My STEP experience took place during the summer of 2018 doing undergraduate research at the Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. I assisted undergraduate research assistants in Dr. Albert de la Chappelle’s Thyroid Cancer Research Lab. I began this journey during the school year, and was able to continue building on what I have learned throughout the summer because of STEP. The main activities consisted of perfecting basic lab bench work, as well as getting the freedom to design my own experiment and controls.
During my summer at OSUCCC, I learned a lot about myself and how to be independent and rely on my abilities in a lab, while also respecting my supervisors and peers. At first, working in a research lab intimidated me because everyone around me was much older with years of experience under their belts, while I was still learning the basics. I assumed that it would take me a long time to catch up and be able to decide how I would want to run my experiments and tests. However, the graduate assistants were extremely helpful and made sure I had the proper training from the beginning, so that later down the road my experiments would run smoother. It made me gain a sense of confidence that I did not have before, and encouraged me to think out of the box and try new procedures. I also did not shy away from asking my peers for help when I needed it, because I realized that even a simple error would result in redoing an entire experiment which would waste the facility’s time and money. This was a new pressure that I was not used to, but I realized that I would need to adjust to this pressure because I will face that in my future career.
I have always viewed myself as an independent person to a certain extent; however, working in the research lab around professionals heightened this trait of mine. Each person in the thyroid cancer lab has their own responsibility, so it was my responsibility to decide what I wanted to accomplish that day, and how I would accomplish it. The weekly meetings where the entire lab would discuss their findings and update the peers held me accountable and encouraged me to maintain a weekly agenda. I recorded all of my research and data in a lab notebook, which must stay in the lab at all times, and referenced this to keep my peers up to date on my progress.
I also learned how to keep a record of the products I was using in the research lab, and make sure that I had enough supplies. If not, I would have to order them myself. This financial responsibility made me more aware of the products and chemicals I was using, and how to conserve materials by making sure I don’t make simple errors that would result in restarting my procedure. When I first started working in this lab, I did not have to worry about these financial responsibilities because my supervisor would order things for me. As I gained more experience in the lab this summer, I was able to see how costly these experiments can be, which makes you value what you are doing.
Overall, my experience working in this research lab over the summer was positive. I was able to design what I wanted to do, and knowing that my supervisors trusted me was an uplifting feeling. However, when I truly reflect on this experience, I believe that I would not feel fulfilled if I had to do this for the rest of my life as a career. I thought I had always wanted to be in a lab, but getting this experience was what I needed to realize that I would like to explore other career options for my future.
This transformation has served as a valuable lesson in my life by giving me insight on what I truly want to do with my academic and professional career. Although I learned endless information that I would not have been able to experience elsewhere, and my peers and advisors were nothing but helpful, I realized I would like to pursue a different path in my future. Realizing that I may not want to work in a research lab in the future has been the most significant realization in my undergraduate career so far, because it was something that I always had my heart set on. However, I would like to get more involved with my biological engineering degree, and pursue an opportunity in research and development in an industry. This transformation has encouraged me to attend the OSU 2018 Engineering Expo, where I networked with several accomplished engineering companies to express my interest in an internship. Because of the opportunities STEP has given me in helping me realize I want to go down a different career path, I now have interviews for several engineering companies for an internship for the summer of 2019.