Researching Alternative Antimicrobials in Veterinary Medicine

What my project was:

My undergraduate research STEP project was researching the use of copper-infused fabric as an anti-microbial in canine Staphylococcus sp. infections. During the course of the STEP project, I met with my PI, Dr. Dubraska Diaz-Campos, my laboratory supervisor, and one of the attending clinicians in the Department of Dermatology at Ohio States Veterinary Medical Center in order to compile existing literature and create a methodology for our project. While the course of my STEP project has ended, this research will be ongoing and I will continue with the experimental phase throughout the semester.

What made this experience transformative:

One thing that I had always wanted to do when I got to OSU was to conduct undergraduate research. This project allowed me to do just that, and I got to see all of the facets that go into research. I also learned that the literature review process can be tedious and may not go as fast as one would like. At the conclusion of my STEP project, we had just finished our literature review and we are now finalizing our methods before starting the experimental phase of our project. I think that this experience was transformative because it allowed me to take charge of a project that both helped to further understand my knowledge in microbiology and veterinary medicine and to help me gain practical research experience. While many of my classes have exposed me to the research process previously, I never got to conduct a true research study like this one. I also learned to hone my communication skills from working in a team setting on this project. Overall, this experience has provided me with practical skills that I will hopefully utilize in my future career.

What events led to this transformation:

This past summer, I was looking to do a research project with my lab. The lab I work in is the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at OSU’s Veterinary Medical Center. We mainly conduct diagnostics for patients at the hospital, but there are always a few research projects going on as well. I had a few ideas in mind for my own research project, but due to COVID-19, we were unable to spend money on research. However, that’s when my PI was approached by the Dermatology Department, and they proposed a project that would require minimal expense and would be quick. This proposal turned into my current project, as my PI immediately brought me and another fellow student at the lab on board. Shortly after the fall 2020 semester started, we had our first project zoom meeting, where we discussed the logistics of the project and began to look for literature related to our topic.

Copper fabric has been used extensively in human medicine, and copper itself is known for its inherent antimicrobial properties. However, its use in veterinary medicine has been extremely limited, and our goal with our project is to find alternatives to traditional antibiotics that may foster antibiotic resistance. The positive about using copper is that there is very little resistance to it, and virtually none in Staphylococcus pseudintermedius, which is the main Staph. species that infects dogs. Like MRSA in humans, MRSPs are becoming increasingly more common in canine dermatological infections, which is why this research is so important. Through our literature review and planning, I was able to come to understand antimicrobial resistance at a higher level, as well as understand how alternative antimicrobials may work to combat infection.

Through our many literature review and methodology zoom meetings, I learned how to write up a method for conducting research that can be followed by any member of the team. Since I and the other student involved were the ones who came up with the methodology, we learned how to develop a practical and replicable experiment. I also learned how to skim other research papers for important information in order to contribute to our methodology. I also learned how to explain and run through complicated calculations that we had to undergo in order to create dilution factors that can be reported in a paper from a standard value and estimated number of CFUs.

While at the conclusion of my STEP project this research is still ongoing, we are hopeful that we can start with the experimental phase soon, where I will learn even more about data collection and microbiology. I am excited to utilize what I have learned so far in both my classes and in my future career. This experience was a transformative one because it allowed me to experience the process of research for the first time in a laboratory setting, and it helped me to develop original ideas in a team setting. ‘

Why this transformation is valuable

As a student aspiring to go to veterinary school, I want to learn more about the infectious disease process in animals and how we can use alternative antimicrobials to reduce antibiotic resistance. I have always been profoundly interested in microbiology, and working in a microbiology laboratory has allowed me to learn a large sum of information on common pathogens in animals and zoonoses. This research project has let me take my knowledge a step further and allowed me to apply what I learned working in the lab to a practical study that can be applied to both veterinary and human medicine. Learning how to conduct research in a team setting has also been valuable to honing my communication skills. Overall, my STEP Signature Project has allowed me to explore the field of veterinary research and develop skills that will one day be useful to me in my career path.

Staphylococcus pseudintermedius on blood agar

Nationwide Children’s Hospital Psycho-oncology Research

My Project: For my STEP Project, I spent the semester conduction psycho-oncology research with Dr. Cynthia Gerhardt at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The project I worked on investigates benefit finding in children with advanced cancer and also looks at the correlations between parent and child benefit finding. Benefit finding is the idea that individuals can see positive outcomes from negative life events. I assisted with literature review, writing the research paper, data analysis, and data organization.

