I became interested in research when I began my college career. Many of my professors spoke about the research they did outside of the classroom, and the questions they were trying to find answers to always interested me. I admired their motivation and genuine enjoyment and curiosity in their field of work, and this inspired me to find something I can be just as deeply engrossed and fascinated by. My sophomore year of college, I decided to reach out to a couple of professors asking them about positions in their lab. I was mostly interested in biological research, as I am majoring in biology and had a strong foundation of knowledge through my introductory courses. I probably emailed around 10 lab principal investigators- some never responded and some said they could not accommodate another student with COVID restrictions. One lesson I learned from this was that persistence is key! While I did feel somewhat defeated, I took a look at the biology advising department email, where they advertise lab position openings. I saw Dr. Osmanbeyoglu was looking for a computational biology student to aid in her lab. While I had absolutely no experience in computational biology at the time, I still decided to reach out to her and ask if we could meet. To my surprise, she emailed back to set up a zoom meeting! She put me in touch with Dr. Shuda, who I work closely with now doing wet lab experiments. I originally was interested in both of their labs, as I feel it is important to have some knowledge in both dry and wet lab environments (i.e. both computational and hands-on experimental lab work). I also was interested in their specific research; cancer research has always interested me, as cancer is so prevalent in the population and research can provide a great impact on treatments. I was fascinated by the connection between HPV and head and neck cancer, as well as other viruses’ connection to cancer, as I never knew there was a relationship before I started working at their lab.
My advice to a student who does not know where to start is to begin by thinking about what you are interested in. Narrowing down your interests to certain topics will significantly help in finding professors or principle investigators who are researching where your curiosity lies. Additionally, don’t feel defeated if you reach out and receive no reply! There is no harm in trying, and eventually someone, at some point, will get back to you. There are so many opportunities for research at Pitt, which makes it easy to keep trying to find someone willing to teach you.
The research I do is integral to my career goals. I wish to be either a doctor, or continue with research, so the work I do will surely aid me in both of these aspects. I will be able to apply a lot of the knowledge and techniques I have learned from research to whatever career I end up with. I also know that I will continue to be curious and stay fascinated about the work I do, and research has only helped to instill this value in me.
I attached some images of the cell lines I work with and what one of them looks like under the microscope!