One of the scariest parts about being a freshman in the Women in Math, Science, and Engineering (WiMSE) learning community was the constant encouragement to explore undergraduate research. I also knew that as a pre-veterinary student, finding a place in a laboratory would be a really helpful experience. Fast forward to end of freshman year: I was panicking, emailing professor after professor looking for a place in a lab. After many unanswered emails, someone pointed out to me that the Faculty Director of WiMSE, Dr. Kristen Govoni, would be the perfect person to ask! I’m very grateful that I did! About 18 months later, I’ve been approved for two Supply Awards from the Office of Undergraduate Research, assisted in a project involving young ram lambs, a project involving dairy calves, and travelled to Baltimore, Maryland for the American Society of Animal Science Annual Meeting and Trade Show. I presented my first poster at the Fall Frontiers Convention this month, in fact!
Although the above laundry list of small accomplishments is something I’m very proud of, I am infinitely prouder of the skills and confidence I have gained from this laboratory. When I first began, I had no idea what an actual research lab does all day! The graduate student and the post-doctoral fellow in the lab taught me everything I needed to know to assist a much larger project. When I first began sectioning on a cryostat (it looks like a mini deli meat slicer), I was nervous, seeking approval. As time progressed, and the sheep study last spring began, I grew more confident. I gained inches in confidence, not miles, but I still view that as progress.
Last spring, Dr. Govoni asked the undergraduates in the lab (three of us, at the time), to each write an OUR grant proposal. It’s an application for undergraduate project funding from the Office of Undergraduate Research at UConn. This was my first experience in scientific writing, and it was pretty rough, at first. As I began to understand what we were doing in the lab and how it could be applied to real life situations, farmers, and animals, I realized the potential maternal nutrition research could have on the public. Throughout the proposal drafting process, I learned how to take constructive criticism, and write scientifically in a way that still emphasized the importance of animal research.
I think the hardest part of being an undergraduate in a fully functional research laboratory is feeling stupid or ignorant. As undergraduates, we’re almost naturally going to be the least educated person in the room, and the scientists we work under are experts in their fields. However, we also have to remember that they were undergraduates once too, and that we can better ourselves learning from them. The biggest take-home from my experience is this: never stop just because you have no idea what you’re doing; you never know who might help you realize your hidden potential!