STEP Reflection

Name: Maria Znidarsic

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

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

For my STEP Signature Project I worked in the laboratory of Dr. David Wood as an undergraduate researcher and lead a project on the characterization of a split-intein purification technology. This involved a lot of experimental planning in addition to mastering several lab techniques and procedures.

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

As an undergraduate starting my first official research position, I entered the lab with many of my own preconceived notions. One assumption of mine about my impending experience was that I would be performing work that would achieve many viable and significant results. Once finishing my STEP project by completing countless hours of tedious lab work, my outlook completely changed. Research is not as simple as completing the scientific process once or twice and coming up with remarkable and impactful findings. In reality, it is repeating the same processes over and over again, only to come up with something that is already known or useless for anything other than outlining what the answer or solution is not.

However, by having to experience this contrary-to-belief process I found that I am a learner that is unphased by failure. My ability to persevere despite being disappointed by less than ideal results was something unexpected. Considering my assumptions on how my research would go, I was okay with learning otherwise and developing a better sense of who I am as a researcher, one that can embrace failure.

  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?

Having STEP create the opportunity for me to spend an entire summer in a research position was incredibly influential as I am an undergraduate researcher who plans to work in a similar field. Furthermore, this experience founded a new understanding and appreciation for the process that research of any type is. Learning that failure is a significant part of the scientific process was a difficult reality to embrace but many aspects of my lab helped me with this transition. Being in the lab afforded me many interactions, relationships, and activities that led to and supported this major change in my understanding of research.

Spending Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. in the lab, throughout the entire summer afforded me many interactions and built many relationships to support my change of view on failure. Due to the absence of an employee in the lab I was able to take on a position as a co-leader of a major project, and by doing so had to cooperate with many people. The grad students in the lab that I worked alongside educated me extensively on planning processes and how to perform a variety of data analysis methods. In doing so, I learned the inherent part that failure played in all their prior research experiences which enabled me to develop an understanding and appreciation of my own failures in my research too.

Furthermore, the activities I participated in for my lab created a comfortable environment for me to embrace my newfound understanding of disappointment in research. The timelines I had to stay on, deadlines I had to meet, and presentations I had to give afforded me the opportunity to fail in the actual results but succeed in the delivery of my work. This ability to satisfy the hint of my prior conception of there being only positive productivity in research cushioned the new reality of failure being a factor. All of the influences that promoted my acceptance of failure in research results made the change in my viewpoint a much smoother transition, and I am grateful for all of them.

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

Said perfectly by Henry Ford, “failure is the opportunity to begin again, only more intelligently”. My experience as an undergraduate researcher brought significant change to my outlook on the scientific process and research as a whole, creating an appreciation and embrace of failure. This development in my view of failure as more of an opportunity to expand my knowledge and then perform more intelligible research will greatly impact my life. As an individual who aspires to work in the bio-pharmaceutical industry, there is a great possibility that I will continue to do research in some way, shape, or form, after my undergraduate experience. Rather than having to learn the positive impact and benefits of failure later in life, I am lucky enough to have been enlightened with this viewpoint already. It is my hope that being able to look at research as a process of both failures and successes will help me to avoid frustration in my times of disappointment, and promote an accomplished and productive career.

STEP Reflection: Undergraduate Research at OSU


Name: Robert Murcko

Project: Undergraduate Research and Undergraduate Summer Institute


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 spending the summer working in a research lab on the OSU campus.  The lab PI is Dr. Julie Golomb.  Her lab focuses on vision and cognitive neuroscience.  This lab time was supplemented by time spent in seminars designed for undergraduates who are interested in research and considering pursuing graduate degrees in the future.


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.

This summer was a transformative one.  I learned a lot about research and graduate school, but I also learned a lot about myself.  By this I mean that the summer helped me to realize that I really enjoy the methodical process of conducting research.  It also helped me to put some things into perspective, and to start taking more control of the trajectory of my education and life.


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.

The favorite thing I learned in the lab this summer was how to understand and analyze fMRI data.  Our lab manager, Samoni Nag, taught me how to localize category-specific functional brain areas.  In addition to this, she taught me about some of the statistics and background processes that allow us to make conclusions using fMRI data and also answered the plethora of questions that I asked her.  This new task combined my love of technology and math with my interest in the brain.  It was something that got me excited to wake up and come into the lab.  It proved to me that research can be fun.

