A Change in Mindset - Research Reflections 1
Hi everyone! I thought it would be a good idea for me to reflect on my project this summer. I am hoping to write up a reflection that would cover my most significant takeaways for every two weeks of my research project. Here are my reflections on the first 2 weeks of my lab-based research project!
Leading up to the project
The week before I was officially meant to start the project, I had a meeting with my supervisor: David Kent and my bench supervisor: Alyssa Cull. The meeting allowed us to discuss the plan for the next 6 weeks, what we should expect and what I ultimately hoped to get out of this experience. As someone who enjoys having a clear overview or plan, this meeting gave me a lot of reassurance. As a first-year medical student, my exposure to preclinical research has been fairly limited so choosing to do a project with a preclinical focus was incredibly exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Following our meeting, my supervisor invited me to my first ever official lab meeting. It was fair to say that I was buzzing with excitement to meet everyone I would be working with and hopefully learning from for the next 6 weeks.
The official lab meeting as I came to learn was a chance for everyone who works in my supervisor's lab as a PhD or Masters student to share their findings and updates on what they are working on as well as for the lab to discuss any matters that needed addressing during the week. As a first-year undergraduate student, a lot of what was discussed was unsurprisingly beyond what I could comprehend. Although I was intimidated, I was also extremely eager to get started and meet everyone in person!
The first week of the project
This was my first time in a lab setting and so I was introduced to the fundamentals of working in a lab. I had an induction to learn the basics and the health and safety procedures. I also learned how to pipette (I had never held a pipette before this!) and the importance of the aseptic techniques. I was allowed to join in on basic experiments where I learned how to prepare macrophage cell suspensions from mouse tissue samples, flow cytometry staining and cell culturing techniques. It was fascinating to begin understanding the work that goes into each experiment and witness my knowledge of basic biological concepts being applied. Additionally, my supervisor was kindly guiding me towards research papers that would help me grasp the concepts behind the experiments we do and guide my project in the coming weeks.
Although I spent a lot of this week feeling quite out of place and overwhelmed by the amount of new information and skills I was being introduced to, I could also feel a positive shift in mindset starting to come about. I am naturally someone who aims to have a good handle on the task at hand, but starting this project allowed me to appreciate the point I was at in my journey. Instead of feeling incapable because I could not understand every piece of information I was presented with, I began to focus on what I did understand and how I could best build on it over time.
The second week of the project
This was another week of learning lab skills and reading many research papers. I made sure to take notes on everything I was reading and any protocols for experiments that I observed or assisted on. My supervisor also suggested keeping a virtual lab book for my own experiments as I start to become more independent. We agreed that I would present my background reading this week. It was a long process of reading and perhaps not fully grasping every concept. At times I would be disappointed in myself for not understanding concepts fully, however, I realized that through persistence and revisiting those concepts things would slowly fall into place.
Building on my knowledge through asking questions became natural and welcome and I no longer doubt myself when I need to ask questions. It took many hours of research and reading but after presenting to my supervisor and discussing those concepts, I was confident in my grasp of the background information for my project which at the time was a major milestone for me.
Those two weeks taught me that sometimes a change in perspective is the best thing that I can allow myself to do. It took quite a bit of introspection for me to appreciate that being in a somewhat intimidating environment would only help me learn and develop my skills. Instead of perceiving my lack of experience as a hindrance, I began looking at it as my drive to be open to learning as much as possible. I felt a sense of satisfaction when I saw this positive change in my mindset and how it allowed me to make the best of the first two weeks of my research journey.