Transformations: Pediatric cancer survival rates are very high, but many of the children in my study will most likely die from cancer. Most people might think that children and their parents in this position would not want to participate in a research project near the end of their life, but it is quite the opposite. Nearly 80% of all participants recruited agreed to be in the study because they knew how important it was to improve care for children and families with cancer diagnoses. This research project helped correct my assumptions about how people want to spend their time before death.

Experiences: One of the most impactful experiences that has led me to shift my view on research near death is from my time transcribing interviews. Hearing their stories and how their cancer diagnosis has had a tremendous impact on the way I view children with advanced cancer. The interviews involve questions about decision making regarding their health care, how they share information with their friends and family, and what they have learned from the experience. I have heard heart-wrenching stories from many study participants, but the majority of them find something positive about their experience.

From these stories, I have come to understand how important it is to do research in patients close to death. There is room for improvement in the understanding and care of these individuals and the treatment they receive. There are very few research studies that are conducted on the end of life of pediatric cancer patients, and further exploration of this life event. This research would improve the quality of life for the patient and family in the time that they do have left.

These realizations have filled me with more energy to continue conducting research in pediatric cancer patients. I plan on applying for a pediatric clinical psychology program after a year or two of working as a research assistant. My career goal is to be a clinician and researcher to help young people with chronic and terminal illnesses.

Significance: This STEP project has also transformed the way that I want to proceed as a student researcher in the future. My research project interests me and I continue to have more questions about how significant changes in health can affect the psychology of children in both good and bad ways. I was able to secure a job with my P.I. this semester because of my dedication to her lab. I will continue exploring my interest in psycho-oncology through this position and in the future through a Ph.D. program as well. Dr. Gerhardt is a valuable mentor and continues to guide me towards my career goals and connect me with other potential mentors. I am grateful for this experience and having the financial support of the STEP program.

My first day as a paid research assistant!

STEP Undergraduate Research Project with OSUMC Reflection

I had the chance to intern with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center on a research team working on an Infant Mortality Research Partnership (IMRP), in tandem with the Ohio Departments of Medicaid and Higher Education, and the Ohio Government Resource Center (GRC). My main role on the research team was data curation. I researched various domains of resources in Columbus available for low-income, at-risk mothers (housing, food, prenatal care, and more). It was logged in Excel sheets, organized into resource cards, and prepared to be loaded into the mobile app at the IT team’s discretion. The research project has been entirely virtual due to COVID-19.

I had the opportunity to learn about copious amounts of resources available in Columbus and the ways in which local organizations provide support to those living here. I learned about what Columbus Public Health has to offer for low-income families and mothers, as well as discovered many other organizations that run free clinics, provide hot meals and groceries, offer no-cost legal advice, supply diapers and baby wipes, and more. After having the chance to volunteer with the organization Moms2B before the onset of COVID-19, I was excited to learn about other amazing resources that could help those mothers. It has also inspired me to look into volunteering at some free medical clinics in Columbus this spring as they begin to welcome back more volunteers.

Through this research, I have had the chance to practice and gain many important skills: research skills and data acquisition, written and oral communication, practice with providing and responding to feedback and organizational skills. I gained these skills through advanced searches online & data curation, creating information cards on each resource, presentations to the internal team and collaborators at Medicaid and GRC of collected data and findings, biweekly meetings on Microsoft Teams with the research team to discuss the progress of the project, balancing the internship alongside a full-course load, part-time job, and studying for the MCAT examination.

However, the research has also shown me what is lacking in Columbus and how many barriers low-income mothers face before, during, and after their pregnancy in regard to maintaining their health and safety. It has inspired me to learn more about the barriers these women face in Ohio and learn about things that can be done to help them, such as this important research.

I have had the chance to grow in a professional capacity through being on this research team. Through working with experienced, senior team members, I had the chance to observe and participate in healthy collaboration and receive constructive feedback. I have felt lucky to be on a project which has such poignant goals, as lowering the rates of infant mortality in Ohio (shown on the graphic) is a great public health endeavor this app is working towards.

