Carson’s Undergraduate Research in Nutrition


My STEP Signature Project was a research project that involved a laboratory setting pertaining to nutrition and diabetes, including the unique opportunity of being able to work with lab mice. It was on Ohio State’s main campus that I helped to research the health effects of omega 6 fatty acids on humans in diet.


While conducting research, I was and still am expanding my horizon, learning of more of the world around me. Discovery has had an incredible impact on me, as prior to my project I was less in touch with the world of research. Being able to be in an environment of thinking critically has enabled me to take on and assume more roles in my life. My role of a student has grown, and now I have also taken on the identity of a researcher. It has helped me to conceptualize the world around us that we cannot see with the naked eye, both big and small, close or far away. It deepened my understanding of how diet and diabetes are intertwined, while also linking the importance of diet in a cancer treatment setting to prevent the muscle wasting that are caused my chemotherapy. It is also with great happiness I can link the work that the Belury lab does to aid in the lives of those around me.


First and foremost, the relationship I have with my primary investigator, Dr. Martha Belury, has certainly taken on that of a mentor mentee dynamic that has been quite profound, and I believe that relationship to only grow stronger with time. We continue to talk regularly, two or three times a week to not just discuss lab progress, but to make sure that I am doing things in the best interest of my personal growth. It benefits me to have such an accomplished person to help guide me, as they have been in my same shoes and have great insight to give me.
Secondly, the graduate students that work around me, both inside and outside of lab, have been such a pleasure to work with because of the workplace chemistry I was indoctrinated into. I consider Deena, the head grad student in Dr. Belury’s lab, as an older sister after the countless hours we’ve spent together handling mice in the basement of the BRT. She is directly responsible for everything that I know, from suggesting research papers to read about, or being the one to walk me through running a PCR (polymerase chain reaction, which just replicates targeted DNA) to staining muscle cross sections. Kate, who works in a different nutrition lab, has become a close friend that I feel I can talk to her about anything. We bonded over our love of Lord of the Rings, and she even lent me the Blu Ray box set one weekend. She showed me that

Further, I feel that I have a better fiscal understanding and have acted with my personal finances to minimize debt when I get out of college. Without this project, I would not have known about certain investment opportunities nor knowing how to make a budget. Now, with my current income, I am investing in my future by setting aside money every month with a savings account. Moreover, with a budgeted income, I’m not irresponsibly spending my money, so I have greater peace of mind that’s leaving less to worry about with classes coming up.

Lastly, I credit this STEP project with my increased involvement in my fraternity. Living with and always being around my fraternity brothers this summer showed me that, though as cliché as this may sound, the best of what Greek life has to offer. I feel like I have such a powerful bond now with my brothers of Delta Sig, which led me to pursue more leadership organizations within the chapter. With my role of Brotherhood Chair, I am currently working to have people who participate in Greek life have a clearer path towards pursuing undergraduate research by working with the Office of Undergrad Research and Creative Inquiry so that they may have an equally great experience that I’ve had.


With absolute confidence I can say that this past summer will always be a defining moment in my life. It has led me to completely alter my career path and showed me that yes, this is something I can and will do for the rest of my life. My professional pathway has changed, yet the goals that drive it remain the same, and that is to succeed at what brings me joy. I certainly have found something that will be challenging yet is so fun and I just feel filled with energy that challenge aside, this is something I want to do. Academically, I will remain on the pre-health track for my degree because I still want to challenge myself academically, even though many grad schools don’t require some of the classes I am taking. However, it has altered what education I will receive after undergrad, which is to work towards a PhD rather than an MD.

Mitra Biotech Internship

Nithya Ramadurai

Undergraduate Research


1. This past summer I did an internship with Mitra biotech/ Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA. Mitra biotech is the company that invented a platform called CANscript. CANscript is a ex vivo tumor culture model in which blood plasma and tumor biopsies from real patients are reproduced in a cell plate and are treated with various drugs. By doing so, different therapies like chemo and immune cell can be tested on the tumor sample rather than the patient, and the patient quickly receives the treatment with the greatest likelihood to work on them. I focused on testing a drug called Avastin in CANscript.

