Reflections on Summer Research and Future Possibilities

This post was written by Katelyn McCabe.

For the longest time, I have had an inner struggle with what I want to do with my life (I call it my “I don’t want to be an adult college crisis”). I know I want to work with small animals and go to veterinary school, but do I want to practice medicine in a clinical setting? Or do I want to get my PhD and do research? When do I want to leave to do this? Am I ready? Since I am approaching my senior year, I know all of these questions should be answered, but I still don’t know.

This summer, I took on research in the Staab lab because I need a) the experience, and b) a senior capstone project, but also because I wanted to see if I would like the research angle that I have been contemplating. I have done research in the Psychology department at McDaniel before this (I used to be a double major and then got over that dream real quick when I found out that I would have to do 2 capstones) but research for the Biology department would be (and has been) very different. I have worked in a veterinary hospital for three years and I love it, but would I like research better? I figured this might make my decision about what I want to do with my life, or give me some direction at the very least..

So far, I have loved the aspect of research. All of the scientific paper reading, while definitely not my favorite part of the job, really expands your knowledge quickly. It’s like a puzzle that you need to put together, with different researchers finding the answer to different parts of the question, and I need to fit them all together and then formulate a question from that. With the actual data collecting, I enjoy what I am researching and like answering a question that no one has thought of yet, or answering a question from a different perspective. Plus, staining is pretty fun, especially when you’re answering questions about something that seems so small, like larvae, but so significant in the world of development! While data collection can be slow and trying at times, or frustrating when you don’t get the answer that you think you’re going to get, the final AHA! moment is so rewarding! Or the feeling when you first discover something really interesting coupled with the feeling of accomplishment.

A ventral (bottom) view of a baby Molly fish.

A ventral (bottom) view of a baby Molly fish.

As I am wrapping up my experiments for the summer, I have continued to compare research with clinical practice, and I am still undecided about where I want to go. I love helping animals and seeing the appreciation from their owners when something goes well, but seeing the death of pets is exhausting. I have learned from my job that it is not all puppies and kittens, which is an amazing lesson to learn. However, I have also learned from research that it isn’t always smooth sailing, just like with clinical practice, so there are pros and cons to both practices and I haven’t decided what pros are for me yet. I am continuing research into the semester, so this will add more experience for me. Plus my first conference will definitely be telltale- I have to be able to get through public talks to do research!

I guess my overall message here is

1)   if you’re a college senior and still freaking out about your life, don’t sweat it. You aren’t alone, believe me.

2)   researching and delving into different areas that interest you may be the key to what you’re looking for.

3)   research is exhausting, but so fun and rewarding and I wouldn’t change how I spent my first seven weeks of the summer!

Thank you to my research group, the Biology department, and especially Dr. Staab for putting up with me and my craziness/obsession with my Poecilia larvae this summer. I couldn’t have done this or made decisions without everyone! Hopefully this Fall is just as fun and exciting!