Beginning a Career in Astronomy Research

What follows is my reflection on my overall STEP signature project. For anyone interested in more details about my time at the telescope, check out my blog here!

For my signature project, I had the opportunity to take part in research. My work focuses on eclipsing binary star systems and the funding from the project allowed me to fly out to Kitt Peak in Arizona to operate the telescopes at MDM Observatory, present my research at a conference, and continue working through the summer.

I wasn’t very confident in myself after freshman year. I struggled with the transition to college and there were times that I worried that I didn’t belong in astronomy. Before this project, I had no idea how research was done, let alone how I would get involved with it. Then I joined STEP. Because I had some funding already taken care of, the first professor I approached agreed to take me on his project. Being a part of research made me significantly more confident in my own abilities and the possibility of a future for me in the field of astronomy. It was like finding somewhere I belong.

I spent my first semester reading papers that overwhelmed me with new information and learning a coding language I’d never even heard of, but I left every research meeting feeling more optimistic about my future than I ever had been before. The next semester, it came time to go observing. My research advisor described collecting data as a dreadfully boring process, so I didn’t expect much. I was just looking forward to the opportunity to visit Arizona. As it turned out, I genuinely loved observing! The process was a bit repetitive, sure, but it was so easy for me to learn how to use the telescopes that before long, I was monitoring both of them while my advisor napped in the adjacent room. Because it was so repetitive, it was easy for me to set the telescopes to take a bunch of data while I stepped outside and stared at the stars. It was the most stars I’ve ever seen in the night sky. The simple act of looking up reminded me that what I was doing really mattered.

I worked with the data collected on this run through the rest of that semester. By January of the following year, I had done enough work to justify attending the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics to present a poster. Being surrounded by other women in my field was reaffirming, especially when many of the undergrads shared my insecurities. I had the opportunity to discuss my experiences with women from many institutions and find common ground. I left it feeling much less alone.

As the end of my junior year approached, I was accepted into the astronomy department’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) and had the opportunity to continue my work on this project all summer. Doing research without the distraction of classes made me so much more productive and less stressed. It gave me a glimpse into a possible future, one that felt more attainable than it had while I struggled with class. Over the summer alone I feel like I tripled my research skills and my confidence grew with it. Having financial support to do this was invaluable.

There were points in my academic career where I was legitimately afraid that I didn’t belong here. I still have fleeting moments of uncertainty, where I’m not sure I can make it in this field. Now, it’s easier for me to fight back. When I struggle in classes, I remind myself of how I thrive in research. This STEP Signature Project opened the door for me to realize that. It feels like what I do matters and showed me that I am capable of making contributions to astronomy. Along with this, it has helped me to learn more about what areas of research interest me. This provides me with a clearer path forward. I can say with confidence that my life wouldn’t be the same otherwise

Nikki

Step Reflection

Step reflection Colin Melick

Prompt 1:

My step project was doing a research project through the movement lab here at The Ohio State University under Professor Manoj Srinivasan. My project specifically was measuring the metabolic cost to stand, sit, and do various bent leg exercises. We also measure the forces that the subject’s legs were applying throughout the different exercises.

 

Prompt 2:

Throughout this project I learned a lot of things. I learned that with any project communication is key. When I start this project communication between the project advisor and I was very not in sync which caused the project to not get off to a quick start like I would’ve liked. This probably could’ve been fixed by setting expectations from the beginning and also figuring out what the best form of communication would be.

Another thing I learned is about for myself better time management. With this project spanning the summer and school year I had to learn to adjust from summer almost always being available to the school year when I’m almost never available. This was a big thing that has helped me in my day to day life as well. Setting weekly meetings helps a lot as well.

 

Prompt 3:

In the beginning there was miscommunication about when and where we were meeting and emails being sent out too close to meeting times. This caused both being late for and missing meetings which did not help the project.

Also when subject eventually started there were a few instances of miscommunication whether that be time or location of the study. Both of these things forced me to learn to be almost overly prepared for every meeting and trial when it comes to time and place and making meetings weekly and at the same time.

Time management came about from the transition from summer to school year. It really forced me to be better with meetings and keeping a calendar. Keeping a schedule kept me on track to make sure that I was doing everything I needed and when I could fit in possible new subjects and meetings with my professor. It also helped me in my general life plan out when I have free time to do homework or go to the gym or just in general relax.

