Biofilm Conference in Washington D.C.

Niki Grotewold’s Reflection:

 

For my STEP project I went to a research conference in Washington D.C. hosted by the American Society for Microbiology called the 8th Biofilm Conference. This was a five day conference where over 60 professors from around the world gave talks on biofilms and after the talks we were able to socialize and get to know about each other’s research. It also entailed me presenting a poster on one of the days and various graduate students, post-graduate students, and professors would ask me questions and give recommendations on how to proceed with my research.

 

Months ago, I was hesitant to embark on the journey to presenting at such a large conference due to the prestige of the people that would be there and the overwhelming amount of high-level science that would be involved in the everyday schedule. After much consideration I realized that I was ready to prepare a project that would be worthy of presenting at such an event. I spent a lot of time doing research in the lab to advance my research project and finalizing the poster so that it would look professional and be understood easily. I had much help from my two post-graduate mentors and from my professor.

Attending the conference taught me a lot about science and about wanting to pursue a PhD when I grow up. The constant discussions at the conference about various research projects going on throughout the world that all connect with each other to add information to databases that doctors can use to help cure patients gave the institution of research much meaning for me. I think that this experience helped to finalize my decision about pursuing a PhD and about doing research for the rest of my life. Being the first person to discover something significant and then relaying it to other scientists that are researching topics related that are then able to make discoveries off yours was seen at the conference in so many ways.

 

At the conference the day would start at 8 am and talks would be given for two hours until there was a 20 minute coffee break and then talks would be given another two hours until lunch. At these breaks, professors and students from across the world were able to mix at tables and talk to each other about their research. This had a major impact on my view of the field which has the rumor of being anti-social but in all reality is filled with interactions and collaborations that fuel scientific discovery. Talks would then resume until 4pm where we would then go to see poster boards of specific research projects. Being able to interact with researchers 1 on 1 about their project and their thinking of how to test certain parts of it to achieve a result were very rewarding. I felt like my brain was stimulated throughout the conference and that it was an irreplaceable experience in terms of learning what it’s like to be in the science research field. I greatly look forward to repeating this experience at other conferences.

STEP Reflection Prompts

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research
1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
As we’re all aware, breather cleaner air and drinking clean water are categorized as
undeniable human rights. The aim of Dr. Hendrik Verweij’s is to produce a cheap and energy
efficient inorganic membranes to accomplish such a task. The principal advantage of these
membranes is that they operate isothermally and can approach reversible entropy limits.
My job was to aid in the fabrication and testing of these membranes as well as other
geometries such as a tube, opposed to a disc.
2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world
changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
During my project, I truly understood the notion of engineering, finding a problem and
building or solving a solution. During coursework it is easy to put your head down and just
do what is required; however, during my time working on this project I was finally able to
understand why. When I was younger I always viewed people that wanted to improve
something important as somehow more than human. As one would expect, it was people
just like myself working towards a better solution. I also learned that graduate school is not
a path I would like to pursue. I enjoyed the interpersonal relationships that were built;
however, I’d much prefer a larger scale.
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?
When I first began my time at the lab, I worked with a graduate student named Yi. I was
nervous that someone much more experienced than me would view me as more of a pawn
than a partner. However, after working with him all summer, it turns out we have very
similar interests. I was even able to give him insight towards solutions where I had more
experience than him.
During the beginning of my project, our group was primarily working with flat, disc-shaped
membranes and using a furnace and other equipment to match. One day, towards the end
of my project, our research partner downtown sent us a membrane in the form of a
cylindrical tube. We had no way to test this membrane and had to build our own furnace. It
started off with the frame and then we drilled in holes for water-cooling. The point I’m
trying to make is that building this tube furnace from the ground up helped reiterate the
why as mentioned in #2. It was my first time having a problem and literally building a
solution with my own hands instead of doing theoretical work on a computer.
4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
Completing this project gives me motivation to complete my degree. I physically
experienced an end goal. However, I do not really plan on attending graduate school, but
the notion is still the same. I feel more comfortable entering the field knowing that
everyone started off clueless like myself and was seamlessly integrated. I was also able to
get experience communicating and reporting information to superiors, which is
undoubtedly useful for the future.

