My Step Journey

I had the opportunity to spend the summer in the Ju Research Group as a student research assistant for my STEP Signature Project. Specifically, my research focused on elucidating the biosynthetic pathway of the production of two nitro-containing natural products, 2-nitroimidazole (commonly referred to as azomycin) and N-nitroglycine. These two natural products exhibit antimicrobial activity and have a unique chemical moiety of the nitro group.

Prior to this experience, I have had some experience doing research but I have never invested that much time into it nor did I have the skills to independently complete my own experiment. With some knowledge regarding the topic of biosynthetic pathways, I entered my STEP project believing that I could accomplish my goal with relative ease. I had read papers about determining the biosynthetic pathways of natural products before and was confident that I knew how to do this. However, this project opened me to reality. During my project, I realized that while being optimistic is good, you cannot be overconfident. I thought that I had the skills and mental fortitude to complete the experiment, but I was faced with many obstacles. Though I know that not all experiments, or even events in life, work out the way you want them to at first, I was not prepared to meet an onset of failures. It was very disheartening to repeat experiments to no avail. At some point, I even began to lose hope and wanted to give up. However, I tried to find a solution to my problem and realized that with will, anything is possible. Doing research is not easy—in fact it involves many failures that you cannot anticipate. I now know that I have to be mentally prepared for experiments not working the way you want them to, and that eventually it is possible to overcome these issues by finding a solution.

I started the project by first creating a cosmid library for 2-nitroimidazole. This was very difficult for me as I have never used the molecular genetic techniques involved in this before. Thankfully, with the guidance of my principal investigator (PI), I was able to successfully create a cosmid library on my first try though it was smaller than it should have been. I then had to design primers for the first time to screen the library for the putative gene cluster. Although the actual designing of the primers went smoothly, I faced my major failure in trying to screen the cosmid library via Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). I screened 960 cosmids from the library (though I managed to condense them to 96 actual reactions) using PCR, but there were no DNA bands when I analyzed the DNA gel. I knew that statistically speaking, I should have had at least two positive hits out of the 96 I had done, yet somehow there was not anything. At first, I thought that perhaps I had not correctly assembled the PCR reactions, so the next day I repeated them again, only to find that I had failed again. Again, I did the same PCR except changing the annealing temperature in hopes of getting some kind of result. Somehow, I had managed to waste an entire day and many materials on an experiment that had completely failed. I went home that night thinking of all the possible ways that I could possibly fix this issue.

At this point, I wanted to give up. I was overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy and uselessness, and thought that there was no way that I could achieve my goal. I did not want to talk to my fellow lab mates nor my PI because I felt that I had failed them. However, with the advice of my friend who is also in a research lab, I decided to approach my PI about how we could solve this issue. The next day my PI and I discussed ways that we could optimize the PCR reaction. Our line of reasoning was that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the cosmid library nor the primers, but perhaps the PCR reaction was not the ideal conditions for my template and primers. Thus, I did several different PCR tests where I changed the reaction composition and even the PCR cycle itself until finally, one set worked. With this success, I was renewed with hope and screened the 960 cosmids once again, with 7 different positive results.

Although I had experienced that major failure, I had been able to overcome it by thinking about the reason behind its failures and coming up with a solution to overcome them. Suddenly I felt like I was able to do whatever I put my mind to. I managed to successfully create the cosmid library for the strain that produces N-nitroglycine on my own, and it was even larger than the first one. Because of these successes, I was able to do experiments without the need to rely on someone else, but if I ever got confused I had many people who I could go to for advice or guidance like my lab mates or PI. Though I had not completed my actual research project of elucidating the biosynthetic pathways of 2-nitroimidazole and N-nitroglycine during the STEP Signature Project, I am confident that I will be able to in the coming year.

Overall, I think that my STEP Signature Project has transformed me for the better as a scientist and person, and these will all help me in my future career as a pharmacist. Due to this experience, I am now equipped with more skills and knowledge that are necessary for performing research. I know more techniques and skills, but I also know that failures are not the end of a project. Even in the face of failures, I can troubleshoot to come up with possible solutions. In addition, I can independently perform my own experiments. These skills will better help me in my future research as I complete my research project. However, the most important thing that has changed in me is my confidence. I have a tendency to feel incompetent in the face of failure but because of this experience I feel more confident in my abilities. In addition, I am no longer scared to ask for help from those close to me. As I plan on becoming a pharmacist, I think that these qualities will be fundamental in my career. I will have to work in a hospital where I will undoubtedly be left in situations where I will be unsure of what to do. Now, I am better prepared to anticipate problems, find solutions, and ask for advice.