My time management skills were also transformed through my time with each subject. I would try to have each subject in and out of the lab in 2 hours while I myself was there for three hours. Each trial was completely randomized so the approach to each trial and which trial came first had to be changed with each different subject. I had to make sure that I was utilizing my time wisely to make sure I got them out in 2 hours and I wasn’t wasting their time or my own. For example with each trial different things need to be set up so making sure the everything is set up for each trial and not having to have the subject wait around for me to set trails up and making sure each is ready to go.

 

Prompt 4:

This communication change will help me in my personal life and career. I will always be on track with what is going on in every aspect of life and make sure I’m never missing a meeting or any information. Also taught me that some people just aren’t as good of communicators and how to deal with people if that’s the case and to be extra prepared for any situation.

The time management change will help me in almost every aspect of life. With work it will help me know when I have time to fit in tasks and meetings. In my personal life it will help me know when I’m available to hang with friends or when is the best time for me to go to the gym and live my best life. It will decrease the chance of me ever missing something or having to cancel and it will help me optimize my time so I am getting the most out of each and every day.

 

Undergraduate Research | Donie Falbo

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

My project was specifically testing the cytotoxicity of 3D-printed Nitinol bone fixation devices for use in craniofacial plastic surgery. I used an assortment of assays and mechanical testing to determine if the plates will be viable in the human body; some of my asssays are as followed: PrestoBlue assay, Live-Dead Stain, Cell Culture, Ultra Sonication, and many more techniques.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

My understanding of my capabilities has changed exponentially due to this STEP Signature Project. I have found out that I am now capable of being in an intense environment and contribute greatly to it. This project gave me confidence in my abilities; it has showed me that I am smart and able. I feel as though I am able to take on any task after this project. I went in very nervous and not knowing what to expect; after all, I was entering a plastic surgery research laboratory with no prior research experience. I started to grow in my abilities on day 1. This project demanded me to step up on an individual level and not depend on many people, and at first, that was scary. However, by the end of it, I gained so much independence and knowledge from it.

My view of the world was transformed through this project. I was able to see the world through scientist’s eyes and make major contributions. Before this, I had no idea about the use of 3D-printed materials in science, especially surgery. I soon was propelled deep into the language and world of plastic surgery where I was able to prosper and learn from the best of the best. I was transformed in a way where I now have so many connections all around the world. I was also transformed in a responsibility way. I was constantly challenged to problem solve on my own and find my own solutions to the issues that I was having. This project taught me how to be a team player and served as a catalyst on my journey to becoming a leader within the lab.

 

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

 

One major event that occurred during my time that contributed to my transformation is when the NiTi devices were rapidly eroding during a sonication, or cleaning, bath. The purpose of the bath is to remove powder particles and prepare the samples for the cytotoxicity testing. However, upon sonication, the samples were rapidly eroding. For reference, the bath is filled with an acid solution, but it should not make the samples erode. I then was faced with a challenge on how to change this situation fast without ruining all of the samples. I then completed a separate test with different time variables to see the optimum time that the samples should be in the water. I also concluded that, while we need to watch for air bubbles and remove them as soon as possible, it was also important to not do too much stirring as it would introduce too much oxygen into the acid bath and contribute to erosion. By doing this, I feel as though I transformed in my ability to problem solve and find solutions to problems on the spot. It is vital to be able to act fast, especially in a laboratory setting so I truly believe I gained skills necessary to critically think on the spot.

My interactions and relationships that I made during this project are some of the most valuable in my entire career thus far. I became very close with another undergraduate student who was also working with the nitinol devices. He and I would constantly communicate about the most effective ways to go about the research. We even developed an entirely new protocol for the lab together. He is a valuable peer resource that I now have for future reference.

Another relationship that I made was with my direct project leader, Agnieszka. She is not my PI, but instead, she was just the PhD student project leader for the NiTi project. I worked closely with her everyday on experiments that we were running and relied on each others assistance during the summer. We would brainstorm solutions to problems that occurred and investigated the ins and outs of our project together. She helped me grow more knowledgeable about the specific project that I was on. She is from Poland and has been working with these chemicals and testing methods for many years, therefore I was able to benefit from her experience.

