Summer 2017 HCHS Fellowship Reflection

The Honors College Health Sciences fellowship is a program at the University of Pittsburgh which supports undergraduates completing biomedical research for the summer.  I was fortunate enough to receive this fellowship as a continuation of my research fellowship from this past spring semester (for more on that and what my research is about, check out my post Spring 2017 Brackenridge Fellowship Reflection).

This fellowship has the same basic structure as the Brackenridge in that you have two presentations – one 10 minute presentation at the beginning and one 30 minute presentation at the end – in which you present your research and your findings to your fellow fellows (..?).  Additionally, you have weekly faculty lectures in which you get to hear about faculty research and how faculty members came to be where they are today (you also have these lectures with the Brackenridge but I’ve still yet to make them up…whoops!).  These lectures help to provide you guidance and clarity as the path in research is far from black and white.  Finally, as this was the summer program, the summer starts with a three day retreat with all fellowship participants to get the mind working and interact with everyone before you dive in to your own project.

The retreat was a great kick off for the summer.  I loved getting the chance to get to know everyone, especially since once the summer gets in full swing, you don’t really get the chance to get to know the other people in the fellowship.  The activities involved coming up with project ideas and brainstorming research questions and methods.  This helped to get the blood pumping up to the brain and think of creative ways to tie everyone’s diverse interests and expertise together.

Once the summer got started, it hit full swing.  I started working 9(ish) to 5 Monday through Friday…lol, jk, I wish.  Research is not so clean and perfect – most days I came in at 10 (okay, that was pretty nice) and got out anywhere from 5 (awesome) to midnight (not so awesome) depending on the day and where I was with my work.

The first week, I had four presentations back to back to back.  Some went great, others not so well.  With each presentation, you learn something new about your project.  Questions force you to think critically and propose educated answers.  I quickly learned the more questions you get, the better you did because it means your audience was interested and engaged with your presentation.  It is their job to poke holes in your experimental design and project ideas and your job to whip out the duct tape and patch all the holes quickly and smoothly before your ship sinks.  If you don’t know the answer, you admit your weaknesses and kindly state that it’s a good point, not something you thought of, and something you will consider in optimizing your experimental design.  Keep calm and carry on.

The end of this fellowship leading up to my second presentation in mid-July was a lot slower and more laid back.  While I did not end up having results for the second presentation, it was a lot more advanced and specific – which is exactly what you want it to be.  Not having results doesn’t always mean you didn’t do anything.  It simply means there wasn’t enough time to compile and refine your results and draw conclusions.  And sometimes, that’s okay.  I will have the opportunity to share the findings I have since uncovered in a 10-12 page paper which I have to submit as a final project for the fellowship to the program director by the 15th of August…yay…

This fellowship was a great opportunity to interact in the University Honors College and I was ecstatic to receive it, however, when it was bittersweet when I heard I was awarded a spot…had this been my only source of funding for the summer, I would not have been able to accept since I couldn’t afford to stay in Pittsburgh on this alone.  Fortunately for me, my mentor helped me to receive additional funds to cover my housing for the summer…for more on this opportunity and the work it entailed, check out my post Summer 2017 SURP Internship Reflection.

Special thanks to the University Honors College, Terri Hastings, PhD, Cecelia Yates, PhD, Nahed Ismail, MD, PhD, and all the amazing and inspiring students I got to work alongside!

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