The Center for Brain and Cognitive Sciences Undergraduate Summer Institute I participated in over the summer exposed me to a lot of new things and ideas.  Specifically it exposed me to a wide array of fields and types of research.  This research spanned all the way from clinical applications in neurosurgery to diagnostics to social psychology and linguistics.  Hearing these research talks peaked my interest and made me realize how broad and useful the field of cognitive science can be.   

The career discussions at the Summer Institute were an important part of my summer as well.  These discussions gave a first hand look into the life of researchers (both PhD students and professors).  They helped me decide if I could visualize myself taking a similar path and allowed me to consider some of the day to day aspects of this lifestyle, as I have a tendency to focus too much on the bigger picture.


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.

This summer was a pivotal time for my educational path. I had to begin the process of making some decisions of what my next steps after undergraduate studies will be.  This is a decision I’ve been wrestling with for a long time.  Although I realized that I enjoy research this summer, I also realized that I did not want to make it the primary focus of my career.

I believe I will be more comfortable in a clinical setting.  Thanks in part to the experiences I’ve had this summer, I’ve decided I want to try and become a physician and pursue an MD or DO degree.  This pathway has the potential to put me in roles that have a balance of research and clinical work that best fits my needs, talents, and interests.

Exploring the Impact of Nuclear Waste Creation and Disposal Methods on the Hanford, WA Region

Name: Mark Gnatowski
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 research attempted to identify the impact of nuclear waste disposal policies on the people and environment of Hanford, Washington. This was accomplished through archival visits and site visits during my time in the region.

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

I had never attempted to take on a research project involving primary archival sources. After arriving in Washington and visiting the archive for the first time, I saw that my project was far too broad. At the same time, I did not have time to think about how I would reshape my thesis. As a result, I sucked in hundreds of pages of documents from scores of folders that related to my topic. My task at present is to modify my thesis based on what I found during my research. I undoubtedly view primary research through a different lens as a result of this experience. I see now what I was often told: that theses evolve based upon one’s findings.

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.

During my time in Washington, I met many archivists working for the Hanford History Project. Their archive is young and is not well-supported by WSU (it is funded through the Department of Energy), but it is full of passion for the material. Their help, guidance, and support made a difficult experience all the better. Their guidance pointed me to source material I never would have found, which ultimately shaped my views expressed above.

Most notably, they pointed me to the papers of J.W. Bair, a research scientist whose specialty was radiobiology. Bair came from humble beginnings, and began his career at Ohio Wesleyan in Delaware, Ohio. He was an impressive and intriguing figure, with little-to-no notoriety in the historical literature. He would be an excellent biographical subject, and I am exploring that option as a direct result of finding his papers.

My experience in archival research also showed me the difficulties in structuring archival research. Much of it comes down to luck, and to hoping that materials were correctly logged. It is like drinking through a firehose; an information overload experience like no other. Through this challenge, I was finally able to see the feedback loop between research and one’s thesis.

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.

This experience will shape my relationship with academia for years to come. As I stare at a fork in the road, deciding between law school and higher education, I have this experience to bolster my credibility as a researcher. My better understanding of the relationship between archival research and one’s thesis is a critical element for me to weigh as I consider which path to take. Do I see myself conducting research like this again? In the coming months, as I write my final paper, I will gain a greater understanding of this crucial question.

Eat or Be Eaten: the Importance of Aquatic Invertebrates as Predators and Food Sources of Pool-Breeding Amphibians

Name: Renna Wittum
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

My research project focused on the influence of environmental factors and invertebrate presence on pool-breeding amphibians. During my project, I organized invertebrate samples collected in 2016 by graduate student Mike Graziano, identified invertebrate samples to family, compared invertebrate abundance in differing environmental conditions, and determined how invertebrate presence impacts the relationship between amphibians and their environment.

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.

My signature project changed how I view scientific research and clarified what I see myself doing post-graduation. Completing a research project from start to finish has convinced me that going to graduate school is a good path for me, but that I want to take a break after undergrad to gain more field experience and discover which research area I am most passionate about. This project was a great introduction into scientific research and I am excited about the possibilities that a graduate research project would include, with a longer timeline and more resources. I have not yet presented my results, but it will be a fantastic experience to share my research project results at a conference and hear other students share their projects. Contributing to the scientific community, especially the research areas of conservation and natural resource management, has been very fulfilling and it makes me excited for the research I could do in the future to make a bigger impact and contribute to conservation efforts.

