A Summer of Learning

When I tell my friends that my research involves anti-cancer drugs, they ask me if I’ve found the cure for cancer yet. Although I usually answer with a smile and tell them I am still working on it, I believe I’ve learned so much from my research that does not directly involve science. My research experience in the MCDB Department at UCSB helped me grow into the student I am today and motivates me in my journey to become a successful research scientist.

Many of my peers warned me about the steep learning curve I would face when starting in a new lab. Since this was my first research experience, I (reluctantly) accepted the challenges I would face as a newcomer in the lab. I expected a gentle introduction to lab work, but to my surprise, I was immersed and involved in the projects immediately.  Within a short timeframe, I acquired the skills needed to raise my own flask of cancer cells and run various assays to test for drug activity.  During this time, I struggled with self-doubt – I had a nagging feeling that I was incapable of completing experiments on my own. However, I quickly realized that I had to ask questions and take notes on everything going on until routine procedures became second nature to me.  Over a year later, I am much more confident in my skills and I’ve even helped newcomers get started in the lab.  This newfound confidence found its way into my academic life as I started taking more difficult upper-division biology courses. Persistence has helped me in the lab and in the classroom.

The lab environment I work in is especially exciting because I work directly with my faculty mentor, Dr. Thrower, along with the five other undergrads in my lab.  Our lab may be small, but we are constantly busy with new experiments and interpretation of results.  Since we do not have graduate students to delegate work among us, we are in constant communication with our faculty mentor and we are directly involved in every aspect of our experiments.  It can be stressful when it feels like no one understands what’s going on in the lab, but we rely on each other for support and guidance every day.

Research has taught me more than just the skills I need in lab.  I’ve learned how to be resourceful, resilient, and to embrace the inevitable uncertainty of starting a new project.  In addition, working in a small lab environment has given me more opportunities and responsibilities than I expected.  As a Gorman scholar, I’ve gotten the chance to share my research with other motivated undergrads in STEM and hear about the fascinating research that goes on around me.  Working full-time in a research lab was something I could not imagine last year, but I am thrilled about this experience.  With less than 3 weeks left in the Gorman program, I’m looking forward to spending my last month of summer relaxing (and out of the lab!) while reflecting on my summer research experience.