After graduation, I plan to work full time at Nationwide Children’s Hospital as either a PCA or research assistant during my gap year. I will be applying to medical school this upcoming Summer 2021 and hope to begin an MD program during Fall 2022 to become a physician. This research has solidified that I certainly want a career in medicine and public health where I can have the chance to help others. Additionally, being able to learn more about infant mortality and the hardships these mothers face has given me an interest in possible becoming an OB/GYN after completing medical school and residency. I have been inspired by the physicians on the research team and their dedication to this important work which will help mothers and babies in need. However, this project has also shown me that when I enter the world of medicine, I will not necessarily want to focus on research, but instead focus more on clinical patient care. I really like interacting with others and helping them face to face, and I think my skills will be best utilized outside of strictly research, as a clinical physician.

I have attached a picture of one of my Microsoft Teams meetings which was a staple of my life through the project and something I always looked forward to, as I loved getting to hear from other team members and learn about their ideas and opinions. I do not have any other photos, as the research mostly involved me sitting behind my computer!

STEP Post-Project Reflection: Changing Views

Project Description

For my STEP Signature Project, I served as a research assistant on a 4-year long project aiming to create a web-based application, called MindUp!, to improve the wellbeing on homeless youth in Columbus. My role entailed completing various undergraduate social science research activities, focusing on the beginning stages of this project and development. I focused my efforts on conducting basic behavioral and social science research: defining key terms, reviewing similar trials, examining findings, gathering resources, and crafting Qualtrics surveys.

Transformation  

While completing my STEP Signature Project, I worked with a vulnerable, at-risk population, which inevitably transformed my beliefs and assumptions about wellness and care. Prior to my project, I held a medical-focused view on wellbeing, meaning I believed obstacles or challenges preventing wellness result from an individual’s intrinsic state. For example, someone diagnosed with depression is told it results from a chemical imbalance within their body. This view directly impacts the care and treatment received. So, going back to the example, this person would most likely be prescribed chemicals to combat the imbalance, also known as anti-depressants.

Through my research, I was forced to ask and answer, “What happens when this person comes back reporting the various medications are not resolving their depression?” This means the chemical imbalance cannot be the root cause of the depression, which is the essence of the realization I had during my project, forcing me to change my beliefs. Wellbeing could no longer be described with a medical model, but it can and should be described with a holistic model. A holistic model of care examines all possible factors contributing to someone’s wellbeing, which I now believe is the necessary view for solving complex problems thanks to my STEP Project.

 Key Aspects

The primary event that transformed my view was one not assigned, but rather one I completed for my personal understanding of the research project: defining wellness. Similar to my previous medical-based view, I thought wellness equivalated to physical health. The more I researched, however, I learned wellbeing is multidimensional, including not only physical health but mental and spiritual health too. I reviewed studies and read stories explaining common obstacles and struggles the homeless population faces in terms of wellness, and these studies and stories were not based on physical health.

As my research role expanded to addressing the root cause of homelessness in youth, it highlighted the flaws in the medical-model. First, I learned that each case and story is unique. Although it may seem people are homeless for similar reasons, their stories and experiences are different – it is crucial to avoid “blanketing” individuals. When you look at the population person by person, as a holistic model does, the unique experiences unfold. For example, one homeless youth battled drug addiction. Looking through the medical-model, it would be concluded that this individual’s brain circuits function improperly. This, however, is not the root cause. This youth’s mother was addicted and used drugs while pregnant and continued to expose the youth to them as they grew up. Additionally, the youth lived in an abusive home and claimed the drugs numbed their PTSD. Looking at this example, simply saying the youth’s brain circuits function abnormally does not address the root cause.

Although I previously explained the situation of one homeless youth, there are thousands of similar stories, which I saw firsthand working with this population. It is one thing to read these stories, but it is a whole new experience seeing and interacting with the people in these stories. These youth continue to live without optimal wellness because their situations are not looked at in their entirety and holistically. The root causes are not examined and are glossed over, resulting in no progress. Instead of diagnosing these individuals with dysfunctional brains and circuits, their living conditions and basic needs need to be looked at. How can someone be well if they do not know where their next meal is coming from or if they will have somewhere to sleep? Unfortunately, these are the troubles too many youth face, yet there is hope in helping these youth, which begins with a change in views.

Significance

This transformation from a medical-model to a holistic-model matters because it is the center to my thinking, which will reflect in my personal, academic, and professional work. First, it aids my personal development because I will be able to look at my own struggles with a holistic mindset, addressing all necessary and contributing factors. With the work I aspire to do, I need to be at my best, so truly understanding myself and experiences is a must. This mindset shift highlights where my studies should focus as well: on the whole person. The courses I select and projects I complete will now all focus on a holistic approach, something I have learned to be imperative in treatment. Furthermore, I now know where my career needs to point. My career will be dedicated to dismantling the flawed medical-model in efforts to truly transform the care all individuals receive. It is time to move on from looking at individuals through a medial-model view and move into a view that looks at people in their entirety: the holistic view.

