Learning on the Fly
Today was a big day for me. Today was one of those days where you reflect and realize how far you’ve come and how much you’ve learned. Today I spent my day starting and working on my real first lab study that I had all to myself(mostly).
I have mentioned it in previous blogs, but in case you are reading in reverse order or just need a refresher, I’ve had the opportunity to do some lab work in Case’s research lab located in University Hospital. I started volunteering there in January of this year, so about 10 months now. At first I was in the lab very sparingly, trying to balance the adjustment to college (yes it takes more than a semester) takes up a lot of your time. With that, I was learning everything about the aspects of being in a lab and doing lab work as I went. Don’t get me wrong, doing chemistry lab in high school is great, but those experiments are set up in a way that they are supposed to work out. In a real research lab, you’re (hopefully) doing novel things that no one has ever tried before. Therefore it requires quite a bit of knowledge of whatever you’re trying to accomplish in order to tell if you’re even doing anything relevant. So yes, coming in as a second semester freshman, you really have no idea what is going on.
Trust me; it’s nearly terrifying, at least for me. The graduate student I’ve been working with trusted me with my measurements and calculations for his work. At first I didn’t really even have that hard of things to do, just weighing things out, pipetting solution or plating samples. Essentially work that any functional person can do. Aside from getting nervous of messing up and spilling something, the hard part was trying to understand the underlying concepts of what I was doing all these things for. This requires a lot of reading, listening and repetition. I don’t think I really grasped the concepts strongly until I stayed a month of my summer at Case to work 30-40 hours a week doing lab work.
Staying that month of the summer was probably one of the better choices I’ve made since coming to Case Western. By doing this I was essentially taking a month out of my summer to work fulltime. Along with that, I lost a month of time to spend with my family and friends back home. Note to parents who have/will have kids that do this: Your son/daughter isn’t doing this because they don’t want to see you (I hope), they are just trying to learn and put themselves in a better position than their peers. Working 40 hours a week in a lab is surprisingly minimally stressful when compared to being enrolled in classes. Once you leave work, you’re done for the night, there is minimal to no work to get accomplished in comparison to the normal homework from taking classes. To list some of the benefits I’ve received, and am still receiving, from staying the summer are:
• I created a poster for my work and received a Case sponsored trip to Austin, Texas to present it at the Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meeting (I wrote a previous blog about this)
• I displayed my poster again and gave an oral presentation to undergrads, graduate students and PHDs about my research at a conference at Case (Yes I was nervous)
• I did sufficient work to be listed as a co-author on a couple research papers that will be coming out hopefully soon
• I’m currently helping the graduate student I work with on a book chapter about a subject related to our work
• Freedom at night time left me time to get motivated into working out again(I lost 30 pounds this summer, yay me!)
• I feel more involved overall with the dynamic of the lab, I am no longer just a volunteering undergrad, I’m me!
Overall it was just a great experience all around.
But anyway, back to the reason that provoked me to write my blog about this subject. Today was the first day that I planned out what I wanted to do with my research direction and how the experiment would be conducted. I won’t get into details, but today’s work involved an 8 hour release study where I got to hang around the lab all day and get work done. I had a little help setting up and starting but an hour in he took the training wheels off and left me to experience it for myself. No longer was I scrambling to learn on the fly, but rather I was executing everything I have learned over the past 10 months. It’s quite the gratifying feeling to know hard work is starting to pay out. I’m not done, it’s a 10 day study, so I will be stopping in every day to take a few samples and analyze. I believe my ability to experience this opportunity has been one of the most profound reasons for enjoying Case. I feel like my major has more direction, and I am more comfortable with the fact that I am going into a field of something I enjoy. I can comfortably say I don’t think I would be doing this as a sophomore at any of the other schools I applied to coming into my freshman year of college.