STEP Reflection: The Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research

Dahlia Najjar

Undergraduate Research

This summer I worked as a student research assistant for the Stress and Health Lab in the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research in Columbus, Ohio. Within my lab, there are four current studies: two involving breast cancer patients and two involving the impact of relationships on one’s health. My job entailed performing tasks for each study and working as an experimenter for the in-person full day visits our subjects would attend in the Clinical Research Center. I also became cross-trained for a graduate student’s and a full-time research assistant’s position so that I was able to cover their jobs while they vacationed throughout the summer. My jobs entailed working the visits, completing desk tasks for my PI, Dr. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser; creating the lab schedule for visits; transcribing participant sessions; uploading data; verifying data; processing participant payment forms; recruitment; and more.

I surprised myself and gained a significant amount of personal confidence from this STEP signature project. I was scheduled to work almost every day of the week at 7:00am and took on a lot of responsibility in the lab on top of juggling classes at Ohio State and working weekends at a pharmacy in Cleveland. I was trained to take on so many new roles in an extremely short amount of time, but I was so motivated that I was able to keep up with it all. I pushed myself to new limits and as a result learned more about myself and my potential. By the end of my sophomore year I had doubts about continuing my pre-med track, but this summer really encouraged me to move forward with my ambitions.

My assumptions regarding research also changed. My exposure to clinical research really opened my eyes to not only the impact it can have in changing people’s quality of life, but to patients/subjects’ immense willingness to give back to others as the experiments they participated in were quite tiring, long, and somewhat invasive. It was refreshing to be able to see what clinical research entailed and meet all the professionals involved. My interactions with these professionals, such as doctors, directors, nurses, graduate students, etc. led to great conversations. I learned a lot about different career paths and various topics of interest within medicine. This led me to focus on my specific interests in medicine, research, and science. When people used to ask me what kind of doctor I want to be, I simply would respond, “I just want to get to medical school first and then I will decide.” Though ultimately this is true, now I recognize that I truly do have specific interests and questions that I want to ask scientifically. My passion for neurology has basically been cemented, and still I’m determining what subtopics/sub-specialties I want to explore and learn more about all that I can do.

Because of this experience, I’ve also begun to think about continuing in research before and possibly after medical school. During visits, when subjects would ask me about my interest in research and my future in it, I hadn’t considered the answer before. Now, I want to continue within research for a year or more before attending medical school upon my undergraduate graduation from Ohio State. One of the graduate students I covered for over the summer spoke to me about her plans to complete her master’s degree in Psychology before attending medical school and how her experience within this lab really helped her decide what areas of medicine she wanted to make an impact in and explore in her future medical career. All my conversations and experiences within the lab really pushed me to think about where I want to go in my career and all the knowledge I want to gain.

This summer research position was the most responsibility I have ever taken on. Not only was I in charge of completing a lot of integral tasks within the lab each week, I had to present myself in a new professional way consistently. I also was forced to make lifestyle changes and transform into an accountable, independent, disciplined, somewhat functional adult, as this was my first time living on my own. I learned to budget my funds and save money because I was completely dependent on my own finances and pay. I was forced to go to bed early, which was something I haven’t been able to do since I was in grade school. I also had to develop and stick to an efficient daily routine.  There were so many aspects of independent living that I encountered but had not been prepared for or knew how to handle, but I learned. I made mistakes, but took responsibility for them and adjusted. It was even hard emotionally to handle the new and different stress I came across all on my own, but I did it. I’m actually really proud of myself and I have a newfound confidence that I will be able to handle the stress of my future profession.

These personal transformations are most valuable to me. Yet every aspect of my summer experience here in Columbus was meaningful, the good and the sometimes hard. I feel I have grown so much as a student and human being. I’ve gained significant confidence and motivation regarding my future career, and I also have a lot to think about in terms of continuing research in the lab following my graduation and what paths of medicine I want to explore.