STEP Signature Project: Reflection

In the summer of 2017 and throughout the 2017-2018 academic year, I performed research under Dr. Sakima Smith in the Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute to study the cardiotoxic effects of the chemotherapy drug Pazopanib. Within my role, I administered the drug to mice, monitored physiological data through electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, and blood pressure recordings. Moroever, I collected data through proteomic analyses and cell immunofluorescent staining.


Though I had previously spent time volunteering in the Smith lab, it was not until the summer of 2017 that I was able to research full-time. As I spent 40-hour weeks collaborating with other group members and performing experiments, I developed a greater appreciation and understanding of the depth and breadth of the scientific community. Especially with the Pazopanib project, which spanned across fields of both oncology and cardiology, I was exposed to an enormous base of knowledge, one that excited me for a future in the profession. The more I spent working on the Pazopanib project, reading papers, and overall learning more about the heart, I learned how very little I knew. This realization drove my scientific curiosity to use my resources—mentors, literature, and the lab itself—to fill the gaps in my knowledge and strive for greater insights.


As I progressed through the project, I also matured as a scientist and could better see the world through the lens of biomedical research: how every clinical progress begins and ends with a research inquiry. Beyond learning to juggle multiple duties and manage my time responsibly, I grew in my understanding of the scientific method. By working a project from the ground up and describing the potential impacts of such efforts, all the way to publication and beyond, I grew a deeper respect for the extent of patience, intellect, and dedication that goes into every single research experience. Though I may ultimately find myself in a field outside of pure basic science research, I will forever remember the lessons in character and the effort behind every product and technique I use.


My STEP project studying Pazopanib’s effects in a dedicated timeline transformed my understanding of the scientific universe by being my first professional exposure to a laboratory environment. Prior to the project, I had been a member of the lab in a purely undergraduate volunteer capacity. However, because I was able to contribute full-time and take on greater, time intensive responsibilities like daily dosing of mice and running multi-day experiments, I gained tremendous perspective into the lifestyle and mentality of professional researchers. Moreover, in this role, my immersive exposure piqued my curiosity whiles simultaneously providing an environment that could answer all my questions. In the lab, I was constantly surrounded by visiting medical academic researchers, mentors, and had access to thousands of publications related to our research interests, all available for me to seek with any question I could imagine. Quickly, my knowledge of cardiac anatomy, physiology, and cardiology research inflated, and I found myself always wanting to learn more.


Moreover, as I spent equal time in the lab as any of the full-time employees, I formed genuine relationships within the research group, and realized I had integrated myself as more than “just” an undergraduate research assistant—the other research technicians and visiting scholars had become friends with whom I felt comfortable asking for professional advice, conceptual questions, and even topics completely unrelated to research. And as I learned from these individuals in both professional and personal lessons, I changed in my value of mentorship, which I had previously disregarded. Mentorship was a powerful way for me to develop as a young adult entering a professional environment, and I felt strongly to do the same for others. Later in my time with the lab, I took the initiatives to mentor newer undergraduates going through the same steps I had in the past. From basic lab techniques to reading scientific articles to balancing research with a busy academic schedule, I could translate my own experiences for the benefit of others, just as had been done upon me.


Finally, working for such a long duration in the lab was integral to my growth in understanding the extensiveness of research and in developing greater determination and patience for the process. Working with the project from the initial planning stages, going to lab week after week for over a year to collect data, and being able to see the results eventually come to fruition, I was exposed to every part of the research timeline. And in effect, I grew not only in my patience, but in my sense of scope for our efforts and the extent of impact that our findings could have. Moreover, as I read into other studies while performing my own experiments, I realized that all research in any field undergoes the same longitudinal process, one that takes countless hours of dedication, rested upon an even deeper foundation of the research before it. So much of the scientific community—and the world in a greater sense—is interrelated by some aspect of research, and I discovered a new passion in myself to be a part of such a meaningful network.


As I pursue a future a career in medicine, the practical laboratory skills, interpersonal relationships, and transformations in my mentality will undoubtedly translate from my time in the research lab. Medicine is an increasingly interdisciplinary field, dependent on intensive collaboration between specialties and professions to provide optimal patient care; being able to work on such a complex project like the cardio-oncology efforts of my STEP project offer a groundwork for a future in crossing traditional lines. In addition, medicine is fully based in research, and almost all physicians participate in some form of clinical research during their career. As such, my practice with the scientific method through my STEP Signature Project will be a valuable tool for forming my own questions and developing plans of approach.


Research is a continual process, one that strives for discovery and growth; over the past two years, my participation in this endeavor has led to incredible education in science and in maturing as a young professional. As I continue on towards my professional goals, I am certain the skills, lessons, and attitude I found in the Smith lab will facilitate my success, regardless of where I ultimately find myself.