2. One of the biggest things I learned from this internship was the magnitude of fields there are in the sciences aside from just medicine, and how each field relates to the other. One of the most fascinating things about the company I worked at is how multifaceted it was. On one hand was the strictly biotech aspect, something I knew nothing about before. Biotech combined with innovative research enabled this company to create a product that helped thousands of patients fighting cancer. Also, with the biotech was the marketing team that helped launch our product to insurance companies and other healthcare professionals. Finally, was the physicians who implemented our findings in there treatment regimen, ultimately helping someone in  need. This internship combined marketing, technology, wet lab research, and physician patient interaction and showed me just how intertwined all the fields are. I have grown so much through this internship in my interest in cancer research as well as the world of possibility available to fuel this interest.

3. The first was the actual research i was conducting. Often, in my experience,  lab research can be quite abstract and hard to grasp the implications of the work you are doing. However, though this was lab research I felt like the discoveries we were making directly benefit the patient. As briefly described in paragraph 1, our lab was able to recreate almost identical a patient tumor microenvironment in a cell plate, something that has not been done before. The study I was primarily focusing on tested a drug called Avastin, which is an anti angiogenic. This basically means that it cuts the blood supply off of a tumor so that it cannot grow. Usually, antiangiogenics work in combination with chemotherapeutics. However, in our study we found that in several patients Avastin actually produced positive results on it’s own. This is incredibly valuable because now patient tumor size decreases without the toxins of chemo entering the body. This experience was so transformative just from the sheer ingenuity of the company.

Next, was the relationships I developed with the people working at the company. I am a huge believer that the people you work with shape your experience and that definitely was the case. Being only an undergraduate student, there was an immense amount about the mechanisms behind the technology, as well as some in depth biology concepts that I was completely unfamiliar with. The people I work with were so patient to teach me so much about immunology, histopathology, and. I was given a lot of individual projects which really allowed me to understand the material i was working with. Writing papers conducting experiments and giving presentations allowed me to develop a personalized relationship with what i was learning. However none of that would have been possible without the constant help they gave me. By having people from such prestigious backgrounds such as harvard and MIT and also such different fields all in one bilding i gained so many perspectives and was able to learn about so many different topics all while being inspired by them each day.

Finally, living in Boston gave me such a unique perspective. Boston, while a bustling city, is also filled with a multitude of incredible universities. It is also the hub of biotechnology and groundbreaking discovery. I think just being in that environment for a couple months enabled me to fully understand how all of these companies are related. In the building I worked in alone, were 2 other biotech companies. While I went to work in the lab at Harvard, I realized it was just one of probably thousands in boston.

4. I think this experience was extremely valuable for me planning my life. Before this I was fully convinced that medical school was the right decision from me. While I have not ruled out the possibility, this experience has really prompted me to consider a career in biotech. Now, that I still have two years of college left I realize I have a lot of time to investigate other careers in the sciences. I would like to learn more about the biotech field as well as public health, and research. Regarding research, this experience has also rekindled a strong interest in research. I would like to continue working with the lab from the past summer and potentially return to Boston next year.

I have attached a picture of one of the final posters I made for the company.

STEP Project Reflection


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

My STEP project was an undergraduate research project that sought to determine the reading level of instructions on various female contraceptive products. Throughout the Summer I learned how to perform a reading level analysis, reviewed similar literature, found the products I wanted to test, and performed several reading level analyses on products. I also expanded my testing to manufacturer websites that provided instructions and information about these products.

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

This project changed my worldview by showing me perspectives of people that haven’t been able to obtain the same level of education as I have. The average reading level in the United States is not sufficient to understand the confusing language of the instructions on the products I studied, where proper understanding of instructions is vital to proper use, which greatly effects the efficacy of the product. This is probably applicable to other medical products and medications as well, and shows how important it is for medical providers to be able to answer questions about medications and products when patients have questions. I also learned how important it is for manufacturers to understand their intended audience when writing instructional and informational materials.

  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?

There were several key components of my STEP project that created the change described above. First, finding a research opportunity was difficult and I had a hard time choosing something to research that I was passionate about. I realized that doing traditional lab work with cells and chemicals wasn’t what I was super interested in. I wanted to study something more directly related to people. This also made me question my interest in medical school; I found I was more interested in personal connection and learning about people in healthcare. One key experience in this personal reflection was a class I took about primary care throughout the United States and the world. We learned about the barriers people must overcome to receive healthcare in the United States, and I realized that these were the kind of problems I wanted to solve. This also led me to reconsider my career choice and switch my goal from medical school to physician assistant school because the class showed me that I could have a more personal connection with people and serve more underserved rural communities as a PA.

