From High School Science Nerd to Researcher: My Journey Through the World of Science

Over the past year, my work in the lab of Dr. Steven Little has been the most rewarding and intellectually challenging research experience I have had. It is my cumulative research experience throughout my years of undergrad that have led me to be doing the project I am today for the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

When I first came to the University of Pittsburgh, I was eager to get involved with research. My first experience was in the Division of Renal-Electrolyte at UPMC, where I helped on projects that dealt with immunological mechanisms. This experience rekindled a fascination with immunology that I had found in high school biology, and I enjoyed the work. However, I still wanted the ability to employ my bioengineering major in my research work and was unsure of how to do so. My bioengineering-specific interests found their direction during the summer of 2019, when I took part in an REU at the University of Texas at Austin. There, I had the opportunity to do research work involving tissue engineering and drug delivery. During those hot Texas summer months spent in the lab, I found my passion within the field of bioengineering. With my interests in immunology and tissue engineering realized, I set out to find a lab that combined these fields. In that search I found the Little Lab in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engnineering. The Little Lab group works on developing drug delivery systems and immunotherapies, which directly complements the skillsets and interests I had cultivated over my undergraduate career. This synergy gave me the confidence and motivation to pursue a project under the sponsorship of the CURF.

The main uncertainties I faced in working on my project for the CURF centered around the fact that I was, for the first time in my life, the primary researcher responsible for managing a project. There were many times during the development of my research plan that I felt a sense of free fall at the pit of my stomach as I realized came to terms with the amount of effort that goes into proposing a robust and relevant experiment. Many late nights were spent poring over literature and ordering reagents. Now that I am at the stage of conducting the experiment itself, however, I can look back and enjoy a sense of accomplishment and security at the work that was put in at the outset to ensure a successful research experience throughout the semester.

My advice to students who wish to get involved in research is to keep an open mind and remain persistent. It’s hard to know exactly where your interests lie until you take the steps to immerse yourself in the research environment. Perhaps you’ll be lucky and the first lab you work in will match up directly with your academic passions. Maybe your path will be more like mine, and you’ll have to combine the shared experience from several research ventures to discover your real passions. At any rate, the key is to maintain your curiosity and seek new experiences until you find a place where you feel like you belong.

In the future, I plan to continue contributing to the burgeoning field of bioengineering research. I believe that innovations at the intersection of engineering and medicine will be one of the most powerful driving forces of humanity in the coming century, and I want to play a role in this revolution. I hope to make the most of my experience as a member of the CURF community, so as to develop the fundamental research skills and connections necessary to pursue my goals down the line.

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