Another grad student that I made a relationship with was Valeria. She is from Mexico and was the head of the Cell Culture and Surgery team. She oversaw all of the cell culture work going on in the lab. Since many of the tests that I would do had to do wit cell culture, she was a vital resource for me. She taught me about cells and proper handling of them. She helped to transform me into an expert with sterile cell culture work. Without her, it would have taken me twice as long. However, with her on my team, I was able to learn quickly and efficiently. We are still in communication. I plan to keep up with her and keep her as an important resource in my life. She helped me become more independent and confident.

Lastly, my PI has instilled confidence in me. I take his lab very seriously, and as I said, it was scary to enter this lab with no prior experience. He trusted me with his materials and depended on me to get the job done. I presented my work to him a few times throughout the semester and he was impressed every time. He helped me to feel more capable; when he would give me words of encouragement, I would feel as though I was on the right track and it motivated me to continue striving for success. He helped me grow so much intelligence on, not just my project, but all of his projects that he had going on in the lab. At each weekly lab meeting, we would go in detail about all of the projects and I learned so much from each of those. This experience with him helped me to grow as a scientist, student, and human.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

This transformation was vital in the grand scheme of my life across all parts. It has helped me academically because I got to learn so much about different types of science: polymer chemistry, acids, mechanical testing, 3D-printed materials, cells, etc. I got to put my textbook knowledge to the test in a real-life laboratory setting. This helped to strengthen the concepts in my head. Also, I was able to grow personally due to all of the responsibility that was placed on me. It helped me to be able to grow in my ability to use my knowledge and capabilities for the better. This personal transformation was also due to all of the connections that I made. I was able to meet people from all of the world and work very closely with them. This helped me culturally, as I had to listen closely due to our language differences. This transformation was able to better me on all different aspects. I never expected this amount of growth from this project. Lastly, this change will be a strong aspect of my life as I progress through my education. Having this experience will assist with my competitiveness for medical school, as well as, give me much to talk about with admissions committees. This experience will be one that I will never forget.

 

Undergraduate Research: An educational and Fun experience

My STEP signature project this summer was focused on Inflammatory Bowel Diseases research, specifically Crohn’s Disease (CD). My experimental hypothesis was whether deleting/silencing a gene in our bacteria of interest has an effect in the progression of CD. My mentor, Dr. Alexander Rodriguez-Palacios at Case Western University, helped me set up the experiments associated with this hypothesis. We successfully completed bacterial transformation of plasmids. These plasmids were used for our bacteria that we grew on antibiotic agars. Afterwards, we ran genetic testing to confirm the presence and or non-presence of the gene. The project is still ongoing, but we collected enough data for me to provide a detailed report in a poster created for my STEP project.

For this project, I learned many new protocols necessary for my experiments. This includes qPCR, bacterial transformation of plasmids, RNA extraction, western blotting and preparation of antibiotic agars. This project further confirmed my desire to continue research after my undergraduate years in addition with pursuing medicine. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience! I learned a lot and I am grateful to the laboratory staff I worked with and for my mentor. Attached are images of some of the tools I had the opportunity to use. I was very nervous at first, because for example, the big white box image, is approximately $300,000. Many lab tools, I learned are very expensive and should be handled with care.

One important event was when we took one of our samples for transmission electron microscopy, to image our tissues, in search of bacteria. Sadly, we didn’t find anything, but we got other interesting results. Initially, I thought this was a fail, but my mentor informed me to look at all sides. While we didn’t find what we had in mind, we came out with something else just as valuable!

Thus, this is just one aspect of being a scientist, being optimistic, resourceful and utilizing your data. For there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ data, instead, ‘expected’ and ‘non-expected’ data, and to make use of it and report what you find. This experience has had a lasting experience for me. It relates to other parts in my life because in scientific research, you have to be daring (within reason) and be ready to fail and be alright with it.

There were many mishaps in my research project, all of which frustrated me, but I learned that’s okay and to sit down reassess how I can improve and what better to do the next time. This attitude is transferable to many aspects in our lives and fosters a healthy attitude about failure and succeeding in our lives.

I believe once I become a physician, I’d like to keep up to date in my area, by reading research materials and participating in research to provide the latest and best care for patients.

