For my STEP Signature Project, I worked in undergraduate research on Ohio State’s campus over summer 2019. The research integrated psychology and political science, and I helped to prepare a study researching the voting behaviors of English-Spanish, which was especially pertinent to my Spanish minor.
My view of academic research was transformed as a result of this experience. Previously, I had lab experience only from my chemistry, biology, and biochemistry coursework, and this experience enabled me to see how studies involving human subjects are submitted and ran. This broadened my view of the types of research that one can pursue in college and beyond, and also helped me to realize that many types of scientific inquiry interest me. As I plan to go to medical school in the future, I know I want to go after another scholarly pursuit alongside my studies. This need not come in the form of a bench lab experience but perhaps a clinical trial or a study like what I experienced this summer.
In my STEP Signature Project, there were several events that led to my transformation and affected my perspectives. Right off the bat, I learned of all the training that needs to be completed for anyone to work in research with human subjects. As the study I worked on would involve voluntary participants, I needed to be put on the lab’s IRB protocols, which involved two online courses: Basic Human Research and Responsible Conduct of Research. This made me realize all of the training that can go into different research positions, especially ones higher than my own, and the importance of these trainings due to poorly managed experiments in the past. I also observed several current studies in the lab to get a feel for how they are run. With human participants, it’s important to make sure they feel comfortable at all times with the study.
I also learned that things won’t go according to schedule. It can take time to recruit participants, especially when they need to fit a certain demographic, like English-Spanish bilinguals. I compiled resources for where to recruit Spanish speakers on campus and in Columbus for when the study begins, so I also learned the value of conducting these studies in a city, because there is a diverse range of organizations and people willing to get involved. It can also take time to get a study up and running. Studies involving human participants need to be detailed and submitted for approval, and can be rejected for a number of reasons. I realized that studies such as this one take a great deal of patience, attention to detail, and willingness to revise previous work.
Most significantly, as I worked to format and edit the stimuli that participants will see in the study, I realized that one small error can invalidate the results of an entire experiment. Specifically, some of the studies run in my lab involve an eye-tracking portion and then additional surveys. The eye-tracking portion helps to indicate potential biases in voter decisions by revealing what words and pictures they gravitate towards. However, if there is a typo or error in the text, we don’t know if they are focusing on a phrase due to its meaning or because there is a typo. Every detail matters so it’s important to collaborate with other lab members and make sure everyone is on the same page.
Overall, this experience matters to me because I found that research comes in several forms other than what I had experienced in class, and is something I want to continue to pursue. Since the study is ongoing, I will get to use what I learned into this fall and run participants in the study I helped work on. My PI and the grad students I worked under were always helpful with my questions and made the experience a lot less intimidating. This is valuable to me because I gained experience, made connections with the other lab members, and learned a lot about how research is conducted at Ohio State. This also boosts my resume and makes me a more competitive medical school applicant.