Learning How to Conduct Research

I met my mentor Dr. Xiangyun Wei through the First Experience in Research (FER) program, which is available to any students who do not have prior research experience. I was drawn to Dr. Wei’s research on zebrafish genetics because I have been interested in studying gene regulation mechanisms since high school. His lab is focused on looking at how the expression of retinal genes is controlled. He is trying to identify and characterize specific non-coding DNA sequences which can increase the rate of protein production. I thought his goal aligned well with what I wanted to do research on in the future so I decided to join his lab. While programs like FER can be helpful, students can also connect with research mentors through emails. The most important thing that students should do is to make sure that they read through and understand the mentors’ research before emailing. 

During last fall semester, I started planning my project on identifying enhancers for the retinal polarity gene crb1 with my mentor. Most of the uncertainties I faced at the start was because I was not knowledgeable in the subject. I addressed my lack of experience through reading more papers on the different polarity genes and how they are regulated. I also brought questions to my mentor and tried to understand the research in depth. Similarly, I think reading literature is important for students who want to conduct research but unsure about where to start. After going through different papers, they can then contact professors or advisers to discuss their ideas and receive feedback. 

I was also unsure about how to technically execute my idea since my laboratory skills were not refined. To solve this, I spent more time at the lab learning from other members who were more experienced. I was quite frustrated for a period of time since I did not obtain positive results even after spending hours upon hours at lake. However, the struggles I came across helped me learn the details of conducting experiments. In addition to spending time reading literature and practicing lab skills, I think students should also be patient with their progress. This, of course, applies to me as well. 

My goal after college is to attend medical school, and I hope to conduct biomedical research as well as practice medicine in the future. I think receiving advice from advisers and people who have gone through the process would help me pursue my goals.

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