In my summer undergraduate research experience, I worked for Dr. Paula Grammas in the department of pathology at the Oklahoma University Health Science Center. Dr. Grammas was studying the effect of protein kinase C inhibition on endothelial cells. Under these conditions, the endothelial cells produced a factor that was toxic to neurons, and this toxic factor was implicated in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease. During my time there, I learned several lab techniques. My specific aim was to determine whether the neuronal cells were dying by apoptosis or necrosis. I went on to present this work for the student colloquium contest at Oklahoma Christian, for which I won first place.
There are a number of benefits in doing undergraduate research. First and foremost, the experience allowed me to see and understand what real lab work was like. I often struggled with the lab portion of my science courses because I rarely understood what was going on. However, when I entered the Grammas lab, the experiments I did suddenly had a purpose, and they were contributing to things far more than a grade. I found that lab time can be fun when you know what you're doing. There was no room for boredom with the job. Each day provided me with new mental challenges, a variety of tasks, and in my personal experience, a less stressful environment than medicine.
Secondly, I benefited from practical experience in the application of science. This is important for any science career. It makes you aware of what you did and did not learn from your classes, and it puts the information into a working, three dimensional picture. My lab time gave me confidence in doing research, and it helped me immensely in understanding the lab courses I had in the semesters to follow. Not to mention, it always looks good on your CV!
My undergraduate research experience had a great impact my career path. I chose to go to graduate school in large part due to my experience. Currently, I am an immunology graduate student in the Cancer Immunobiology Center at UT Southwestern Medical Center. I am trying to determine the mechanism of action of a monoclonal antibody that is used to treat multiple myeloma in immunodeficient mice. The project continues to deliver interesting twists and turns, and I hope to wrap up the project during the next year.