STEP Reflection

Name: Bekka Mayle

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

For my STEP Signature Project, I chose to work under Dr. Dan Strunk in his Depression Research Lab. The goal of our research is to understand how different types of socratic questioning in therapy can help clients depressive symptoms. The main activities that I were involved in included coding recorded therapy session between therapists and their clients, attending lab meetings, and working with other coders to understand how we could work on our interrater reliability. While I had individual responsibilities, the group aspect of the project was very important as well.

I was able to learn so much about myself and the world from this project. As previously mentioned, I watched recorded therapy sessions from clients who suffer from depression. One of the first things that I noticed myself thinking during this time was how brave these clients were, allowing their extremely private therapy sessions be viewed for the greater understanding of psychology. I had assumed previously, especially from personal experience, that people diagnosed with depression tended to be weaker than others. However, this experience has made me really appreciate and understand the courage that people with depression can have, as therapy is a very intimate setting. I do not know if I would have the courage to do the same as these clients, which is very moving. These clients often come to my mind now, and truly have a large impact on my own life.

I also held previous beliefs that therapy was all the same, no matter where you looked. However, being able to experience therapy that was different than what I had experienced in the past not only taught me a lot about the process of rehabilitation of depression patients, it taught me that I may need to put more research into my own beliefs before I consider my beliefs as truth.

While I typically do not have face-to-face interaction with the subjects that I am studying, I do feel that we have an interaction that has contributed to the above changes that I have made. I am very privileged to be able to be a part of the extremely intimate process of therapy as I said previously, and the ‘interactions’ that I have with these clients stick with me in a very meaningful way. There are some clients that I observe that I can relate to because of their stories, or understand where they are coming from due to a family member or friend going through something similar. I think this really gave me a lot of perspective on situations that I may not have ever dealt with personally, but I am able to now empathize with due to truly understanding the emotions, thoughts, and feelings that are involved with their unique experiences.

Another way that my perspective was greatly impacted was in my observations of the therapists behavior. A large part of the research is understanding how the therapist’s interactions with the clients can have an effect on the depressive symptoms experienced by the client. As a psychology student that is interested in graduate school, and with the potential interest in becoming a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, I learned a lot about what the job entails. I learned that empathy, active listening, and questioning with intention are some of the most important characteristics to what I deemed to be a successful session. I hope to be able to take some of these qualities forward in my own work in the future.

While there were a lot of things that I learned in my lab from the clients and the therapists, there were also some lessons that I learned just from participating in research at all. For instance, I learned a lot about time management. When I have the responsibility of being in the lab for six hours a week, along with coordinating meeting times, along with classes and other extracurriculars, it can be quite difficult to manage all of these things. I learned a lot of discipline and prioritizing. One example of this is that the lab is only open during regular business hours, so while I may have wanted to spend the time from 8am-5pm in the library or in classes, I had to work with my schedule to be able to allot the proper amount of time to each activity that I needed to complete. I also learned that there are a lot of different roles in the research process. Every lab that I had worked in previously was a wet-lab; everyone would be wearing goggles and lab coats using chemicals and pipettes to complete their work. However, my job was very different than this considering it was psychology research. I was coding behaviors, which is possibly more difficult due to the amount of detail that had to be conveyed in my coding reports. Overall, this taught me to really appreciate the process of research and understand how much work has gone into everything that I have ever learned not only in a psychology class, but all sciences.

One of the greatest significances of this project to me is the empathy that it taught me. While I considered myself to be a pretty empathetic person previously, I think that I learned a lot about what it means to be there for someone when you can’t possibly understand what they are going through. I used to struggle with what to say when a friend came to me with an experience that I had not been through personally. I used to think that I needed to have the perfect advice or say the perfect thing that would fix the problem for them. I know now that many people just need a friend to listen, try their best to understand what they are going through, and be there for them. Whether I decide to attend graduate school for psychology, or enter the medical field, I believe that empathy is something that I can apply universally.

