By Joshua Baguley
Many people use scientific research as a way to check a box for applications or a resume. While there is nothing wrong with using it to fulfill a requirement, I feel that this mentality limits what I feel is the true value of research. Every moment of my time spent in the research field has contributed to my scientific development. While the different bench work skills I picked up are incredibly valuable, they pale in comparison to the benefits that are not so apparent. I firmly believe that the value of research extend to more than just those who are looking into making it a career. I believe that anyone wanting to enter the field of science and medicine should consider spending some time in the lab.
Firstly, working in the lab or on a research project is often your first exposure in applying material learned in the classroom to real world scenarios. I had always been eager to learn, but wondered how I would utilize the information in the future. In my junior year I was given the opportunity to work in a biochemistry research lab. One day I was tasked with running a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) experiment, a simple protocol that amplifies DNA that you are interested in. My principal investigator (PI) explained me the basics of how it worked and I realized that everything I learned in class allowed me to understand the concepts behind it and helped me to effectively run the experiment. Being able to see the practical use of my knowledge was thrilling and I was even more motivated to learn.
Research also solidifies the information you learn in class. Learning theories and ideas in class is very important and incredibly useful. But being able to apply the information in a practical sense provides you with the opportunity to understand it on a deeper level. You learn more than just the what, but the why and the how as well. My first biochemistry exam covered, among other topics, the basics of protein purification. Going into the test I felt very prepared and believed I would perform well, however it was clear from the results that I was overly confident. It was clear that while I knew everything, I did not understand everything. Later that same year my research project required me to carry out a real protein purification. By doing so I was able to learn the little intricacies of the process and fully grasp the concept. Humbled by my failure in class and encouraged by my work in the lab, my understanding of chemistry and biochemistry greatly increased. Even though I had less time to study with my increased workload from the lab, I was performing better in class as I was able to understand the concepts beyond the surface level.
I was also able to develop my scientific reading skills through research. Scientific literature is very different from other types of writing and can be incredibly daunting at first. My research group held a weekly journal club where members of the lab work take turns presenting recent publications. When my turn arrived, I was quite intimidated by the prospect of presenting a paper to my superiors, but everyone was very supportive gave be advice on how to improve. I practiced reading and developed my own method for reading scientific literature that I still use to this day. Research encouraged me to read papers relating to my work, which made it more appealing and less intimidating.
Finally, research develops critical thinking. As I mentioned before, research teaches you the why and how behind many scientific concepts I learned to use the information I did have and come up with answers I wouldn’t have been able to figure out otherwise. Bench work can be quite frustrating; I would follow a procedure to the letter and produce poor results, while my mentor would work with the same samples and get perfect data. After carefully observing how he worked I realized that he was making changes to the procedure on the go to better fit the samples we were working with. I learned that blindly following is often not the best course of action, and even scientific procedures that one would expect to be perfected could often be tweaked to yield better results, but only if you knew what you were doing. This instilled a curiosity in me and I became more enamored with the little mysteries of the world and I began to develop my own scientific questions. With RIPL, I was able to test some of my ideas and help contribute to advancement of human knowledge, something not possible had I not been involved in research.
Research is not for everyone, but I believe everyone has much to learn from being involved in it. I strongly advise anyone who is interested in join the scientific or medical field in the future to spend some time in the research setting as the lessons you learn from it are invaluable.
About the author -- Joshua Baguley is a recent graduate of the M.S. in Biomedical Sciences at Larkin University College of Biomedical Sciences. Josh is also a Research Assistant - Intern in the RIPL_Effect Research Team under the mentorship of principal investigator, Dr. Félix E. Rivera-Mariani. He was recently hired as a Research Assistant in the Department of Genetic Medicine at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.