Undergraduate Research at Nationwide Children’s

My STEP Signature Project this summer was to plan and implement my thesis experiment which is culturing Small and Large Intestinal epithelial and neuronal cells primarily and incubating them with IL-1B and GABA to see the effects of stress- induced-inflammation on intestinal physiology. I have been researching in Dr. Michael Bailey’s lab for over one year and decided to spend my summer in Columbus, mainly focusing on my thesis project while assisting my post-doctorate, Dr. Brett Loman. After the first round of epithelial cell experiments, we have found that IL-1B and GABA alter the IL-1 and IL-6 signaling while changing the intestinal barrier function. This took place at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Center for Microbial Pathogenesis.
Preparing a new experimental protocol from scratch, according to our preliminary data has been so much more challenging than I’ve expected. I assumed that we would not have to think through all the steps of this experiment prior and would quickly conduct the experiment. Planning this experiment and ordering all the necessary reagents has allowed me to comprehend how challenging conducting research is full. Additionally, even though I had been in this lab for close to two years, I never understood why the study had to progress so slowly. Now, as I create my own project, I know all the obstacles that can interfere and all the required thought that goes to precautions to avoid the obstacles.

Moreover, I learned how vital collaboration within and among the labs are for success. Without the help and the input from my coworkers in the lab, I wouldn’t be able to finish the work I was assigned to by the deadline. Before this experience, I assumed labs had a competitive environment and that people did not ask for help from other people. This experience thankfully proved me wrong, because the experiments where I collaborated with my coworkers always ended up going so much smoother than expected.

On the road to realizing how challenging creating an experiment protocol was, I was quite sure that my post-doc would accept my first proposal. It was confusing to receive a veto from him; yet, I persisted. In the end, my experiment plan was to incubate epithelial cell cultures with 0 or 1 ng/mL IL-1B for 12 hours and with 0, 10 or 30 ug/mL GABA for 2 hours at the end of IL-1B incubation. However, learning how to do primary isolation of cells, passaging cells, cryopreserving, thawing cells as well as for deciding on the concentration of IL-1B and GABA, the incubation time and order took me close to one month of full-time work at the lab. Even after that, my first batch of cells got contaminated, which resulted in the delay of my experiment. However, I was still able to conduct my experiment and measure the expressions of the genes I was interested in, which resulted in significant changes. Very recently, I and my post-doc attempted to do primary enteric neuron isolation from mice, which was a completely new protocol for both of us. Although we weren’t successful the first time, we were able to designate problem areas that need to be improved for the next trial.

Everything I learned and experienced in the lab had a very significant impact on me, in realizing how much I loved persisting against all the odds. I believe going after what you’re passionate about and continuing despite the obstacles is what drives me in life. Being able to implement my life motto in research gave me great joy. This experience also allowed me to become a more independent researcher and understand academia better. I still would like to be a physician since I also much enjoy human interaction. However, this research experience made me realize that I would like research to be one of the significant parts of my career.

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.

Elwha Dam Removal Water Quality Research

My STEP Signature Project involved the collection of data from a stream sampling site along the Elwha River in Olympic National Park, WA. Two large dams were removed from the river during the beginning years of this decade, and I collected some basic water quality parameters with the aid of a sampling sonde. This data was then used in a comparison study to historical water quality data at that same station before and during dam removal to see how the river is changing.

Going into this project, most classwork and projects and I have worked on throughout my life were highly structured. Part of my intent in pursuing this research was to gain some experience in the process of formulating a research project and all of the logical and logistical challenges that go with it. I would have to do all of the background research, data gathering, problem solving, design work and equipment rental myself, to name but a few things. This is in stark contrast to most schoolwork, in which the labs and assignments are neatly pre-packaged for you in that all of the relevant information and procedures have been provided for you. Through this project, I was able to gain firsthand experience in the practical application of the knowledge I have been taught in class.

One of the main things many people my age likely lack adequate experience in is logistical skills. During the planning process for my project, in which I was designing my experimental procedure, I had little understanding or feeling for how much margin of error needs to be built in during the planning phase, especially with regard to time critical components. The particular piece of equipment which I decided upon using for my project, the YSI ProDSS, is prohibitively expensive to prurchase, leaving renting as the only viable option. As a fairly niche and high-end product, there aren’t many places which rent such an item. Luckily, one such place is located right here in Ohio, in Fairborn to be particular: Fondriest Environmental. My flight out to Washington was scheduled to leave on a Wednesday in August, and so I had planned to take delivery of the sonde on the Saturday prior to leaving in order to ensure it would have adequate time to arrive in case of any delays or unforeseen mishaps. Additionally, the extra time would allow me a few days to familiarize myself with the instrument, ensure it was calibrated properly and I could do so again accurately in the field, and figure out the best way to get the whole messy setup through the airport.

