The STEP Signature Project I chose to do this past semester was in the research lab I have been working in over the summer. The main goal of this research project is to determine if vitamin D modulates IL-34 and inflammatory cytokine responses in the CNS. In a larger context, we (the research lab) are investigating if early life vitamin D plays a role in the susceptibility of Multiple Sclerosis.
While I was undergoing my STEP Signature Project, I was able to get a better aspect of what medical research looked like. As a student exploring options in medicine, it was an interesting and fun experience working in the lab. I have shadowed doctors and worked in a clinic before, but I’ve always wondered what happens behind the scenes, such as research on animals, lab work, etc.. In my research project, I was able to experience all that and much more. One of my favorite tasks was to remove brains out of mice, an experience I will never forget. Completing the STEP Signature Project has opened a new door for me after graduation. It is definitely an option I could see myself pursuing.
As a Neuroscience major, I am constantly learning about the brain, many different diseases, and how they affect us. However, I don’t enjoy being stuck in a classroom all the time. The most convenient part of this whole experience while working in a research lab was the flexibility. I was able to work around my schedule and go in whenever I want. This didn’t put any pressure on me and allowed me to schedule things I needed to complete more easily.
I thoroughly enjoyed taking a break from class and going to the lab, especially because it is such a different environment. My lab had many hands-on components of the project and it has helped me learn better than just listening to a lecture. During my time in the lab, I was exposed to a wide variety of skills. To list just a few, RNA/rtPCR, Animal Husbandry, Tissue preparation, Data Analysis, ELISA, and cell culture. The skills I’ve learned are not only important for this specific research lab but are easily applicable to other research labs.
The relationships I have made while working in a research lab are tremendously helpful. I was able to make new friends, not only with some of the undergraduates but also the graduate students and the post-docs. Having a close connection with the other researchers could potentially open new doors for me in other research labs, where I can continue and apply the skills I’ve gained.
One of my main goals as I first started college was to work in a research lab. I’ve always wanted the hands-on experience because it is something I enjoy and helps me learn well. I dream about being a neurosurgeon or a plastic surgeon but that is way far ahead in the future. However, my STEP Signature Project gave me a slight taste of what it felt like. Although it’s not nearly the same as an actual neurosurgeon, there were times where I felt like I was. Removing the entire brain or dissecting the hippocampus out of a tiny, day-old mice gave me the adrenaline rush many that people seek for. I was conducting research on a deadly disease and at the same time, I was always excited and never bored doing it. I believe that this STEP opportunity gave me something very valuable because I learned that this is something I very much enjoy doing, expanded my knowledge in the field, and a potential career path.