STEP Reflection

Allie Lenyo

STEP Research Project

1.For my STEP Project, I performed a research project called Determining the role of point mutation E566A in cholangiocarcinoma therapy resistance. Over the past summer, I performed cell-based experiments in order to study the causes and mechanisms of targeted therapy resistance in cancer. Over the course of the project, it was found that a point mutation that is acquired can lead to targeted therapy resistance through altering protein pathways.

2. Over the course of my STEP Project, my understanding about myself and my view of the world transformed. While I was completing the project, there were many obstacles that I encountered in the laboratory. For example, one assay I was performing would not work correctly, and a great deal of troubleshooting was required. However, I realized that when I am able to take a step back and think critically about a problem I face, it is often easier to come up with a valid solution. I also learned that brainstorming ideas with others about possible solutions to the problem can help me think of new ideas that I otherwise may have never discovered. I realized that I am truly passionate about helping cancer patients and conducting cancer research, and this has influenced my decision to apply to medical school this upcoming year.

My view of the world, and the scientific community, in particular has also changed because of this project. Although I have been a Biomedical Science major during all of my time at Ohio State, working in the laboratory really allowed me the chance to interact with faculty researchers. Through working with my principal investigator, Dr. Sameek Roychowdhury, I learned not just about performing scientific experiments, but also about communicating research results and maintaining ethical research practices. I found that there is much more to being a successful researcher than simply knowing how to perform lab assays, and I plan to take this knowledge with me in my future career.

3.Many experiences and interactions during my STEP Project led to this personal growth. First, interacting with my laboratory mentors helped me to learn more about the process of conducting research projects successfully. My principal investigator, Dr. Sameek Roychowdhury, held weekly student meetings in which he talked to students about what he has learned about maintaining a successful laboratory. He chose a different topic about which to talk each week, and he discussed research ethics, presenting research, laboratory safety, and how to cope with failure in the laboratory. Through this experience, I was able to learn from his experience as a researcher to help me as I embark on my career.

Another extremely valuable experience was the opportunity to learn from my postdoctoral research mentor, Dr. Melanie Krook. Melanie finished her PhD a few years ago, and she is very knowledgeable about the process of pursuing graduate or professional degrees in today’s world. She was able to help guide me through the process of determining what type of degree program I would like to enter after my undergraduate career. Melanie also helped me learn to perform a great deal of laboratory assays, and she gave me tips on how to be most efficient in the lab.

Next, I had the opportunity to attend laboratory meetings and journal clubs. At each meeting of journal club, we would discuss a scientific article that we read. This helped me to become more proficient in reading scientific articles. I also was able to connect the findings of other scientists to the work that we were performing in the lab. At times, I had questions regarding the articles we read that other members in the lab were able to answer. I was glad that I was able to not only learn from the articles, but also learn from other members in the lab.

Lastly, I was able to improve my critical thinking skills through solving problems that arose when performing experiments. For example, I was performing an assay called a Western Blot, in which I was probing for various proteins in a type of cell. For some reason, a few proteins were not showing up on my blot. At first, I tried redoing the assay with a different population of cells. However, this still did not solve the problem. I brainstormed different ideas of what could be going wrong, and I decided to try a new set of reagents. This solved my problem, and the Western Blot was successful. I learned that although the solution might not always be found on the first try, but thinking critically and having persistence can help to solve the problem.

4.When I was 15 years old, my younger brother was diagnosed with bone cancer. The physicians and researchers who worked on his case were so passionate about his care, and because of their hard work, my brother has now been cancer-free for four years. Because of his battle with cancer, I became inspired to pursue a cancer research project as my STEP Experience. This research project helped me to decide on a career. I knew that I had wanted to be a physician so that I can treat patients, but I have also decided that I would like to be a physician at an academic medical center so that I can also perform a bit of research.

This experience has also allowed me to network with scientists and other students who have similar goals to mine. I have been able to be immersed in the world of cancer research, and I have been inspired by not just the work of my own lab, but also the work of other labs at Ohio State. Because of this experience, I know that I want to perform more research in the future, and I have met some professional contacts who could also be collaborators someday.


STEP Reflection

Name: Charu Tiwari

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

  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.

I conducted initial research on the mechanism for liver sinusoidal endothelial cell (LSEC) injury following cancer drug delivery. My work entailed standardizing antibodies and controls so that a human LSEC cell line could be tested for the expression of CD33, a target receptor.

