STEP Reflection: Undergraduate Research as DAAD Rise Scholar

My name is Lauren Ballard, I am a third year Biochemistry major at Ohio State, and my STEP signature project was focused on my position as an undergraduate research assistant in an organic chemical lab in Dresden, Germany.  The team focused primarily on radiopharmaceutical research in attempts to synthesize a new chelator that could encapsulate cationic radium in use for alpha radiation therapy as a form of cancer treatment.  Day to day responsibilities on my end consisted of running reactions, determining purities of intermediate products, reading up on new findings and scientific papers, and several other miscellaneous tasks.  The majority of my research team were PhD students, Masters students, and professional chemists who had an intense organic chemistry background.

 

In completing my STEP project, I had several global realizations and occupational discoveries that rerouted my track at Ohio State.  Previously, I had been thinking about becoming a doctor by obtaining my MD/PhD.  Although the research I did this summer was extremely fascinating, I realized that being in a laboratory setting for extensive hours was not particularly something that I enjoyed.  I recently talked with my academic and pre-professional advisor, and am on track to take the GRE next fall instead of the MCAT to pursue other post-baccalaureate opportunities, although that is still variable to change.  However, the realm of possibilities for my personal future more than likely does not involve extensive research in a lab setting.  With that being said, I also gained a new appreciation for my major and the work that research scientists do.  Their patience is a profound characteristic that I greatly admire.  Having completed this project overseas, I did have an entire spectra of global realizations as well.  I gained a new appreciation for a variety of European cultures, foods, and festivities.  I also have a burning desire to learn several languages and to become an avid world traveler someday in order to fully communicate and blend into any culture I decide to assimilate into for a brief period of time.  I really gained a new appreciation for the life that I lead as well, and no longer take as many of my blessings for granted.

 

With the day to day tasks, and the consistent language barrier, I grew extremely exhausted.  Through this constant separation of me from the rest of the German people in Dresden, I learned the value of persistence.  After realizing that lab work wasn’t likely in my future, I had to persist through the entirety of my time there, working as hard as I could to help the team I was apart of.  My brain had to be turned on constantly, using as much German (which is not much, I can assure you) as I knew outside work to blend into the normalcy of the society I was slowly integrating myself into.  I also had to use the knowledge that I had gained at Ohio State during work in the lab in really applying what I knew to draw conclusions from NMR readings and visual observations.  This consistent state of being alert kept me on my toes and became extremely wearing after 6 weeks.  I had to keep pushing through and realizing the amazing opportunities I had been apart of and still had yet to take part in.  There was a constant battle between missing what I knew in America and appreciating what was in front of me in Europe.  I also learned to appreciate more of what I had and understand the incredibility of the life I led for that 11 weeks.

 

These changes are so significant to my life because it guided not only my career path to something that will hopefully be more suitable for me, but it also changed my mentality and ways of thinking about everything that I encounter in my daily life.  I appreciate my family more, my major, the people that are multi-lingual, those that are patient enough to help when there is a communication barrier, and most importantly, I learned to appreciate the backgrounds of all individuals.  Until you personally indulge yourself fully into another society or way of living, there is no way to entirely understand personal backgrounds of others until you have truly lived it.  Not to say that I understand every single background in the world, but I definitely have broadened my horizons in beginning to understand differences in societies and human characteristics.