STEP Reflection

Name: Shivani Deshpande

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

I conducted research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in the Center for Perinatal Research. My lab studied a disease called necrotizing enterocolitis, also referred to as NEC. My project focused on the long-term, neurodevelopmental effects of NEC. I spent my time working on an animal model of experimental NEC and neurodevelopment and analyzing collected data.

When I first began this project, I remember feeling rather overwhelmed at the task before me. Our lab had never done a behavioral study before, and I was helping my lab mentor implement this model for the first time. I was unsure of how I would succeed in this project, but I decided to take on the challenge. I worked full time over the summer, and day by day I would get a better grasp of things. I still felt like a rookie every day, but I wasn’t discouraged by my knowledge gap so much as taking it as inspiration to study even more, to read even more articles. By the end of the summer, I had collected enough preliminary data to be able to present it at a poster competition at Nationwide Children’s. Through this experience, I learned about what it takes to collect and present scientific data, and was able to do so under the mentorship of skilled doctors.

My strategy at dealing with stress and anxiety changed over the course of this project. My timeline began at the beginning of summer, but continued through the school year as well. I had to learn how to manage the demands of my schoolwork and lab, and how to balance the two. My time management skills were truly tested, and I think the most transformative personal portion of this project. I learned how to prioritize my tasks and conduct both my lab experiments as well as homework.

When I first began this project, I was very nervous about the task I had to undertake. My lab mentor is who I credit with giving me the confidence to work on this project. I am a very detail oriented person, and like to have to have as much information about a subject before taking on a task. My mentor, sensing this, sent me all the papers and protocols she had researched before developing our animal model. This extensive research, and mentor-mentee relationship helped me gain the initial confidence to conduct this research.

As mentioned earlier, I presented preliminary data at Nationwide Children’s poster competition. This was a very key aspect of my transformation. I had to begin preparing for the competition weeks prior to the actual presentation. I learned how to create a scientific poster. This process takes a couple weeks, and goes through many editing rounds. Through this process, I learned how to approach a scientific presentation. I had to practice presenting my poster in front of my lab prior to the actual competition. Every time I practiced, I noticed something else I had to change in my speech. This taught me that in the future, practice is the best thing I can do prior to giving a scientific presentation. Finally, I learned how to answer questions on the spot. After I presented my poster to the judges, they would follow up with a few questions. This was the most transformative portion of the poster experience, and I could only experience it at the competition itself. I learned how to take a second and process the question, and answer it calmly and thoroughly.

I also had to learn how to acknowledge my own gaps in knowledge, and how to communicate that I did not know the answer to everything. As a premedical student, this proved difficult, to admit that I was not sure of something. Often, the judges themselves knew the answer, and would supply it once I communicated that I was unaware of it. This experience taught me that admitting your own weaknesses is also a necessary skill, as it can lead to a gain of knowledge in the end.

Finally, once the school year began, I learned how to refine my time management skills. The biggest component of this was communication. I had to communicate to my lab the times I had to prioritize being a student. This was a unique situation, as my standing in lab was largely as a professional colleague. I had to discipline myself to reduce distractions and complete my work on time. I also refined my communications skills by relating to my lab when I had a big midterm or project coming up, and had to scale down my hours that week. This process showed me that communication is the best way to avoid potential conflicts and help in prioritization.

The skills I gained during this project relate directly to my professional goals. I hope to go to medical school and become a physician in the future. This project immersed me in an environment where I was surrounded by the very people I hope to be. I was able to gain invaluable advice, and make strong relationships with incredible individuals

This project provided me with technical skills I will definitely use in my academic and future career. As a premedical student, I will have poster presentations in my academic career. This experience taught me how long it takes to make such posters, and provided me with public speaking skills that will only help me in scientific presentations.

Finally, the time management and communication skills I refined through this project will benefit me in every area of my life. Not simply academically or professionally, but personally as well. I learned how to communicate with people in an assertive manner, and was able to see firsthand how this avoided future conflicts. The skills and experiences gained during this project will be immensely helpful both in the present and future.

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