  1. 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.

This project gave me valuable insight into a research career. This was the first time I worked full time in research, so I experienced spending almost 40 hours a week in the lab. It was really important for me to understand whether being in a wet lab for that long is conducive to my working style. I found that I struggled with the lack of routine that comes with research—the unpredictable nature of the job gave me anxiety that I did not know how to initially handle. I realized how important a routine and regular work schedule is to me—I discovered that it helps me plan around my hobbies and spending time with family and friends. I also struggled with feeling inadequate about the progress I was making, especially when experiments did not work or needed to be repeated, or had to be delayed for certain reasons. I thought deeply about my desire to be a physician and how well that career truly lined up with what I wanted from a job—I realized that when working with patients, I wouldn’t feel like any time or day was a “waste”, because even if you cannot cure somebody’s disease, every moment you spend with them has the potential to be positively impactful in their life. This is not really the same for research. I struggled with feeling like sometimes I wasting my time when things did not go right.

Although I have a deep respect and appreciation for biological research, in a job I need to be working more closely with people. Most of the research I did this summer was fairly individual other than lab meetings. I like working with team members throughout a project and sometimes being in a lab by yourself all day can get fairly lonely. I have gained a better understanding of the aspects I am looking for in my future career.

  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? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

The unpredictability of research that was referred to above presented itself in many forms. I am a planner—I feel most comfortable when I can lay out ahead of time what my goals are for the week and then in order to feel satisfied with myself, I need to accomplish those goals. During my research project this summer, the work that I had expected to complete totally did not happen, and the work I was able to complete took significantly longer than expected. For example, I was trying to standardize an antibody for a particular cell line; I started out using the antibody with just positive and negative controls. But, it was not working with the positive control. I spent almost a month trying to change variables such as temperature, the machine used to analyze data, antibody concentrations, etc. in order to figure out why the positive control wasn’t working. It turned out that this antibody does not work on fixed cells—they have to be fixed after the antibody is used. This experience frustrated me significantly because what I thought would just be one quick experiment took almost ten different experiments.

In relation to the frustration I felt when my plans could not be carried out, I also became anxious about the supposed lack of progress I was making with my project. I had wanted to take about half the summer to standardize antibodies and reagents, test them on the liver sinusoidal endothelial cells, and then explore the mechanisms for sinusoidal damage. However, because the standardization took so long, I was unable to get to explore the mechanism part of the project, which I had been looking forward to the most.

And finally, I realized how important it is for me to be working actively in a team. Although a lab is a team, the day-to-day work that I experienced was fairly individualized—I spent most of my time alone. Even if there were other people in the lab, my need to concentrate on my own work forced me to isolate myself either physically or by putting on headphones. I am a fairly social person that needs to engage with others on a daily basis in my work to feel satisfied with my job—I found that the type of research I did this summer failed to provide me with that. I again thought back to my physician shadowing experiences and remembered how they discussed everything together and worked as a team with nurses and other physicians every moment of the day, and how much that seemed like a better fit for me.

  1. 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.

This research project has allowed me to learn and reflect on what it means to go into research, especially biological, as a career. This was very important to me because I have been fairly confused about what I want to do after graduation. I was considering going into research, applying to medical school, a public health field, and even teaching. Because I have been doing part-time research since my freshmen year, it was the most logical option. I had simply had more experience with it. However, I had never worked in research full time and was always balancing it with school. I finally worked full time in research this summer and found that it failed to fulfill key qualities I discovered that I needed in a job.

Although I am not considering research to be a significant part of my future anymore, this experience did make me more confident about my decision to apply to medical school to become a physician. My whole high school and college experience I’ve been trying to better understand myself so that eventually I can go into a career that will make me happy because I want to help people, but I cannot do that if I am not happy myself. Everything that I felt I was not getting out of research would be there for me in the role of a physician. I would be glad to continue contributing to research during my breaks in medical school, for example, but I feel that my personality is better suited to the role of a physician than for research.

STEP Reflection

My STEP project was focused on my research project in the lab of Dr. Jian-Qiu Wu at Ohio State. The Wu Lab studies the final stage of the cell cycle, cytokinesis, in fission yeast. The purpose of my research is to investigate the role of the Sec1 protein in a complex that is essential for cytokinesis to occur. Our understanding of cytokinesis in this model organism is important because we can apply these principles to mammalian cells, including humans. This knowledge is utilized when developing cancer treatments and anti-fungal medication. STEP gave me the opportunity to present this work at the 2018 Plant & Microbial Cytoskeleton Gordon Research Conference. Representing the Wu Lab at this week long meeting in New Hampshire allowed me to meet experts in the field, learn about their research, and gain experience presenting my own.