I decided to reach out to the teacher of the class that changed my perspective and asked if I could do a research project with her, and she accepted. Through my conversations with her, the background research for my project, and the data I’ve collected so far, I made major realizations about the problems people face in accessing basic healthcare every day. My work focused on the reading level of instructions and information on female contraceptive packaging, and it was astounding how much higher the reading level of these materials were than the national average. It was enlightening for me to realize how the average American could be misusing medical products because the instructions are written poorly. I also read other related literature that shows this is also an issue with surgical consent forms, with patients not completely understanding the procedures they are about to have. Knowing about all of this, I feel that this is the work I would like to continue in my career.

I also had the opportunity to volunteer as an advocate with the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio while I was staying in Columbus for my research. During this time, I had the opportunity to talk to other advocates about what my work meant for the people we serve. I enjoyed working as an advocate for women there, and I feel that my research is also advocating for women to be more informed about their contraceptive choices and use.

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

This project had a significant effect on my goals and future career plans. As I was self-reflecting on what type of research I wanted to do and wrote my personal statement, I came to other realizations about what I wanted to do as a career in the field of medicine. This research led me to more strongly believe that Physician Assistant school is right for me because it will allow me to promote health education like this in rural communities like the one I grew up in. I found out that I’m passionate about health literacy and access to health care, and those are things that I’ll be able to bring into my career as a PA. I’m so glad I came to this realization because I feel that I will be much happier in this career path. I feel confident in my ability to make the impact I want in the world by advocating for people through more work like this.

Undergraduate Research

Name: Colin Angell

Project: Undergraduate Research

Prompt 1

For my STEP Signature Project, I conducted research in Dr. Federica Accornero’s (Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute, The Ohio State University). In the lab I was studying molecular mechanisms and cellular biology of skeletal muscle.

Prompt 2

Through working in the lab I was able to build off of the theoretical concepts that had learned about in my classes and see how they are applied in an actual scientific research setting. I was also able to learn from and build relationships with a variety of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty. Through speaking with those that have much more experience than I do, I was able to have a better understanding of what it is like to have a career in science.

Prompt 3

Obviously through working in the research lab, a big part of my role was to use a variety of lab techniques. Whether I was simply practicing the technique for skill acquisition or actually using it to produce data, the most important thing I learned was an attention to detail.        The detail is so important in science because in order to maximize the knowledge that we gain, the processes that are used must be repeatable. When a mistake is made that does not allow the experiment to be repeatable, this could result in a day’s or a week’s worth of work in being unusable.

The second thing that I learned was the importance of having a strong team. Working in a lab is very from being in a classroom setting, but one of the differences that I did not expect was how dependent I was on the others in the lab. Partially this has to do with my level of experience, but even at more advanced stages, the presence of working with a good team can have tremendous impact of the success of a project.

I also began to realize just how large the knowledge gap is between what I know and what is known, even when specifically talking about the area that I am researching. For example, it took me a while to fully grasp how what I was doing on a day to day basis was fitting into the larger scope of the project. Then taking my project and putting it into the scope of what is known in the field is a much harder task.

Prompt 4

This transformational experience was extremely valuable because has allowed me to experience as side of science and medicine that goes well beyond what can be learned in the classroom or in a text book. The practical application and understanding of what it is like to work as a scientist is so important as I continue to pursue a career in medicine. This lab experience is foundation that I hope to build off of as I enter my last two years of undergraduate education.

STEP Reflection: Undergraduate Research in B-cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Sarah Imwalle

Undergraduate Research


For my project I assisted in the research of identifying novel therapeutic targets and drug development for aggressive B-cell Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas by processing lymphoma samples, running lab techniques such as cell culturing, PCR, and Western Blot, genotyping mice, and studying the effects of the drugs on patients.

While completing my STEP project I learned a lot about the nature of scientific research and what a career in research looks like. I went into the summer with a plan and a timeline, expecting to stick to it throughout the summer and have results from my experiments by the time my STEP project was complete; much to my dismay that is not how the summer proceeded. Due to my lack of hands-on research experience and knowledge in the field of cancer biology, training on lab techniques and the current experiments taking place in the lab took a significant amount of time. Following my basic training, I was instructed to master the techniques I had learned in order to produce publication-worthy data before I actually started working on experiments with the goal of getting them in a paper.