My STEP Signature Project Reflection – Undergraduate Reserach

  1. A Brief Description of My Project

During the fall semester of 2020 I used my STEP fellowship to perform undergraduate research at the OSU Battelle Center for Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. In this roll I performed GIS analysis, wrote software, and did literature reviews for several projects that covered a wide variety of subjects

 

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

 The biggest way my understanding of myself changed during my Signature Project was I began to suffer less and less imposter syndrome. For those who are not aware, imposter syndrome is the feeling that you do not belong in a job or educational institution and are an “imposter” that will be discovered and fired/kicked out. While I didn’t suffer from very bad imposter syndrome before my project, it did manage to creep up at times. While doing my research this summer, most of my work was done unsupervised, leaving important decisions and task up to me to handle. This freedom of direction was daunting at first, but I grew to appreciate and enjoy it. Through this freedom of choice, I decided to take on tasks in an area that I was unfamiliar with, and that was coding. Most of my imposter syndrome came from my inability to code. I felt like everyone I knew could code easily and effectively. My signature project allowed me to take on several coding projects and familiarize myself to the point where my coding imposter syndrome has almost completely vanished. My Signature Project gave me the opportunity to do incredible work and take a risk trying to learn something that always made me uncomfortable not knowing, and in the end I was successful.

 

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during tour STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

The main activity that helped to facilitate the change in my confidence around programing was a research project that the Battelle Center took on over the summer and continued to work on throughout the semester. The project is currently under NDA, but it involved lots of data science and machine learning, something that as an Aerospace Engineering major I had not familiarity with. I first learned how to use data science python packages and then moved on to using python machine learning tools to train an elementary classifier. The great thing about learning in this way is there was no pressure to hurry or go to fast, which allowed me to gain a better fundamental understanding of the processes, and therefor have a smoother time applying them to the actual work of the project.

 

The main relationship that led to my increased confidence in my coding abilities was the one I have with my boss Sam. Sam is a research scientist at the center and was responsible for managing me as well as the projects the center was working on. Sam’s leadership and mentorship were invaluable in allowing me to gain confidence not only coding but as a person. Sam chose to allow the undergrads to work on things that were interesting to them and made sure to involve the undergrads in every step of the process. This inclusion and nonverbal “vote of confidence” from a scientist as brilliant as Sam did a great deal to improve my sense of self-worth on the projects and allowed me to better see the value that I added to the project.

 

The main interactions that allowed me to build more confidence as a coder and as a person were the interactions, I was able to have with brilliant people both at Ohio State and other institutions. As a research assistant I was often doing work on several projects that the center was working on. While working on these projects I was exposed to and able to work with incredibly bright and driven people. Though they were nearly always my senior, my interactions with professionals from all sorts of fields were nothing but positive and helpful. Nearly everyone I met went out of their way to give me some advice on my coding problems, point me towards resources that helped them, and just be generally available for questions if I had any. My time as a research assistant gave me the opportunity to interact with and learn from incredible people who helped to guide me as I learned how to code and how to work in a STEM heavy environment.

 

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?

By transforming my confidence in my abilities, specifically in coding, in the workplace, I set myself up incredibly well for the future. This fall I accepted a full-time aerospace engineering position, and the work I did at the center, especially the coding portions of the project, set me apart from other aerospace engineering applicants who would not normally have those skills. More importantly my time, relationships, and experiences at the center allowed me to be more confident in marketing who I am. In job interviews after my Signature Project I was able to confidently and clearly describe who I was, what my skills were, and how I thought I could be a positive addition to the company. Prior to my signature project my imposter syndrome would sometimes lead to me downplaying or even omitting my accomplishments during interviews. By changing my imposter syndrome to confidence during my Signature Project I was able to land a job for after my graduation in the spring of 2021, which is incredibly valuable to my life by any metric.

 

 

 

STEP Undergraduate Research Post-Project Reflection

 

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 STEP Signature Project consisted of a research project that went from October 1st to December 1st. This project, “Inhibition of BET Proteins by novel inhibitor, PLX51107, regulates Fc receptor function and reduces inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis”, has been the topic of my independent research project for 3 years, and the STEP fellowship allowed me to further my project. I conducted the experiments, analysis, and presented at weekly lab meetings throughout the duration of my STEP project.

