For my STEP signature project, I participated in undergraduate research through the Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program (SHURP) at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and was an auditor in the Undergraduate Summer Program in Immunology also at HMS. I conducted research for approximately nine weeks and participated in biweekly meetings for professional development including giving three oral presentations and presenting a poster at the Leadership Alliance National Symposium. Over the summer, I investigated the immune cell populations present during intravaginal and transcervical infection of Chlamydia muridarum in mice.
During my time in Boston, my overall view of science and research as well as my confidence to succeed in science changed dramatically. Before this summer, I had research experiences that confirmed my interest in pursuing research and attending graduate school to earn a PhD. These past experiences helped me to grow intellectually and to discover the type of research I am passionate about. At HMS, I was able to build upon my past experiences and use the knowledge I had acquired from these experiences and from my classwork to truly understand the research I was conducting. I was able to challenge myself and think about the interpretation of the results I obtained as well as think about and design future experiments and studies. I realized that goals I originally thought were unobtainable, such as conducting research in one of the top institutions in the world, were most definitely achievable if you work hard and have the drive and passion to achieve those goals. Apart from academically and professionally, I grew was able to grow on a personal level to push myself farther out of my comfort zone to try new things and become more independent.
Some of the most influential people I interacted with over the summer were the people in my lab including my research mentor. My research mentor connected me with other researchers within the department and encouraged me to pursue graduate school and a career in science. He also gave me great confidence in my ability to succeed in graduate school. Hearing my lab mates’ stories about their career paths and their passions also really inspired me. Apart from talking about science, I was able to talk to them about the struggles and successes of life in general especially with the graduate student that mentored me over the summer. She helped me to think about the science behind the research I was doing but also talked to me about her experiences outside of the lab and how she kept a work life balance. She was honest was with me in saying that graduate school can be very stressful at times but is also extremely rewarding if you are truly passionate about the research. She is always extremely supportive of me and encourages me to attain my goals.
Another set of people that made an imprint on me were the SHURP faculty directors and the SHURP cohort. During the program, the directors met with each student individually, and during this meeting, they echoed what my research mentor had said before and boosted my confidence level. With my SHURP cohort, I was able to develop a home away from home where we shared our good and bad days. We explored Boston outside of the medical center and bonded over food, culture, and many long walks. We supported each other when we presented our research and continue to support each other as we prepare for the next step in our careers.
Traveling to a big city where I had never been before and knew no one was an amazing personal growing experience for me. Even though I was a little scared at first, I knew it would be an amazing experience, so I jumped in with both feet. I pushed myself to try new things and meet new people even though I was scared, and it most definitely paid off. Had I not pushed myself out of my comfort zone, I would have never met or connected with some of the people I met nor had the experiences of riding the T and exploring the city of Boston. I also became more independent as I had to organize my daily schedule and plan out my travel to and from Boston. I also became more independent in the sense of recognizing I sometimes I needed to take time for myself to decompress, or I could go exploring by myself if I wanted to.
This experience was so important for me personally, academically, and professionally. I plan on attending graduate school in the Fall of 2019, and most likely, I will be moving to a new city, where I may not know anyone. So, independence is key as well as being able to push myself out of my comfort zone. Academically and professionally, I was able to further prepare myself for graduate school through working full time in a lab. I experienced first hand that experiments can fail and a strong resolve to troubleshoot and fix these issues that arise is needed in graduate school. One of the most important aspects of graduate school is having a good support system and a community of others you can share your ups and downs with. The people and mentors throughout your career are some of the most important parts of your career. Realizing this early will help to seek these people out in graduate school. Overall, I grew a great amount during my 9 weeks in Boston.