Over the summer of 2019, I was a part of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and worked in Dr. Yaping Liu’s lab in the Division of Human Genetics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. This ten week program consistent of having hands on training in laboratory equipment and experimental procedures as well as seminars and lectures geared towards understanding different graduate programs, medical school, and research presentations. I worked specifically with circulating-free or cell-free DNA (cfDNA) and completed a project geared towards better understanding the application of cfDNA.
I have always been fearful of conducting research since I was deterred when I was young and while I held a research position at OSU, I only did minor things and assisted in projects already planned for me. During this program, I was forced to independently find and execute an experimental project. I wrote the protocols, researched the reagents, suggested the methodology, and solved the trouble-shooting problems. I recall times where I had some questions and my mentor and PI didn’t know any more than I.
If anything, I feel like I have grown as an independent researcher. I have grown more confident in my skills to come up with project ideas and my understanding of how to execute experiments by thinking critically of the mechanisms of different reagents and substances to complete my goals. I think not only do I feel like an independent researcher, but that others are starting to respect my abilities and view me more as a researcher instead of a student.
Although it made it hard and confusing at first, I appreciate my PI and mentor approach to independency, be it intentional or not. I described my experience during the SURF program to my research mentor at OSU and my OSU mentor said they treated me like a graduate student instead of how normal undergraduate students are treated. It was the first time I was treated on equal grounds as a research fellow instead of as a student.
This was also my first time working a 40 hours a week position. My entire life, I had always worked part time with classes as my main focus. During the summer, every week was solely dedicated for research, no worries or stresses about midterms, homework, or attending class. I felt I was able to immerse myself into my research because I was allowed to focus on it without any other distractions.
I think another thing to mention is that my project did not produce the results I expected; however, as they say, there is no such thing as a failed research project. Even failure produces more knowledge and information to the world. Every time something happened that was not the intended results, it was back to the drawing board to come up for an alternative solution. My PI congratulated my drive to find out what went wrong, producing multiple potential solutions to test, the possible issues that might follow, and eventually finding the right method. While the experiments I conducted did not answer the hypothesis first proposed, it opened another door to a different potential question that had not yet been answered.
I have always doubted my research abilities and completely rejected the idea at first. This program has brought me confident in my abilities and knowledge. While I still aim to achieve a MD, I’m currently considering pursuing a MD/PhD because of the SURF program. I’m starting to value the independence I have developed, which is something people struggles with when in college. I’ve taken more responsibilities and duties and feel more prepared in facing the world on my own. I have met many interesting individuals during my time with the program and even received a job offer to work at the lab I was a part of.