    This experience also taught me a lot of personal responsibility which will be extremely valuable in my future. Confidentiality is possibly one of the most important responsibilities that I have, as I have previously mentioned that observing an individual’s private therapy sessions is extremely intrusive and I have to protect this information. Since I will be working with patients in the future, understanding HIPAA and valuing the importance of confidentiality is crucial in keeping their trust.
Overall, I think I have learned so many things from this experience and I wouldn’t be the same person without it. I think this experience was invaluable and after my project ended, I decided to continue research in my lab due to the overwhelming benefits of being a part of it.

\ Photo of the Psychology Building

Summer STEP Project Reflection: REDO

The original intent of my STEP Signature Project was to aid the research done by students in Dr. Katelyn-Reilly’s lab. The lab was focused on Bio-Ocular research. All the available projects were based on finding some polymer-based replacement to a part of the human eye. Due to the lab being part of the Biomedical Engineering department this project was supposed to help me hone my lab skills and expose me to a different type of engineering. A variable I did not account for was also getting an internship during this time. I will go into more depth on how I dealt/ balanced this with my project later.

The project I chose was trying to find a hydrogel that replaced the vitreous of the human eye. The vitreous is the gel that makes up the inside of the eye. If the eye has taken some sort of trauma or the vitreous is replaced during surgery, it’s replaced with a silicone gel. The issue is that silicone gel does not replicate the characteristics of the human vitreous well. It doesn’t hold the same viscous and elastic properties and it doesn’t keep the same oxygen gradient. With the human vitreous, oxygen is heavily concentrated near the rear of the eye while the front (the cornea) has very low oxygen content. If oxygen content is more dispersed, the increased oxygen in the cornea can cause secondary cataracts. Thus, the project was created to find a polymer combination that created a hydrogel that could very closely mimic the eye’s natural vitreous.

My part of the project was to help synthesize various polymer combinations to create a set of testable hydrogels. The combinations were tested with various equipment such as a rheometer and a spectrometer to see if one of the hydrogels held mechanical and light transmittance properties close to that of our test vitreous. Due to the high price of using actual human eyes, we used pig eyes to get testable natural vitreous. Besides polymer synthesis, I would pick up small data analysis jobs from the graduate students in the lab. Since I had no background in polymers or biology at all, I had a significant disadvantage initially. However, thanks to the graduates around me I was able to grow my knowledge of polymer synthesis and of the field of biopolymers.

Below are a couple of pictures showcasing my polymer synthesis set up.

Close up of a polymer being synthesized.

IMG_7583.TRIM-1oy65jy

Video of Polymer Synthesis on a smaller scale

The largest understanding of mine that changed during this project was my assumptions of the structure of lab work and balancing my time effectively. As an example, I expected that I would have gotten a small project to work on from one of the graduate students immediately. What I have come to know with this lab, and most likely everywhere else, is that I must be vocal about what I want to do or who I want to help. I needed to go up to graduates and tell them what I wanted to do under their research because they were unsure of what general lab project I wanted to work on.

I remember the troubles of trying to advertise to the graduate students that I was available to help them in their projects. I initially thought that they would remember me telling them before the end of the school year that I was going to be around the lab during the summer and that I was willing to help anyone who needed it. One of the graduates seemed eager to want my help. However, when the time rolled around, it seemed that none of them remembered I was there. I had tried to contact them through buckeyemail to advertise I was available and still, there was little to no reply. This issue finally wore on me to the point where I began coming in, walking straight to the graduate office and physically asking any graduate if they needed help. I eventually began to receive work from the graduates in the lab once I advertised myself enough.

