STEP Final Reflection

Nicole Cacciato STEP Signature Project Reflection

Undergraduate Research

For my STEP signature project, I participated in undergraduate research in the lab of Dr. David Carbone at the Comprehensive Cancer Center. Throughout the course of my project, I worked under various MDs and PhDs and assisted with their research projects regarding small cell lung cancer. The project that I mainly assisted with was regarding the resistance of various cancerous cell lines to different types of chemotherapy drugs. This was achieved through the use of various techniques such as IC50 Assays, BCA assays, Western blots, and other cell culturing techniques. The results from these various experiments were then exported and analyzed in Excel, and then utilized in scientific papers published by the lab.

When I began my STEP signature project, I had no research experience and was not at all confident in my abilities in the lab. At the beginning of my experience, whenever I was performing an experiment in the lab I was not at all confident in what I was doing and whenever I made a mistake I would apologize profusely and worry so much that the older, more experienced people in my lab would think I was unintelligent or incapable of correctly performing the experiment. I was also scared to ask people questions because I was afraid that they would think I wasn’t listening when they told me instructions the first time.

However, as my time in the lab progressed, I became more and more confident in my abilities, and became much closer with the other people in my lab. They assured me that it is perfectly okay to make mistakes and oftentimes mistakes are more common than success in the research process, depending on the experiment. They also offered me invaluable guidance on my future goals of attending graduate school and connected me with people currently working in various positions in the field of neuroscience. Throughout this experience, I developed a much stronger level of confidence in myself and my intellectual abilities, and also came to realize that perfection isn’t everything; in undergraduate life, it is easy to develop the idea that you need to do things perfectly the first time in order to do them well. However, we learn more from our mistakes than we do from performing something perfectly the first time I also developed a much stronger understanding of life as a researcher compared to other career paths, which helped to shape my goals for after college.

There were many events and interactions throughout the course of my signature project that contributed to the transformative experience that I had. First of all, I was able to interact with and observe the work of some of the top cancer doctors and researchers in the world. In lab meeting every week, researchers would present their findings, critique or question those of others, and discuss other relevant and groundbreaking research occurring in other labs around the world. Throughout this experience, I was able to gain an understanding of the projects occurring within my lab and how they both compared to and integrated with work being done in other locations.

Additionally, the lab that I worked in has a very strong charity presence; since all of the research being done is related to various subtypes of lung cancer, many people and charities within the community contribute financially to the lab. The lab holds many events to both thank the donors and educate them about the research currently being conducted, and it was really special to be able to meet and talk with people that are directly affected by and thankful for our work. I feel that this opportunity would not be present in most other labs, and I was extremely grateful to be able to see the firsthand impact of the research. On the other hand, it was also very informative in regards to how much funding is required to actually run a lab and continue the research; my lab receives millions of dollars in funding each year, which is good to know for future reference.

Finally, throughout my time in the lab I was exposed to an extremely wide variety of people in different careers. I met researchers, doctors, students pursuing PhDs in various fields, MD/PhD students, and so on. Before I began working in this lab, I was completely unsure of what I wanted to do after I graduated from Ohio State. Throughout my time in the lab I was able to have discussions with many people about what it took to get where they are, what they wish they had done differently if anything, and so on. I was able to gain insight about several different career paths and get an idea about what I might like to pursue after my undergraduate studies are completed.

This transformation is significant to my life for multiple reasons. Firstly, when I began working in this lab I was significantly less confident in my intellectual abilities and my ability to apply my knowledge to research than I am now. It is hard to develop this level of confidence from simply participating in class, even if you are doing well; there are always so many other students in class asking questions and also earning high grades that is difficult to determine where you fall in terms of what you know. I was previously also nervous to ask questions in class because I was afraid of looking stupid or uninformed. Now, I feel much more confident in my studies and have no trouble with asking questions in class; there are no stupid questions, and it is perfectly acceptable to misunderstand a concept. It is worse to misunderstand and not seek clarification than to try to figure it out on your own.

Additionally, this experience helped me to determine what I would like to pursue as a future career. Going into the project I had no idea what I wanted to do with my degree or whether I wanted to pursue a higher level of education, and throughout the project I gained a lot of insight into what type of career I might like to pursue. I am now planning on applying to get my Master’s of Science in pharmacology, and am considering pursuing a PhD after that. Overall, my experience through STEP helped guide me towards the next step in my career and gave me a much stronger sense of security in my knowledge in the field of neuroscience and science as a whole.