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.

It was very valuable to see the process of a research project from start to finish. Before submitting my proposal to STEP, I worked with my advisor to plan my project and after we made our original plan, we realized that the fieldwork planned for the summer would not be possible and we had to make a few changes to my original plan. At first, it was frustrating and intimidating to learn that I needed to make big changes to a project I had already put a lot of time into planning. However, it was a good learning experience because the changes made my project better, made me realize my original plan was too ambitious and unrealistic, and helped me understand the importance of flexibility while planning and carrying out research and the importance of being able to adapt to setbacks and changes.

I am excited that I have been accepted to present a poster at The Wildlife Society Conference this fall! Presenting my results and listening to other students present their summer research will improve my communication skills, as well as expand my understanding of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. The results from my research project will contribute new scientific knowledge and hopefully aid conservation efforts, which is meaningful to me and excites me for research opportunities in the future. This research project has also provided an opportunity to determine that I do want to pursue advanced research training as part of a graduate degree program.

The project I carried out allowed me to learn how to identify aquatic invertebrate and process invertebrate samples, explore species interactions, collaborate with experienced researchers, and analyze data. These, along with the skills I discussed in the above paragraphs, are valuable skills that will help me in future research projects, internships, and jobs.

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.

This project has motivated me to continue pursuing research opportunities and it has confirmed my interest in pursuing a graduate degree program. This project allowed me to benefit society by improving knowledge of the natural environment, so  the benefits of this experience go beyond just my academic and future career. It is important to me that I have a career that has a positive impact on the world and carrying out this research project allowed many opportunities to consider how research can expand the field of conservation. I am excited that this project has further sparked my interest in learning about nature and the environment and opened my mind to the possibilities that my future holds.


*I was unable to upload photos from my project, but they are on my project poster.*

Limitless: A Glimpse into My Research Experience

During the summer of 2018, I was chosen to participate in the Big Ten Academic Alliance’s Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) at Ohio State. I worked with Dr. Jack McNamara as a member of the Multiphysics Research Interaction Group (MIRG). In this position, I started to lay the groundwork for my senior thesis by learning how to use the relevant software.

When I started my sophomore year, I was fairly intimidated by a lot of the professors. I was in awe of them because they had earned a doctorate, and I was of the mindset that someone had to have some sort of god-like intelligence to do that. I felt like they would look at a lowly undergrad with no internship or research experience and scoff because I wasn’t good enough. If everybody in the world had D&D-like stats, PhDs had intelligence scores of 20 and I was just floating around with an 11 or 12, never to come close to the intellectual world they lived in.

Despite my fears, I wanted a taste of that world, and I applied to SROP. While I awaited their decision on whether or not I would be joining the 2018 cohort, I hid my insecurities and talked to some of the professors in my department about the work that they were doing. I was excited by the research that MIRG was doing, and when SROP offered me a place in the program, I requested to join the team.

Over the course of the summer, I realized that it isn’t just intelligence that goes into a PhD, and that took a lot out of the intimidation factor of interacting with people who had them. I saw first had that perhaps the biggest contributing factor to success in research is determination; you’re going to run into problems with your research, but having the determination to find a way to solve those problems is huge.

I also learned that people with PhDs are still people; just because they’ve been doing research doesn’t mean that they’re suddenly not a normal person. Dr. McNamara and I are both runners and could commiserate on how some of the summer monsoons would cause various running routes to flood. One of the post-grads and I would poke fun at each other for our hockey alliances. There always seemed to be someone who in the middle of the day would invite everyone to go on a walk or get some coffee. It felt like a little MIRG family, and I love that environment.