Another instance of my change came with one of the individual meetings I had with Dr. Katelyn Swindle-Reilly. At that time, sometime around June/July, I had taken in a small amount of work from the graduate students but not as much as I had hoped. As I was talking with her, I realized that the hours I assumed would work with the graduates was not as good as I thought. The lab hours were segmented into small 1-2 hour days which I came to realize was not enough to take on any larger projects. After talking with her I decided to lower my work hours and restructure my schedule so that I had larger blocks of lab time.

As mentioned before, I had problems balancing an internship (at Chemical Abstract Service) with the lab work. I had not assumed any outside factors may affect the plan I had laid out already and it was hard for me to properly adjust this project with my internship. I had to adjust my work schedule multiple times to increase the hours I spent at the lab while also still putting in enough hours at work to make a supporting paycheck. It was my inexperience with balancing two jobs that led me to this issue. However, I think the lesson I took away from this issue is valuable. I have never needed to split my time between two equally important things until now. Because of this, I believe I can better identify and rank tasks/ goals that need to be completed.

I think my view towards time management is the most transformative to me because when I initially came in, I was under my previous assumption that I had enough time to balance everything. Prior to the project, I’ve never had to worry about balancing my time between two very important things. I may have my parents to thank for that, but it certainly led to the assumption that I could keep taking on more responsibilities without having to put much thought into the amount time I’d need to do everything in a high-quality fashion.

During the STEP project, I found out that if I want to take on more important projects and finish things in high quality I needed to start thinking about how much time I can effectively give out. Additionally, with the limited time I had, I ran the risk of putting out bad data in the lab and what I failed to realize at first was that this influenced others around me. My bad performance could steer the lab in the wrong direction for months, wasting everyone’s time. By changing my view on how precious and limited my time is, I have effectively changed my view on just how much work I would be willing to take on.

STEP Final Reflection

Name: Carter Morris

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research Experience

 

My STEP signature project was an undergraduate research experience in the Department of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering at Ohio State.  In this project, I became acquainted with qualitative research methods in order to complete my own pilot study: Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Beliefs About Intelligence, and the Role of Socioeconomic Status in Belief Formation.

Through this project, I became much more open-minded regarding my views on how students around me learn.  My research focused on a theory called Mindset popularized by Dr. Carol Dweck.  In this theory, Dweck argues that people think of their intelligence (as well as other aspects of themselves) typically in one of two ways: that intelligence is an innate characteristic about ourselves that cannot be changed – you are simply “born smart,” or that intelligence is a skill, and, like other skills can, be developed over time.  At the start of this experience, I would have been much more likely to think of others – and myself – as having a fixed intelligence.

By reading different students’ interviews and learning how they think of their own intelligence, interviewing students myself for my pilot study, and reading theory on mindset, I learned how people’s intelligence is largely dependent on their environment and any previous exposure.  This has allowed me to take a more open-minded approach to thinking about how other people succeed and how I succeed.

An event that lead me to this transformation was my interview with one of my participants: Beatrice (a pseudonym).  In the interview, I asked Beatrice various questions about what she thought of her intelligence, including questions about her response to challenges, her motivations, and her views on effort.  Throughout the interview, Beatrice’s responses indicated that she had a strong inclination to think of her intelligence as a fixed trait, but in post analysis, I saw that this belief was something that Beatrice constructed through years of social training.

Beatrice was extremely honest in her responses.  At one point, she admitted that being raised in an upper-class community and attending schools that were regarded as the region’s best had conditioned her to believe that she had a natural advantage of other people.  In other words, being surrounded by people regarded as successful had convinced Beatrice that she was also successful.  This explanation revealed to me that, although Beatrice exhibited traits so clearly aligned with a fixed mindset perspective, those traits and those beliefs grew, they were not inert.

Recognizing that the beliefs Beatrice holds were constructed by the world around her helped me to realize that mine were too.  If Beatrice’s upbringing led her to believe that her intelligence was innate, how did my upbringings influence my own beliefs?  I have started to ask this question when thinking about all my beliefs, not just those I hold about intelligence, and by doing so I have felt myself grow into a more introspective person.  And by questioning my own beliefs, I find it easier to accept others’, making me a more open, welcoming person all around.

