Representation in Research
Research is an innovative experience that many students should give a try. Getting involved in research without prior experience can be a daunting process. However, there are many opportunities for new-comers to get involved. We have both been involved in research here at VCU, and wanted to individually share our experiences.
In high school I participated in the Deans Early Research Initiative program with VCU College of Engineering. Research was relatively foreign to me at the time, however my high school physics professor encouraged me to apply. The DERI program gave high school students a year-long extensive research experience and concluded with a poster presentation. During the program, I was matched with the Respiratory Aerosol Research and Educational Lab. Our research consisted of creating 3D models of the olfactory pathway of 3 and 5-year-olds. We then tested the drug Flonase to determine the most effective method for depositing aerosol particles (Nebulizer vs. Pump). Our lab focused on treating pediatrics with respiratory diseases, which made me passionate about the work we completed in the lab, seeing it could directly impact someone's life. Through this experience, my lab’s research was published in 2019. (Hosseini, Sana & Wei, Xiangyin & Wilkins, John & Fergusson, Christian & Mohammadi, Reza & Vorona, Gregory & Golshahi, Laleh. (2019). In Vitro Measurement of Regional Nasal Drug Delivery with Flonase, ® Flonase ® Sensimist,™, and MAD Nasal™ in Anatomically Correct Nasal Airway Replicas of Pediatric and Adult Human Subjects. Journal of Aerosol Medicine and Pulmonary Drug Delivery. 32. 10.1089/jamp.2019.1523. )
When I began college, I reconnected with my Primary Investigator, Dr. Laleh Golshahi and rejoined the lab. VCU offers a Vertically Integrated Project (VIP) class, where students can receive credit in their research lab. I have since been involved with the RARE lab for 2 years. Our current research focuses on altering the Helmholtz equation for pediatrics with cystic fibrosis.
Research is a wonderful, yet strenuous, experience that has taught me how to manage my time and work collaboratively on a team. There were many cases where my team and I would have to rerun experiments and work additional hours to finish. However, the advantages of being involved in research outweigh these small faults. From this experience, I have gained a wonderful mentor, who has remained supportive and encouraging on my journey to medicine. She has been able to watch me grow and continues to maintain high expectations for me. My biggest recommendation if anyone is hesitant about research is to reach out to various labs and ask to shadow a current student. Show your willingness to learn and be transparent about your experience and what you hope to gain from their lab. Also be sure to complete your own research on the lab prior to reaching out.
Although I am now conducting research with the Baldacci Student Experimental Endowed Fund, my path to research wasn’t always easy. I remember dreading the thought of Principal Investigators asking me “Do you have any prior lab experience?”. As a high schooler, I didn’t participate in formal lab experiences; however, I was introduced to research through internships that allowed me to visit the NIH and other laboratories. Prior to the start of COVID-19, I planned to start within a research lab, but due to pandemic constraints, my connections dissolved. I connected with Initiative for Maximizing Student Development Scholars Program (IMSD), a research organization for underrepresented students of which I am now an affiliate. This program allowed me to solidify my research interests while also connecting with other minorities conducting research.
When first looking into research, I had a closed mindset and only sought out wet labs since that was common for undergraduates. Throughout this process, I received important advice. Rather than finding a lab to say I’ve completed research, it was best to find research that aligns with my interests and passions. After the completion of Physics 208 in 2020, I connected with my professor, Dr. Reiner, whose passion for electric fields and nanoscience sparked my interest in physics-based research. I was later introduced to my, now, Principal Investigator, Dr. Daeha Joung. Currently, I conduct research within VCU’s Department of Physics, where we print 3-D biomedical devices. This experience gives me the opportunity to tackle current technological drawbacks in medicine. Throughout the course of my senior year, I am completing a project that will potentially overcome current limitations in peripheral nerve regeneration with 3-D printing and cell scaffolding. This project holds a special place in my heart because I have a family member who suffers from peripheral neuropathy. In addition, I was fortunate enough to be selected as a recipient of a year-long fellowship which will support my peripheral nerve regeneration research.
As a prime example of someone who found their fit in research, I want to share a few tips of advice. First and foremost, you want to find research you are truly interested in. By doing so, it will be easier to excel in your work. Second, put yourself out there because you never know what connections may evolve as a result. You may not receive a yes, the first time, or the first few times, but that doesn’t mean your time will not come. Though it may seem unattainable in that moment, you will be surprised at how many doors you open for yourself when you keep trying. My last piece of advice is to ensure you aren’t biting off more than you can chew. Research incorporates many moving parts, such as reading previously published papers, researching drawbacks, and trial and error experimentation. To ensure you set yourself up for success, be sure you can meet the required time commitments and see growth for yourself within that position.
Research organizations at VCU:
-Two Be Brown