Undergraduate research: A short, but insightful journey

  1. My STEP Signature Project centered on behavioral neuroscience research, specifically unpacking female sexual trauma using a rat model for “SCAR”: sexual conspecific aggressive response. In this project, I aided my lab’s graduate student in much of the animal work and data collection, specifically setting up, facilitating, and coding experimental data.
  2. During my STEP Signature Project, I had an epiphany that I no longer want to attend medical school. Instead, I realized that I wanted to pursue my masters in Higher Education and Student Affairs. I feel as if my STEP Signature Project was the tipping point in this decision; I had gut feelings and hazy ruminations on the notion of changing my career path, but I had not had a galvanizing experience that pushed me away from science and the pre-med path.
    Through this experience, I realized that although vital, fascinating, and cool, the work I was doing was not fulfilling for me. The real-world implications of the research were amazing, but at my core, I realized I was not happy doing work that didn’t directly engage with people. I love talking to people, learning about them, hearing their stories, and that’s just not something you can do with rats. They’re cool little homies, but for me, I realized I need constant human connection in my work in order to feel energized and fulfilled.
  3. A typical day in my lab looked like this: I would show up at 9 AM, my graduate student and I would conduct animal experiments in the basement of the Psychology Building from then until 3:30 to 4:00 PM, and then I would leave and work on projects that excited me a lot more, including programming for my fraternity and plans for my job as an organic chemistry teaching assistant. During the duration of many of my shifts in the lab, I would specifically be transporting animals from the vivarium to the testing rooms, coordinating handoffs of multiple animals, and engaging in small projects and tasks needed to execute different behavioral assessments. 

    There is a certain monotony involved in this ordeal; the experiments must be repeated on all animals, and with six to eight animals per litter, and eight litters total, there was much repetition. This amount of repetition, paired with the fact that I struggled to emotionally connect to the science, led me to feel drained. I realized that scientific research, specifically behavioral neuroscience research, was not something I could do with my life and maintain my happiness. 
    Moreover, during the duration of my STEP project, I became really involved with things entirely unrelated to my project. These things, I realized, were my passions. Creating a diversity and inclusion program for my fraternity. Planning lessons for the organic chemistry lab I taught. Planning connective, immersive, and emotional retreats for my fraternity. Planning for OUAB’s Welcome Back Concert within my role in the organization’s Concerts Committee. Serving on “Get Involved” panels for high school seniors visiting OSU’s campus. I realized that student- and people-focused programming was something I was good at, enjoyed, and called to pursue.

    Although these things would have happened regardless of what my STEP project was, I think my STEP project gave me a valuable optic through which I viewed these activities. My love for these passion projects became more salient only by contrasting them with my STEP project. Sometimes for clarity to be afforded, a new perspective is needed, and that, is what my STEP project gave me.

  4. This change is EXTREMELY significant in my life, as it has placed me on an entirely new career trajectory. The next 40+ years of my life are now irrevocably changed, and I think that that’s absolutely wild. Kind of overwhelming. But also pretty cool. I have taken time to reconcile these two identities, old me and new me, and I will continue to take time. To allow growth. To allow me to see myself in this new framing.

    In the future, instead of aspiring to be a medical doctor, I now aspire to be a higher education professional. I have no idea in what capacity I want to work; there are so many options. I am, however, okay with this unknown. I am learning to exist more comfortably be in them, to not let them be sources of fear, but rather oases and birthplaces of inspiration and innovation of my self. I am nervous, I am excited, but that’s how it’s supposed to be.