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 STEP Signature Project allowed me to transform my understanding of how I want to approach my graduate education and my career. Through my project, I was able to independently spearhead my own project, allowing me to learn new lab techniques, analyses, and concepts. My experiences have inspired me to continually have research be a part of my career going forward as a physician-scientist. The skills I gained from learning such copious amounts of new material and techniques fostered a sense of confidence and critical thinking in me that will help me extensively in both medical school and in my career. Working in a research lab ignited my passion for science in a way academics haven’t and have shown me how much I value working at the intersection of research and clinical medicine.

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.

Through my STEP Signature Project, I have worked alongside many mentors and advisors who have helped shape my understanding of my future career, my project, and have encouraged me to become a mentor to others as well. I got to work closely along a graduate student in my lab, who helped me plan experiments, taught me new techniques, and showed me how to be an effective mentor that encourages independent thought. As someone that wished to pursue academic medicine in the future, teaching and research will remain at the forefront of my career. Having this exposure early on in my professional life has shown me how I want to shape my future as a teacher, scientist, and clinician. Through this I have gained new friendships, connections, and perspectives that have challenged and changed for the better.

While my project is focused on autoimmune disease, I have gotten the opportunity to learn a lot about inflammation and immune dysfunction in the context of COVID-19 infection and leukemic cancers. I’ve gotten the opportunity to write a grant to study inflammatory pathways that are up-regulated in COVID-19 infection and have gotten the opportunity to learn more about monoclonal antibody therapy for leukemic disease and how it’s related to autoimmune disease therapeutics.

I got to further my project a lot in this past semester and have gotten the opportunity to begin writing my manuscript for publication and honors thesis. This has given me the opportunity to hone my scientific writing skills and has taught me a lot about the research process beyond the lab.

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.

I want to work at the confluence of research, community health, and clinical care as an academic medicine physician, where bridging the gap between bedside care and bench research is of utmost importance. Next year, I will be attending medical school where I will be presented with increasingly challenging and inspiring problems that will allow me to hone and enhance my critical thinking skills. Being able to develop these critical and analytical thinking skills during my undergraduate years will be of use throughout my further education and career. Further, this experience has made me appreciate the smaller nuances of the sciences and have promoted my desire to pursue medicine.

Undergraduate Research: Examining Supply Chain Strategies for NASA Artemis Program

While working on this project I was able to identify a supply chain strategy list that could be used for an outer space supply chain system. Furthermore, on this project, I developed a chart that analyzed the list to show which supply chain strategy would be most effective in the outer space environment.

When I was working on my STEP Signature Project, I used all the materials that I learned from all my logistics classes and was able to apply them to this real-world problem. Looking back on this project, I learned that developing an outer space supply chain system is a tricky task to accomplish. For example, a normal supply chain system is more in the realm of a 2D network while an outer space supply chain network sits in the realm of a 3D network. The reason why it falls under a 3D network is due to the degree of inclination of the orbit around the earth. It was tricky to figure out and the reason why it was tricky is that this concept has not been looked at since the Mid-2000s and little research has been done on developing a supply chain network from the Moon to the Earth. There has been some research on developing a supply chain system between the Earth and Mars. However, with a range that wide and many points of delay, it would make more sense to develop an Earth and Moon supply chain system to reduce some of the delays an Earth and Mars supply chain would have. Also, building a small supply chain first would allow people to test out different supply chain models on a smaller scale compared to doing a massive network. So from my research, I hope people realize that taking things slow and steady as well as making them efficient will make space travel more sustainable in the future.

One of the key relationships in which I developed was my relationship with my transportation professor. My transportation instructor’s name is Jim Hendrickson. Professor Hendrickson provided me with some guidelines along the way as I was working on my research project. He also had some experience in the aerospace industry so his knowledge helped me understand some of the factors involved with this research. We talked about the different possibilities on how to use today’s supply chain tools and ways to try to apply them to a space application. For example, one of the tools that will be needed for a space supply chain system would be a warehouse management system. The function of the warehouse management system would allow you to track inventory levels as the lunar outpost or other outposts. Knowing these inventory levels can allow aerospace companies to time their launches just right so they can supply the outpost within a reasonable amount of time. Our conversation got me thinking that there are a lot of moving parts to make a supply chain possible and taking what we have currently and trying to use that for outer space is a good start. If the current technology does not work that is the point where research and development would start. 

