STEP Reflection

For my STEP signature project, I assisted Dr. Michelle Humeidan and the Clinical Anesthesia Research Lab in conducting the Neurobics Trial. This clinical trial’s aim was to assess the efficacy of preoperative cognitive exercise on the onset of postoperative delirium in a subset of elderly patients – delineated by specific exclusion criteria.

As a result of my STEP signature project, I was able to work in the middle of an ongoing, multi-year clinical trial, which allowed me to test my previous assumptions of clinical research. My assumptions that were tested include the difference between direct patient care and clinical trial proceedings, the level of separation between a research team and the medical staff taking care of patients involved in the clinical trial, as well as what treatments may be tested in a clinical trial. Before my experience in the Neurobics trial, I believed that patients in a clinical trial were taken care of by members of the clinical trial’s research team. Instead, I now understand that a research team works alongside attending physicians in the hospital, and they are another addition upon the existing medical team tasked to take care of each patient. Additionally, my preconceived idea of the separation between a research team and other medical staff was challenged. I previously believed that research teams would operate separately from existing medical staff; however, I now understand that research teams act alongside existing medical staff in order to provide patients with excellent care and keep them involved in the trial. Finally, I used to believe that the only treatments included in clinical trials were prescription drugs. However, I can see that a treatment option can be more than just a prescription drug, but even cognitive exercise.

The experience that challenged my previous assumptions was shadowing cognitive tests. When shadowing cognitive tests, I was able to see that, as a member of the research team, our job was not to take care of patients, but to supplement their care with the proceedings of the clinical trial. Not only did I see that they were under the full care of their normal medical team, but I also saw that I did not extensively monitor their health – as a physician or nurse would – as a member of the research team. Before this experience, I had no idea that clinical trial members were not under the full care of the research team.

In addition to shedding light on the difference between direct patient care and the care given from a research team, shadowing allowed me to reevaluate the separation between the two medical teams. When shadowing, it was crucial to coordinate with the nurses and physicians on staff when beginning a cognitive test or drawing blood for other sections of the trial. This showed that I was wrong to believe how separate the two teams were because we were all acting as one team. Instead of acting separate, it was obvious to me that everyone was part of one team because all of the staff on the floor was prepped and equipped to assist with the clinical trial as well as watch over each patient.

Finally, as a result of shadowing the clinical trial’s cognitive tests, I was able to see that a treatment method was not always a prescription medication. Instead, I saw that cognitive stimulation via an iPad was a treatment method being tested. Because of being a part of this experience, I now believe that I have a fuller understanding of the scope of clinical research as being far more than a drug testing site. Instead, it is an intellectual playground where novel ideas can come in all forms.

My new understanding of clinical research is not only currently valuable to me, but crucial in my future career. I now understand that as a physician, I can be given the option to both care for patients and help enhance current medical knowledge without having to devote myself as only a physician or a clinical researcher. As a result, I further understand how crucial physicians are to not only conducting but also maintaining long clinical trials, which further increases my understanding of the power of a team of motivated individuals in making a difference in the world. Additionally, I understand how incredible, yet simple, medicine can end up being. If, upon completion, the Neurobics trial shows that cognitive exercise is a viable preventative measure to combating postoperative delirium, something as simple as cognitive stimulation before surgery will have been able to stop the onset of something that even drugs have failed to remedy. This once again has helped inspire an awe of the human body, which has helped bolster my desire to become a physician.

STEP Reflection

Name: Monika Locatis

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

For my STEP signature project I contributed to research done in Dr. Grottoli’s Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry Laboratory. Her research focuses on how ocean temperature and acidification effects the adaptation of coral species. In her lab, I spent most of my time either cleaning or outlining the surface area of pictures of coral, to look at the relationship between surface area growth with numerous stressors, such as high temperature and high acidity, or low temperature high acidity.

My project was very insightful in how many steps the research process needs to be carried out, and how many people contribute to that research. For instance, I did not except the time of these research projects to extend to the amount they did. I worked in the lab for 2 semesters and obtaining the complete results of the surface area project was not finished by the time I left. We looked at coral from 1 month, 5 months, 17 months to 22 months when putting a stressor on them. This alone takes up a lot of time and dedication from the graduate students and lab assistants. When you look at the grand scheme of things, such as collecting the data, processing the data, writing the results, and more, it takes a long time, taking the graduate students 3 years or more to publish.

I also realized how many different steps there are towards research. There are of course, steps outlined in scientific papers such as the methods and results, but there’s much more that goes into that. One thing people never think about when considering research is the clean up and planning research needs. I would mostly do the cleaning as an assistant to the lab, where cleaning must be particular so not contaminations ruined results. Coral dust and fragments had to be cleaned thoroughly with soap, rinsed many times, and glassware burned or plastic bathing in an acid solution. There were also many conferences to plan with the graduate students, and of course field research when it calls. These components are very much overlooked and seen as minor, but they are needed in a research lab.

I learned that communication in research is the key to completing research. We would have weekly lab meetings to discuss our progress in our research and get feedback on how to present the research. Since this work will eventually be published for the whole community to critique and see, Dr. Grottoli reviewed the graduate students work and suggested ways to present the information, or different methods that will produce better results. Research is done by many people at once working on pieces of it to make a bigger project. It is also about trust, where the graduate students had to let us help with their research and gave us the responsibility to complete tasks that affect the results.

