Brief Description of the Project:
The STEP project I participated in was an 8-month research project that concluded with a biomolecular design competition in San Francisco. During the 8 months, I worked with a group of seven other undergrads with two graduate mentors on an optimization project in the department of Nano-engineering and Bio design. Our research involved the usage of a technique known as DNA origami, and its capability to be used as a drug-delivery vehicle. Utilizing the folding technology, we wanted to optimize the best structure to uptake the most cancer treatment drug. And with the knowledge we acquired design a new structure that would be able to take the best elements of each of the structures we tested.
My Projects Influence on My Understanding and How It Changed Me:
While participating in my STEP project I was granted the ability to get a glimpse of the experimental process and participate in the design, experimentation, and presentation of a project. Having the ability to see this first-hand was enlightening. I have always had the curiosity of exploration and discovery. Also, I’m intrigued by the inner-workings of objects and how everything works together. What I did this past summer gave me an insight into the real way things are put to the test. I was given a hand in the inception of a project and my group created an experiment to work together on. I do have to say that seeing the process gave me a lot more insight into just how tedious the process is. Also, it instilled the idea that you really have to think about how much time you have and if what you want to do is actually feasible. While that sounds like a no-brainer, it really is difficult to design a project that is able to be done with time and funding restraints. It takes a lot of prior research and investigation that I did not consider prior to this experience. In addition, I got to see very quickly that practical science is extremely challenging. Often, things do not go as planned and it is very difficult to trace back why and correct the error you had made. Sometimes another issue is that it is not even an error you made, but maybe an error in the sample you used. So I did experience many frustrations while participating in the project.
This experience also allowed me to see just how much can get done in what seems to be a pretty short period of time. When I started the project with my group I felt like we had so little time to complete everything that we wanted. We had a gamut of structures that needed these particular tests done on them and each repeated 3 or more times. So naturally early on the feeling of a time crunch set in. But as time went on I realized that working as a team was very conducive to managing the heavy task at hand. This all may sound very cliché but, not much is done as group projects in college. At least in my experience thus far. In high school, a fair amount of group work is done, but it always feels lopsided in who does the most work and who doesn’t participate enough. My research group allowed me to see how much can get done when there is a group of likeminded students with a strong work ethic. We managed to get everything done that we had set out to accomplish with some time to spare at the end. This cohesiveness that I experienced excites me for my future endeavors and gave me a great idea of what a strong team looks like as well as how it functions optimally.
How the Project Influenced the Change:
Being able to conduct a whole experiment from inception to completion allowed me to experience the tribulations and led to a deeper understanding of the process that I would not have gotten without this opportunity. With the guidance of our mentors we could create something that although daunting was manageable for the 8 months that we had. The idea of looking through other research articles and trying to come up with something testable was new. But reading over other research and discussing it with my group member was very thought provoking. I always wondered how experimenters come up with what they want to test and to be part of the process was very enlightening. I feel like the design of an experiment as well as the format of presentation for the competition increased my creative capacity. The presentation was not a normal formal presentation, but one where the teams tried to engage the audience through skits and interesting presentations. As well as the creation of a short movie and website to showcase the project we had done.
Not only did this project enrich my ideas of what research is but it provided me with a huge expanse of new experiences. Each week I was able to watch a different lab member present updates on their research. My group had the chance to present not only to our lab, but at the competition in front of the other 21 teams. Those experiences were great to practice taming nerves during presentations and to just practice giving large presentations. In addition to presentation experience everyday lab work gave me the chance to learn a great amount of new processes, but also great common lab experience. I became more proficient at correct pipet techniques and performing gel electrophoresis. I was able to watch the loading of different imaging slides. Such as the loading of an electron microscope grids and observing the imaging of the DNA nanostructures we folded.
As I stated before the ability to work with a great team really opened my eyes into what can get done when everyone is excited about what they are doing. I had an amazing group of peers. I was able to network and make connections not only on a personal level, but as well as on a professional level. At our presentation conference in California I met and spoke with many of the other students who participated in the competition. They were from all over the world: Taiwan, Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, etc. My mentors whom I enjoy and appreciate a lot were great. They were always there when we had questions and were great about steering us in the correct direction. Also, they were always personable and were willing to listen to more than just things about the project. These relationships I made with my group and mentors are definitely long lasting.
Significance of the Project:
My STEP experience was important to my life for many reasons. I for a time have considered going to graduate school, and this project gave me a glimpse into what I would be doing. My mentors also were able to give me advice and I could see what their lives were like. This insight into research gives me a better idea of what I would be doing prior to making any large life decisions. Also, the experiences, technology, and protocols that I learned in lab training and while doing my project can be translated into work experiences as well as other labs that I could pursue. The amount of lab experience that this past summer gave me greatly expanded my abilities when it comes to wet lab work. In addition to lab work my group presented to our lab three times and also presented at the competition in California. Although it was a bit nerve racking they were great experiences and at least in the lab presentations we were given constructive criticisms and a lot of feedback. In applying for internships and jobs post college I am excited because of the weight that this experience holds. Additionally, from this experience I have been offered a position on another project within the lab.
This experience has changed my life more than I ever thought it could. From it I have gained so many new friends and connections that I never would have believed I could before. It has provided so many new options for things I can pursue and has given me a huge amount of knowledge and insight. Working in the lab helped to develop more of on the spot decision making skills and helped to increase my lab proficiency. I also learned a lot more about working with others and explaining things in a way that is easy to understand by others. Overall, this experience was extremely enriching and I am so glad that I was able to take a part.
Link to our Projects Website: http://www.ohiomod2017.club/