STEP Reflection

Name: Caroline Watt

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

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

My STEP project was to work on a research project at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe Germany through DAAD RISE program. I also attended a two week language course my first two weeks in Germany. My research project was to synthesizing and characterizing nanoparticles that could be used for biomedical applications

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

I would say this summer led to 2 major changes in way I view the world and my future. One is that my career goals have changed, and another is I have realized how big, diverse, and exciting this world is and I should not limit myself to the United States for travel, work, or culture.

Living and working in a different country for 3 months with a different culture and language that I did not know let to plenty of challenges but so many more rewarding experiences. This summer I worked in a small research lab where I worked under a postdoc and there was only three other people in the lab. My post doc was extremely strict and had very high expectations of me. Since my post doc was so strict it made the office environment extremely tense and no one really spoked to each other. This was a big culture shock coming from Mid-west where we usually say good morning and have the occasionally small talk in the lab. This experience made me realize how important the people that are in your workplace make a job tolerable. I did not mind the actual work I was doing but I realized I did not realize I loved it either and this realization made me decide that I do not want to go to graduate school for a PhD in Organic Chemistry and that I will just get a job for now while I am figuring out what I actually want to do.

Even though I did not love my job this summer, being surrounded by different cultures and learning about the different opportunities for careers in Germany and in other countries in Europe made me realize that I do not need to limit myself to working in the United States for the rest of my life. Something else I realized this summer is how powerful knowing a different language is. I can only speak English and my whole life I thought I did not have to know another language and never cared to try to learn a different language. But most people I met in Europe knew at least 2-3 languages and it is such a powerful skill and opens up to some many more people you can talk to.

 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?

              Working long hours with an extremely strict boss and working in a tense office environment and not enjoying work at all most days and not finding much enjoyment in the research made me realize that pursuing a PhD might not be right for me or at least not a PhD with research focused in Organic Chemistry. Even though my boss was strict, I would get lunch with a couple of my group members throughout the summer and one of them was an exchange PhD student from Taiwan and he was one of the kindest people I have ever met and whenever I was having a rough day with my boss he would believe in me and encourage me to keep going. I also made good friends with people from my group and other groups from Ireland, Germany, and Turkey.

In Karlsruhe, I lived with 11 other students in a dorm on and half of them were Germany and the other were international students. The international students were from: France, Nepal, Romania, and Portugal. It was interesting living in such diverse community with people from different countries because I could hear stories what it is like to grow up in those countries and learn from their culture. Since all of my roommates knew 2-3 languages, it made me feel guilty that I only knew one and how useful it would have been to know German. There were so many conversations I was left out of because I did not know what they were saying.

I also traveled almost every weekend, and this was extremely transformational because I got to experience so many different cultures. I would do a city tour for a lot of the cities I went to and it was really interesting learning about the history of all of the cities. I mostly traveled with other people in my internship program that I either met in my language course or that were in the same city as me. I also did a few weekend trips alone. This trips really made me have to learn how to be confident because I would be walking around a city completely alone and would have make friends with random people either in a tour group or the hostel I stayed at. Traveling alone really force me to enjoy being by myself and to get to know myself.

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

This transformation is valuable to my life because before this summer I never really traveled much and never even had a passport before. But this summer I fell in love with traveling and I am going to make a point to travel more and save money in different ways that I have not in the past in order to be able to afford to travel more and look for more opportunities to travel for work abroad. It also was transformational in the sense it made me realize what I do not want to do in the future for a job. I need to figure out what I actually want to do for the rest of my life but I know that traveling will always be a priority for me looking forward.

STEP Reflection

For my STEP Signature Project, I attended the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Boston. At the meeting, I attended seminars and poster sessions that were of interest to me. Lastly, I presented my undergraduate research work that I completed during the summer at the undergraduate poster session.

My STEP Signature Project was a transformational experience that allowed me to experience how scientific knowledge is shared. My view on how scientists collaborate and share information was changed. I learned that even though research is a competitive field, many scientists work together to change the lives of others. I also learned that research is conducted by a diverse population of people from around the world. My personal growth included stepping out of my comfort zone during my poster presentation and during my travels. It was very interesting to witness thousands of people come together in one location to celebrate discoveries and collaborate to expand our knowledge.

Many different events and interactions allowed from myself to grow and learn more about how science is shared. The overall atmosphere of the conference itself allowed me to better understand the depth of science. The conference took place in a large convention center and attached hotel. Every day of the conference, the facility was packed with people who were excited to discuss and share science. The first day of the conference was the most eye opening, when the exhibition center opened, I could see all at once the large number of people who had gathered to celebrate and learn. It was eye-opening to see just how many people were working and researching to expand our knowledge. I soon realized how much time and thought is put into discoveries that improve our lives.

Secondly, during the conference I spent a lot of time listening to others speak and attended poster sessions. During the research talks, I learned that many scientists worked to create better methods and tools for other researchers to use. These researchers understood that improving the tools for research would lead to new discoveries. I realized how each researcher was a “piece of the puzzle” in many of little discoveries that allow us to better understand our world.