This affected my view on research, as well as my attitude and interaction within my research lab, as well as outside the lab, helping me become more professional. I learned the importance of everyone in a lab and applied that in my workplace. I learned how to openly communicate more, and learned to trust others with my responsibilities more when I need help. I learned time management with my projects, seeing how long research takes made me spread my projects out so I can give them the time and attention they need to be the best.

Being a part of a research lab and experiencing all these things I never expected in a research setting has led me further into my career path. I know truly understand the scientific process and have gained research experience that will only help me advance to more research and positions in my field that will make me a respected member of the science community. However, I have only scratched the surface of research, and hope to conduct my own big-scale research someday. I am very grateful for the opportunity Dr. Grottoli has given me, letting me work in her research lab.

All of these things I’ve learned about research has just further solidified my career path, as I’ve come to learn research is very important (although time consuming) and it leads to bigger changes that can significantly impact our choices in conservation efforts, and thus help recover or continue to have ecosystem services and/or populations of a species. And everything I’ve learned in the lab, communication, time management, professionalism, from the connections I’ve made and the level of responsibility I was given will only help me advance further into my career. In my profession, I would eventually have to do research. Graduating without any research experience can be detrimental, and I am glad my STEP project has let me advance further into my career, giving me valuable experience needed to continue growing in my studies.

STEP Reflection

For my STEP project, I conducted research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Craig Burd Lab. My project focused on helping understand the molecular mechanism of GREB1, a protein implicated in breast cancer.

This project was my first exposure to undergraduate research and at first, I didn’t know what to expect. Although I was nervous about jumping into something I had no experience with, I am so glad I took the leap. This experience has allowed me to grow and learn a lot about myself. In particular, through this project, I have become more independent, which has given me the confidence to take on a new individual project in the future. I have also enjoyed being able to see the real-world applications of a lot of the things I’ve learned in my classes. Most importantly, I’ve been able to appreciate the importance of basic science research in the advancement of medicine and how much work really goes in to all of the research and development of new treatments and cures.

Coming into the lab with very little background, I had trouble adjusting to working in a research lab. Conducting research for the first time in a new field is like learning a new language. For the first few months, I relied heavily upon help from the graduate students working in my lab. Before this project, I was somewhat resistant to ask for help, but through this experience, I was able to feel comfortable not knowing all of the answers. The most important relationship I developed was with one of the graduate students, Corinne, who taught me all of the techniques and skills I use in the lab. Working with her allowed me to become more confident in my own skills and my ability to succeed. She was always available to explain how and why things worked and inspired me to be more ambitious and independent.

This experience was very valuable in my personal and professional life. I plan to attend medical school in the future, so working in a research lab has allowed me to appreciate an important aspect of the healthcare field. I feel that having this background in research will allow me to pursue future research opportunities in medical school and beyond. Personally, I will be able to carry the newfound confidence and independence I have developed in the lab with me as I continue in college, medical school, and in life.  

STEP Reflection

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

For my STEP Signature Project I did undergraduate research in the field of nuclear engineering investigating a method of measuring thermal conductivity. I used a technique known as the Four-Point Probe to measure the electrical resistivity of a material which can then be used to calculate the thermal conductivity. The main activities of the project were literature review, equipment procurement, design and fabrication of testing apparatus, conducting experiments, analyzing data, and writing a thesis.

 

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

Going into this STEP Signature Project I thought I might be interested in doing research, but I wasn’t entirely sure what it would be like or if I would actual like it. I was also in the process of considering and applying to grad schools and determining my aptitude for research was an important part of the decision. What I learned from my experience was that I enjoyed doing research, but not nearly as much as I hoped I would. Before my STEP Signature Project I assumed I would prefer a research oriented career. That assumption changed and I now think a career in industry or research could be equally rewarding.

 

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?

The main activities that led to the change discussed in question 2 was actually doing the research, literally conducting the experiments and collecting data. I learned how frustrating it can be. When erroneous data came in there was a large number of potential causes (from something as simple as a loose wire to something as fundamental as not modeling the physical system correctly) with no indication as to the issue.

I spent so much time working on things that only indirectly contributed to the research I was trying to do, such as several weeks just to get the equipment working properly. It was all too easy to feel I had wasted a week not making progress because I explored an avenue that proved uninformative, which is just a part of doing research

It was also hard to feel the work I was doing was important and mattered. Research is extremely specialized at this point and much of it is neither glamorous nor ground breaking. Technically all research is by definition original and expanding human understanding, but I’d rather put that knowledge to practical use. These experiences changed my perception about doing research.

 

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

As a direct result of doing undergraduate research I decided not to pursue a PhD in grad school. Getting a PhD would both involve 4 or so years of research but would also be for a research focused career. Before my STEP Signature Project I thought that would interest me but I am now less certain. Instead I plan to get a masters with research distinction for a career in industry with a more applied research focus. Without going through the experience of my STEP Project I would be going into grad school with a much less clear understanding of what I want to do professionally.