STEP project: undergraduate research

My STEP signature project was starting my thesis “Comparison of Illicit Drug Use in the Ohio Regional Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Model Systems Dataset to Ohio and National Populations” at a TBI lab located in Dodd Rehabilitation Center. I also was a lab assistant in this lab and filed patient data, scheduled interviews, and performed ADAMH (alcohol drug and mental health) screenings for participants.

Many changes happened for me because of my STEP project, and one of the biggest takeaways is: life doesn’t always go as expected and sometimes struggles lead you to the right path. Starting my thesis was a hard task from the very beginning of my project. We had troubles getting me access to our dataset because IT was not cooperating, some of our files went missing, etc. Then after going through over a 1,000 participant’s worth of data for two months, it turns out only two of our participants claimed they used opioids during 2016-2017. This was obviously too small of a sample size to continue with this thesis. It was nothing that myself or my lab supervisor could have predicted. I was of course distraught because I needed this thesis to get into PhD programs; but I soon learned everything happens for a reason.

After my dataset fell through for continuing my thesis, I continued to help the lab with the conducting different research by assessing patient drug use with ADAMH interviews. Being in the lab more often, I got pretty close to some of the other people who worked in the lab. One of the main people that changed my life during my STEP project was one of my supervisors, Beth Windisch. Beth was a licensed independent social worker; something I have never heard of.  She told me that an LISW can provide mental health treatment to patients which I thought could only be done by obtaining your PhD in clinical psychology. She told me that I could get an LISW after getting my masters in social work. I then went home and found as much information I could about becoming an LISW and it was life changing. To get your LISW, you first have to get a masters in social work (which Ohio State offers a 2 years’ masters program) and then I take a licensing exam. All together, this could take a total of 4 years. Before this, I was expecting to be in PhD school for 8 years and then hopefully become licensed 2 years after that: a total of 10 years before I could star working with patients. This has always been a worry of mine since choosing this career path because I want to be able to help people as soon as possible. Furthermore, PhD schools are heavily focused on research and after my incident with my thesis, I do not think research is right career path for me. Knowing that I may have to have another falling out with a doctoral thesis, gave me a lot of stress I did not want to potentially deal with for another 10 years. In a social work masters program, you get field placements where you start working with patients within your first few weeks and that is exactly what I want. If I did not have a falling out with my undergraduate research thesis, I would not have worked in the lab more, would not have met Beth, and would not have found a profession that is perfect for me. So, this STEP signature project affected me because I have learned not to worry so much when things do not go exactly as planned, because things will always work out in the end.

This change is significant in my life in so many aspects. Since this experience I have been able to reduce my anxieties about many things in life. If I feel overwhelmed with assignments or do not do to well on a test, I do not take it so hard as I did when I was a freshman in college. I am able to refocus, learn from my mistakes, and move on with a new sense of direction. This can relate to academic, personal, and professional goal struggles. For example, I am planning on graduating early this December and am applying to different grad schools and jobs throughout Ohio and around the country. Though this is a stressful time, I know that whatever happens is meant to be. I am so grateful for this STEP experience because I have been able to change my outlook on life and find my ideal career.

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