During this research project, I attended a few webinars. One of the most memorable webinars was a  NASA supply chain webinar. This webinar looked at the current business model NASA uses for space operations. Their business models are online with mission contracts and where companies bid for these contracts. Within some of these contracts, they factor in small companies so they can get a piece of the pie. NASA is thinking about changing this business model and their reasoning is that it would be more sustainable in keeping people interested in space if they did not only do mission contracts. Some of their ideas were to start to develop space tourism which would allow the average person to go into space. This is a good idea but at this point in time, most of these flights would be too expensive for the average person. But as time goes on, this will start to happen. One of the biggest takes from this webinar is that NASA wants more of the private sector to get involved in space exploration. If more companies from the private sector join in the new space age it would increase the world economy and lead to more innovation. Overall it was a good experience and I learned how the aerospace industry is evolving. With this in mind, it could be a great time to get into the aerospace industry with all of this innovation going on. 

Another presentation that I attended looked at the NASA Artemis Program with its goal of returning to the moon. This presentation emphasized how sustainability would be an essential part of this program and without sustainability, it would be expensive to send humans to the moon. This presentation got me thinking about what it would take to develop a supply chain system that would reinforce NASA missions for the Artemis Program. When watching the presentation, not too much was talked about regarding the use of a supply chain system or what approach would be used for this project. This got me thinking and taking what I learned in logistics as well as my supply chain classes and applied it to this. When going through the information, there are some functions that would not need remodeling. For example, the warehouse management and inventory management system would not have to change for the Artemis Program. But one system that would have to change is the transportation system. At this point in time, there are not a good amount of space vehicles designed for a supply chain system. So it will take some time before some of this technology is created. This presentation showed that the aerospace industry is growing at a fast pace and will need loads of different majors to make this project successful.

From this experience, it has opened new avenues for me. The research that I have been working on could be used to help jump-start supply chain software that could analyze these models in a more effective manner. The reason why this is important is that one day the world will be able to set up a Lunar outpost and the Earth will be able to supply it. Having a sustainable supply chain network will reduce some of the cost of launching supplies to the outpost. At this point in our lives, the aerospace industry is growing at a large rate and we will see more missions to outer space with humans abroad as well as exploring other parts of the solar system. This research paper has the capability to spark people’s interests by looking at the outer space supply chain system. If I have a chance to present this paper at a conference then it increases my chance of getting a job within the aerospace industry. Even if I am not able to present the document it should give people a general idea of what needs to be added to a supply chain system and make sure that the supply chain system is efficient.

 

The picture above maps out the different shipping lanes that NASA could use during the Artemis Program in 2024. This picture has helped me develop different supply chain strategies that could be used for the Artemis Program.

Undergraduate Research: The Synthesis of Zirconium/Rhodium Heterobimetallics

This fall I used the STEP Fellowship to fund my research, working in Dr. Christine Thomas’s research group, in Newman Wolfrom Laboratory.  Over the semester I continued to work on the project that I began in the summer following the summer of my sophomore year: the synthesis of zirconium/rhodium heterobimetallic complexes.  Zirconium/cobalt heterobimetallic complexes have been studied in great detail in the Thomas Research Group, however their zirconium/rhodium analogs have not been studied with the same depth.  My goal has been to synthesize zirconium/rhodium analogs of reported zirconium/cobalt complexes in order to compare molecular structure and reactivity.  As a member of the Thomas Research Group, I have synthesized several bimetallic complexes and have been exposed to graduate inorganic chemistry research and current objectives to advance sustainable development in chemistry.

Conducting research this fall has allowed me to continue to channel my passion for synthetic chemistry and has reaffirmed my interest in chemistry as a subject and possible career path, after my interest in chemistry peaked when taking General Chemistry during my freshman year.   Working in Dr. Thomas’s Laboratory, which focuses on catalyst development helped me recognize the need for sustainable development in chemical research and industry.  Prior to the beginning of my research, I wasn’t aware that many catalysts used in organic synthesis required rare expensive metals mined in select locations around the globe.  Through research, I have been exposed to a movement within chemical research that strives to develop catalysts comprised of cheap abundant metals, in order to make chemical synthesis and industry more sustainable.