 Time and time again, I cultured and counted my lymphoma cell lines to ensure they were viable for experiments. After that was mastered and I had healthy cells, I started reproducing countless Western Blots with different types of proteins that provided me with the experience and knowledge I will need of these proteins and the way they behave in the future. All of this took months, and still I rarely get successful results. I have come to learn that scientific research requires a huge learning curve and countless failures, while rarely getting results that confirm a hypothesis or come out clearly. I now know that research is not as black and white as it once seemed, and that it requires a lot of failure to get even small positive results. Although I have only spent one summer facing the reality of failure in research, I now understand that almost all research scientists spend a majority of their careers facing “failure”, but the possibility of success makes it worthwhile.

Failure became eminent this summer, as I would drug my cells only to find that it wasn’t effective, or run a Western Blot to see that the proteins that were supposed to show up were nowhere to be found. After months of facing this continual failure I realized, with the help of my Principle Investigator (PI) and lab technicians working in my lab, that the failure didn’t mean I was bad at research and it didn’t mean that the time and effort I was putting in was a waste of time. It meant that I was learning.

Almost every week I met with my PI to discuss the data that had resulted from any experiments I had run, and my general progress in the lab. Almost every time I went to him, I presented results that did not turn out as hypothesized or consistent with literature on the subject. When I expressed my frustration with my lack of success, even in the smallest experiments, he explained that this was normal — this was science. He explained that he spent 10 years working in a lab and much of that time was spent contemplating what had gone wrong or why something didn’t work in the lab. What he helped me understand was that every time you fail, you learn something. Whether it was that my technique needed improvement, I needed to work faster to avoid harming the cells, or my experimental design was not optimal, I knew what to fix for the next time and I was one step closer to success.

Once I graduate beyond basic lab techniques and experiments, my failures will teach me more about cellular mechanisms and protein pathways. When I don’t get the results I expect, I will know that I need to explore a different mechanism of action for a drug or use a different cell line that expresses different proteins. My PI helped me understand more about the scientific process and how it applies to the work I am doing now, but also the work I will be doing further down the road.

Although the lesson about the importance of failure was not the one I was expecting, or hoping, to get this summer, it is a lesson that will be enormously helpful as I continue my education and career. I have had some experience in my education where I learned that failure is necessary to help me grow as a student and a person in general, but this allowed me to see that the scope of that lesson is far beyond high school or college classes.

As I prepare and apply for medical school, I will undoubtedly face some sort of failure. Whether that be in my classes leading up to it, not doing as well as I want on practice MCATs, or not getting into some medical schools, I feel more prepared to take that failure and learn from it. If I am struggling in a class, I will be able to adjust my studying and class-related behaviors accordingly. If I don’t do well or I am not progressing fast enough in my practice MCATs, I will figure out how to think differently about it and adapt in order to improve.

In my career as a physician, understanding failure and learning from it will also be hugely important. Although I would like to say I will be the best physician as soon as I graduate from medical school that is not how it works. It will take years of experience, encountering different types of people and illnesses, before I can be the best physician I can be. In addition to that, it is important that I understand that I will never be done learning, and making mistakes is okay in some situations as long as I take them as a chance to improve and learn.

STEP Reflection: Undergraduate Research

For my STEP project I did undergraduate research in the Department of Microbial Infection and Immunity at OSU’s Medical School. I was involved in two projects centered around therapeutic targets of multiple sclerosis. One project focused on a specific autotaxin inhibitor, ATX 130, and the second project focused on how vitamin D can affect the neuronal release of Interleukin 34.


Going into this project, I thought I could see myself possibly getting a PhD and doing research in my career. While I gained a lot of knowledge during my time in lab this summer, I now have made the important realization that research is not what I am passionate about. I am a people person, and I learned that research is a solitary career a lot of times. It requires a lot of reading and a lot of solitary experimentation. Because of this experience, I came to the realization that I am much more suited for a clinical environment where I interact with patients. That being said, I did gain a lot of knowledge on how to talk about science and present my research effectively. Achieving quality data in a quantity that is enough to publish takes more than one summer, so I never acquired enough data to present, but I did gain a basic knowledge on the specific aspects of multiple sclerosis that I was researching.