This change matters in so many different aspects of life that are all interconnected.  Being a more open-minded person will lead to me developing more friendships and stronger connections, and learning how to continuously question my beliefs will allow me to better cope with that changes that will be unexpectedly thrown at me all too often in life.  While I initially thought this experience would help me decided between using my degree to go into industry or academia (a question it did not definitively answer),  it has given me so much more.  Using what I’ve learned I can confidently define and change aspects of myself that I do not like, which will make me a more confident individual and ultimately help me to achieve my goals.

STEP Final Reflection

Nicole Cacciato STEP Signature Project Reflection

Undergraduate Research

For my STEP signature project, I participated in undergraduate research in the lab of Dr. David Carbone at the Comprehensive Cancer Center. Throughout the course of my project, I worked under various MDs and PhDs and assisted with their research projects regarding small cell lung cancer. The project that I mainly assisted with was regarding the resistance of various cancerous cell lines to different types of chemotherapy drugs. This was achieved through the use of various techniques such as IC50 Assays, BCA assays, Western blots, and other cell culturing techniques. The results from these various experiments were then exported and analyzed in Excel, and then utilized in scientific papers published by the lab.

When I began my STEP signature project, I had no research experience and was not at all confident in my abilities in the lab. At the beginning of my experience, whenever I was performing an experiment in the lab I was not at all confident in what I was doing and whenever I made a mistake I would apologize profusely and worry so much that the older, more experienced people in my lab would think I was unintelligent or incapable of correctly performing the experiment. I was also scared to ask people questions because I was afraid that they would think I wasn’t listening when they told me instructions the first time.

However, as my time in the lab progressed, I became more and more confident in my abilities, and became much closer with the other people in my lab. They assured me that it is perfectly okay to make mistakes and oftentimes mistakes are more common than success in the research process, depending on the experiment. They also offered me invaluable guidance on my future goals of attending graduate school and connected me with people currently working in various positions in the field of neuroscience. Throughout this experience, I developed a much stronger level of confidence in myself and my intellectual abilities, and also came to realize that perfection isn’t everything; in undergraduate life, it is easy to develop the idea that you need to do things perfectly the first time in order to do them well. However, we learn more from our mistakes than we do from performing something perfectly the first time I also developed a much stronger understanding of life as a researcher compared to other career paths, which helped to shape my goals for after college.

There were many events and interactions throughout the course of my signature project that contributed to the transformative experience that I had. First of all, I was able to interact with and observe the work of some of the top cancer doctors and researchers in the world. In lab meeting every week, researchers would present their findings, critique or question those of others, and discuss other relevant and groundbreaking research occurring in other labs around the world. Throughout this experience, I was able to gain an understanding of the projects occurring within my lab and how they both compared to and integrated with work being done in other locations.

Additionally, the lab that I worked in has a very strong charity presence; since all of the research being done is related to various subtypes of lung cancer, many people and charities within the community contribute financially to the lab. The lab holds many events to both thank the donors and educate them about the research currently being conducted, and it was really special to be able to meet and talk with people that are directly affected by and thankful for our work. I feel that this opportunity would not be present in most other labs, and I was extremely grateful to be able to see the firsthand impact of the research. On the other hand, it was also very informative in regards to how much funding is required to actually run a lab and continue the research; my lab receives millions of dollars in funding each year, which is good to know for future reference.

Finally, throughout my time in the lab I was exposed to an extremely wide variety of people in different careers. I met researchers, doctors, students pursuing PhDs in various fields, MD/PhD students, and so on. Before I began working in this lab, I was completely unsure of what I wanted to do after I graduated from Ohio State. Throughout my time in the lab I was able to have discussions with many people about what it took to get where they are, what they wish they had done differently if anything, and so on. I was able to gain insight about several different career paths and get an idea about what I might like to pursue after my undergraduate studies are completed.

