Brackenridge Thoughts

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Brackenridge fellow, and I have absolutely gotten more from the experience than I expected, especially considering the remote format. When the pandemic hit and everything became virtual, I truly thought the Zoom meetings and assignments would be a bit boring (sorry Brett!) as well as an added stress as life changed so drastically (with classes, research, studying for my MCAT, traveling home, applying to med school). I didn’t expect to get so much out of my discussions with the other fellows and the scholar mentors, to genuinely enjoy reading their blog posts, to have fun in my Ideathon group, and to find myself so captivated by everyone’s research presentations.

I had naively assumed that all the changes in the fellowship would be for the worse, that I wouldn’t have genuine interactions with the other fellows, that my research project would suffer in a remote format, that I wouldn’t learn as much as I was expecting. But that was truly not the case. I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable everyone felt in breakout rooms, chatting about our projects and venting about life stress. My Ideathon group spent 4 hours on a Zoom call making our proposal but also just chatting with each other. As difficult as the virtual format was at times, I found myself learning a lot from the other fellows and genuinely enjoying our meeting times.

I’ve discussed this in previous blog posts, but prior to this fellowship I had never interacted with research outside the hard sciences before. I had no idea how research was done in the humanities and social sciences. But through my discussions with the other fellows, particularly in the random breakout rooms, I’ve gained much greater understanding, and respect, for research outside the hard sciences. It’s much easier in scientific research to pick one question and focus on it. In humanities and social sciences research, you so often start off with a general topic and no idea what direction your project will go until you get there. Humanities and social science research is much harder than I ever realized, and I’m grateful to have a better understanding of that now. I’ve learned so much in this regard from this group, and I know it will improve my understanding of research and how I think about applying it in the future.

I’ve also learned a great deal about communication this summer. Both my parents are scientists as are a lot of my friends, so when it comes to talking about classes or research, I’m usually able to use the jargon I’m comfortable with. I don’t have to think twice about discussing Western Blots and SDS-PAGE with my dad because he spent 6 years in grad school immersed in the same thing. I was expecting to spend this summer doing benchwork in my lab and had never really considered discussing my research with a broader audience. But when things went virtual, my project turned into writing the introduction of a research paper. I also learned that I would be presenting my research to the group and would need to make it understandable and applicable to a broader audience. I know I still have some work to do in this area (like incorporating images and figures in my slides), but I know I have benefitted a lot from the shift towards focusing on communication. And specifically in communicating in different fields. My paper is generally written for those in the sciences, while my presentation was geared towards those not in the sciences. Through this summer I’m learning that research is more than just coming up with a hypothesis and testing it, it’s also sharing the information you get. And I know that I have already improved a great deal, and have a lot more to think about when I communicate my research in the future.

Looking to the future, I know that this year will be spent (hopefully) finishing my research and writing my senior thesis. I am also in the midst of applying to medical school, so fingers crossed that’s where I’m headed next year. I do know that I don’t have the same passion for research that others (like my dad and many of you in this fellowship) have for research, so I don’t anticipate research continuing to be a large part of my life. My current interest in primary care will have me more focused on patient care and interactions. But, I know that what I’ve learned in this fellowship will carry me through into my future. I know that I should seek out interdisciplinary research, that the human stories are just as important as the biochemical mechanisms. I also know that my newfound strengths in communicating, especially to diverse audiences, will allow me to be a better physician. I will be much better prepared to explain complex diagnoses and symptoms to patients of diverse backgrounds, able to break things down in a way anyone can understand.

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