This past summer has solidified my determination to pursue a PhD. I had always wanted to go to graduate school but thought that I was not good enough for anything beyond a master’s degree. I’ve learned that that’s only the case if I limit myself. I know that it’s going to be hard but when I look at the various families I’ve built that will support me, I have no doubt of my eventual success. Getting my PhD will allow me to continue to tackle the interesting problems of aerospace engineering. I will no longer limit myself because of my fears, and I’d like to thank the people who have helped me to this point:

  • Beth Black, my STEP mentor who encouraged me to talk to the professors who’s research sounded interesting.
  • Carolyn Morales, Dominiece Hoelyfield, Keith Bell, and Nick Joseph of the OSU SROP team for putting this summer together.
  • All the people of MIRG, for their endless support and feedback, especially when it came to presenting my research.

My Summer in Germany

I spent my summer of 2018 at the University of Paderborn, Germany, participating in a research internship under a German PhD candidate. I helped him prepare for his upcoming final candidacy project involving the study of balance and stability in patients who have undergone ACL reconstruction surgery, which required the acquisition of force plate data and continuous brain signal data.

I also used this opportunity to travel to various parts of the country and nearby countries on the weekends to experience as much of the culture as possible during my stay.

I went in to my abroad experience without any real expectations or idea what life would be like in another country. I knew that I was terrified to leave home for such a long period of time, be away from my friends and family, and enter another world in which I couldn’t even speak the language. To say that I experienced a culture shock is an understatement. The first few weeks were overwhelming and challenging in ways that I never thought I would experience, and I had a difficult time adjusting in a place that was so unfamiliar to me. I even worried that I made a terrible mistake in choosing to go on this journey.

Luckily, as time passed, my experience transitioned from terrifying to exhilarating. I found myself reaching out to other international students, connecting with fellow program participants across the country, booking train tickets to travel to any city I wanted, and ultimately taking risks that I never thought I would be brave enough to embrace. I quickly learned to rely on myself and trust my instincts and realized that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought. While my support system always said they believed in me, I think it took me a lot longer to actually believe in myself. Being able to leap out of my comfort zone allowed me to see, experience, and immerse myself in other cultures, and learn so much about a completely different world than the one I had always known.

I am confident in saying that the event that began my transformation was my very first weekend abroad, when I boldly decided to meet a group of other DAAD students who were spending the weekend in Amsterdam. I had only been in Germany for a few days, but felt alone and overwhelmed, and I knew that I needed to meet other people to start to feel more at home. They were all traveling from the same area, but I hopped on a six-hour bus ride and hoped for the best. This first weekend of exploring a new country and meeting other people in my program from all over the United States and Canada pushed me out of my comfort zone, opened my eyes to the amazing possibilities of places I could visit, and connected me to interesting people who I would later make plans to explore other cities and countries with on our weekends away from research work.

Just a few weeks later was another step in my personal transformation, when I connected online to a different girl in the DAAD program whose internship placement was fairly near my own. I travelled by bus to her city and she was an amazingly friendly and generous host; together we explored Kassel, walked around a spontaneous festival happening in the city center, and hiked in a nearby famous national park. The friendship that this weekend fostered made me feel so much more comforted in this foreign country, and Mackenzie and I met up multiple other times in various cities to sightsee together. Though I am no longer in Germany, we still continue to stay in touch and I am proud to say I made a lifelong friend that weekend in June.

The last and possibly most internally impactful interactions of my summer in Germany actually took place only two weeks before I flew home to America. I had been sporadically meeting other international students at the university throughout the summer, but never really got the opportunity to spend a lot of time with them since I left Paderborn most weekends to travel. However, since I stayed in our small city the last couple of weekends, I was welcomed with open arms into their close-knit community of friends. I found myself invited to water balloon fights in the 98-degree weather (with no air conditioning), sunset-viewing gatherings on rooftops, Sunday morning brunch feasts, and everything in between. I had never felt so at home, and thankful to be surrounded by such a diverse and loving group of people.

I feel unbelievably blessed to have had this opportunity to experience so much in just one summer, and I know that it has changed my life in more ways than I can imagine. Being immersed in a different country for a prolonged amount of time gave me a closer and more meaningful glimpse of other cultures, which is something that a lot of people aren’t typically exposed to. I learned a lot about working and communicating with people from all different backgrounds, which is beneficial in personal, academic, and career aspects of my life. Though I don’t think I will necessarily use brain signal knowledge that I gained in my future academic or career experiences, the insight that I did gain about myself and this world that we live in will stay with me forever. I look forward to the opportunities that this summer will lead me to, the doors that it can open, and will always look back fondly on this transformational German summer of 2018.

