Only through being a student at Barnard and getting funded by the Noyce Scholars Program, was I able to spend a large portion of my summer in the city. I have had the chance to conduct research at a highly renowned academic institution, as well as explore the best city in the world. These past 10 weeks I have been surrounded by numerous mentors in my school community, as well as many other bright, motivated STEM students. Now I will start my sophomore year much more conscious of the existing STEM community at Barnard. Very often there is a tendency to feel that STEM classes aren’t collaborative. From even just 10 weeks in SRI, I came to see that there are students at Barnard that are ready and willing to work with their peers. Through SRI I have started to find the people at Barnard that I can lean on for support and guidance as I move my way through my undergraduate experience, and even on to medical school. Science is about collaboration and teamwork more than it is a race to the finish line. I watched my PI interact with colleagues often; even if it doesn’t pertain to his research specifically, it is still essential to foster a community. In addition, I have also been lucky enough to have the chance to attend all of the guest faculty lectures that SRI provided. I listened to professors in the neuroscience and behavior department, chemistry department, and even the President of Barnard, talk passionately about their lives, their work, and their ambitions. Entering in this intellectual dialogues with the professors at Barnard makes me excited to come back in the fall.
There was so much preparation for the poster presentation, so when the day came to finally present I was excited to stand in front of my work and demonstrate that I had become the expert on my procedure. I also greatly enjoyed the chance to teach a large variety of people something new. By catering my presentation-- for example, the specific points I highlighted-- to each individual I realized that a good teacher should cater their communication style to the person they are trying to reach. The best kind of science is accessible by a large variety of people. The more that I can make the information understandable and pertinent to someone else, the more likely that I am able to start a conversation, make a change, and even secure funding. Another important part of the SRI poster presentation session was the ability to see the work of my peers. I remember talking to my fellow R.A. about how amazing it was to be surrounded by some of the brightest and most motivated young women in STEM. The majority of the students are the poster presentation were were fellow Barnard women who chose to take the time out of their summer to pursue research in their perspective fields. The passion with which everyone talked about their work made me very excited to continue my research.
Throughout my experience in Professor’s Snow lab I have learned so much about research in general. Although, some of the most important lessons that I have learned have been the ones not explicitly spoken. For example, on the surface Professor Snow teaches us the specifics of the protocol, as well as the rhythm at which the lab operates. We absorb the information that he teaches us, and then try to teach it to someone else. This “learn and then teach” model has been very effective in forcing me to confront the information that I don’t know as thoroughly, as well as improve on my communication skills. Yet, under the surface, while working independently, I have learned the importance of thoughtful redundancy and quick problem solving. Many of the procedures that we do in lab on a daily basis-- RNA extraction, cDNA synthesis, and qPCR-- become second nature; it is very easy to go on autopilot and make stupid mistakes. From the few small mistakes I have made, I learned the importance about staying mentally engaged in even the most redundant tasks. Everything in lab should be done deliberately and thoughtfully, in order to yield the most accurate results. Working in this lab has shown me the importance of paying attention to details all along the way. At the same time, humans are prone to make mistakes and this is totally fine. At the beginning I would have been very quick to sound the alarm and panic when I made mistakes. By the end of the summer, I found myself calmly reacting when I made mistakes and thinking about solutions before asking my PI for help. By the end of the summer I became much more confident that I had access to all the information that I needed to think for myself in order to solve a problem. There are still moments when my heart skips a beat, but I have become much more creative about how to bounce back instead of wallowing in the fact that I made one. It is very important to never make the same mistake twice.
Another thing that I learned in the Snow lab is that research itself is a very creative process. I initially thought that conducting good research was about following the rules and simply building off the knowledge of those before you. Now I more clearly understand that while research is all of the aforementioned things, there is a great amount of creativity that is required to get from point A to point B. By consulting the literature and being very fluent in the science, one has all the tools at their disposal to make those connections. While it is essential to have all of those materials available, it takes determination, innovation, and passion to make connections and figure out explanations that others haven’t thought of before. Watching Professor Snow in his lab, as well as hearing all of the other Barnard Professors during the guest faculty lectures, has demonstrated to me that for one to be good at what they do, they need to love it.
I am so thankful to have been funded by the Noyce Scholars program. This experience at SRI has helped me figure out that I am definitely going to be pursuing an M.D. in the future. I love the work that I had done here and I am sure that I can apply all of the lessons I have learned in lab to future professional endeavors in the STEM field. Becoming a researcher has taught me how to effectively problem solve, learn from and teach to my peers, as well as think creatively. I am proud to say that I truly see myself as a scientist.