Becoming a Researcher… and why you can do it too.

Hello again! My name is Eva and I am so honored to have the opportunity to write to you all with the perspective of a student researcher who strongly believes in the unique perspective of students who may not know much about their field of interest, but in existing in this outside perspective, can provide insight seasoned experts might miss simply through their long-time dedication to their field. Today, a look at why your willingness to take a chance makes all the difference:

My first interest in research blossomed from an intensive involvement in public health advocacy that didn’t quite look like the stereotype of lab coats and Erlenmeyer flasks that was being portrayed in media (though funnily enough, my favorite lab experiences at Pitt have often been what we call ”wet lab” experiences). Nevertheless, as a highschooler, I sought something that attempted to explain a portion of the human condition, and was frustrated with health inequity (like that which intertwined with period poverty) to which I had been oblivious until starting an internship in a local non-profit at which I used to volunteer throughout middle school. Being able to collect information and interview fellow peers about this issue, as well as interview school nurses throughout the Philadelphia area, gave me my first taste in data collection and analysis. Putting on a creative showcase to raise awareness allowed me to dive into programming and intervention… and I found myself quickly accustomed to these waters. I’ve stayed there from that day on, and learned how to tread when obstacles inevitably arose.

Clearly overjoyed at all the period product donations we got !

Coming to Pitt fresh off of this internship, I found myself in an immunology lab by the absolute chance of reading a canvas announcement for my freshman seminar class, knowing not one thing about T1 diabetes nor the immune response I was meant to be studying. Maybe this isn’t for everyone, but I was excited by this opportunity to learn from square one (maybe a little intimidated, too). My experience humbled me, and allowed me to compile a list of tips I wish someone would’ve told me before I began this journey.

  1. Ask questions, even if you have to ask multiple times. As embarrassing as it *might* feel, most people will be so glad you’re genuinely interested in their work and technique , and it will help you actively learn, too!
  2. Make sure you know what you can and cannot do in the lab. Though you will likely begin with an onboarding process, if you’re not sure about what to wear/ what exactly you’ll be doing, it helps to feel comfortable in at least a few things on your first few shifts!
  3. Do your research… before research. The single thing that helped me most was asking my PI and PhD student what papers they would recommend to better understand techniques and tricky mechanisms. It’s such a great conversation topic once you get through them and helps confirm your knowledge, build their confidence in your interest, and help you better appreciate why the research is being conducted!

Thanks to this experience, intermingling with my social work background, I came into my freshman year with an interest in doing a Bphil (Bachelor in Philosophy), but didn’t know where to start until I began doing advocacy work in the Intimate Partner Violence community. Long story short, I worked extensively to build a collaborative based on social work theory, and founded in my immunological wet lab research that suggested trauma as a trigger for autoimmune disease. This collaborative ebbs and flows with the updates provided by further research in the field, which makes communication with professionals a crucial part of my work. While it used to be intimidating, it helps to remember that each person is an expert in their own experiences, and that with each program or internal policy my collaborative, Project Healing Sideways, burgeons, there is growth and unique experience there.

Stigma training with Brandon Thomas, MSW student, is just one example of work we have put forward just this semester

In the end, my research with IPV culminates in a Bphil I am in the midsts of building. While continuing to intersect IPV advocacy and holistic health tied to trauma is in pursuit of a lifelong dream to do so, this doesn’t have to be the only type of motivating factor associated with any kind of research. Conducting research has instilled a sense of curiosity, discipline, malleability, and creativity in me that I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on in a university that puts a special focus on its students doing so. I hope my personal story shows that research doesn’t look homogenous in the real world; there is so much to be learned about the world, a great need for those who are curious and brave enough to dedicate time to it, and a place for all who seek it.

Leave a Reply