This experience gave me a new sense of confidence in myself. In order to prepare for this meeting, I practiced my presentation in front of members of my lab. This confidence became essential to me while presenting my work at the conference. Since I was the only member of my lab there, when people had questions about my project I had to make sure I had a full understanding of their question so that I could answer it to the best of my ability. As the only undergraduate present at the conference, there were certain parts of lectures and presentations that I didn’t understand. The confidence that I had allowed me to form intelligent questions to further my overall learning experience.

Early on in the meeting, I met researchers from all over the world. By forming these initial relationships, I was introduced to their colleagues and acquaintances from previous meetings. By the end of the week, I had networked with researchers across several disciplines. Not only did I get to learn more about their research through these personal conversations, but I got to learn about their experiences that led them to where they are in their career. I received huge amounts of advice that I did not expect. Following the conference, I have been able to maintain these professional relationships which has been incredibly helpful as I make important decisions about my future.

This experience was important to me in many ways. Since I have been a member of the Wu Lab for a year and a half, it allowed me to reflect on my work so far. I developed important skills at this conference that I will utilize as I continue my research. For example, throughout the week I became better at taking notes during research seminars as well as following along with a presentation in which I had minimal background knowledge about. Additionally, this experience motivated me to continue my research. Upon returning for the meeting, I submitted my Honor’s Research Thesis application and applied for Undergraduate Research Scholarships. Most importantly, I have decided to continue working in the research setting for a year or two after graduation before attending medical school.

STEP Reflection

Name: Caroline Watt

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

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

My STEP project was to work on a research project at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe Germany through DAAD RISE program. I also attended a two week language course my first two weeks in Germany. My research project was to synthesizing and characterizing nanoparticles that could be used for biomedical applications

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

I would say this summer led to 2 major changes in way I view the world and my future. One is that my career goals have changed, and another is I have realized how big, diverse, and exciting this world is and I should not limit myself to the United States for travel, work, or culture.

Living and working in a different country for 3 months with a different culture and language that I did not know let to plenty of challenges but so many more rewarding experiences. This summer I worked in a small research lab where I worked under a postdoc and there was only three other people in the lab. My post doc was extremely strict and had very high expectations of me. Since my post doc was so strict it made the office environment extremely tense and no one really spoked to each other. This was a big culture shock coming from Mid-west where we usually say good morning and have the occasionally small talk in the lab. This experience made me realize how important the people that are in your workplace make a job tolerable. I did not mind the actual work I was doing but I realized I did not realize I loved it either and this realization made me decide that I do not want to go to graduate school for a PhD in Organic Chemistry and that I will just get a job for now while I am figuring out what I actually want to do.

Even though I did not love my job this summer, being surrounded by different cultures and learning about the different opportunities for careers in Germany and in other countries in Europe made me realize that I do not need to limit myself to working in the United States for the rest of my life. Something else I realized this summer is how powerful knowing a different language is. I can only speak English and my whole life I thought I did not have to know another language and never cared to try to learn a different language. But most people I met in Europe knew at least 2-3 languages and it is such a powerful skill and opens up to some many more people you can talk to.

 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?

              Working long hours with an extremely strict boss and working in a tense office environment and not enjoying work at all most days and not finding much enjoyment in the research made me realize that pursuing a PhD might not be right for me or at least not a PhD with research focused in Organic Chemistry. Even though my boss was strict, I would get lunch with a couple of my group members throughout the summer and one of them was an exchange PhD student from Taiwan and he was one of the kindest people I have ever met and whenever I was having a rough day with my boss he would believe in me and encourage me to keep going. I also made good friends with people from my group and other groups from Ireland, Germany, and Turkey.

In Karlsruhe, I lived with 11 other students in a dorm on and half of them were Germany and the other were international students. The international students were from: France, Nepal, Romania, and Portugal. It was interesting living in such diverse community with people from different countries because I could hear stories what it is like to grow up in those countries and learn from their culture. Since all of my roommates knew 2-3 languages, it made me feel guilty that I only knew one and how useful it would have been to know German. There were so many conversations I was left out of because I did not know what they were saying.