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 I have had access to less time in the laboratory, as our research group adopted a research shift schedule to reduce lab capacity.  Since returning to the laboratory this fall, I have adjusted to a strict schedule, only working for two four-hour shifts per week.  In the spring I consistently worked 20+ hours per week; this change has forced me to diligently plan out experiments and be more efficient in the laboratory.  Despite this I have still been able to conduct meaningful research, reaffirming my desire to continue in an inorganic chemistry career.

Aside from having a solid foundation in wet-lab skills, I also must be able to effectively present findings to broad audiences.  In order to develop my own communication skills I participated in Ohio State’s 3 Minute Thesis Competition this fall.  In this event I presented the significance of my research to business, psychology, biology, economics, engineering, and political science majors.  This presented a new challenge because I had to explain my research assuming my audience does not know any chemistry.  Through this experience I displayed my knowledge of fundamental chemical concepts and their application beyond the field of chemistry as well as the research I had conducted this semester.  Had I not been able to conduct research this fall I would not have been able to participate in this event.

The STEP fellowship finally as allowed me to continue my research where I had left off this past spring.  This semester I have fully characterized several ZrIV/RhI complexes and synthesized a rare ZrIV/Rh-I complex potentially capable of small molecule activation and catalysis (pictured below).  Through the characterization of these complexes, I have nearly completed my project as assigned to me in the summer following my sophomore year.

Working in a graduate research lab has instilled in me a desire to attend graduate school.  As a member of Dr. Thomas’s laboratory, I have become experienced with numerous characterization methods and have developed necessary critical thinking and wet lab skills necessary to excel in a career in chemistry.  My undergraduate research work, guided by Dr. Thomas’s mentorship will (hopefully) lead to my acceptance at several graduate PhD programs, where I intend to continue chemical research, in pursuit of  eventually becoming a university research professor.

Undergraduate Research with The Allen Group

  1. My STEP Signature Project consisted of undergraduate chemistry research with the Allen Group. I have worked with the Allen Group for two years, but my STEP Project allowed me to begin working on my undergraduate thesis during the Autumn 2020 semester. I have primarily spent my time searching literature, designing my project, and collecting/analyzing data.

 

  1. Before my STEP Signature Project began, I had not carried out research independently. I worked closely with a post-doctoral researcher, learning the basics of my area of research and how to use various instruments in my lab. During my STEP Project, however, I had the opportunity to independently create and carry out a research project from start to finish. I did background research, came up with a novel inquiry, designed a project, collected data, analyzed the data, and drew conclusions. This is something that not many undergraduate students have the opportunity to experience on their own. Working my way through the research process has given me clarity that I want to pursue graduate school and confidence that I will be able to succeed on that path.

 

  1. There are a few important components of my STEP Signature Project that confirmed my desire to pursue graduate school. COVID-19 played a big part in this transformation. The capacity of my lab was severely limited due to the pandemic. Because of this, I usually ended up conducting experiments with only one other person in the lab. I was not meeting a graduate student or post-doctoral researcher; I was working independently. The fact that no one was making sure I went into lab on time each day forced me to accept responsibility for myself and my timeline. I made my schedule and stuck to it. Time management and productivity are things that a successful graduate student must master. I was proud to learn that I have enough self-discipline to excel in those categories.

 

Another result of the limited capacity of my lab is the fact that I had to learn how to effectively and efficiently troubleshoot. In the past when things would go wrong with an instrument I was using, I would usually ask a graduate student for assistance. However, that was not possible during this past semester due to the pandemic. I had to learn the intricacies of the instruments I use and understand them at a deeper level in order to fix some of the issues I had. For example, one day the spectrometer would not connect to the computer. I had to read the spectrometer’s manual in order to learn about its startup sequence and pinpoint the part that may have been going wrong. When I am in graduate school, I will have to understand my instruments well enough to troubleshoot any problem I may run into. Going through this experience in my STEP Project has made me more confident that I will be able to successfully do the same as a graduate student.

 

Additionally, the content of my research has helped me decide what I would like to pursue in graduate school. My undergraduate research is in the field of analytical environmental chemistry. I use infrared reflection-absorption spectroscopy to collect spectra and pressure-area isotherms to collect isotherm plots. These forms of data provide complementary information about the air-water interfacial system that I am studying. I have come to realize that I like the day-to-day work of using instruments like these. I also like the extreme detail of analysis that can be achieved with analytical techniques. The application of techniques like these to environmental systems is very interesting to me. My STEP Project allowed me to determine that this is the field of graduate research that I would like to enter.