This transformation is significant to my life for multiple reasons. Firstly, when I began working in this lab I was significantly less confident in my intellectual abilities and my ability to apply my knowledge to research than I am now. It is hard to develop this level of confidence from simply participating in class, even if you are doing well; there are always so many other students in class asking questions and also earning high grades that is difficult to determine where you fall in terms of what you know. I was previously also nervous to ask questions in class because I was afraid of looking stupid or uninformed. Now, I feel much more confident in my studies and have no trouble with asking questions in class; there are no stupid questions, and it is perfectly acceptable to misunderstand a concept. It is worse to misunderstand and not seek clarification than to try to figure it out on your own.

Additionally, this experience helped me to determine what I would like to pursue as a future career. Going into the project I had no idea what I wanted to do with my degree or whether I wanted to pursue a higher level of education, and throughout the project I gained a lot of insight into what type of career I might like to pursue. I am now planning on applying to get my Master’s of Science in pharmacology, and am considering pursuing a PhD after that. Overall, my experience through STEP helped guide me towards the next step in my career and gave me a much stronger sense of security in my knowledge in the field of neuroscience and science as a whole.

STEP Final Reflection

This past summer, I was able to utilize the resources gifted to me by the STEP program to gain valuable experience within a professional research lab at The Ohio State University. For my STEP signature project, I worked in a laboratory overseen by Dr. Estelle Cormet-Boyaka at Goss Laboratory in the Veterinary Biosciences department at Ohio State. In this position, I worked alongside both Ph.D. candidates and post-doctoral researchers within the laboratory setting and was able to conduct research and carry out experiments that not only coincided with the work the overall lab managed but also projects that my colleagues worked on to supplement the lab’s data. Alongside conducting and running experiments, each member of the laboratory, including myself, had weekly tasks that needed to be completed to ensure efficiency in the operation of the facility. Some assignments I was tasked with included calibrating the lab’s pH reader, autoclaving pipette tips and Eppendorf tubes, and checking the eyewash stations. Even the smallest and seemingly-menial tasks are essential to the proper functioning of the lab and the output of its results.

During my time in the laboratory this summer, many academic concepts that I had learned from courses I had taken became apparent. However, many more concepts were foreign to me and I was tasked with learning them through physical engagement through experimentation. Many of the skills that aided me in my time in the lab included those learned from organic chemistry courses I had taken, especially the laboratory courses. They helped build my understanding of adhering to a strict discipline when conducting experiments and analyzing data as well as following having basic knowledge about protocol in a laboratory setting. Because the laboratory was more of a cellular biological/biochemical setting rather than an organic chemistry one, I found myself needing to change my approach to conducting experiments and tasks early on in the summer. This included adapting to changes small and large from learning the layout and resources available within the laboratory to learning to utilize advanced machinery such as an Ussing Chamber and PCR machine in the collection and analysis of biological samples. Overall, the experience I have had the opportunity to have in this laboratory differed from my initial expectations but has helped shape me to become a better researcher and critical thinker.

Throughout my STEP signature project this summer, I learned how to operate within a laboratory in a professional and academic while conducting collaborative research among other professionals within the field. The skills I learned and gained during my time have helped better equip me for research in the future, regardless of discipline. These transferable skills have allowed me to explore a research perspective that I would have otherwise been unaware of or at least only been able to read about. Being able to do hands-on work and learn alongside others that have been researching more multiple years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate career so far. I see this style of learning – in the field – as an effective method to hone my analysis skills and proficiency in research ethics. Additionally, I decided to continue doing with research with Dr. Cormet-Boyaka’s laboratory and help analyze the effects and potential causes of cystic fibrosis in a cellular biological setting. This experience through the STEP program has strengthened my desire to continue to pursue a career within scientific research and hopefully bring innovative practices and ideas to the table to better the way in which we as a society view, practice, and educate on scientific matters.

