My step signature project involved spending the past summer in Columbus, conducting research within the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Research Institute in the department of Microbial Pathogenesis. I was responsible for continuing my own project studying a specific bacterial species which is a primary cause of sub-acute infective endocarditis. My day to day activities included running experiments, analyzing data, and keeping the lab clean and efficient.
I believe there was a fundamental change in what I see as being research. Before this experience, I had conducted research, but never full time such as this experience. Thus, I never knew what it was to perform and balance all pieces of a project or lab, as I had to rely on others to help me with parts of my project. Although I still received much help from others, I learned that research is a long and complex process. There are no vast discoveries made every single day, but rather it is small questions that hopefully leads to small answers. This leads to new questions and new answers. Eventually, we hope that it will lead to new discoveries which can help others. This is contrary to my own, and many others previous notions that research has groundbreaking discoveries daily and always focuses on the big picture first. I saw that by looking within the big picture at smaller fragments, it is possible to build up to a new finding.
Another key lesson I learned was that failure was inevitable. I can confidently say that I failed many more times than I succeeded in the lab. At first my failures would bring me down, but being able to be at the lab full-time allowed me to directly follow up on my failures. Over time I saw how to bounce back and learn from my failures, rather than get discouraged by them. This lesson has stayed with me in all areas of my life, as I now understand that I will fail, but it is about looking at the failure in a way that I can take something away from it, and hopefully not make the same mistake again, or improve in my process to succeed. I feel this was transformative in that I am not longer as afraid of failure as I was before. Although I still do what I can to succeed, I know that I can come back from my failures and work towards success.
I feel the events which most brought about this change in my idea of research was my interactions with my principal investigator and other members of the lab. With them, I was able to first observe how the scientific process was used to generate new questions and how a process could be developed to come closer to answer these questions. Under their guidance I was able to begin to learn more about the background of my research project and begin to think of my own questions which I would like to investigate. I then worked with them to conceive a viable plan to gather data to begin to piece together some of the answer. Finally, I was able to analyze the data and develop a plan for the future and create a new question from my old one.
The activities I performed were also very important in understanding the scientific process. I not only learned how to conduct the experiments I was performing, but I also learned to understand why certain experiments were preferred over others, the fundamental science behind the experiments, and how to use data generated from the experiments to help answer scientific questions. Through this, I learned many basic lab techniques such as PCR, plasmid construction and cloning, bacterial transformation and protein expression. These are skills which I can transfer to any lab environment, regardless of what that labs focus of research is. These background of scientific basics made me realize the complexity of many processes in the lab, but also showed me that I am capable of handling and understanding them.
This complexity also led to many failures, however. By talking with my advisors and other lab staff I was able to see that failure was a natural part of the scientific process. In fact, one can often gather valuable data even from the experiments which seem that they have failed. With their support I was able to deal with this failure, and feel I am now better equipped to deal with failure on my own within the lab and future endeavors. Failing over and over at the same experiment, reviewing the steps I took and how to improve it, and finally getting it right has showed me how to stay determined and focused.
These transformations mean a lot to my current and future goals. I am currently a senior and looking to finish my final year on a strong note. Being a biochemistry major, many of the techniques and scientific principles I learned and used first-hand help with much of the material covered in my classes. I now feel I have a better understanding of these topics and can better see how topics presented in class can be used to solve real-life problems. In addition to school work, I feel my experience will help with my future goal of becoming a physician. I feel understand and being involved in research is a fundamental duty of a physician aside from treating patient. The training a physician receives can be beneficial in research and lead to new treatment options, in turn helping more patients than before. Being able to conduct research as my project has given me the necessary introduction I need to be able to continue to conduct research in the future. Also, being a physician means facing failure. My experiences with failure and learning to overcome failure will help me in this aspect as well.