Lessons From My Research Experiences (Part 3)

Laboratory & Research Advice

Lessons From My Research Experiences (Part 3)

The last major stage in my research journey occurred this past summer. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to conduct research in the medical center close to my home and I worked in a lab that focused on pulmonary fibrosis. This experience was the highlight of my research journey thus far because I knew that I had all the necessary skills to be successful in the lab and I was finally getting the opportunity to integrate everything that I had learned from my past work.

The summer began with lessons on the procedures that I would be expected to do and discussions on the background of the project that I would be working on. I made sure to ask for written protocols of every procedure and I took advantage of every chance I had to practice the procedures. Once I was comfortable with the techniques, my mentor informed me of the goal of the project and set me loose to conduct all the necessary experiments. This was the first part of the experience that was unique for me. I had never before gotten the opportunity to work on an experiment independently. I now had the freedom to set my own schedule and to plan out when to conduct the procedures that needed to be done.

Having this responsibility led to my discovery of major lesson number one from this experience: always be conscious of what you have to do and how much time you have to do it. What this lesson involves for you may vary depending on what kind of research you are involved in. In my case, when I began planning out the experiment schedule, I realized there was a lot of work that needed to be completed before the end of the summer. In an attempt to be more efficient, I went through all of the procedure protocols and identified the steps that involved a lot of waiting time. I then scheduled other tasks to take care of during those waiting steps so that I could be more productive in the same amount of time. Whether it was collecting pictures of slides, preparing samples, analyzing data, or even studying (I was preparing for the MCAT) I made sure that I was making full use of my time in the lab.

As the summer progressed, I became more and more involved in my work. I loved what I was doing and I couldn’t wait to get back in the lab each morning. By the end of the summer, I had completed all of the necessary experiments and the data that I collected is now being used to author a research manuscript that will be published in the near future. This leads me to the second major lesson I learned that summer: the more work you put into something, the more you will get out of it. I was not actually expecting to be published when I first started working in that lab. I had one objective in mind, and it was the same objective that I had during all of my other research experiences: to learn as much as I could and to make the experience a worthwhile one. With this goal in mind, I planned my schedule so that I would come into the lab and begin working at 6 or 7 in the morning, hours before people in the surrounding labs even showed up. For procedures that could be completed in either one or two days, I made an effort to try and always complete them in one day. This may have taken more work and planning, but I knew that this endeavor would produce more valuable data in the end. Ultimately, the extra work that I put into the project paid off in greater ways than I expected. I’m not saying that hard work will always result in a publication, but putting in extra work can always help you become a better researcher.

At the end of that summer, I finally felt like a real researcher. My journey had gone on for close to two years and I emerged confidant in my abilities and with a feeling of accomplishment about what I had achieved. The journey was difficult at times, but I can undoubtedly say that my work this past summer made all of the effort that I invested worth it. My journey actually doesn’t stop there. I have transitioned away from biological research and I am now focusing on my other great passion in life: health policy. This part of my journey is still developing, but I will be sure to let you all know how it turns out. Until then, I wish you all the best of luck with your research journey and I hope my story has helped to prepare you for your research experiences.