A relationship that I developed over the course of my project was with the post-doctoral researcher in my lab, Dr. Sara Gombash-Lampe. Sara was a great mentor to me who showed me how to do many of the skills that I learned this summer and who coached me throughout deciding what I wanted to do with my future. Sara trusted me largely with her vitamin D project. I mainted her cell cultures wherein we took neuroblastoma cells and differentiated them into neuronal cells through a series of treatments. We then added the activated form of vitamin D, Calcitriol, and looked for cytokine markers via Elisa and flow cytometry. Her guidance throughout the summer was invaluable.

Aside from the vitamin D project that I worked on with Sara, I was also in charge of a project where we treated immune cells with autotaxin inhibitor ATX 130 through a variety of methods, did adoptive transfer in mice, and then observed the development of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, which is an experimental model of MS. With this project, I was very much on my own, and truthfully I did not like this aspect of research. I felt that I needed more guidance, and this made me realize that this is how much of all research is. You are always on your own, and this is not how I prefer to work.

Something else that I did this summer after realizing that research is not for me is I enrolled in a phlebotomy class with the Ohio School of Phlebotomy. This, while not part of my original project, proved to be an extremely transformational part of my summer. I learned how to draw people’s blood and interact with patients in a medical setting. I learned that I really enjoy doing something as technical as this and being with patients. This class ended in August, and it helped me get my current job as a medical assistant at a clinic in Columbus.


This transformation is significant in my life because I was able to learn what I want to do with the rest of my life. Working in my lab allowed me to gain a lot of knowledge about that this profession entails, and it made me realize that it is not for me. This summer I shadowed an OB/GYN and through this experience I came to the conclusion that I definitely want to be an OB/GYN. I also took a phlebotomy class this summer that helped me get a job as a medical assistant at a clinic in the Short North. I am so excited for this semester because I will be working in a field that I am passionate about and gaining useful experience for my future.

Undergraduate Exercise Science Research

Image result for bod pod

My STEP Signature Project was being a member of the research team for the Collaborative Lifestyle Intervention Program for Osteoarthritis. As an undergraduate research assistant my duties included conducting baseline and follow-up assessments for the participants of the study as well as data entry and hands-on experience at the clinics. Additionally, I assisted graduate students with recruitment for the study so more trials and data could be collected for the final analysis of the research investigation.

This project helped me to understand the vast amount of work that is done behind the scenes of research and the many different variables that must come together to make a research investigation successful. This was an important revelation to have because one of my possible career options was to pursue education at the collegiate level and conduct research of my own. This experience provided me with a valuable look into my future if I were to pick the route of becoming a professor and researcher.

My STEP project forced me to seek a research position for this summer and I’m so glad I given that push to do so. I have always wanted to get more involved with my major and partaking in a professors research was a perfect opportunity to get the hands on experience I have been looking for. Through this position, I have gained relationships with many professors and graduate students who have the same passions as I do. In order to pursue graduate school, it is important to have solid recommendation letters from accredited sources and I am confident that the connections I have made during my STEP signature project will provide me with this need.

Another important transformation that I was able to undergo due to my STEP signature project was exploring the more intricate aspects of the research field. I was able to see the clinical side of the project as well as conduct the assessments and submit data entry. All three of these steps are critical in the research process and I was able to have a hands-on roll through all of it. As a part of the assessment portion of the study, I worked to run Bod-Pod and DEXA tests for the participants. Both of these tests consider the body mass of a person and indicate fat mass and fat free mass which was an important determinant of the study. It was a privilege to be an undergraduate student working hands on with this advanced technology

Participating in research as an undergraduate student has many valuable attributes to it. For one, I have grown personally because I was forced to step out of my box and do things that I have never done before. For example, each week, I was paired with a participant in the study and my duty was to lead them through a strength training routine. The population of participants was above 60 so it required me to always be thinking about modifications and how to make the participant the most comfortable. Additionally, this experience helped me to relate the information I was learning in my kinesiology classes to real world applications. I think it is extremely beneficial to have experience outside of the classroom in topics that interest you because it helps you stand out in a list of applicants for jobs and graduate school positions. Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, a career that interests me is continuing my education in kinesiology and exploring jobs as a professor and researcher in this field. My STEP signature project made me heavily consider my professional goals in life and gave me an excellent opportunity to educate myself on a career that interests me. The funds provided through STEP allowed me the chance to expand my knowledge that I learned in the classroom to real world applications as well as explore a possible professional career.

