I joined the Kwiatkowski lab in January 2020. I learned about his lab from my freshman year FP professor, Patrick Mullen. In a meeting with Patrick, he asked me about my interests, goals, and if I was interested in research. I told him that I wanted to do research but did not know where to begin and that I had always been fascinated by the heart. It is an interesting organ with unique cells and layers of complexity that drew me in. When I told him this, he smiled and told me he knew the perfect lab–the Kwiatkowski lab. I went onto the Kwiatkowski webpage to learn more about the lab. The cardiomyocyte research mesmerized me. I love looking at one small unit and building out from there. I was always someone who needed to know the smallest details to fully understand a concept, and while reading about the cell-to-cell adhesions, contractile forces, and cell communication work they were conducting, I knew that I would grow as a scientist if I joined the lab. When I first emailed Dr. Kwiatkowski, I was terrified, as most first-year students would be, but I thought that if I had some confidence and humility going into the meeting, I would be fine. During the interview, I noticed the great work environment in the lab. Dr. Kwiatkowski’s passion and gift for teaching were immediately obvious. I went home to my roommates and told them that this was the lab for me. When Dr. Kwiatkowski offered me a position in the lab, I was ecstatic. I leaped at the opportunity, and it has made my college experience complete. In March of 2020, COVID-19 caused the school to go virtual, and I was not able to go into the lab. Dr. Kwiatkowski assured me that when classes were back on campus, I would still have a position. I was able to rejoin in May of 2021.
To students who want to get into research but do not know where to start, I suggest looking into FE-R (first experience in research). FE-R allows students to connect to mentors, build networks, and aid in professional communication. This course helps students gain the confidence and connections needed to begin research. There are also other options, such as talking to a professor whose area of study you are interested in. The University of Pittsburgh is a research school, so most professors do research of their own or could put you in contact with someone whose research may interest you.
Research is meaningful because I am advancing science. I would get frustrated in high school when we would do experiments that we already knew the answer to. I always enjoyed being hands-on, but I did not like doing something that did not have a purpose. In the Kwiatkowski lab, I am helping to answer questions that no one knows the answers to as of now. The research is important, fulfilling, and interesting. If you asked me in high school what my favorite subject was, I would say science, but if you asked me if I was a scientist I would say ‘no, because I am not answering any questions that do not already have answers.’ If you ask me today what my favorite subject is, I will say it is biology. If you ask me if I am a scientist, I will say ‘yes, because I am answering questions that no one else has the answer to already.’