Research Reflections: Growing Through Unexpected Challenges

Research Reflections: Growing Through Unexpected Challenges. By PRA Kerry.By Kerry Morgan, Peer Research Ambassador

When it comes to research, I have found that every experience is different in its own way, and you can never walk into an opportunity with clear expectations of what it will be like. Personally, I’ve been part of several research experiences spanning across two different campuses, and within three different departments. I first got involved in research during my Sophomore year, and at that point I was just overjoyed to have even been given an opportunity to participate in research at all. However, my interests were not yet fully developed, and I had no idea what I could expect from research, or even what else existed in the world of research. I started my journey in the Kinesiology Department, and while this was research I found very interesting, I discovered that being involved in research should go far beyond just having an interest in the work. As I reflect back on my first two research experiences, I recognize the misconceptions that I had going into each opportunity, but I am also grateful for having learned what my refined goals as a student researcher were.   

In my next opportunity through the Health Research Program, I was able to work in the Department of Developmental Biology and Genomics at UConn Health. At this point in my journey, I had tried survey research and clinical research with human subjects, and now I was moving on to an opportunity working in a wet lab with mice. I was beyond excited to start this new opportunity, and I wanted to immediately hit the ground running on day one. Once again, I was trying this new experience with such high expectations, but I was met with several new and unexpected challenges. My eagerness to learn was quickly met with the overwhelming uncertainty and unfamiliarity of this new environment. Looking back, I remember feeling so helpless and unprepared for the complexity of the new material, not to mention the seemingly infinite number of intricate laboratory experiments I was learning. My motivation to learn and my affinity for the research content never waned, and I can confidently say that I made significant strides with every single day of work. I cannot even begin to explain how lost and insecure I felt in this first month, and I truly felt like I was never going to overcome some of these challenges. But, as time would tell, I quickly adjusted, I learned, I grew, and I flourished from this newfound enhanced engagement. Now, I have developed my own project in cerebellar granule cell development and MAPK signaling in transgenic mice. Still, I am challenged with the highs and lows of plenty of new obstacles, but I have the confidence and wisdom from experience to approach these encounters with a positive attitude. Most importantly, I have developed a solid foundation to overcome any unexpected challenges, and I know I will be more accomplished and capable on the other side of these learning opportunities.

Obviously, all of my experiences were so incredibly different, but they were all completely necessary in finding what I enjoy the most about research. For me, my expectations were initially grounded in interest relating to the research, but I eventually learned that this concept only scratched the surface of what research involvement should provide a student. Rather, your research should make you feel constantly challenged, it should make you grow, it should pique your interest, and it should maintain your engagement. However, nobody can ever expect what any of this may look like at first. Rather, it is what you can reflect on as you grow along the way, and it is what will make each experience meaningful moving forward. My research experience has been anything but expected or traditional in any way, but even still there are countless unknown possibilities I will likely encounter. So, take everything with a grain of salt, stay grounded by what you want to get from your research experiences, and try to enjoy the struggles throughout the process that will undoubtedly make you grow. Everything I have learned in my time as an undergraduate researcher has been valuable, and I am very certain that even the most unexpected and challenging of endeavors have made me a better scientist to this day.

Kerry is a senior majoring in Molecular & Cell Biology and Allied Health Sciences. Click here to learn more about Kerry.