Biochemistry Senior Chun Jung Chen
My Journey Ahead
During the pre-graduate school internship at the mass spectrometry facility, I was involved with an undergraduate research project. It is that project that has really given me an unforgettable and important experience of what is to come for a graduate student. Basically, my research project involves the simplification of Capillary Electrophoresis - Mass Spectrometry (CE-MS), an analytical technique that is used for the analysis of many different chemical compounds by separating them. This technique has becoming more popular because of its ability to analyze proteins and also interfacing it to mass spectrometer, which is another very powerful analytical technique. Since I am a biochemistry student, the concepts of CE-MS were new to me when I first started on the project. Therefore, I had to start from the basics, from learning the techniques to the actual operation of the instrument, building-up the knowledge bit by bit. During this journey of research, obstacles were met and difficulties were encountered, and it is through them that I learnt the importance the qualities of patience and confidence to a graduate student. Even after overcoming the present problems, new issues arose and stand in my way. The only way to succeed as a graduate student will be persevere, think, be confident and solve the problems.
After getting myself used to the CE-MS instrument, I began to work on the project. That is when I experience the joy of being a graduate student. Working on a research project is like watching your child grows. Each accomplishment I achieved provided me with the pride and energy to go one step further, propelling me towards my goal. One of the more important steps in this project was to synthesize monolith-filled capillary columns, which were to be used as an interface between the capillary electrophoresis instrument and the mass spectrometer. That was the most difficult step of the procedure since the monolith will plug the column is the composition was not right and also because of its time consuming nature. After spending many weeks and conducting countless tries, the optimum composition for the flow-permitting monolithic column was reached and now I have a standard protocol of fabricating the monolithic column with ease.
Therefore, what started out as learning the concepts of CE-MS has actually reached the successful fabrication of monolithic column, and to a current state of actually testing out the columns for protein analysis. Recently, we had also been accepted for poster presentation and the annual American Society of Mass Spectrometry Conference, which will be held in Indianapolis, IN coming June. Furthermore, the data that we had obtained were very promising and very close to publication. It is true that I had learnt the usefulness of CE-MS in protein analysis as compared to other conventional analytical techniques, but what excites me the most is not the knowledge that I had gained from this internship but the actual hands on experience and the opportunity to taste the life of being an actual graduate student.
Even though I had supervision from my professor and mentor during the course of the research project, it was also emphasized by them that that was my project and it is my responsibility to ensure that everything was going well. Therefore, this internship has given me the chance of playing the role as a principle researcher, providing me with the perfect opportunity to experience research from a graduate student's point of view, making this the perfect preparation for my future graduate studies. As the principle researcher of this project, I had made major contributions to it, and even reached a stage of publishing a scientific article and presenting a poster in an annual meeting. All the effort put in had indeed become accomplishments, adding more achievements and highlights to my undergraduate years.
Besides getting experience in conducting research, I had also gotten a chance to realize that research is not the only responsibility of a graduate student. Similar to an undergraduate student, graduate students also as to juggle the responsibilities of conducting research, going to class and working as a teaching assistant. All of these responsibilities are actually interrelated. Attending classes is where knowledge is gained, conducting research is where the knowledge is applied and teaching is where the knowledge is passed on. There is no difference between an undergraduate student and a graduate student, everything that we do revolves around knowledge. Besides, regardless of what we do, and what our responsibilities are, it may be achieving good grades or getting good results in research, it is all about being committed and putting in the effort.
Since I have been accepted to the biochemistry program for graduate studies, I feel that the choice that I had made to attend graduate school is the best path for me and this internship has indeed proven that. As Dr. Moini has told me, to become a successful graduate student, it is all about curiosity, initiatives and putting in effort, I feel that this internship experience has indeed guided me to that direction for facing future challenges as a graduate student. In a few weeks time, my undergraduate journey will end, but what lies ahead of me is a greater, more difficult and yet exciting journey. I believe that the experience and qualities that I had gained from this internship will help me to conquer all obstacles to become a successful graduate student.
Despite being unable to attend all the internship meetings, I was able to learn more about what kinds of things other undergraduates and their respective graduate mentors are doing, the responsibilities of various field of expertise and most importantly, the sharing of experience from this internship among the interns. I firmly believe that this internship is one of the best way of getting to know more about graduate studies because not only do I get a chance to experience it, I was also able to hear other people's experience and opinions on graduate studies, giving me the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of choosing graduate school as my next stage of life.