Undergraduate Research: Heat Stress Effect on Schizocosa ocreata Reproduction

Emma Lykins

This past summer I conducted an independent research study here at the Ohio State University under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Roberts. I studied the heat stress effects on reproduction in Schizocosa ocreata in the Museum of Biological Diversity. Over four months a raised the spiders to maturity, bred them, conducted experimental heat stress tests, and recorded the outcome of the offspring.

Through my experiences during the undergraduate research funded by STEP I know I have deep passion to continue research in my future career. Although I do not necessarily want to conduct research with spiders, I will use my knowledge from my experience in my future dental research. This project transformed how I viewed the scientific process and the mental dedication it takes to follow through an entire research experiment. I’ve gained a self-appreciation for all of the hard work and time I dedicated to a project. Even though the results were not what I had expected, I conducted and followed through an entire live-animal experiment by myself. Knowledge is power, every skill and piece of knowledge I gained from this experiment will be useful in my future endeavors. STEP provided a change in not only my mentality but it transformed me into a more knowledgeable and passionate student at the Ohio State University.

My relationship with Dr. Roberts and his graduate student Salvatore Sidoti really opened my eyes to the possibilities research can bring about. They are both super passionate about research, mainly arachnid, and helped guide me through my own project. They invited me to present my project at future research conventions to network even more. It was amazing to have a support system throughout my STEP project. They taught me how to preform many statistical tests on my data and how to analyze the results. I found this to be super valuable because I use stats in almost all of my Biology major courses. I appreciate everything they have done for me and I hope all their hard work and passion can be translated into the research I conduct someday as a dentist.

As for the experimental process, I endured many obstacles that showed me that research isn’t always picture perfect. Since we worked with live animals, I faced many challenges with spider deaths and parasites among my experimental group. This can be transferred into clinical research because I may not always obtain the result I want. It was also difficult because my research relied on the breeding of spiders and this summer we had a very difficult time getting the spiders to copulate. I really love research but the problems I encountered demonstrated how tedious lab work can become. I believe that this lab only furthered my dedication and passion for research. I gained respect for the many other people who endure these struggles in their own research.

Through my research with arachnids, I gained many valuable skills and traits. I had to learn to become tedious, the breeding process required a lot of data to be collected in such a little amount of time. I also learned that results cannot always be seen by the naked eye. I had to analyze all of my data as a whole, I could not directly tell whether my data had any significance until I found correlations when preforming statistical analyses. I had several professional meetings with Dr. Roberts to update him on the progress of my project. I also held the responsibility of having 24 hour access to his laboratory. This project taught me to think and create as individual. I no longer needed to rely on other partners, I had a full laboratory to myself in order to coordinate this project.

The transformation that STEP provided me will be carried through my future career as a dental professional. Someday I hope to be working on clinical research that focusses on the genetics behind congenitally missing teeth. Although spiders may not be directly related to dentistry, the process that I used to study the spiders can be translated into my future research as a dentist. All of the skills I learned will help guide me in developing yet another independent research study. My networking skills gained through Dr. Roberts and his partners will enable me to connect more openly with other dental professionals. I’m very happy I got the opportunity to partake in STEP because it has truly expanded my horizon for future research opportunities.

Below are two photos of the species we worked with this summer! The photo on the left shows a female with her offspring growing on her back. The photo on the right demonstrates how we mated the spiders.

STEP Reflection

I spent the bulk of this summer doing research with a professor in the Department of Psychology, Dr. Laurence Coutellier. Her lab studies the way that chronic mild stress lends itself to behavioral and molecular changes in mice. My specific role for much of the summer was slicing mouse brains, performing genotyping, and performing behavioral tests on mice.

This summer, I learned the importance of taking responsibility for my own schedule and time management. I was also forced to learn the skills required quickly and efficiently. Working with my graduate student (my direct supervisor), I also learned the importance of communication skills and the proper way to ask for help when I needed it. Working in my undergraduate research position taught me how to be an efficient and independent member of a team.

