I originally came into this research university with a very strict idea of what it means to do research; I thought of scientists with lab coats and test tubes, or historians visiting an archeological site to do fieldwork. When I was applying to college I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted my future career to be. I knew what I was interested in and what I was passionate about; but I didn’t know how to go about studying these topics. This was one of the reasons that attending a research university was important to me, because I wanted the opportunity to explore science and health at an in-depth level and study the creation of knowledge. My sophomore year at Penn, my idea of research changed. During the spring of my sophomore year, I took my first real research-based course: Biomedical Ethics.
A major part of this class was using tools through Van Pelt library and online resources to argue a side as if we were on the ethics review committee of a hospital. The topic that my group had led us far beyond the library, to resources from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on how their ethics review committee makes decisions on situations that they commonly encounter. This experience made me really interested in conducting research in a healthcare setting outside of my classwork.
I started working at the Perelman School of Medicine’s Center for Weight and Eating Disorders during the summer after my sophomore year. Having a strong interest in medicine and nutrition, I was really excited to start my work as a research assistant! As a part of this position, my time was split between the hospital and the office. While I was in the hospital I had the chance to talk with patients and provide informed consent to those interested in participating in our research. During the time that I was in the office, I spent most of my days collecting data and going through the responses to surveys that participants had filled out. The best part of my experience being a research assistant was having the opportunity to be at the forefront of the latest research in the field. Not only did I get a better picture of a subject that I am very interested in, but I also contributed to modern research being conducted related to psychological aspects of bariatric surgery.
What started out as a position that I only expected to hold for the summer, ended up being a job that lasted through my entire junior year. The longer that I stayed on the research team, the more interested I became in the work that we were doing and the people that we were helping through our work. I joined in on other projects that were being worked on in the office and learned skills that will be useful in conducting my own research. After working on the project for about a year, the main investigator of the research that I was working on decided to include me as a co-author in the publications that she was submitting to different medical journals. I felt so accomplished! As an undergraduate student, I was able make my mark on the fields of psychology and bariatric surgery. Science and medicine are often thought of as rigid and strict in their practice. The opportunity to work on this project inspired me to have creativity and innovation in forming research questions. This experience is just the beginning for a future career that I hope will give me plenty of opportunities to make a difference and create knowledge in a field.