I have always been interested in the cardiovascular system, especially the heart. I find it’s anatomy so mesmerizing and fascinating, which is why I wanted to see what type of biomedical research involving the heart was being done at Pitt. Additionally, I have an interest in tissue engineering, so I was hoping to find a lab that applied my tissue engineering interests to the heart. I researched many of the faculty in the Bioengineering department to see what their work entailed, which is when I discovered Dr. Wagner’s lab. One of his lab’s focuses was using a tissue engineering scaffold approach to create an artificial heart valve. I was able to meet with Dr. Wagner, and was offered a position within his lab, working alongside a graduate student. Once I began working in the lab, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. D’Amore, another faculty member at the McGowan Institute who works with Dr. Wagner as a principal investigator on the tissue-engineered valve scaffold project. This is when I learned about the in vivo study that Dr. D’Amore was conducting, which assesses the performance of the scaffolds within an ovine model. The scaffolds being examined have been explanted from a sheep after acting as it’s pulmonary valve for an entire month, which is something I found so interesting. Additionally, this scaffold technology has important implications to many cardiovascular issues. The technology offers potential solutions for congenital heart defects, adult valve disease, and even vascular disease. I found it rewarding to know that I was working with a technology which looked to provide a solution to so many different pathologies.
If a student wanted to start research, but didn’t know where to start, I would tell them to first determine what type of work interests them. Once they have a few ideas, I would recommend they find some papers in journals and read about what that research involves. I’ve found that often times students think they know what they are interested in, but then realize that the work is not what they thought it would be. By reading these articles, you are able to at least familiarize yourself with the field and see if it something you would still like to pursue. Once you find something you still find interesting, I would research the faculty and Pitt and see if any of that work is being done here. If it is, I recommend reaching out through email and asking if you could meet with them to discuss their research. I would read some of their publications beforehand to have an idea of their most recent projects, and when meeting with them, ask questions about their work. After meeting with them, ask yourself if you would enjoy doing this research, and if you would, and a position within the lab is open, then go for it!
With professional goals of either attending medical or graduate school, research is a fundamental basis for both careers. By exposing myself to research now, I not only make sure that it is something I am interested in doing, but I create a foundation on what is takes to be a researcher. My experience has taught me that research is a long process, which can be difficult, daunting, and frustrating. I feel that experiencing this adversity early in my career, especially with support from my mentors, better prepares me for the adversity that I will surely face later as I work towards my professional goals.