Working in my research, I spent much of my time alone. As a result, no one told me when I needed to do things or how to budget my time. I was given things that I was responsible for over the week, and then I found time to do them. I was forced to work around my schedule with taking summer classes as well as having another part time job. Balancing all these with my own personal life meant learning when to prioritize school work or studying, when to prioritize working in the lab, and when to prioritize spending time for myself. While time management may not seem like a transformational thing to have learned at this point in my life, I had never been forced to exist so independently before, and so having responsibilities that I had to manage on my own changed the way that I work as a student.

Starting new in the lab, I also had to learn many new skills in a relatively short time frame. I was performing tasks that I had never been taught before, and doing things that were important for other people’s research, so if I made mistakes, it wasn’t okay. That pressure encouraged me to make sure that if I didn’t feel confident in my own skills, I would ask someone who could verify my abilities. After doing so several times and not having made mistakes, I learned to feel confident in my instincts and not to be overly scared about doing things wrong. This confidence will, in the future, make me a more independent worker.

The skills I learned this summer will help me to fit into a new team more quickly. In learning to manage my own time appropriately, I will be able to make myself a schedule to stick to, and therefore to perform as much work as needs to be performed in the adequate time frame. I also will be able to better trust myself as a new employee (as well as know when to ask for help when I need it), which will better allow me to work independent of supervision. Altogether, having learned these skills will better prepare me in the future for being able to work in a new place more efficiently and independently, two incredibly important skills of employees today.

Below are two images of brains that I sliced over the summer. The first shows the slices as well (each is 50 microns thick).

Tyler Young, Undergraduate Research

For my STEP signature project, I helped to conduct research in a Human Nutrition/Exercise Physiology lab. As an undergraduate research assistant I had the privilege to be mentored by one of the leading experts in the world in the field of nutritional ketosis. While learning about the research process in general I also learned many other useful skills as well including; how to draw research participant’s blood, taking participant’s blood pressure, how to process blood for future analysis, run assays on blood to look at specific blood markers, measure urine for hydration, reading blood glucose and ketone values, testing physical and cognitive changes. I also cooked the food that the participants ate in our controlled feeding studies. I learned how we utilized magnetic resonance imaging in our studies in order to monitor visceral heart fat and even was given the opportunity to learn how an MRI is done. Our lab also utilized a dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) machine that allows us to see body fat distribution and bone mineral density. I learned the process of applying for grants to fund research, how to write and present abstracts/posters at forums and conferences, how to interact with populations affected by obesity, diabetes, insulin sensitivity, and chronic diseases.

Furthermore, I conducted research in the field of Human Nutrition which connects directly with my plans on becoming an Endocrinologist. I hope to one day become an Endocrinologist and help those with diabetes and other hormonal issues. The field of Nutrition is crucial to the treatment of patients suffering from these kinds of diseases. Therefore, by conducting research in this field I recieved first-hand experience in the area I wish to pursue in medicine. Through this research experience I have gained a better understanding of what it would mean to be a physician and how I would go about explaining research to a lay audience such as my own patients. This is exactly what I will be doing at the Denman undergraduate Research Forum in the spring for the reporting back process of the STEP project when I present my research poster.

As a future physician being able to conduct, interpret, and explain research to my patients will be a crucial part of my career. Learning about the research process, conducting the research, and then presenting on it as an undergraduate has been a great transformational experience for me that has helped to propel me along on my career aspirations.

My understanding of the research process as a whole changed by experiencing how research is actually conducted and presented, which is something I always wanted to do. The people I meet in the research lab are like minded individuals who have already achieved much in the areas I hope to have a career in one day. I learned from them and slowly built my knowledge base when it comes to research.

This project has been valuable to my life because without the STEP program I may not have been able to afford rent for staying on campus over summer to conduct this research. Learning about the research process is something I will have to do at some point in my career and the STEP program facilitated this significantly.