guidance, I gained the experience of what a career in research might include.
While completing my STEP project, I realized the career path I was on was incorrect. I enjoyed the process of researching so much more than the many hundred hours I spent shadowing dentists.
What led to my change of heart cannot all be linked to my STEP project; however, it was during the time I spent completing it when it occurred. In combination with my dental school application, shadowing, working, and volunteering I made this realization. In all honesty, the sheer overwhelming amount of time that I spent organizing activities into my daily life made it very difficult for me to find the time to actually reflect on why I was doing the things I was doing. I questioned why I enjoyed my time spent researching when the time I spent shadowing should have been supreme as it was my ultimate career goal.
This change is very relevant to me because it has shaped my life path whether it be in the sense of career, family, and otherwise. Choosing to spend all of my time relative to the dreams I have is an incredibly important ideology that can be easily forgotten. Though dreams require a great deal of hard work, I don’t ever plan to find myself lost in the grunt work wandering why I am where I am.