STEP Undergraduate Research Reflection

Matt Jajowka

Summer Research STEP Project 2018


During the summer of 2018, STEP provided me funds with which I was able to complete a summer research project in the biochemistry lab of Dr. Venkat Gopalan. This project was aimed at gaining experience in a laboratory setting to further my knowledge on research as well as exploring this as a possible career option. The responsibilities that I maintained during this project were developing and overseeing experiments that were essential to my graduate students work.

This summer was the first time in which I decided to spend the summer away from home. I rented my own apartment and learned how to live independently with no one overseeing my health or telling me what to do. I believe this was the biggest learning moment that I experienced throughout my entire summer research project. Whilst living alone, you also learn that you are to only rely on yourself and that how successful you are is completely dependent on your goals. This has led to a major change in attitude that I adopted in this school year as I can now much more efficiently plan my time.

The lessons that I gained from working in the laboratory are very similar to those that I related to living alone. You are completely dependent on your own motivation to work, and the effort that you put into something is represented in the product that you produce. I was forced out of my comfort zone in the laboratory setting since it was something that I had not experienced before. During this summer research, I had to report on my work every two weeks in the form of a presentation to the whole lab group. My presentation skills and confidence while presenting increased a great amount because of this and I was able to witness a great transformation in my abilities. Another responsibility of mine was to present my work to Dr. Gopalan every week in the form of a document summary. This was something that I was able to experience get better as I could compare it to my previous weekly reports.

Since I was not well versed in biochemistry laboratory techniques, I was working very closely with a graduate student, Blake. He was my mentor during this summer and taught me introduced me to the laboratory setting. The greatest impact that this relationship had on me was improving my ability to communicate my ideas to others. Since he had already gone through undergrad and had been performing graduate work for a few years, he was a great mentor to me in how future career could plan out if I followed this path. This ability to communicate ideas was also enhanced in the form of reporting every week. By being able to use Blake’s suggestions and his helpful critique, my abilities increased greatly.

Dr. Venkat Gopalan was a very important mentor during this research project in multiple ways. He treated me as an important member of the group and not as an undergraduate who is there to only do busy work. With this expectation set so high, it forced me to work even harder to understand the material and attain a respectable level of knowledge on the subject. The idea, and realization, that you nothing is owed to you in this world and that your effort and dedication to getting better is the major defining trait of an individual. This led to me giving my best attempt at working hard in the laboratory every day, and has also had a positive influence on my work attitude towards school and other aspects of life.

The environment of the laboratory was very inducive to the sharing of ideas and learning amongst each other. This experience led to my understanding of the importance of this in the scientific community and in life as general. The flow of ideas between people is very relevant to the world today and has led to a greater understanding of this for me. In conjunction with this transformation, the growing ability to convey my ideas have worked together to allow me to become a better scientist and person.

All the ideas and transformations that have taken place in my life within the past summer have contributed greatly to my future career path. After this experience, I have determined that I enjoy the process of research and find it to be very fulfilling. With my hopes to attend medical school in mind, I would love to continue research on a topic in a medical field in my future. These lessons that I have experienced are not solely confined to working in a laboratory and are instead applicable to life in general. The quality of work that you perform is directly related to the desire that you have for the subject in every aspect of life. This is the most important lesson that I learned while working in the laboratory and is something that I think will have a very positive impact on my life and future career.


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