This summer has been one of the most challenging, yet rewarding experiences I have ever had. The internship at the Columbia University Medical Center has taught me to think independently as a scientist and realize how fun science can be!
Thanks to the Noyce Internship, I have greatly expanded my technical skills in the laboratory. I have learned not only the protocols for assays, but also the purpose of each. The assays I have practiced include genotyping using polymerase chain reaction, immunohistochemistry, fluorescence and H&E staining, Ligand and Carbohydrate Engagement Assay (LACE), and DNA cloning methods. However, the greatest lessons I learned where when the results of each were not the same as our hypothesis. I have had to repeat many experiments and troubleshoot when our hypothesis was not supported by the results. This has taught me to be more patient, perseverant, and meticulous. I have learned to analyze where in the protocol the errors could have come from and adjust the changes for the future experiments, until they work. These qualities of being detail-oriented and persistent are those that I will continue to implement in my role as a student. Whether it is in lab or in the classroom, these qualities will change how I deal with shortcomings.
Furthermore, this experience has taught me to become a better critical-thinker. Whether it is designing the experiment or analyzing and contextualizing the data, the internship has helped me understand how to think like a scientist. Research involves so many factors, some that are within our control and some that are not. For instance, after weeks of staining, I could not find the phenotype that we had seen in our previous stainings. This was frustrating and neither my mentor nor I could understand why that was the case. We hypothesized that during sectioning the region of our interest may have been missed. As a result, we implemented minor changes such as to section the entire eye, instead of just the retina in the back of the eye. This allowed us to finally see the phenotype, much to our relief. Seeing the phenotype once again was very exciting and rewarding. I realized not to overlook any steps and work-hard to fix any mishaps in each step. This has helped to critically analyze my own work and become focused when carrying out any procedure.
In addition, one of the most important skills I have learned is how to communicate research work to an audience. I presented my results at our weekly lab meetings to the principal investigator and other post-doctoral researchers. This was essential in receiving feedback on the work I had done and presenting to a scientific audience. As part of the Summer Research Institute, I created a poster, detailing our work and present the poster at the Poster Session. Creating a poster allowed me to reflect on the overall goal of this project. I synthesized the information and presented the material on the poster so that it could be accessible to understand for all. I also had to think about how to orally present the poster at the session, without using jargon and clearly demonstrate and explain what the research was about. This was a gratifying and challenging process, as well. I learned to represent scientific data, using imagery and diagrams so that it could be informative and easy to understand. Presenting my work has helped to become comfortable speaking in both a scientific and general audience, both of which were much different.
The internship primarily helped me understand the importance of having a good mentorship. My positive experience in the lab has primarily been the result of the cordial relationship I have developed with my mentor and the other researchers in the lab. My mentor has guided me throughout the entire summer at every step, from explaining the basic biological concepts to performing the experiments. He has also challenged me to think critically about our project and encouraged me to become more and more independent in the lab. This guidance was so essential in becoming comfortable with using techniques that I was not familiar with before. Moreover, my mentor and the other researchers have spoken of their experiences in becoming a researcher. Speaking to them every day has helped me realize how the scientific industry works. This has given me insight into the hard work and struggles of becoming a researcher, but also has inspired me to consider pursuing a career in research at some point in the future. This guidance is a factor that is greatly essential in STEM education. The STEM field requires extensive mentorship, which can inspire the person to work harder. STEM education can be dramatically altered if students can see the rewards of working in such a field and have someone to look up to when there are facing struggles. I have been lucky enough to find such a laboratory and hope to guide other students as well in the future.
Despite the end of the Noyce Internship, I hope to continue to work at the Columbia University Medical Center, throughout the academic year. I wish to apply the skills and lessons I have learned to become a better student and educator.