Sometime about a day or two before I was due to receive the sonde and calibration standards in the mail, I got a call from Fondriest saying that they did not have the sonde yet because the prior renter had shipped it back via a slower method than was expected. I had already been assured that I would have it by that Saturday, and had indeed paid for that to happen, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled. However, I was assured it would arrive at my house by the day before my flight, and the price was adjusted accordingly. Nonetheless, I received another call the day before saying it still wasn’t there and wouldn’t arrive at my house in time. After a great deal of hair-pulling on my end, haggling with them over pricing and alternative methods of receiving the equipment, I had to drive back down to Fairborn from Cleveland to pick it all up.

Aside from the crash course in rental logistics I received, I also gained invaluable experience and insight into the design of scientific research experiments. It is one thing to design a project in theory, and another entirely to do so in practicality. When I was deciding upon what water quality parameters to select, it was pointed out to me that I would have to use parameters similar to any data which had already been collected. Matters became much further complicated when it became apparent to me that much of the data was not readily available in the public domain as I had assumed. Rather, it had been collected by the private engineering firms and contractors hired by the various government agencies charged with removing the dams. Most public data was extremely scattered, minute in sample size and often used different measurement techniques if it was repeated at all. Furthermore, much of the research was more focused on the biota of the streams, the rejuvenation of which was the goal of the dam removal. This was to be attained in part by an improvement in water quality, which was what I was trying to study. However, many universities were more focused on the direct consequences of this, the end result if you will. After much searching, I was able to find suitable data from the State of Washington Department of Ecology. This data was all focused at the same site, not spread out over many sites as I had originally planned, once again forcing me to adapt my plans to reality.

In my future work, no matter the field, I will be forced to deal with challenging circumstances in a variety of forms. This project was instrumental in giving me an idea of the other types of adversity I might face in my line of work other than just how to solve an integral. Making realistic and well-informed plans and designs, working with difficult organizations, adapting when things do not go according to plan, knowing where to look for information. These and many other skills are just some of the things I learned from this project, things I may not have learned until later in my career were it not for this experience. Being forced to start from scratch and make these decisions myself, along with gaining a better understanding of the amount and type of work that goes into developing such a project, will make me more likely to succeed in a similar situation in the future.

 

 

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital SURF Program 2019

Over the summer of 2019, I was a part of a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and worked in Dr. Yaping Liu’s lab in the Division of Human Genetics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. This ten week program consistent of having hands on training in laboratory equipment and experimental procedures as well as seminars and lectures geared towards understanding different graduate programs, medical school, and research presentations. I worked specifically with circulating-free or cell-free DNA (cfDNA) and completed a project geared towards better understanding the application of cfDNA.

I have always been fearful of conducting research since I was deterred when I was young and while I held a research position at OSU, I only did minor things and assisted in projects already planned for me. During this program, I was forced to independently find and execute an experimental project. I wrote the protocols, researched the reagents, suggested the methodology, and solved the trouble-shooting problems. I recall times where I had some questions and my mentor and PI didn’t know any more than I.

If anything, I feel like I have grown as an independent researcher. I have grown more confident in my skills to come up with project ideas and my understanding of how to execute experiments by thinking critically of the mechanisms of different reagents and substances to complete my goals. I think not only do I feel like an independent researcher, but that others are starting to respect my abilities and view me more as a researcher instead of a student.

Although it made it hard and confusing at first, I appreciate my PI and mentor approach to independency, be it intentional or not. I described my experience during the SURF program to my research mentor at OSU and my OSU mentor said they treated me like a graduate student instead of how normal undergraduate students are treated. It was the first time I was treated on equal grounds as a research fellow instead of as a student.

This was also my first time working a 40 hours a week position. My entire life, I had always worked part time with classes as my main focus. During the summer, every week was solely dedicated for research, no worries or stresses about midterms, homework, or attending class. I felt I was able to immerse myself into my research because I was allowed to focus on it without any other distractions.

