Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Research Reflections

Stephanie Cantu

As a senior, being a pre-med has taken me through a hard but adventurous journey, once I started getting the hang of it. I’ve learned new things about what I should do as a pre-med from my professors, advisors and friends. One of those things, that I am sure you’ve heard, is that you must take on some research during your undergraduate experience. Now, I believe this is a great misconception, and that it’s okay to find something else that you’re passionate about to focus on. However, I heard, “Oh, you need to do research” and so I did. For me, research has turned out to be a wonderful experience and I wouldn’t change it. I love science and the wonder of research is it allows me to see how everything I’ve been studying for the last four years plays so beautifully together.

It wasn’t easy to get into research positions, but I seriously started perusing it as a sophomore when I heard an announcement in class from my TA about a position with an extension facility of another university that conducts research here in the Valley. I emailed, interviewed, and I got lucky! This became my paid part-time job. The work is in a plant pathology and microbiology facility where we conduct agricultural research. While I’ll admit, plants are not my favorite, there are many aspects I love. I love the process of beginning my experiments, making sure the plants are in good health ensuring successful sample collections, performing the molecular work to see if my months of effort have paid off. But just like anyone, I started small, washing pots and planting, to gain trust and learn. I see a lot of people leaving research positions because they feel they are undervalued, but you are not! I was patient, and now I am running my own experiments, cloning and all the fun stuff. I got more tasks as I learned more things and grew as a person.

After starting that experience, I was able to get several opportunities to go to all-paid workshops, receive the LSAMP-SRA Abroad scholarship, a new research position on campus, and have even been encouraged to apply to PhD programs through networking, so I’ve considered maybe perusing an MD-PhD program. I’m glad I didn’t get frustrated when I was starting out small.

I’ve also learned that you must take initiative and look around for opportunities.  When I received the SRA-Abroad scholarship, one of the requirements was that I had to find a lab to work in myself.  I emailed a whole lot of people whose research was interesting. I wrote an email introducing myself and why I was interested in their research. To be honest, some of it I didn’t fully understand, but with a few internet searches I got the baseline of what they were doing. I then explained my desire to conduct research with them, and lastly, I thanked them for taking the time to consider me. I got several responses which led me to choose the one I found the most compelling at Imperial College in London!

For other opportunities, when looking for professors to work with, I’ve learned to make sure I fully read what the opportunities entailed and go to the professor’s office to talk to them about their research. They love to talk about it! This has opened the door for me to ask if they have opportunities for undergraduate research. At my university you usually have to take a course with the professor to do research with them since they tend to give priority to their students first. For example, I took a course called “Disease Epidemiology (DE)” this past fall. It was particularly interesting to me because it was completely different than what I have been doing for most of the last 3 years. So, when I saw they were offering some research classes and I contacted this professor, who remembered me, and allowed me to research in his lab my senior year.

Through my research experiences I have learned what a world-wide community it truly is. It is extraordinary to see how universities from all over the world work with each other to achieve common or similar goals. Thousands of hours of hard work are being put into developing new and improved medical techniques that can benefit many people. I also like the sense of community I experienced from participating in a conference. I had the opportunity to network and meet people from all over and see what they are passionate about, which is very inspiring! Like Albert Einstein said, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” With each new experience, I try to always reflect by asking myself, how did I contribute to the science community? By reflecting on my work it has helped me grow and become a more well-rounded person.

About Stephanie Cantu

Stephanie headshot sizedStephanie Cantu is from El Paso, TX and is a senior at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She is a pre-med biology major with a minor in chemistry. She is the first of her family to attend to a university. She has volunteered for the South Texas Healthcare System and is a student researcher for Texas A&M Agrilife Research Extension in Weslaco. She plans to get more involved in her community by volunteering and shadowing at different facilities to learn more about the health issues affecting her area. She has been doubted if she can succeed, and hopes to prove them wrong as she takes the remainder of her biology courses and continues her journey of becoming a physician.

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