My STEP Project Experience

Is it too cliché to say that you must take a risk and do something you’ve never done in order to grow?

My name is Amber Cleggett and I am a third year Animal Science student and my STEP Signature Project helped me conquer something I had not yet done before: research. I interned with the Animal Influenza Epidemiology and Ecology Research Project at the Ohio State University in Dr. Andrew Bowman’s Lab. During this one month internship I : attended different county fairs to collect nasal wipe and swab samples (which will be tested for Influenza A strains), read and discussed different articles relating to Influenza and other important topics in the realm of Public Health, learned how to properly disinfect equipment by following biosecurity protocols, and more.

This internship, while short, has drastically changed my outlook on myself, the agriculture industry, research, and more. I had never done research before so the only experience that I had being in a lab was during my chemistry and biology classes. Through this experience, I realized that research goes beyond a laboratory. Most days I was not in the lab and this changed what research was and looked like for me. I also had a change of opinion on animal research. I have written papers in the past arguing against the use of animals in research, but this experience helped me to understand just how important animals are in research. Furthermore, this internship provided me with first-hand experience of what animal research can look like and it is a lot different than the documentaries that I have seen regarding the ethics behind animal research.

Working in a research lab that focuses on a zoonotic disease during a pandemic was a very interesting and critically important task. The SARS-CoV-2 outbreak raised awareness about public health and its role and importance to society. Doing routine surveillance of Influenza A in swine during the pandemic gave me an opportunity to see how public health measures and protocols are perceived and utilized in society and gave me first hand industry experience. I will be better prepared to set guidelines for both human and animal safety, as well as effectively communicate the risks associated with the problem and our possible solutions later in my career.

This internship has highlighted the importance of communication and language for me. It proved just how important effective communication and critical and accurate scientific writing is. Each week our lab would have Journal Club- a Zoom call where we discussed an article that one member of the lab submitted. I do not have much experience with scientific writing but through Journal Club I was exposed to articles in which I learned a lot from and not just content wise. In one Journal Club, two of our lab members tore an article to shreds simply because of the writing style and use of words. The content of the article was fine, however, the means of communicating the topic were not and that made the article unsuccessful in its goal to educate the audience on the topic. I learned that successful communication is not merely about what words are said and which ones are not. Comprehension is necessary for communication to be considered successful.

My research experience in Dr. Bowman’s lab was anything but boring. I realized that research was not a stagnant field and that it is not something that is ridiculously hard to do once you have the proper training and guidance. The environment that I worked in was filled with dedicated and caring individuals who made sure that I was properly trained for any given task and it made me a lot more comfortable and confident. However, when I was not confident of myself or just unsure of what to do, they never ridiculed me or made me feel bad about having to ask questions. Furthermore, they never pushed me to do anything I was not comfortable doing- working in a research lab comes with its risk, which are heightened during a pandemic and further complicated by a lab that is expanding in its duties and outreach.  This type of care and mentorship has made me eager to continue doing research and it has also helped me solidify my career aspirations (a food animal veterinarian who works in Public Health- working particularly with swine).

This experience pushed me out of my comfort zone in many ways and for that I am grateful. I learned many skills that I can and will use throughout my academic and professional career. Personally, this experience has increased my confidence, helped me improve my time management skills, and improve my discipline. My time management skills have improved because I was given a list of tasks and a projected timeline in which I had complete those tasks. I had to get creative sometimes to make sure that all my tasks were completed which meant completing paperwork while on our way to a fair or running a load of laundry and cleaning equipment at the same time.  My discipline has improved because of my very weird work schedule. Sometimes we left for a fair at 3 am (like when we went to Frankfort, Indiana), while other times the fair was at 10 pm. This flexibility in my schedule meant that I needed to be well rested (so I had to stay off social media, put my phone away, and go to sleep!), but also that I had to get everything else that I needed to do done before I went to the lab. There wasn’t much time for me to procrastinate so this experience forced me to do tasks as I got them even when I didn’t want to.

The most important thing that this experience has taught me is how to make the best out of every situation. This summer has been a crazy one and it has been hard to stay sane with the news, radio, and social media hitting us with everything that could possibly go wrong. Working in a research lab during a pandemic definitely made the experience different but it has shown me that you can have fun while socially distancing and learning. This internship has emphasized getting creative and learning to step back and take a deep breath and try again. I am glad that I had this opportunity and I am happy to say that I will continue working in Dr. Andrew Bowman’s Lab on the Animal Influenza Epidemiology and Ecology research program (… and whatever else they tell me to do 😊 ).