I think another thing to mention is that my project did not produce the results I expected; however, as they say, there is no such thing as a failed research project. Even failure produces more knowledge and information to the world. Every time something happened that was not the intended results, it was back to the drawing board to come up for an alternative solution. My PI congratulated my drive to find out what went wrong, producing multiple potential solutions to test, the possible issues that might follow, and eventually finding the right method. While the experiments I conducted did not answer the hypothesis first proposed, it opened another door to a different potential question that had not yet been answered.

I have always doubted my research abilities and completely rejected the idea at first. This program has brought me confident in my abilities and knowledge. While I still aim to achieve a MD, I’m currently considering pursuing a MD/PhD because of the SURF program. I’m starting to value the independence I have developed, which is something people struggles with when in college. I’ve taken more responsibilities and duties and feel more prepared in facing the world on my own. I have met many interesting individuals during my time with the program and even received a job offer to work at the lab I was a part of.

My Step Signature Project

My name is Kelly Moore and I spent my summer of 2019 working as an undergraduate research assistant in the Dr. Paul Stoodley Microbiology lab. I worked independently on a project that is focused on studying the elution patterns of different combinations and quantities of antibiotics in an in vitro artificial draining knee model.

For the first time since I had worked in the lab, I was given my own independent project for the summer. I was expected to make my own timeline/schedule, develop the procedure, analyze and present the results. I learned just how independent I could be as I only reported to someone higher up than me once a week. I was able to arrive at the lab and begin working on my project without asking permission or for instruction. It was encouraging to see a glimpse of what my future could look like.

Although I enjoyed the freedom of being able to do my work on my own, I did realize that I don’t want to work in the lab for a career. Being independent this summer meant that I didn’t have many interactions with my peers. They were busy working on their own projects and most of the time I was under a hood, making sure that my work was sterile. This meant I was isolated for most of my day unless I had a meeting. While every once in a while its nice to have some alone time, it was difficult for me to be in this situation all day, everyday. It wasn’t until the middle of the summer where I began to sit in the floor lounge while analyzing data on my computer instead of being at the benches. I may not have spoken to someone everyday, but the slightest bit of interaction made me feel better. I realized that I needed a career where I have human interaction for most of the day. I enjoy talking to people, getting to know them and making meaningful connections.

While I didn’t have many interactions, I had more interactions with my PI and the lab manager than in previous semesters because I was in the lab all day everyday of the week and not in classes. I was asked to do more tasks, to think more for myself and to present my findings in our lab meetings. I think from this experience I have learned more about research and what it entails as well as I’ve learned more about bacteria and surgical practice.

I’ve talked most about my experience in the lab, but haven’t discussed how my life outside of the lab was also impacted. This was my first summer not living with my family and while my roommates were also here working, most of other friends had gone home for the summer. At first, I just went to work and then went home everyday until I was bummed out. I realized I couldn’t wait around for people to want to do things with me. Even the simple task of grocery shopping by myself was strange. I got over the fear of sitting alone at a restaurant, even just Panera, and went and explore places of Columbus. There are many more cafes and boutiques than I knew of and most likely wouldn’t have known of unless I spent this summer trying new things. I met many new people because I escaped my comfort zone.

I did miss my parents and brother, and went home occasionally to spend time with them, but this summer showed me that I am capable of being independent – that I don’t need to wait on other people to get things done.

Overall, this project was transformational for me. Until this summer, I went back and forth between a career in research and a career as a physician. I now know that while I do love the science aspect of research, I want to be able to have more human interaction. I am also more intrigued in microbiology after spending 3 months studying it, and listening to professionals speak on their contributions to the subject. Lastly, I am more confident in myself in which I believe after graduation I have the potential to thrive if I do choose to move away from home and live in a new place. I am capable of meeting new people and having fun without the connections of school.

