STEP Reflection

Name: Maria Znidarsic

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

For my STEP Signature Project I worked in the laboratory of Dr. David Wood as an undergraduate researcher and lead a project on the characterization of a split-intein purification technology. This involved a lot of experimental planning in addition to mastering several lab techniques and procedures.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Project?

As an undergraduate starting my first official research position, I entered the lab with many of my own preconceived notions. One assumption of mine about my impending experience was that I would be performing work that would achieve many viable and significant results. Once finishing my STEP project by completing countless hours of tedious lab work, my outlook completely changed. Research is not as simple as completing the scientific process once or twice and coming up with remarkable and impactful findings. In reality, it is repeating the same processes over and over again, only to come up with something that is already known or useless for anything other than outlining what the answer or solution is not.

However, by having to experience this contrary-to-belief process I found that I am a learner that is unphased by failure. My ability to persevere despite being disappointed by less than ideal results was something unexpected. Considering my assumptions on how my research would go, I was okay with learning otherwise and developing a better sense of who I am as a researcher, one that can embrace failure.

  1. 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?

Having STEP create the opportunity for me to spend an entire summer in a research position was incredibly influential as I am an undergraduate researcher who plans to work in a similar field. Furthermore, this experience founded a new understanding and appreciation for the process that research of any type is. Learning that failure is a significant part of the scientific process was a difficult reality to embrace but many aspects of my lab helped me with this transition. Being in the lab afforded me many interactions, relationships, and activities that led to and supported this major change in my understanding of research.

Spending Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. in the lab, throughout the entire summer afforded me many interactions and built many relationships to support my change of view on failure. Due to the absence of an employee in the lab I was able to take on a position as a co-leader of a major project, and by doing so had to cooperate with many people. The grad students in the lab that I worked alongside educated me extensively on planning processes and how to perform a variety of data analysis methods. In doing so, I learned the inherent part that failure played in all their prior research experiences which enabled me to develop an understanding and appreciation of my own failures in my research too.

Furthermore, the activities I participated in for my lab created a comfortable environment for me to embrace my newfound understanding of disappointment in research. The timelines I had to stay on, deadlines I had to meet, and presentations I had to give afforded me the opportunity to fail in the actual results but succeed in the delivery of my work. This ability to satisfy the hint of my prior conception of there being only positive productivity in research cushioned the new reality of failure being a factor. All of the influences that promoted my acceptance of failure in research results made the change in my viewpoint a much smoother transition, and I am grateful for all of them.

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

Said perfectly by Henry Ford, “failure is the opportunity to begin again, only more intelligently”. My experience as an undergraduate researcher brought significant change to my outlook on the scientific process and research as a whole, creating an appreciation and embrace of failure. This development in my view of failure as more of an opportunity to expand my knowledge and then perform more intelligible research will greatly impact my life. As an individual who aspires to work in the bio-pharmaceutical industry, there is a great possibility that I will continue to do research in some way, shape, or form, after my undergraduate experience. Rather than having to learn the positive impact and benefits of failure later in life, I am lucky enough to have been enlightened with this viewpoint already. It is my hope that being able to look at research as a process of both failures and successes will help me to avoid frustration in my times of disappointment, and promote an accomplished and productive career.