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The biggest challenge this semester has been trying to complete all the assignments for this program without having a research project of my own. To overcome this challenge, I simply continued to get trained by the lab manager and other students in the lab so that I could expedite the process of me getting my own research project. I kept coming into lab whenever I had time and learned the techniques that my lab manager would show me. Now, I have been assigned to work with a postgrad student on his project involving mutant receptors which I am really excited about. However, this assignment came with challenges of its own as the student tends to be very quiet and does not take initiative often so I have to keep track of him and keep talking to him. Also, he is not a great teacher as he tends to just do his work without explaining to me what he is doing and most of the time I end up just standing beside him and watching. He is also not giving me much responsibilities as of now and is simply having me follow him around and observe what he does. To make myself more involved, I offer to do the simple tasks like splitting cells or getting ice from downstairs or making solutions so that I am involved in the experiment. He said that I could eventually do some more advanced stuff like run PCR on my own or run a western blot by myself which would be very exciting. So far, I have learned that sometimes you have to take intiative to get what you want and other times you just have to be patient and let the oppurtunity present itself.
Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the lab I am working in, the biggest challenge I faced was probably that I had to learn a lot things and get familiar with all the terminologies, formulas or even a coding language quickly. But it also makes my work very exciting and allows me to learn something new every day. For example, the language the team uses is Python. Even though I have some background in coding, I have never used Python before so I need to learn it from the very beginning. I tried to learn it in the most efficient way possible so that I could start working on the actual project and add value to it. I watched tutorials and tried out examples. I also got a lot of help from my PI and I really appreciate it. In addition to that, I also spent quite a lot of time learning the economic terminologies and econometric models we used in the research. I found it very helpful to discuss it with my PI and by talking about it, I really gained better understanding of the methods and how the formulas in the models can be modified to meet our specific needs.
I think the biggest challenge I have faced thus far relates to genuinely understanding the research I am doing. In the beginning, I was primarily focused on learning techniques and becoming acquainted with the lab environment. I was following what my mentor was doing, more concerned about knowing how to execute a protocol rather than why I was actually executing it. Though I had a general understanding of the project from reading research papers and talking to my mentor and manager, I likely would have struggled to articulate why I was performing a certain PCR or why I was inoculating certain strains of Cryptococcus.
Though I still continue to face the challenge, I have developed a more well rounded understanding of my project, over the past couple weeks. This development of understanding has been largely due to working in lab more independently. Now that I am comfortable enough to do a few procedures without anxiously following a protocol paper, I have started pushing myself to think about the purpose of each step in the larger scheme of the project. I can now consider potential future steps (whether I am right or not) because I have a better understanding of the project’s trajectory.
I have learned that it is important to thoroughly understand a research project before getting caught up in the technicalities. Though it was important for me to learn techniques, I could have offered more insight had I taken extra time to deliberate the purpose of each day’s work.
My experience in RSP has been extremely eye-opening and informative, especially since it provided me the experience to further understand certain topics regarding international security more insightfully. For instance, during my research, I have had the opportunity to further explore a variety of topics during my research, such as media/propaganda strategies utilized by ISIS, possible strategies for successful EU intervention, and global military strategies and interventions. In addition, I attempted to conduct research from a multidisciplinary view as much as possible.
However, during the experience there were a variety of challenges when attempting to design and execute the research. For instance, I found that initially one of the issues that I faced was narrowing down the topic and subtopics of interest. Even as I continued with more intensive research and writing throughout the past few weeks, I found that I would try to include too much information that was interesting, but not necessarily conducive towards answering my thesis. This attempt to use a global and methodological framework has been helpful in many ways, yet I still found that I needed to allow more time to reflect and synthesize the various materials together. In order to overcome this issue, I decided to make more a memory trees, in which I outlined the main ideas, subtopics, and examples. I continued this process even after I had gone far into my research and writing the essay, because it enabled me to simplify my ideas and understand more intricate and subtle connections. A final strategy that I developed in order to improve the efficiency of my research, was to include small summaries for each of my sources. This has enabled me to be more efficient in remembering and understanding the main points of my research and notice overlaps between various theories. In the future I hope to continue analyzing and identifying both the positive and potentially inefficient aspects of my research methodology, so that I can create an insightful and complete final project.
So far, the biggest challenge that I’ve faced in lab has been the rod-making process of the solid state method. In this process, you must grind different chemical powders together, put that powder in a thin balloon, put the balloon inside a hydrostatic press, and then extract the rod from the balloon after it has been pressurized. The most difficult part of this is extracting the rod from the balloon. During this process, you must cut the balloon open as carefully as possible so that you do not apply so much stress that you break the rod. This requires a steady hand, extreme care, and patience.
Recently, our lab ran out of balloons and we got thinner ones. The thinner ones have been even harder to work with and make the rod easier to break, so they have been causing me even more trouble.
In order to overcome this challenge, I’ve been trying to devote large blocks of time to rod-making so that I don’t feel rushed and I can take as much time as I need to perform the process. Moreover, I’ve been trying different methods of cutting the balloon open to see which ways induce the least amount of stress on the rod.
From this, I have learned that good science requires patience. If you rush the process, your rod will break and you will end up taking more time than another person who performed the process patiently. Moreover, the rod-making process has showed me that even the best scientists can face conflicts in the lab. Almost every undergraduate lab assistant that I’ve talked to has had problems with making rods.