STEP Reflection: Undergraduate Research

My STEP project involved working as a research assistant in a lab here on campus. I worked under Dr. Mathew Reilly, who focuses on the biomechanics of the eye. This project showed me the dynamic and changing process of research and also the rigorous practices of verifying the accuracy of data. I started the summer of by working under a PhD student and learning how to perform basic tasks around the lab. This consisted of various things, from simple solution making, to dissections of pig eyes. The research that he was involved in was based around identifying how mechanical stresses on a lens affects the proliferation of epithelial cells in the eye. Later on in the summer, I began my own research project. Dr. Reilly gave me the freedom to choose what kind of project I wanted to do. Once the project was chosen, I looked into how to begin the project, which was a rather long process in and of itself. By the end of the summer I had begun working on the initial parts of my project, which I’m hoping will serve as my honors thesis.

Before this project, I was pretty unsure about what I wanted to do after I graduated. I knew I wanted to do something that can help other people and solve some problems in the world, but I had no idea how to do it. To be brief, I felt lost. This summer however, I gained a new appreciation for research. By learning how the process works, I was able to learn about the various things that go into a single project. I also felt as if what I was doing mattered. The project that I’m working on now and the project that I was working on as an assistant allowed me to see that what I was doing had physical implications and had the potential for impact in the real world. The research with mechanical forces and lenses in the eye can be used to solve problems like presbyopia and perfect other ophthalmological procedures, such as vitrectomies. After this project, I felt as if I found something that I could see myself doing in the future.

My initial time during the summer was spent as an assistant to a PhD student names Bharat. With his guidance, I learned basic lab procedures. This included making solutions, which involved using devices such as a micropipette, hemocytometer, and centrifuge. Also, while working with Bharat, I got a good look at the process for a research project and how to design an experiment. Initially, I thought the research process was linear. I thought it was simple. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The research process is incredibly complex and can take a very long time to get right. There were many times when something seemed to work on paper, but didn’t work out in the lab. This helped me develop an appreciation for the research process and also helped me in developing my own project.

During the summer I also started looking into my own independent projects. This involved reading through other research papers and getting an understanding of what is already known and what needs to be known. I went through a few different projects this summer, trying to find one that could fit in my schedule and can be done in the two years of school I have left. I began by working with a student names Berenice, who was a student doing a research internship program at OSU for the summer. I worked with her on a project involving how stretching the lens of different animals affects the size of the lens. This project, unfortunately, didn’t end up working with my schedule due to the difficult time constraints involving pig dissections, however, I was able to apply many of the things I learned from Bharat.

Near the end of the summer I selected and began working on a new project. This one, involving modeling the lens digitally and attempting to predict various characteristics of the lens after stretching it. After learning from Bharat, and having a test run with Berenice, I was able to begin working on this project with a significant amount of confidence. This project is currently ongoing and I’m constantly learning new things about the experiment design process and the research process.

The things I have learned from this experience have not only helped me develop myself as an academic, but they have also showed me how to appreciate research. This experience has provided me with a newfound interest in the research process, and it is something I hope to continue after I have graduated.

Fischer Lab Research- STEP Reflection

Sydney Blum

Undergraduate Research


For my STEP Signature Project, I spent the summer in the Fischer Lab studying the proliferation of Muller glia-derived progenitor cells as well as the development of methods for creating transgenic chicks. My day-to-day activities included performing intraocular injections, harvesting retinas, sectioning, staining, imaging, and doing gel electrophoresis.


I had never been in a research lab before, and it opened my eyes to a whole new dimension of science. I loved reading about other scientists’ research and developing my own hypotheses to test. My view on the world of medicine was changed. I had no idea how much time, resources, and effort went into finding new methods to treat diseases before the new methods even entered into the clinical trial phase. The network of research professionals was far more extensive than I had imagined. I have a newfound appreciation for researchers and their dedication to projects that aim to enhance medicine.


In addition, I felt a transformation within myself. I cultivated so much knowledge within the span of a few short months. I know that I will carry this knowledge with me as I continue my research and classes at Ohio State and beyond. I gained confidence in myself and nurtured connections that have lasted beyond the summer. I am so grateful for my summer in the Fischer Lab where I could spend my days dabbling with my passions uninterrupted. This summer has helped me become one step closer to my professional goals, and I gained some great personal relationships and attributes as well.


