1.) Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

My STEP project involved traveling to a scientific conference on prokaryotic biology. At this conference, I was provided with an opportunity to network with other scientist within the field and present my research involving novel antibiotics.

2.)What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

I have always had a strong interest in Microbiology. Since high school, I knew that I wanted to pursue a PhD and one day run my own lab. During college, I have been lucky enough to work in a great lab that has allowed me to develop the needed technical skills to have a successful early career. However, the science field is more than having technical skills. The other half is writing, presenting, and establishing credibility in your field of study. This was the part of science I had very little understanding/experience with. This conference was transformative because it allowed me to experience this other half of science. I was able to meet and talk with many high-level scientist in a welcoming environment and learned more about the processes of publishing, securing funding, and presenting your research to your peers. These are crucial to being a successful scientist and I feel I transformed into a more holistic scientist and, as a result of this conference, have added additional tools to my arsenal that will help forward my career.

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?

I had several interactions that helped facilitate my transformation during the course of the conference. Some of these interactions occurred during the breaks between presentation sessions, many of the attendees of the conference would gather in the lobby to snack, drink, and make conversation. During this time, I was fortunate enough to strike up conversations with several graduate students and professors that had many insights that I have not even began to consider as an early-career scientist. For example, one of the first people I spoke to was a professor of microbiology at Georgetown University. I had mentioned to him that this was my first time attending this conference. He proceeded to tell me that the first time he had attended this conference he was only slightly older than I am, when he was a graduate student, and has come back every year since. At this particular conference, he had brought a couple of his own graduate students along. He had also mentioned how many of the people that he has attended this conference with over the years and how many of them have become close friends and collaborators and emphasized the importance of getting to know your fellow scientist.

Another interaction I had was with a pair of graduate students from Maryland. This was during the poster session, where I was presenting my research. I have presented a science poster previously, but I have never presented in front of experts in the field. These graduate students were extremely helpful and friendly. They asked engaging questions and made very helpful suggestions to where I can take my research in the future. They even suggested that I talk to their professor about applying to be a graduate student in her lab. They inspired confidence in the value of the work I have done in the lab, and were some of the first people in my field I had talked to about my research outside the members of my lab.

Overall, the conference provided me with a sense of belonging. I felt a new-found confidence in my abilities as a young scientist. I was able to meet and interact with several highly-respected experts in my field, and I really began to feel like more than just an undergraduate working in a lab. I feel that this conference can be considered my transformation step from undergraduate lab assistant to a young researcher

4.)Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

Science is a very challenging career field. The most visible part of science is usually the actual field work and is often the more glamorous side of science. The core of science is actually in the writing and development of the literature. Similar to any lab technique, writing and presenting techniques play a key role to your success as a scientist. The transformation I underwent at this conference is the first step in my developing my writing/presenting skills. By doing so, I have become a more well-rounded scientist that can successfully present their findings to their peers, which is the crux of developing scientific knowledge.

Experiences at the Wind River Prokaryotic Biology Conference in Estes Park Colorado

  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 a travel and presentation at a national conference. I’ve been working in the microbial infection and immunity laboratory of Daniel Wozniak. I presented my research as a poster at the Winder River Conference on Prokaryotic Biology in Estes Park Colorado.

  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’ve decided for some time now that I intend to pursue a graduate degree in a biomedical science. I haven’t exactly understood the environment of my chosen career path however. The conference that I took part in was eye-opening in many regards. Given the secluded atmosphere of the conference, all of the professors, post-docs, graduate students, and undergrads became equals. There never felt like a separation between the different levels education or success. Because of this, I was able to spend a lot of quality time with pioneers in their field. I asked numerous questions and learned about a myriad of routes to achieve my future goals. The field of science is intimidating and very competitive as there’s only a limited amount of money and other resources. Understanding how the complicated scientific community works and the communication present is not something I could have gotten anywhere. The multitude of interactions and knowledge I received at the conference is imperative to my future.

  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 had many moments where I had the opportunity to speak one on one with pioneers in the microbiology field. One of the first mornings of the conference I spent breakfast speaking with and getting to know a professor from Mexico. I didn’t know who the man was prior but it turned out to be a wonderful discussion. At the end of the conference I found out that he was actually the final key note speaker for the conference and gave a beautiful lecture where he compared the artwork and life of Frida Kahlo to the process of discovering new antibiotics. He didn’t carry himself with any pomposity and I think there’s a lot to learn from such a successful man that maintains a humble approach.

My poster session was about two and a half hours long. I was able to present to quite a few people in that time and had some quality discussion on the work that I had done thus far. There was one interaction that stood out with a professor from the University of Maryland however.  She and I discussed a surprising result I had for roughly 30 minutes. By the end of the interaction she asked me about my future plans and expressed interest in my graduate studies. She started to tell me about all of the qualifications of her lab and told me that she expects to see my graduate application when I apply. This was a pretty significant moment as it qualified the work I had done so far and definitely made me feel confident in myself.

One of the days at the conference gave us about 5 hours of free time to go do whatever we wanted. So, a couple post-docs, another undergraduate, and I decided to take a hike up a mountain that was nearby. The hike up was about three miles and at one point there was about a 45 degree incline. When we reached the top of the mountain we were a little over 11,000ft altitude and we could see for miles in all directions. We sat up at the top for about an hour and we just started talking about life from a very existential perspective. Those post-docs gave me a lot of insight on components of my future I hadn’t even contemplated.

  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.

The career of scientific research is competitive. There’s a limited amount of money, resources, and job security. It’s imperative that I accumulate as much experience and information from my peers and possibly future employers so that I can survive and thrive. This conference could have possibly been the tipping point of perspective that changes the rest of my career.