One thing that I really appreciate about this summer is the abundance of time in the day. While working in the lab throughout the school year, I had to balance my classes, assignments, clubs, friends, and laboratory time. But this summer, I had none of those other obligations so I could focus solely on the research and not worry if an experiment took longer than anticipated. Performing experiments without time constraints allowed me to ask more questions and think through steps in each task more. Participating in UROP during the school year was very valuable, it was an avenue for connection to a laboratory to find a research mentor, it provided guidance and tips to embark on my research journey and exploration, and connected me to other students who also had an interest in research. What UROP lacked was time, but that isn’t a flaw of the program, it’s just a fact due to the demands of university classes. So after the excitement and enthusiasm for research that had built up for me during the school year, I was ready for the full-time commitment the summer research would be.
Difference 1: Time. I’ve already talked about time above, so I’ll keep this one short. This summer I was given the liberty to arrive at the lab when I wanted (within reason, no arriving at 1:00pm in the afternoon). This was a simple and nice perk, if I was having a morning where everything seemed to be going wrong or I hit snooze a few too many times, being a few minutes “late” (I always liked to be in lab by 9:10am, 9:30am being late by the standard I set for myself). I also didn’t have a set time to leave the lab, I left when my duties were done. I didn’t have to worry about being late for anything after my day in the lab either.
Difference 2: Independence. Almost every day, I arrived at the lab before my mentor. If this were to occur while in UROP during the school year, especially when I was new to the lab, I would have had no idea what to do and just sit and wait for my mentor to arrive. Between my lab experience gained through UROP and planning out my time in the lab for the summer with my mentor, I was rarely left sitting awaiting orders. I arrived at the lab and initiated experiments on my own. Being able to initiate and complete an experiment without seeking the assistance of my mentor is a victory, it shows that my mentor was able to successfully facilitate the skills and knowledge needed to complete a task and I was able to learn, retain, and ask the right questions to be able to successfully complete the task. While I write about independence in the lab, I was far from functioning as my own entity in the lab. I was still collaborating, asking questions, and getting to know my mentor and others in the lab. After all, research is all about collaboration and connections.
Difference 3: Assignments. In UROP I had to complete assignments that served as checkpoints to test my progression in the lab experience. There were no such assignments to ensure that I was reaching certain important milestones. But this wasn’t a problem, my mentor is a fantastic guide and he always checks to make sure that I am still progressing. My mentor has little assignments of his own to give, such as reading research publications on topics relevant to our project or suggesting training/workshops for me to attend. To hone my surgical skills, he suggested that I take the basic rodent survival surgery training class. In this class, I learned proper suture techniques, how to use anesthesia machines, analgesia dose calculation, the aseptic technique, surgery prep, and animal recovery. It was a valuable experience for me that allowed me to see the difference in intensity between non-survival and survival surgery, especially since my project will be utilizing survival surgery in the future.
Pictured above is the information manual that I received during my survival surgery training. It will be a good reference for me in the future if I need to be refreshed on techniques or rules.
Doing research in the UROP setting was very helpful for me as a beginner in the world of research, it provided valuable guidance that I would not have gotten if I pursued research on my own. Being in the lab for the summer allows me to test what I’ve learned and hone my techniques while learning new ones and being given more independence. This is turning out to be a great summer both in the lab and with all of the festivals and activities that Ann Arbor has to offer!