Type of Project: 1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.
- What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.
- What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.
- As part of my STEP project, I worked in a summer research lab at Ohio State under the guidance of Dr. Anne Strohecker. Dr. Strohecker’s lab focuses on autophagy, an intracellular mechanism that are responsible for regulating many diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s. I learned many lab research techniques throughout my experience, and am continuing working in the lab this fall.
- One primary realization I came to during my STEP Signature project was that regarding how competitive research is, and how exactly difficult it is to receive funding. PI (principal investigators) are constantly writing grants, whether they be to the NIH or a third party. Obtaining these grants is extremely difficult due to the sheer amount of other research labs also applying for the same ones, and proposals must be extremely polished and substantiated to even fare a small chance. In addition, renewing grants requires displaying significant amounts of data, with multiple trials for each experiment. I didn’t previously realize how intense research was at the university level, as well as the sense of urgency expected each day. Consequently I have made sure that I am always ready to work when I arrive each day, and move fast and efficiently.
Another change was that regarding my sense of autonomy. I have usually always considered myself a relatively independent person, but at the same time most of my schoolwork and experiences have been dictated in terms of being regimented and having to follow instructions. While there are indeed protocols for certain experiments, research is fundamentally focused on solving new issues and developing plans to solve tasks. This requires quite a deal of independent creativity, and constant tweaking through trial and error. Throughout the summer experience, I have grown significantly in this aspect, and am confident to be creative.
- While I had heard from both my PI and fellow colleagues regarding the competitiveness of the research world, most of these were words, and my perception was merely theoretical. That all changed one day late in the summer, when I noticed that a nearby lab was moving a large number of items and equipment from one of their bays. Upon asking a member of that lab what the cause of commotion was about, he informed me that his lab’s stream of funding revenue had come close to drying up, and that they were forced to downsize their lab as a result. The friend was obviously downcast, and he sounded bitter as he said that a layoff might be imminent if the drought continued. This shocked me, as I knew that the lab was an upstanding lab that had quality members. However, they had not generated enough publications, and thus were punished. This could be something as simple as just not having experiments work, through no fault of their own. They work just as hard as any other lab, but are punished regardless. I found this inherently unfair, but soon realized that this is an unfortunate reality of research today.
Regarding the sense of urgency in research, the adage of “experience being the best teacher” once again held true. While there are indeed bouts of leisure, one must be hyper-efficient with their time. Everyone has a job and is ultimately expected to deliver results to contribute to the well-being of the lab. While everyone in my lab does a great job and has a great balance, there are others in other labs who do not treat their time in lab as a priority, and can often be found on their phones; they also would come late and leave early. For one such friend, his PI was known for being an extremely nice person, so I assumed that the behavior was tolerated. However, after two months I was informed that the student was laid off. I was initially surprised and expressed my sentiment to my mentor, but she explained to me how much time and money was invested in each person to train them and weather through their inevitable trial and error. If they continued to not deliver, then ultimately they represented a net loss for the lab. I was then fully cognizant of the situation, and remarked to myself to never let my guard down.
For the bulk of my hours in lab during the summer, I worked during the day, while everyone else was in lab; if I had a question or clarification, I could ask my mentor, or another person in lab. However, one day I had to spend a late evening in the lab due to the constraints of my experiment, and found myself completely alone. Part of my experiment involved culturing my cells and seeding them for a next-day step. However, my plans took a turn when the cells appeared to be inexplicably dying. My first instinct was to notify my mentor, but I quickly realized that I was alone. After a brief second of panic, I took a deep breath and analyzed the situation. I walked through the entire process, and made a quick optimization to compensate for the cell death. I noted the change in my notebook and proceeded along with the experiment. I did not know if I was 100% correct, but trusted my judgement. The next day, I experienced a great sigh of relief, as my mentor informed me that I did indeed make the right call. The overall day taught me that I do not indeed need to rely on other personnel, as I had grown comfortable enough in lab to be able to self-direct myself.
- The growth in my autonomy and self confidence is luckily a skill that is not just applicable to lab, but something that is transferrable to all other aspects of my life. From time to time, I tend to have self-doubt while engaging in tasks. This slip in confidence can impede me from proceeding with something through which I otherwise would be totally prepared to do. It is merely a mental correction, but the benefits would be huge. In addition, I have become even better this summer at honing my overall productivity and efficiency, and can apply these skills to my life, whether they be through studying faster, learning dancing moves faster, or finishing projects more efficiently. I can then repurpose the accrued extra time to even more beneficial tasks, whether they be recreational or educational.