Undergraduate Research Experience

1.Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed. 2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place. 3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation. 4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

 

 

My project involved researching cranial radiation therapy, especially whole-brain radiation (WBRT) may cause subacute and late toxicity to neurons, glial cells, and vasculature, resulting in cognitive impairment. My project this summer at James’ Cancer Research Center Radiation has been proven to cause over-expression of neuroinflammatory markers involved in cognitive deficits such as TNF-α and IL-6, among others; specifically, inflammatory markers were present in the hippocampus and cortical regions, areas of the brain involved with cognition and learning, even after FBRT selective partitioning of the hippocampus. My specific project had 3 components done this summer. First, for most of the summer I was working keeping multiple liver cancer cells alive, perfecting my basic lab technique. After having about 60 of these flasks I was able to inject the cultured cells into 30 mice. I then took care of the mice for about 3 weeks in which the tumors would begin to implant. The mice would then receive an infusion of sertraline or AK CX929 as we conducted our radiation treatment on the mice. Although the project has not been fully completed the next steps in finishing the research project are to run IHC western blot analysis on the liver and brain of the mouse.

During my STEP signature project, I learned several things that completely altered the way that I look at medicine. Due to the support of PI and the staff in the project I gained a stronger appreciation for research and its meticulousness. My PI and my doctoral student taught me the variety of ways research experiments can be deemed successful. I believe my fundamental understanding of research has changed tremendously. My PI had me set up my own project, begin my thesis and gain an in-depth understanding all the parts that go into running a project. I emailed several other laboratories here at Ohio State to utilize their resources such as a behavioral suite and learn how they can be valuable additions to our team. It was only through the collaboration on everyone’s part that I began to understand how collaborative medicine truly can be. In my previous research experiences, I was given a distinct role in a project, however being able to view the project I now know the difficulties in getting a project started and how not everything works in a way that is optimal for myself. STEP allowed me to view to understand the importance of team science and honesty in medical research. Without STEP I would not have been able to understand the true nature of medical research.

Several experiences this summer gave me a clear understanding of how to be an effective research scientist in the future of my career. My experience with Connor Jacob, another student in my laboratory, taught me how to fully trust another scientist with all of the experiments that are being conducted. In the past, I would never trust another individual to handle my cells or to write sections of research proposals and grants. Working with Connor, I learned the variety of ways he conducted experiments and how they differed from my own mannerisms. We both came from different research experiences in the past and we truly balanced each other, learning from each other every time we interacted in the laboratory. Putting my full trust in another individual to complete experiments allowed me to have a more flexible schedule and be more content with my time performing experiments.

 

My research with my Principle Investigator, Dr. Meng Welliver, shaped the way that I view how to be an effective mentor. In my previous research experiences, I have never experienced as much support as I have from Dr. Meng Welliver. She truly has consistently valued my opinion and allows me to discover how to be the best scientist I can be through helping me analyze my research experiment in as many ways as possible. The trust she showed in me, taught me how important it is in a. team to be fully transparent with your coworkers. Through being transparent, Dr. Welliver pushed me to work harder in my experiments and made me feel as though I played an important role in the laboratory.

 

One of the most incredible moments of the summer research experience was participating in the yearly fundraiser called Pelotonia which has raised over 200 million dollars over the last year to help raise the money that our laboratory uses to fund our experiments. During this movement, I rode 55 miles and agreed to raise $1,800 along with thousands of other riders to help fund cancer research at Ohio State. The entire experience was incredibly amicable due to the countless supporters cheering us on, to the diligence of the other bikers who encouraged each and every rider to keep on going. Seeing how far people who are currently in cancer treatment or have conquered cancer are willing to push themselves for their ride inspired me to continue doing the work that I have done to help patients realize the most effective possible treatments. This contributed to my world view of understanding the team science aspect of medicine. This crucial component was integrated into Pelotonia which helps make it an incredibly effective fundraiser. It also challenged me to constantly think of the people who are affected by the therapies that we develop in our research laboratory. It is incredibly easy in research to get caught up in the glamor of medicine, being published in well-respected journals and gaining tenured status at the respective university. However, it is equally important to hold in high regard who is more critically affected in the research that we conduct every day.

A tremendous amount about my assumptions of the scientific world changed during my STEP project. While I always understood that research takes an abundance of effort, patience, and persistence- this summer was the first time I experienced it firsthand. Working 40 hours a week in a lab was undoubtedly taxing, however despite the amount of hours I worked I realized more and more that one single scientific breakthrough can take decades of research with the same tenacity. My view of the world expanded through gaining an appreciation for every drug that is prescribed or treatment that is administered because I know fully understand the years of hard work it took to get it to a patient. Regardless of what I pursue after undergrad, after this STEP experience, I am confident that research will be integrated in my career. With this in mind, I am now strongly considering pursuing an MD/PhD.