STEP Reflection

STEP Reflection

Madison Allen

Undergraduate Research


  1. My STEP Signature Project consisted of a summer conducting undergraduate research in the Pediatric and Rehabilitation Laboratory at Ohio State. I worked on a project to determine the optimal dosage of physical therapy for infants and children with cerebral palsy (CP). Along with physical therapists and other research assistants, I spent the summer collecting data through tests of gross motor function in study participants and entering it into a database called REDcap.


  1. While completing my STEP signature project, I was consistently surrounded by children with developmental disabilities and their families. This changed my understanding of myself and the world. I had never worked in close contact with children with CP before. Through weekly testing sessions I worked closely with these children and it allowed me to see how much parents sacrifice for their children. These parents are coming to our lab once a week along with attending PT sessions multiple times a week. Some of these families drive over 2 hours because their pediatrician told them about this study at Ohio State and they wanted to give their child the best care possible. In addition, this experience made me realize how resilient children can be. Lastly, my interaction with the Principal Investigator (PI) of the lab made me realize how every member of the lab team is valued for their contribution.



  1. There were a couple of key interactions and relationships during my STEP signature project that led to these changes in my world view. The first one being with a mother of one of our participants. She is a single mother of 3 children who also works full time as an ICU nurse. She had just driven 1.5 hours to our lab, after working a 10 hour shift. She had all 3 children with her and seemed completely burnt out. However, she was completely engaged in her son’s session while also entertaining her other kids. She provided us with detailed notes on her son’s progress at home during the last week and asked questions about what else she could be doing to help him improve his motor skills. Her dedication was inspiring. It reminded me that whenever I may be tired or coming into my lab after a long day, that it is important to leave all of that at the door and focus completely and enthusiastically about my work in the lab while I am there. It was a privilege to be working there this summer and should not be taken for granted.

Another interaction I had was with one of our participants (let’s call him Alex). When I first met Alex, he was 25 months old and had just arrived for his baseline assessment. He had very limited control of motor function and was very shy. He seemed comfortable with me and was encouraged to complete a task when I was guiding him through it. There is nothing more gratifying than watching Alex master a goal, such as being able to climb up the stairs by himself, after months of patience and hard work. I have watched Alex fall down hundreds of times, but he never fails to get back up and try again. He is an inspiration to myself and motivates me to never give up.

Lastly, my interactions with my PI throughout the summer led me to see how every member of the lab is responsible for contributing to the project. I met with her bi-weekly one on one and we also had monthly lab meetings with all of the members of the lab. She set clear expectations for what was expected of lab members and was thorough with checking in. She stressed the importance of working together because science is a “team sport”. I had always thought that the PI was the most important person in the lab and that everyone should do exactly as they say. My PI explained that she is not all-knowing and encouraged dialogue and collaboration between the lab team. She welcomed constructive criticism and listened to everyone’s ideas, from undergraduates such as myself, to PhD students and physical therapists. She said that she’s not in the lab and working in close proximity with the patients all week long, so she doesn’t always know everything that the people working in the lab 50 hours a week know. I really appreciated this team-focused style of leadership. It encouraged me to share my ideas and ask questions in an environment conducive to learning.


  1. This personal development has helped me tremendously in regards to my future plans. I aspire to be a physician assistant (PA). I am currently applying to PA school and I will take the lessons I learned while completing my STEP signature project on with me to PA school and the workforce after school. The lessons I have learned from the single mother about dedication to her son regardless of whatever else is going on in her life is something that will be important to me as a practicing PA. There will be days when I will be distracted by personal problems, however as a PA it is vital that I forget these issues while seeing patients in order to give them my full attention and the best healthcare possible. Next, my interaction with Alex taught me the importance of perseverance in the face of formidable circumstances. PA school is challenging and completely demanding. I will remember working with Alex when I feel like quitting due to the difficulty of my classes. I will remember the bigger picture and that I will work hard to get through the rigorous courses in PA school in order to be able to provide healthcare to children like Alex. Lastly, my relationship with my PI and lab mates is extremely important because it taught me the importance of working in a team to provide the best experience for our study participants. Working as a PA is all about working with a team. I will have to work under an attending physician for the entirety of my career, and I will also be working with nurses, medical assistants, doctors, students, and other PAs. I will take the lessons I learned about team-based leadership and every member of the lab being valued for their contribution to PA school and to my practice after school. I believe this will allow me to become the best healthcare provider that I can be.


