STEP Reflection: Controlling Müller glia to regenerate the retina

This semester, I worked in the lab or Dr. Andy Fischer studying how the harnessing of cellular signaling in the Müller glia could be used to treat retinal degenerative diseases.  My project sought to study how the NF-KB signaling pathway affected this mechanism of retinal regeneration.  This signaling pathway has been shown to be inactive in proliferating neuronal stem cells, and is activated upon initiation of differentiation, suggesting that it plays a role in mediating this mechanism of retinal regeneration

This project offered me an in-depth view into the world of full time research.  Not only did it allow me to see just how much work goes into completing a project, but also to see how interconnected the research sciences are.  Over the course of this semester, I have had the opportunity to work on animal models, develop new animal models, and to learn more about neuroscience and the retina that I ever could have expected.  Daily, I would meet with my research mentor to discuss the project and what we could do to help to make it stronger.  Every week, my whole lab would read a published article and discuss it as a group.  Each person would be assigned a series of figures that we had to close read and present to the class.  This helped me to increase my confidence in reading, interpreting, and presenting research to a group.  I learned from all of this that I am fascinated with the research process and am interested in pursuing research further in the years to come.

One of the first things that helped me to discover my love of research was my interactions with my lab mentor.  She was the person who initially helped to train me in the techniques that I use in lab daily and has helped me greatly by offering insight on drawing conclusions from data and by making suggestions on further ways to pursue the project.  This helped to show me how far research could go into discovering the intricacies that control retinal regeneration.

One of my favorite things that my lab did this semester was a weekly journal club.  Every week, one of the graduate students in my lab would pick in interesting article related to neuroscience or the retina to read.  Each member of the lab would read the paper and be assigned a figure to present to the lab.  I was able to receive feedback from the members of my lab both on my interpretation of the research and on my methods of presentation that helped me to hone my skills for future research forums.  I discovered that I enjoy telling the story of research projects and building a presentation that allows each piece to be a foundation for the next.  I hope to be soon working to write a manuscript for my project that will allow me to do this for my own research.

Finally, I gained an appreciation of the time and effort that goes into every scientific achievement that is published.  I was able to see firsthand how experiments are carefully planned to give the most accurate conclusions and how the review process allows this research to be doublechecked for everything.  This gave me a new appreciation of how important research and research funding is in creating a healthier world.

This research project has allowed me to grow both as a student and as a researcher.  I have been able to learn both how research is performed and how it can be best represented to display novel discoveries.  I plan to keep these experiences with me always as I pursue my career as a research physician.  I will have a better understanding of how research is performed and will be able to use the skills that I have developed this semester to better interpret newly published discoveries.  This will ultimately help to make be a more successful physician and will allow me to provide the best possible care for my patients.