Lastly, I learned how to step out of my comfort zone. This trip was my first experience traveling to and visiting a new city alone. I learned my way around the city and spent time learning about the history of Boston. I was used to exploring new cities with my friends or family, so it was a different experience to explore a city alone. I became very comfortable with going out to eat and exploring parts of Boston alone. I also had to step out of my comfort zone during my poster presentation, I learned to talk to many people and explain my research to a variety of different people.

My experiences during my STEP signature project have transformed me into a more confident person and given me insight into the depth of science. In the future, I plan to attend medical school and work as a physician. I know that I will work and collaborate with many researchers and understanding the work and collaborations that are possible will allow be to provide the best care to my patients. I also gained more confidence to present my work and experience new situations on my own. I have learned a great deal from my STEP signature project and the experiences that I have gained have prepared me for my future.

STEP Reflection

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

I worked as a research assistant in the Sustainable Materials Innovation group ran by Dr. Vicky Doan-Nguyen (which I am still a part of). The lab is a part of the Materials Science and Engineering Department and researches materials for electrical energy storage and catalysis. I personally focused on a project studying and developing lithium sulfur batteries.

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

This experience was personally transformative in so many ways. The amount of knowledge that I gained as a research assistant was much more than I could have anticipated. Working in a research lab requires a very detailed and complete understanding of the scientific theories behind your projects. I learned a lot of information that was not covered in my courses, including some advanced chemistry, physics, and materials science. Not only did I become more knowledgeable, but I believed I have turned into a better scientist, worker, and overall student. I am also now much more aware of my strengths (and weakness), abilities, and interests in engineering.

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?

My primary project during my time as a research assistant was the development of lithium sulfur batteries. The ultimate goal is to create a battery that can be used as an alternative to traditional lithium-ion batteries that are widely used today. However, developing something that changes industry standards is hardly a simple task. Not only did I have to familiarize myself with past and current battery research, I also needed to explore ideas on how to improve and take the research in a direction that was uniquely my own. There were numerous scientific articles that I had to comb through in order to gain a base understanding of the work I’d be diving into for the summer. I got pretty discouraged at times due to the sheer amount of information I had to learn, but in the end, I became much more knowledgeable as a result of it.

My research advisor, Dr. Doan-Nguyen, helped me through much of the process. She is an assistant professor who recently joined OSU from UC Santa Barbara where she worked as a postdoctoral fellow. Upon initially meeting her, I was amazed at how much experience she had as a scientist. Her intelligence and enthusiasm for research was infectious and motivated me to succeed as well. She helped explain to me some of the more complicated concepts behind the research and assisted me with many procedures in-lab. Dr. Doan-Nguyen also places a lot of importance on independence and self-learning. When I first joined the group, I was very quickly left to my own devices. Being on your own can be very intimidating when you are given responsibility over a project that you are unfamiliar with, but after utilizing my resources and asking for help when needed, I was quickly able to adapt and swim rather than sink. I’m very grateful for the values I’ve picked up from Vicky and believe I have become a much better student and worker as a result.

Additionally, I have learned so much about the research process as a whole. The biggest eye-opener for me was how slow research can advance at times. There is a lot of trial and error. It takes a great amount of time and effort to test a hypothesis that can ultimately end up being wrong. But a result that ends up being different than expected is not necessarily a failure. Rather, it’s a learning opportunity that can help guide you in the right direction. The only thing worse than making a mistake is making the same mistake twice. All failures have important lessons that can teach you how to improve and make progress (however slow).


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

This research experience has allowed me to grow so much professionally, academically, and personally. Aside from all the science, I have picked up many values that will benefit me greatly in the future. I have learned the importance of independence and responsibility in the workplace. Having never held a job with so much freedom before, I was ignorant of what it took to succeed. Science does not wait for anyone and will only progress with continued, focused effort. I have also discovered the importance of self-learning. Learning should certainly never stop after graduation, no matter what discipline you’re in. Being a chemical engineering student and joining a materials science lab was an interesting adjustment, but after having gone through it, I’m confident I can adapt to any position. All it takes is hard work and a willingness to learn from others and from your mistakes.

I am also much more aware of my goals for the future. Although I don’t plan on pursuing a master’s degree right after graduating, this experience has given me invaluable insight into the world of research. My goal is obtain an internship to gain industry experience next, but a role in research and development is much more appealing to me now. The lessons I’ve picked up from this summer are sure to stick with me for life. Even though I still have much more to experience professionally, I’m confident that my time in this lab will enable me to succeed in my eventual career path.

STEP reflection

My STEP project was to work with the Graphene Factory to create and implement a method of transferring CVD grown graphene to SiO2 wafers as cleanly and reliably as possible.  The main method this was accomplished was via an acetone bath and ozone cleaning of residual polymers. Additionally, the development of hexagonal boronitride would eventually enter the project as a reliable dry transfer method of graphene that would not result in any residue or defects in the graphene.  