STEP Undergraduate Research — Shakespeare and Autism, and the Cognitive Development Lab.

For my STEP signature project, I did undergraduate research this summer in two different labs at OSU. I worked in the Cognitive Development Lab with preschool children, where I ran studies with them at schools all around Columbus. These are mostly computer “games” that they play, and they earn stickers as they progress through the “game”. I also worked with the Nisonger Center on the Shakespeare and Autism project. The interest of this project is to see how the Hunter Heartbeat Method can help improve both social skills and communication skills for children with autism.  

This summer I realized how much I love research. I had an interest in it before, and enjoyed doing it, but didn’t like how there weren’t really immediate results. However, two specific interactions that I had made me realize that, even though the results are not immediate, what is being done still matters. There are still people that care about what you’re doing. Even though you aren’t on the front line in a hospital treating patients, you are still helping people — it just takes a little longer to see the results. There are people that are thankful for what you do, because it helps them and their loved ones live better, healthier, and happier lives. I believe that this summer doing research has changed my view on research, and has changed my view on my role in the lab. I didn’t feel like I was making a huge difference last year when I was in the labs, but I have realized after this summer that research takes the combined efforts of so many people, and that my small part really does matter. 

One day, at the end of one research session with the Shakespeare and Autism group, a child’s parents came up to me and thanked me for my dedication to the research. They were so happy that all of us had been dedicating our time to learning more about autism, and told us their child loved coming to interact with the other children every week! I felt like I was really doing something that was making a difference — I was starting to tear up! She said that it was hard for her child to participate in after-school activities, but that Shakespeare and Autism gave her child the chance to do something like that for the first time. I had always felt like I was just there to make sure everything went smoothly, and didn’t feel like I was doing too much. But to have those parents come up to me and thank me personally meant the world — I realized that it took all of us there doing our own roles to make it happen.

Another experience that I enjoyed was when a preschool teacher thanked me for the research I do in the Cognitive Development Lab. She said that it really helps them learn a lot about the kids, and how to best teach them to help them grow and learn as best as they can. I didn’t realize that any of the teachers really cared too much about what we were doing — they let us in, we work with the kids, and we leave. I know the researchers in the lab care about the results, but I had never had a teacher thank me. It really made me realize that these results just aren’t for the lab, but rather for the future of preschoolers. As we learn more and more about how the young mind develops and thinks, we can strive towards a better education for them. 

These two experiences, among many others, really helped me learn a lot about myself this summer. Even though research doesn’t give immediate results, the stuff we are doing really matters. The teacher and the parents that personally thanked me helped me understand that there are people in this world that we are helping. Even though it takes a little bit of time, it still matters. We are spending time to help learn more about the people that they care about. I feel like a lot of professionals that are directly interacting with people to help them, like doctors, nurses, etc., are thanked and recognized for what they do for helping people. I think that people forget about those doing research sometimes, and it can be a little discouraging. But after those two interactions, I remembered that even though we aren’t directly helping people, we are helping them in the long run. Both jobs are equally as important — they just each have their own time and place. 

This summer I gained new insight and a new view of research, and it has helped me realize that I would like to continue doing it. I had been previously unsure of whether research was for me — I hadn’t decided which type of program I would like to pursue: MD, PhD, or MD/PhD. I wasn’t sure which would be a good path for me. After this summer, I realized that I would really like to pursue the dual MD/PhD degree. Even though research doesn’t produce immediate results, it is still making a difference. Research helps people in a different way, and even though patients aren’t always aware of that, without research we would lack the advancement that we have in the medical field. 


The Shakespeare and Autism team!

Unraveling Knots – A STEP Project Reflection

I spent a summer unraveling knots. While it may sound frustrating or absurd at first, I should specify that these supposed knots are actually mathematical objects. This “unraveling” is the research process of finding algebraic structures to assign to closed loops tangled in space that remain invariant under the ambient motions. Over the course of this project, I worked with a team of other undergraduates to generalize some previous results and to employ more advanced constructions such as quandle cohomology to ultimately show that a more general approach to “coloring” a knot factors with a type of well know approach to assigning polynomials to knots.

