CURF #2: Overcoming Misconceptions to Become a Researcher

As a freshman, college has been quite the overwhelming experience so far–but in a good way! I’ve been presented with more opportunities than I can take advantage of, and they’ve all come about because I stepped out of my comfort zone to ask people questions. In fact, I found my research mentor, Dr. Zuzana Swigonova, because I was taking her biology course and happened to ask her a small question after class one day. I wasn’t even aware she had a project at that point, but asking her a question showed I was curious and excited to learn, so she told me about her work and invited me to join her project.

I’ve always known I wanted to do research in college, but I was particularly excited by Dr. Swigonova’s work because everything she did was actually applicable to the classroom, especially the class I was taking. Part of my project involves developing 3D-printed models of macromolecular structures, and the 3D models are actually being used in the class I am taking right now. At first, my work seemed slightly unconventional, likely due to misconceptions I had about research, but once I realized that research is more than pipettes and petri dishes in a laboratory, I’ve really come to enjoy the work I do. Even more, I’ve gained a diverse set of unique skills that I probably couldn’t have learned anywhere else.

If you’re questioning whether or not to do research, I say just go for it. If you end up not liking it, you can always try something else, but I think you’ll find something you like! The best advice I have for getting started with research is just to talk to people! It doesn’t matter if they’re your professor or a friend already involved with research, the more people you talk to the more opportunities you’ll have available. Even if the people who you talk to don’t directly have opportunities, they’re bound to know people who do or they can at least offer advice. For example, in addition to my work with Dr. Swigonova, I conduct cancer biology research in the Aird Lab at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, an opportunity I pursued after talking with my RA who was already a researcher in a different lab at Hillman Cancer Center.

Overall, I am interested in either pursuing an MD or an MD-PhD, both science-heavy career paths. I’ve always been drawn to medicine and research, so learning the process now is important for me to succeed. I’m very glad to have all these different opportunities that I’ve been presented with, and I can’t wait to see what comes next with my project!

A digital model of Hexokinase I have recently developed. To interact with this model for yourself, it has been temporarily uploaded to the following website: https://sites.pitt.edu/~rsf33/

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