During the project I became familiar with many common laboratory practices in condensed matter physics, and discovered that experimental condensed matter physics would be a fairly good fit for me as an aspiring physicist.  Before I was interested in many parts of physics but was unsure of what focus I would have or what kind of career path would be a good fit for me. Now I think I would particularly enjoy solid state physics within industry as an experimentalist.  Additionally, I learned how interesting and difficult it is to conduct many experiments within physics. The Graphene Factory is responsible for material creation for other materials projects within and outside of OSU in order to help these other groups research the materials without having to put in the effort of creating materials and understanding fully the methods of fabrication.  

Over the summer I was trained on a number of instruments and learned their applications as they pertain to the various projects happening in OSU’s condensed matter programs.  I learned a great deal and read more when I became aware of the instruments, and this gave me a small understanding of how many projects are conducted in condensed matter.

My particular project initially was to test the efficacy of ozone cleaning on wet transferred graphene.  This was evaluated by optical microscopy, and had clear effects on the graphene. It was possible with the testing method to visibly see reductions in the differently colored PMMA residue on the wafer as the ozone clean progressed.  Conducting an actual scientific experiment with impact on the group as a whole was satisfying because there was a clear benefit to the product being produced by the group as a whole.

Additionally, working with the Graphene Factory was an encouraging experience to me.  It is exciting to work with my peers on common projects and to solve problems encountered along the way.  In any group project, everyone typically has different and interesting ideas to solve problems and learning our collective differences can help to mix up the way we think about problems in general.  

Before this project, I was unsure of my future career as a physicist, but afterward I am confident that it is a good fit for me.  I now know that I enjoy at least some experimental work in condensed matter physics and that I would not be disappointed going to Graduate studies in condensed matter.  

A Summer in Boston


For my STEP signature project, I participated in undergraduate research through the Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program (SHURP) at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and was an auditor in the Undergraduate Summer Program in Immunology also at HMS. I conducted research for approximately nine weeks and participated in biweekly meetings for professional development including giving three oral presentations and presenting a poster at the Leadership Alliance National Symposium. Over the summer, I investigated the immune cell populations present during intravaginal and transcervical infection of Chlamydia muridarum in mice.

During my time in Boston, my overall view of science and research as well as my confidence to succeed in science changed dramatically. Before this summer, I had research experiences that confirmed my interest in pursuing research and attending graduate school to earn a PhD. These past experiences helped me to grow intellectually and to discover the type of research I am passionate about. At HMS, I was able to build upon my past experiences and use the knowledge I had acquired from these experiences and from my classwork to truly understand the research I was conducting. I was able to challenge myself and think about the interpretation of the results I obtained as well as think about and design future experiments and studies. I realized that goals I originally thought were unobtainable, such as conducting research in one of the top institutions in the world, were most definitely achievable if you work hard and have the drive and passion to achieve those goals. Apart from academically and professionally, I grew was able to grow on a personal level to push myself farther out of my comfort zone to try new things and become more independent.

Some of the most influential people I interacted with over the summer were the people in my lab including my research mentor. My research mentor connected me with other researchers within the department and encouraged me to pursue graduate school and a career in science. He also gave me great confidence in my ability to succeed in graduate school. Hearing my lab mates’ stories about their career paths and their passions also really inspired me. Apart from talking about science, I was able to talk to them about the struggles and successes of life in general especially with the graduate student that mentored me over the summer. She helped me to think about the science behind the research I was doing but also talked to me about her experiences outside of the lab and how she kept a work life balance. She was honest was with me in saying that graduate school can be very stressful at times but is also extremely rewarding if you are truly passionate about the research. She is always extremely supportive of me and encourages me to attain my goals.

Another set of people that made an imprint on me were the SHURP faculty directors and the SHURP cohort. During the program, the directors met with each student individually, and during this meeting, they echoed what my research mentor had said before and boosted my confidence level. With my SHURP cohort, I was able to develop a home away from home where we shared our good and bad days. We explored Boston outside of the medical center and bonded over food, culture, and many long walks. We supported each other when we presented our research and continue to support each other as we prepare for the next step in our careers.

Traveling to a big city where I had never been before and knew no one was an amazing personal growing experience for me. Even though I was a little scared at first, I knew it would be an amazing experience, so I jumped in with both feet. I pushed myself to try new things and meet new people even though I was scared, and it most definitely paid off. Had I not pushed myself out of my comfort zone, I would have never met or connected with some of the people I met nor had the experiences of riding the T and exploring the city of Boston. I also became more independent as I had to organize my daily schedule and plan out my travel to and from Boston. I also became more independent in the sense of recognizing I sometimes I needed to take time for myself to decompress, or I could go exploring by myself if I wanted to.

This experience was so important for me personally, academically, and professionally. I plan on attending graduate school in the Fall of 2019, and most likely, I will be moving to a new city, where I may not know anyone. So, independence is key as well as being able to push myself out of my comfort zone. Academically and professionally, I was able to further prepare myself for graduate school through working full time in a lab. I experienced first hand that experiments can fail and a strong resolve to troubleshoot and fix these issues that arise is needed in graduate school. One of the most important aspects of graduate school is having a good support system and a community of others you can share your ups and downs with. The people and mentors throughout your career are some of the most important parts of your career. Realizing this early will help to seek these people out in graduate school. Overall, I grew a great amount during my 9 weeks in Boston.