STEP Signature Project- The Identification and Characterization of a Mutation in Zea mays

My STEP Signature Project involved undergraduate research in Hollick Lab which identified and characterized a mutation in the organism Zea mays. My efforts included using molecular techniques like PCR and gel electrophoresis to confirm the unique identity of the required-to-maintain-repression 10 mutation and preparing a RNA pool so that the expression profile of this mutation could later be analyzed.

Throughout the duration of this project, my view of research and the scientific world developed and I had a greater understanding of myself as a scientist. I was required to communicate with a biotechnology company to arrange the preparation and sequencing of an RNA library, which I found to be very valuable in developing my skills in communicating with professionals and making proper arrangements for my goals with this project. I also had the opportunity to use bioinformatic programs developed by other scientists in the field, which taught me about the process of collaboration and how the genetics community works together to drive research forward.

Above all, working on this project has made me a better scientist and I’ve connected with my motivation to do research. Lab work is simply frustrating sometimes. I repeated one procedure over ten times before I was able to see results, and those ten times made me really question if I had the skill to do this work. I now understand my skill in various techniques will always have to improve. I will always find weaknesses within myself, but I must choose to resolve them. Dedication drives these projects forward.

These professional and personal transformations occurred because of the never-ending support and mentorship I receive from my P.I. and the other members of my lab. With their help I was able to navigate communicating with the biotechnology company and deciding the specifications of the RNA library. They have also guided me through the different steps of the project and helped me troubleshoot when I struggled with certain techniques.

The graduate students in my lab have also provided me with a wealth of information about being a student and completing research. I have learned a lot about applying for and being in graduate school, and can see the responsibilities of being of a graduate student first hand.

My personal development as a scientist came in the face of failure, not unlike many other professions. I used to see failure as a judgement on myself or my skills instead of what it really is–feedback. Failure is a sign that something can be improved, which is valuable information when trying to complete a project and answer a research question. It’s not about who made the fewest mistakes when making a discovery, it’s about making that discovery. It was all this effort that went into my project is what made it so fulfilling.

These professional and personal developments are valuable to me as a student, scientist, and just as a person. Undergraduate research is fantastic preparation for graduate school and will help me write an effective application when I apply. It has also helped me develop the skills necessary to be a scientist. Not only have I learned the basic lab techniques used in my field, but I have learned how to make and give an effective presentation during lab meetings and how to communicate scientific ideas through writing. I have learned to be skeptical and use evidence to create and test a hypothesis. These skills extend beyond a career in science–my ability to communicate evidence clearly and effectively will follow me throughout life.

Finally, the personal improvements I’ve made in my time conducting research has been valuable beyond my academic and professional career. My knowledge of a topic or my ability to perform certain techniques in the lab would mean nothing without the dedication I need to bring to my work. I would never complete a project if I couldn’t handle and use failure. Success will begin and end with me, and I’m prepared to do what it takes to find that success.



While this image may not look like much more than some grey and black lines, these were the data that confirmed this locus defined a unique mutation. With this information, I began the characterization of the mutation now called rmr10.