I also traveled almost every weekend, and this was extremely transformational because I got to experience so many different cultures. I would do a city tour for a lot of the cities I went to and it was really interesting learning about the history of all of the cities. I mostly traveled with other people in my internship program that I either met in my language course or that were in the same city as me. I also did a few weekend trips alone. This trips really made me have to learn how to be confident because I would be walking around a city completely alone and would have make friends with random people either in a tour group or the hostel I stayed at. Traveling alone really force me to enjoy being by myself and to get to know myself.

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

This transformation is valuable to my life because before this summer I never really traveled much and never even had a passport before. But this summer I fell in love with traveling and I am going to make a point to travel more and save money in different ways that I have not in the past in order to be able to afford to travel more and look for more opportunities to travel for work abroad. It also was transformational in the sense it made me realize what I do not want to do in the future for a job. I need to figure out what I actually want to do for the rest of my life but I know that traveling will always be a priority for me looking forward.

STEP Reflection

For my STEP Signature Project, I attended the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Boston. At the meeting, I attended seminars and poster sessions that were of interest to me. Lastly, I presented my undergraduate research work that I completed during the summer at the undergraduate poster session.

My STEP Signature Project was a transformational experience that allowed me to experience how scientific knowledge is shared. My view on how scientists collaborate and share information was changed. I learned that even though research is a competitive field, many scientists work together to change the lives of others. I also learned that research is conducted by a diverse population of people from around the world. My personal growth included stepping out of my comfort zone during my poster presentation and during my travels. It was very interesting to witness thousands of people come together in one location to celebrate discoveries and collaborate to expand our knowledge.

Many different events and interactions allowed from myself to grow and learn more about how science is shared. The overall atmosphere of the conference itself allowed me to better understand the depth of science. The conference took place in a large convention center and attached hotel. Every day of the conference, the facility was packed with people who were excited to discuss and share science. The first day of the conference was the most eye opening, when the exhibition center opened, I could see all at once the large number of people who had gathered to celebrate and learn. It was eye-opening to see just how many people were working and researching to expand our knowledge. I soon realized how much time and thought is put into discoveries that improve our lives.

Secondly, during the conference I spent a lot of time listening to others speak and attended poster sessions. During the research talks, I learned that many scientists worked to create better methods and tools for other researchers to use. These researchers understood that improving the tools for research would lead to new discoveries. I realized how each researcher was a “piece of the puzzle” in many of little discoveries that allow us to better understand our world.

Lastly, I learned how to step out of my comfort zone. This trip was my first experience traveling to and visiting a new city alone. I learned my way around the city and spent time learning about the history of Boston. I was used to exploring new cities with my friends or family, so it was a different experience to explore a city alone. I became very comfortable with going out to eat and exploring parts of Boston alone. I also had to step out of my comfort zone during my poster presentation, I learned to talk to many people and explain my research to a variety of different people.

My experiences during my STEP signature project have transformed me into a more confident person and given me insight into the depth of science. In the future, I plan to attend medical school and work as a physician. I know that I will work and collaborate with many researchers and understanding the work and collaborations that are possible will allow be to provide the best care to my patients. I also gained more confidence to present my work and experience new situations on my own. I have learned a great deal from my STEP signature project and the experiences that I have gained have prepared me for my future.

STEP Reflection

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

I worked as a research assistant in the Sustainable Materials Innovation group ran by Dr. Vicky Doan-Nguyen (which I am still a part of). The lab is a part of the Materials Science and Engineering Department and researches materials for electrical energy storage and catalysis. I personally focused on a project studying and developing lithium sulfur batteries.

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

This experience was personally transformative in so many ways. The amount of knowledge that I gained as a research assistant was much more than I could have anticipated. Working in a research lab requires a very detailed and complete understanding of the scientific theories behind your projects. I learned a lot of information that was not covered in my courses, including some advanced chemistry, physics, and materials science. Not only did I become more knowledgeable, but I believed I have turned into a better scientist, worker, and overall student. I am also now much more aware of my strengths (and weakness), abilities, and interests in engineering.

3. 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?

My primary project during my time as a research assistant was the development of lithium sulfur batteries. The ultimate goal is to create a battery that can be used as an alternative to traditional lithium-ion batteries that are widely used today. However, developing something that changes industry standards is hardly a simple task. Not only did I have to familiarize myself with past and current battery research, I also needed to explore ideas on how to improve and take the research in a direction that was uniquely my own. There were numerous scientific articles that I had to comb through in order to gain a base understanding of the work I’d be diving into for the summer. I got pretty discouraged at times due to the sheer amount of information I had to learn, but in the end, I became much more knowledgeable as a result of it.