During my project, I worked closely with Alex Campbell, an MD/PhD student at The Ohio State University. Alex taught me all of the lab techniques I used throughout the summer. He always made sure to explain difficult concepts, and he was always available to answer questions. Alex encouraged me to think creatively. He helped me to foster my own ideas and to translate those ideas into real projects. His guidance and support meant a lot to me. He truly went above and beyond to make sure my experience in the lab was transformative. In addition to helping me navigate research, Alex also offered advice about applying to medical school. He has been an amazing mentor, and I am excited to continue working with him during the school year.


During the summer, my lab would meet for “Journal Club” every two weeks. Everyone in the lab would take time out of their day to talk about a particular journal article. Each person would present one of the figures from the paper. This activity was particularly transformative for me, and I would look forward to it. My public speaking skills improved, and I learned so much from these lively discussions. The articles would sometimes directly relate to my research in the lab, but sometimes it would cover a topic I was unfamiliar with. I enjoyed this balance, and I think the knowledge I gained during these sessions will help me with my future research as well as my classes at Ohio State.


Over the summer, I got to see exactly how difficult the scientific process truly is. Experiments failed more times than I can count. Figuring out what went wrong or developing a new idea wasn’t always easy, but those challenges forced me to push myself and to persevere which ultimately helped me to grow immensely as a scientist and a person. I became so frustrated at times, but that only made me appreciate success even more. Throughout all of the challenges, Alex and my peers in the lab were there to help and that support was amazing. As I mentioned previously, I have a newfound respect for research scientists.


I hold the knowledge, relationships, and qualities that I developed over the summer very close to my heart. At the end of the summer, I was filled with so much happiness. Research is something I had always wanted to do, and having the summer to explore this desire was incredible. I feel even more confident that applying to medical school is the path I want to take after undergrad, and I feel that my relationships I have built with my PI and the people in my lab will help me to achieve that goal. I am looking forward to continue doing research in the Fischer Lab during the school year, and to continue growing as a scientist and as a person.

This is a picture of a retina section stained so that the microglia appear in bright green.

Evaluating Sustainable Farming Practices- Reflection

Mary Boltri

Type of Project: Research

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

  • My STEP Signature Project was to explore the effectiveness of different practices in sustainable agriculture, which were implemented and examined on the student-run section of Waterman farm. This basically means that I was helping out on the OSU student-run farm this summer, and I was able to spend my time trying to figure out if some sustainable practices were actually effective. One main aspect of the project was to build a structure that would allow for season-extension and reduce the need for pesticide use; however, the structure is still in the process of being built because Ohio State needed to officially approve it being built on the property. We also examined the use of clear and black tarps as a form of weed control, which can be used to reduce the need for herbicides.

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

  • This summer, I was able to learn a lot about the type of atmosphere I work best in and what I can reasonably expect from myself. I accomplish the most in a structured work environment when I am able to understand what is needed from me. Additionally, I accomplish more when I set specific goals and set dates by which to accomplish those goals. Some of my assumptions about the project also changed as the project progressed. First, I was wrong in assuming how much time I would need to complete a research project. I thought that the projects would progress quickly, but many researchers I spoke to said that research always goes much slower than expected. I was also wrong in assuming that I was experienced enough to be able to completely accomplish these projects. Although I am proud of my work, I should have sought more help throughout the summer or developed a more succinct project group. Throughout the summer, I was able to learn these things through a combination of successes and failures, but now I feel much more equipped in approaching future research and building projects.
  • My worldview was also changed by this project. Before this project, I was an environmental science major who principally valued the environment for what natural resources it could offer to humans. But being on the farm gave me countless opportunities to connect with nature in a new way. So now, after my project, I still value the environment as an important connector to human health, but I also better understand the intrinsic value in nature. This change in prescriptive really transformed how I view the nature’s importance and how I view my various career paths.

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?