The biggest challenge I have faced with my research this semester was deciding how to structure my paper. With so many topics to cover and so many sources available, it was challenging to limit the scope to something manageable and realistic in the time frame.
To address this challenge, I outlined the arguments I wanted to make and what information I would need to get them across. While there were many possible approaches, it seemed not all my initial plans were necessary so I did my best to chip away at the sections that could be removed.
The idea behind my paper is that a prevalent theme in Iranian history and strategy is a feeling of resistance–especially resistance to victimization. I wanted to show this by finding examples of victimization in Iranian history and looking at case studies where victimization was used as a justification for Iranian strategic choices. My original outline included events from the 7th century through the Safavid period and key 20th Century events such as the 1953 Coup, Islamic Revolution, Iranian hostage crisis, and Iran-Iraq war. Narrowing it down to just the 1953 coup and Iranian hostage crisis was a painful but necessary thing to do.
I’ve learned that the hardest part of writing for me is planning. When there is so much data, it is difficult to figure out what is most important. Brevity and clarity are critical for good argumentation, and this project has taught me that I need to work on these areas.
One of the biggest challenges that I have faced this semester and have started to reconcile is becoming accustomed with research laboratory techniques and procedures while still focusing on the bigger picture that the project is trying to accomplish. While working in lab, talking with my mentor, and deeply reading and analyzing background journal articles on my topic and asking questions on confusing concepts, I have become more cognizant of each step of the protocol and asking myself – what is this specific task/procedure accomplishing to reach our goal(s)? Thus, from selecting primers for RT-PCR to trying out multiple ways to detect the growth of C. neoformans in cerebrospinal fluid, I found that it is important to actively think about the eventual manifestation of each chunk of the experiment that is conducted. While there is still much research to be completed, I think I am becoming more understanding and comfortable with the fact that research takes time, resilience, patience, and effort, and tackling new challenges and tasks while keeping this framework in mind has made my journey so far more enjoyable, fruitful, and thought-provoking. My time in RSP has been great and extremely beneficial, as I have learned so much about the basics of reading and analyzing scientific journal articles and heard from inspirational guest speakers on the ethics of research experimental procedures and on the process of writing and presenting research. I also learned from my peers on interesting topics on a variety of subjects and made some awesome friends too.
The biggest challenges I have faced so far with my research project revolve around the design challenges on a component and assembly level. On a component level, finding the optimal print settings take time and printing the rotor blades are not always ideal due to printer constraints. Also, selecting an appropriate generator consisted of multiple tests of different motors/ generators, until we finally came across an ideal generator. We overcame these challenges by experimenting with different print settings, becoming 3D printer certified to use a more advanced printer, and printing the rotor in separate parts. I tested various power generation devices by attaching their rods to a drill while varying the speed of the drill and measuring the voltage output. None of mine or the laboratory’s existing ones were suitable for our project based on my tests, so I ordered new generators online until I came across one that was optimal for our purposes in terms of speed, size, and torque. On an assembly level, attaching our 3D prints to the motor was not straightforward, since the rod of the generator does not have a hole, latch, or anything of the sort, and is slippery and small. To deal with this issue, I searched for various motor attachment devices and came across motor hubs with screws that would allow for attachment if we created holes for attachment on the platform of the rotor. However, after testing they occasionally need tightening after experiencing high wind speeds. Our next steps are to increase attachment security, stabilize the device for testing, and experiment with centralized energy collection from multiple devices.
The biggest challenge I have faced so far with my research this semester is overcoming the need to always be doing something. I have come to the realization that research takes time. One of the hardest things in research is being patient. You have to wait. You have to let science take its natural progression. By rushing things or attempting to move things more quickly than they should, you run the risk of ruining the experiment. For instance, in my lab, my current independent study deals with the differential germination of seeds in various environmental conditions. Germination takes time. Some days there is honestly nothing that I can do. Overcoming the need to rush things is one of the biggest challenges that I have experienced this semester in research. I have taken steps to overcome that by talking with my mentor about this issues, by helping with other projects, by reading literature, and by understanding that science, research, and progress is a marathon and not a sprint. In addition, it is imperative to believe that results will not automatically be given, and that success will not be handed on a silver tray to you. There will be failed experiments. There will be experiments that do not run. However, you must be willing to adapt to these challenges.
I’ve had a few challenges with my research this semester. One challenge for me has been trying to keep as much of my own bias and the bias from the media out of my research. To do this, I’ve tried to keep my research based as much upon quantitative data as possible in a relatively qualitative field. To do this, I’ve looked up statistics, and researched my own statistics as well to see how many people of each race have won major awards in the last five years.
Another issue I have faced is that race is not a very clearly defined characteristic. With new companies like Ancestry, it is clear that people are not completely white or black or Asian etc. How do I define someone else? Some people define themselves for me publicly, especially if racism is a battle they fight regularly. Others do not, and do not look completely one race or another in photos, or even more difficult, do not appear photographed at all. And what if a person’s race is white but they are from a Latin American country? And if they are from Spain, are they grouped with Latin Americans because they speak Spanish or white because they are European? I often feel uncomfortable placing these types of labels on other people.
Also, there is a huge lack of information about voting committees. The groups that sponsor these committees do not want to get bad press, so there is no list of committee members that I can look up to tell me their ages or races or even to contact them about their experiences. One way to find people to contact is to look up people who have won awards in the past, but generally Grammy/Oscar award winners have other things to do with their time than to talk to me.