For my STEP project, I spent two months at University College Dublin in Ireland working in a neuroscience research lab. We used electrophysiology to investigate the effects of novel phytocannabinoids on synaptic transmission and long-term potentiation in the Schaffer-collateral pathway of mice hippocampi.
Although I thought living in Ireland would be fairly easy, spending two months in a foreign country definitely forced me out of my comfort zone and tested my independence. Getting to interact with people from different backgrounds gave me a new perspective on the world, but it also made me realize that it’s not that hard to find things in common with other people regardless of background or culture. Being in such an intensive program, where I had to complete 40 hours a week of research, prepare a literature review, write a 40-page paper about my findings, and present my poster to a panel of examiners; I got some great exposure to the world of research. Although the program was a lot of work and sometimes stressful, I gained a greater appreciation for basic science research, and I’ve decided that it’s something I want to continue to pursue in medical school.
One of the most important parts of my project was the relationships I made. My principle investigator, who I worked under in the lab, has been a great mentor to me and taught me so much about having a career in science and being a woman in science. She was encouraging and helpful every step of the way, and I truly appreciate all the advice and guidance that she gave me. The graduate student in my lab also served as a mentor to me since she was mainly the one actually teaching me the laboratory techniques and helping me with my writing. Because of them, I feel more confident in my ability to work in a research lab and concisely write about my research. The other undergraduate student who worked in the lab with me was a great friend throughout the whole summer, and she was kind enough to show me around Dublin and make recommendations about things for my roommates and I to do.
Along with the people in my lab, I’m also grateful for the roommates I had while in Ireland. I went into the program not knowing anyone and being one of only three Ohio State people on the trip, but my roommates and I immediately became great friends. Having a good group of friends made exploring Ireland a lot more fun, and they helped push me out of my comfort zone. One weekend three of us went to London for a weekend, something I probably would’ve been nervous to do by myself. Although they all go to University of Michigan, we still keep in touch, and I plan on visiting them for the football game over Thanksgiving break.
Working in a lab gave me some insight into both the joys and frustrations of research. I discovered that although the process can be slow and sometimes disappointing, I really enjoy being a part of research and feeling like I’m contributing to a team. The experience has also helped me to figure out what type of research I enjoy. Electrophysiology in neuroscience research is somewhat niche, so I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to be exposed to it. Now that I know what I enjoy, I hope to find a similar research lab when I’m in medical school, so I can continue with electrophysiology. Getting the opportunity to actually prepare a literature review, paper, and poster also significantly helped my writing skills and my ability to read and interpret literature. I also got the opportunity to present my research to a panel of examiners which has helped me gain confidence that I know will help me when presenting in the future.
Since completing my STEP project, I feel like I have a clearer image of what I want to do with my career. Having a great mentor, who I still keep in contact with, has given me a role model to look up to and go to for advice when I’m feeling unsure of myself or my future career. Going to Ireland without knowing anyone beforehand has also given me more confidence because I’ve learned that I can adapt to new environments and people better than I previously thought. It’s also helped me gain a better sense of independence, which I know I will need as I move to a different city next year all by myself to start medical school.