 

  1. The clarity that I want to pursue graduate school and the confidence that I will succeed in that endeavor are paramount to my future. My academic goals have been set. If I achieve my goals, I will have many options for a future career, including academia, industry, and government. While I don’t know which path I will choose, I do know that I will be prepared for any of them. As I continue my education in graduate school, the confidence that I have earned through STEP Signature Project will help me succeed.

Breast Cancer Research Project

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

For my STEP Signature Project, I conducted research on Invasive Lobular Cancer (ILC), which is a subtype of breast cancer that comes with a poor prognosis. I worked on a project looking to understand the mechanisms by which ILC is able to resist standard endocrine therapies given to breast cancer patients. In addition to understanding therapy resistance, we are working to identify additional novel therapeutic strategies to target ILC. During my STEP experience, I worked with a set of 5 cell lines and ran a series of different experiments with them, including drug response assays, western blotting, and quantitative PCR. The STEP experience has been an excellent continuation of the research that I began as a first-year student and a great opportunity to make concrete progress on my research project.

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.

While working on my STEP Signature Project, I learned lessons about patience and the slow-moving nature of science. Throughout the course of my research project, there have been many setbacks and I have had to persevere and find ways to innovate around any problems. I learned about the slow and meticulous process of research, and these important lessons will be critical and stick with me for the rest of my life. When an experiment does not go right, or when we get results that make absolutely no sense, it is important to troubleshoot and really think through every step in the process. Throughout the course of my experience, I learned how to effectively troubleshoot and problem solve, which are extremely important skills that I will need to have with me in the future. Taking everything into consideration is extremely important and critical for forward progress, and I sometimes learned this the hard way during my STEP experience.

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. 

My STEP project focused on the undergraduate research project that I have been working on for the last three years. As a member of Dr. Ramaswamy’s research group, I am working to understand endocrine therapy resistance in Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC), which is a form of breast cancer. As a part of this experience, I have had the opportunity to meet some of Dr. Ramaswamy’s patients, many of whom are struggling with the same problems that we are working to solve in the lab. Seeing these patients makes our work so much more tangible, seeing the potential that we have to impact someone’s life, making my work all the more serious. Thus, when faced with setbacks in the lab, it can be easy to get frustrated, knowing that so much is on the line. These moments afforded the opportunity for tremendous growth, as I was able to push through and really learn under fire.

During my research project, I have waged war on the cancer cells that are critical for my project. Initially, I struggled immensely with their growth, not being able to get them to grow quickly enough to conduct experiments. The cancer I work with generally does grow slower, but these cells were growing abnormally slow. We needed to take a step back and analyze potential reasons for the slow growth. We experimented with the composition of the media, parsing through all of the individual variables until we found something that positively impacted the growth. It was also extremely important to take a dive into the available literature, to analyze and find important information that could point us in the right direction. This critical lesson on the scientific process was important, and it provided a real-time opportunity to put the process into practice.

During my STEP experience, I have also seen myself becoming more patient. Research, especially bench research, tends to be very slow-moving. Add in the fact that the cancer that I am working with naturally progresses slowly, this meant I had to be very patient. There were many times where I have been frustrated with the presumptive lack of progress that I have made, however, I was reassured by my mentors and by looking at the bigger picture. In the course of the last three years that I have been working on this project, I have been able to advance my knowledge of basic science principles, my understanding of cancer, while also uncovering some cool data as well. The many times in the lab where I have had to wait will be extremely valuable for me in the future. My experience working on research with STEP has truly been an opportunity to transform myself and become a better person. While I might not have uncovered as much data as I had hoped, I have learned lessons that will last a lifetime.

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 ultimate goal is to become a physician-scientist, and working in the lab and becoming more patient, and learning how to troubleshoot will be essential in the future. Next year, I will be moving along to medical school, where the stakes will be raised again, and I will have to tackle increasingly difficult problems in stressful situations. In these times, the patience and problem-solving skills that I have learned in the lab will be crucial and extremely beneficial. The basic science skills and research mentality will also help me tremendously, as I hope to be heavily involved with research in medical school. I will also need that patience, because I still have a long way to go with my training, and ultimately, I will be embarking on a lifetime of learning. From my experiences shadowing physicians in the clinic, I have seen how important problem solving and teamwork are for solving difficult patient cases. These important skills that I have picked up as an undergraduate in the lab will prove to be essential in these times as well. Ultimately, I know that I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, and I am motivated to keep pushing myself towards my final goal.