Research Networks

Some of the ladies in my research network! Thankful for their guidance and example for being a woman in STEM

If I’m being completely honest, the only reason I spent the summer before my sophomore year searching labs in the biology department and emailing PI’s was because I saw it as a prerequisite for medical school. I obviously enjoyed science and learning, but I saw research more as “checking the box” since I knew I wanted a more clinically based career rather than a research-focused one. I basically emailed every lab that sounded vaguely interesting to me in the land of biology and biochemistry, and Dr. Jeff Brodsky was the only one who emailed me back. He invited me to his office for an informal interview (although I didn’t realize it was actually an interview) and we bonded over marching band. He asked me about the research I had done in high school, the classes I had already taken, and talked to me about the lab’s focus on protein degradation and disease. I found the research interesting, especially the implications for medicine and clinical care, and found myself more excited than I expected. A few weeks later, after a meeting with the lab manager Jen, Dr. Brodsky offered me a position as a lab aide for 2 semesters before I was to become a full-fledged undergraduate researcher with my own project and a graduate student mentor.

Having already known that I wanted a more patient care/clinic focused career, and figuring a future of benchwork and lab meetings would be incredibly boring, I have been surprised by how much I enjoy working in the Brodsky lab. I realize now that research isn’t just doing a protein assay 400 times until you have enough data and moving on to the next experiment. It does involve its fair share of that, but it also involves discussions with other undergrads, grad students, post-docs, and my PI. I find myself constantly learning, both about my project and the projects of others. Our lab meetings are joint with the O’Donnell lab, so I also find myself learning about research in other labs as well. I had thought that research was boring and independent and I thought I would hate the lack of human interaction I assumed I would find. But in reality, I found a research network of so many people who have taught me so much in my year and a half in the lab, and who have made every day of work genuinely fun. And I’m very glad now that I set out to “check the box” of undergrad research for med school. Without doing that, I never would have found a research network full of mentors and friends who have taught me more than I probably consciously realize.

When I looked at the alumni in the Brackenridge page on PittCommons, I was excited to see quite a few individuals in medical school, especially a few who were doing an MD and not an MD/PhD (since that’s my plan). I was particularly interested in reaching out to Keith O’Conor since he also studied molecular biology. I’m looking forward to the chance to interact with him and other Brackenridge alumni to grow my network and gain insight into life in medical school and as a physician.

When I think about making connections for the future, I now know that those connections don’t necessarily have to be the ones I expect to be beneficial. Yes, a career in medicine will involve making connections and building a network of other students and doctors whom I can learn from and grow with. But I know I shouldn’t just draw the line there: building a network that includes scientific researchers, social workers, administrators, individuals outside the field of medicine, will allow me to keep learning and growing and grant me different perspectives that will make me a better doctor and a better human. I didn’t anticipate the network in my research lab to become as vital to my development as a student, a scientist, a teacher, a human, but it has. And I know I need to continue to seek out others (especially interdisciplinary! buzzword!) for my network in the future to help me truly grow.

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