My research advisor, Dr. Doan-Nguyen, helped me through much of the process. She is an assistant professor who recently joined OSU from UC Santa Barbara where she worked as a postdoctoral fellow. Upon initially meeting her, I was amazed at how much experience she had as a scientist. Her intelligence and enthusiasm for research was infectious and motivated me to succeed as well. She helped explain to me some of the more complicated concepts behind the research and assisted me with many procedures in-lab. Dr. Doan-Nguyen also places a lot of importance on independence and self-learning. When I first joined the group, I was very quickly left to my own devices. Being on your own can be very intimidating when you are given responsibility over a project that you are unfamiliar with, but after utilizing my resources and asking for help when needed, I was quickly able to adapt and swim rather than sink. I’m very grateful for the values I’ve picked up from Vicky and believe I have become a much better student and worker as a result.

Additionally, I have learned so much about the research process as a whole. The biggest eye-opener for me was how slow research can advance at times. There is a lot of trial and error. It takes a great amount of time and effort to test a hypothesis that can ultimately end up being wrong. But a result that ends up being different than expected is not necessarily a failure. Rather, it’s a learning opportunity that can help guide you in the right direction. The only thing worse than making a mistake is making the same mistake twice. All failures have important lessons that can teach you how to improve and make progress (however slow).


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

This research experience has allowed me to grow so much professionally, academically, and personally. Aside from all the science, I have picked up many values that will benefit me greatly in the future. I have learned the importance of independence and responsibility in the workplace. Having never held a job with so much freedom before, I was ignorant of what it took to succeed. Science does not wait for anyone and will only progress with continued, focused effort. I have also discovered the importance of self-learning. Learning should certainly never stop after graduation, no matter what discipline you’re in. Being a chemical engineering student and joining a materials science lab was an interesting adjustment, but after having gone through it, I’m confident I can adapt to any position. All it takes is hard work and a willingness to learn from others and from your mistakes.

I am also much more aware of my goals for the future. Although I don’t plan on pursuing a master’s degree right after graduating, this experience has given me invaluable insight into the world of research. My goal is obtain an internship to gain industry experience next, but a role in research and development is much more appealing to me now. The lessons I’ve picked up from this summer are sure to stick with me for life. Even though I still have much more to experience professionally, I’m confident that my time in this lab will enable me to succeed in my eventual career path.

STEP reflection

My STEP project was to work with the Graphene Factory to create and implement a method of transferring CVD grown graphene to SiO2 wafers as cleanly and reliably as possible.  The main method this was accomplished was via an acetone bath and ozone cleaning of residual polymers. Additionally, the development of hexagonal boronitride would eventually enter the project as a reliable dry transfer method of graphene that would not result in any residue or defects in the graphene.  

During the project I became familiar with many common laboratory practices in condensed matter physics, and discovered that experimental condensed matter physics would be a fairly good fit for me as an aspiring physicist.  Before I was interested in many parts of physics but was unsure of what focus I would have or what kind of career path would be a good fit for me. Now I think I would particularly enjoy solid state physics within industry as an experimentalist.  Additionally, I learned how interesting and difficult it is to conduct many experiments within physics. The Graphene Factory is responsible for material creation for other materials projects within and outside of OSU in order to help these other groups research the materials without having to put in the effort of creating materials and understanding fully the methods of fabrication.  

Over the summer I was trained on a number of instruments and learned their applications as they pertain to the various projects happening in OSU’s condensed matter programs.  I learned a great deal and read more when I became aware of the instruments, and this gave me a small understanding of how many projects are conducted in condensed matter.

My particular project initially was to test the efficacy of ozone cleaning on wet transferred graphene.  This was evaluated by optical microscopy, and had clear effects on the graphene. It was possible with the testing method to visibly see reductions in the differently colored PMMA residue on the wafer as the ozone clean progressed.  Conducting an actual scientific experiment with impact on the group as a whole was satisfying because there was a clear benefit to the product being produced by the group as a whole.

Additionally, working with the Graphene Factory was an encouraging experience to me.  It is exciting to work with my peers on common projects and to solve problems encountered along the way.  In any group project, everyone typically has different and interesting ideas to solve problems and learning our collective differences can help to mix up the way we think about problems in general.  

Before this project, I was unsure of my future career as a physicist, but afterward I am confident that it is a good fit for me.  I now know that I enjoy at least some experimental work in condensed matter physics and that I would not be disappointed going to Graduate studies in condensed matter.  

A Summer in Boston


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.

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.