STEP Signature Project Reflection – Undergraduate Research

For my STEP Signature Project, I chose to be the lead of a research project and use the findings from the project to write a paper, which falls under the undergraduate research category. The research study investigates how we can better identify arrhythmogenic substrates in vivo by utilizing a clinically relevant persistent atrial fibrillation (AF) canine model to validate fibrosis visualization in Late Gadolinium Enhanced Cardiac Magnetic Resonance (LGE-CMR).

While completing my STEP Signature Project, my view on what it takes to complete a research project drastically changed. In the beginning, I thought that it would be as simple as completing data analysis, writing the various sections of the paper, and submitting. However, writing and data analysis can occur at the same time to speed up the process. Data analysis often has to be repeated or tried again with different methods. New ideas are constantly brought up, which require more data analysis. All of these aspects of completing a project almost seem endless and make completing the project by a personally-set deadline hard.

Interactions with my PI and coworkers during the STEP Signature Project helped me change how I view research projects and work through all of the difficulties. From discussing the project goals during one-on-one meetings with my PI to holding group meetings with my team, I learned that the process for completing a project is not linear. Often, you have to go back to the drawing board to come up with a new idea to solve an issue or new question. Learning this process expanded my perspective on how open-minded you have to be if you want to successfully perform research.

Going into this project, I had a schedule outlined that would have resulted in the paper being submitted to a journal by October 31st. Unfortunately, numerous factors contributed to this deadline not being met. I had to present for an international conference, write and create figures for our grant submission, and solve various issues with codes used for data analysis. Although these obstacles pushed back finishing my project, they taught me how important time management is when dealing with so many tasks. It was hard to stay on track, but by communicating with everyone I work with, I was able to continue to work on the project while juggling the other deadlines.

While I did not get to complete my paper by October 31st, the findings from this research project will be submitted to a scientific journal within the upcoming month and presented at the Spring Denman Research Forum. With all of the previous deadlines out of the way, I am now able to give this project my full attention to see it to completion. It was difficult to balance everything because I did not expect finishing this project to be so complex, but I have learned that perseverance and patience are key.

This transformation in thinking and understanding is valuable to my life because not every task that I will face will be straightforward. It is important to know how to adapt to situations to be able to complete what is started. Being able to take a step back and reevaluate original plans will be a crucial skill to have as I move forward in life since I want to be a physical therapist. When working in healthcare, the environment is constantly changing, so being adaptable is key. In addition to my future profession, life is never predictable, so always having an open-mind is crucial to surviving in a constantly evolving world.