  • One part of constructing the caterpillar tunnel (the structure meant for season extension) was to purchase these ten-foot long metal poles, cut them in half, drill holes through them, and press down the ends to make them flat. Having Chris help me to transport the poles, working in the Howlett workshop on the pre-fabrication, and then getting them over to the farm took about three weeks. That seems like a long time, but those were probably the most productive three weeks of my summer, personally speaking. Although I worked hard on the farm, I found it so difficult to create and implement an entire research project plan. It was a daunting project, where I felt like I was constantly falling short of my own expectations. However, with the activity of working on the poles, it was a task where I had more clear goals and a more clear time-frame. Even though this was just one step in the entire construction process, I felt more accomplished being able to say it was completed. This helped me to understand that I am most productive in an environment where I have clear steps to accomplishing an overall project, and where I can create reasonable timelines and goals to accomplishing those steps.
  • One specific interaction that changed my perspective on my project was when we visited a farm owned by David Brandt in Carroll, OH. This farm has been using cover crops for nearly fifty years, and they have been using no-till practices for nearly as long. David was able to tell us all about his soil and crops. Using cover crops, they keep the soil covered with plants year-round. And their no-till practices reduce erosion and protect soil health and soil microbiology. That farm’s soil was amazing, showing signs of healthiness that most farmers can only dream of. This is what I had wanted to do with the weed suppression part of my research project. Talking to David Brandt showed me how my project idea was a good start, but that soil restoration takes a long time. One summer can only make so much of a difference, and one graduate student even advised that I wouldn’t be able to see any difference in one summer. So although I didn’t lose faith in my project, I had to view it as more of a start to a long-term project, rather than something I could completely achieve in three months.
  • The main focus of my project was to construct and test various sustainable farming methods. In order to do this, I had to first become familiar with working on a farm in general. So, there were no specific events that changed my perspective on nature, but the mornings I spent out on the farm collectively made an impact. Some days, weeding or watering would be nothing more than tiresome. But other days, I would be out early enough to see the sun rise. I could hear the birds chirping and feel the morning dew on our plants. Both types of days added up to help me see the intrinsic beauty in the earth, whether we take the time to notice it or not. Also, throughout the summer, some days would feel like nothing was growing. Just as we started planting, the soil would look bare, and we would worry that we would have nothing to provide for our community members. But weeks later, we could see the first couple leaves of a plant popping up. Only a few weeks after that, an entire row of carrot tops or lettuce heads would be greeting us. This was another series of events that showed me how to think of nature more collectively. I saw that nature not only has intrinsic beauty, but also has intrinsic value, even if we are not able to comprehend it right away.
  • Being able to connect with other workers on the farm this summer was also an important factor in changing how I understand nature. Each member of the farm came from a unique background, and we each had our own view on the environment. In our weekly meetings and in talking on the farm, we were able to have many discussions about our roles in interacting with our farm. We had the time to question who we were farming for, who we wanting to be farming for, and what impact we could make. The girls helped me to think critically about how viewing the farm as just a tool for making a product could impact my view on the whole process of farming. They also pushed me to try to understand what role industrial farming and sustainable farming have in an era that is so thoroughly dominated by human needs. Just by listening to their perspectives, I was able to deeply consider my own values. And beyond that, being connected to them and their conversations challenged me to understand how I had come to hold those values. My coworkers had a strong impact on how my view of the environment changed throughout the summer, and these are relationships that I will continue to treasure.

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

  • First, learning more about myself and how I work best will be useful in all aspects of my life. Specifically, I learned that I work well in school setting because all of school is based on having specific timelines and goals. This will help me to look for careers where I will also have the opportunity to make specific goals and break down large projects to be less daunting. I will also be able to more effectively communicate how I work best to future teammates and supervisors. Secondly, having a more long-term view of research projects will be important to my career as a scientist. Knowing that research projects work more slowly than anticipated will provide good perspective for designing future projects. Also, we recently learned in my ecosystem restoration class that restoration projects  sometimes need dozens or hundreds of years of evaluation before considering success. Often, restoration projects get 1 to 3 years of evaluation before they are deemed successful or not. The perspective I gained from the farm will help me to be more effective in understanding and communicating why a project may need to be more long-term. Finally, my new perspective on the value of nature will have an important impact on my career. I believe that having this more holistic view of the environment aligns with being a more successful environmental scientist. We talk in many of my classes about how recognizing the complexity of nature will play an important factor in the decisions we must make throughout our careers. This project gave me the opportunity to better understand what my teachers have been saying. Now I am able to hold both perspectives in my mind, and I value nature all the more.


To the left is picture of some of our vegetables that are getting just big enough to be harvested! To the right a picture of a what was included in a typical week’s bag for CSA (community supported agriculture) members. Although my project was to evaluate specific practices, I also spent time working on the farm and helping out with the CSA. I felt like I needed to be involved and understand the work on the farm before I was able to evaluate what practice were most effective.