In the process of plunging into these topics, I wound up poking into topics that guided me to where I aim to be in a few years from now. As I picked up topics in knot theory, I slowly found connections from a certain knot move into a 2D model for statistical mechanics interactions into more complicated interweavings between mathematics and physics. I found ways to delve into and share these topics, if only to wrack my brain over hard but interesting problems. My research crew ultimately went on to present at the Young Mathematician’s Conference, and in standing and presenting my work, I knew that I am prepared to be standing before graduates and beyond with the work I have yet to accomplish.

Ultimately, I found my muse steering me toward mathematical physics. Before getting deeper into the project, I had yet to lock my target in on any specific discipline. But after seeing these seemingly unrelated topics suddenly crop into a differential equation of interest to physicists, into another spectacular bridge between disciplines, I realized that I had already long been tidally bound into this intersection.

Then, at the conference itself, meeting others both interested in math and from diverse different backgrounds shored my stance that I can not only be accepted in fields beyond college, but that I can thrive. Coming from an initial environment blind to my identity to the wonderful city of Columbus and then ultimately seeing peers from across the nation reecho this calling all the more bricked my path forward.

Attached below is the poster presentation from the conference. The poster was used during the conference to present on the project. As such, it details the work we had done up to that point summarized nicely with several supporting objects and notations required to present our result.

Now, I stand poised so close to leaving the Ohio State nest and start flapping my wings, so to speak, somewhere new. In a short time, I’ll be breaking chalk and burning through printer paper elsewhere in the world. I am not just more experienced for having built new ideas and computerizing them into coherent presentations, but also wholly more prepared for the rigor of research in the post-undergraduate world. From being a stronger applicant to having the fundamental tools for inquiry having been already refined, I stand prepared to enter graduate school and ultimately pursue my goal of obtaining the doctorate mile marker and further contributing something novel to the world ahead.

STEP Reflection

Maria Zulliger

I was an Undergraduate Research Assistant for the ABLE Project at the Ohio State Eye and Ear Institute Psychosocial Cognitive Lab for my STEP Signature Project. The ABLE (The Adjustment, Behavior, Language and Executive Functioning) Project studies how language and executive function affect pyschosoical outcomes in children with and without hearing loss. As a research assistant, I helped with transcribing audio from video, coding, entering data, participant testing, and other office related tasks. I also presented some of our research at the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum and CogFest 2018.

My understanding of myself, my assumptions on research, and my view of the world changed while completing my project. Before I took on the role as a research assistant, I did not fully know what was involved in performing, documenting, and presenting research. This past year I was able to learn about all of the careful work that must be done to make sure the research process is approved and to avoid bias. I also learned all that must be done to check over our work to make sure that information is entered properly and that we record all of the necessary information. Lastly, I learned what is involved in preparing for a research presentation, such as writing an abstract and making a poster.

Many events and relationships led to my transformation. I gained much confidence in oral presentations by presenting in the Denman Undergraduate Research Forum and Cogfest 2018. As I presented more, I become less nervous about speaking in front of judges and professors. I also gained more knowledge about our research through these presentations by seeing all of our significant data put together and by creating a poster. Many questions were asked after I presented that made me think critically about our work. This project taught me about the impact a mother’s language choice can have on her child’s neurocognitive development, something I had no knowledge of before taking part in this research.

Relationships with the members of our team for the ABLE Project also led to my transformation. My research mentor and lab coordinator taught me how to do the tasks I was responsible for in our research and helped me when I was creating the poster and practicing my presentation since it was my first time participating in research. Their feedback made me feel more confident in the lab and when presenting.

Lab meetings also led to my transformation. I enjoyed when our entire team was together and could discuss aspects of our project. I also enjoyed learning more about certain aspects of our project through presentations on those topics. These meetings helped to developed stronger interpersonal and critical thinking skills.

This development is valuable because I can apply all that I learned to my future endeavors in the dental field. I can use my critical thinking skills and detail-oriented methods in dental school. I can also use my interpersonal skills and strengthened confidence to help build relationships with patients and other professionals. In addition, I gained exposure working and building relationships with the ABLE Project team which helped me to practice patience, collaboration, and support for each other. Experience in a professional environment and learning the scientific process through research will ultimately help to be successful in the field.