Finding My Passion for Research

Allyson Owens, Biology Major

Ally OwensAs a biology major, I am required to complete at least two credits of research or be involved in a special project. I decided to participate in research, and I am so glad that I made that decision.

I started looking for research early on, and after a while, I was introduced to and met with Dr. Queyen Aoh, assistant professor of biology at Gannon.

Dr. Aoh primarily teaches classes such as molecular cell biology lecture and lab, neurodegeneration, and genetics lecture and lab. She is heavily involved in undergraduate research. This semester, she won the undergraduate research award at Gannon’s faculty awards night. Although I’ve never taken a class she’s taught, she was kind enough to allow me to work on one of her many research projects.

The project I was assigned to primarily deals with the molecular level of cell membrane traffic and transmembrane proteins, with the official title of the project being, "The Role of Ent Proteins in Nitrogen Regulated Growth of Saccharomyces cerevisiae.”

I was able to gain lab experience first as a volunteer, where I learned how to use the equipment, what it was used for and absorbed information on the topic. I was paired with a senior research student, Olivia Haile, who had been assigned to the project her freshman year and acted as a peer mentor to me. We carried out experiments together, and she taught me what research is like in the perspective of a student.

Even as a volunteer, I was able to present the project at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle alongside other students. Learning how to present the project taught me how to be prepared for questions and allowed me to understand the purpose behind the procedures of each experiment we carried out that semester.

During the second semester of my sophomore year, I began conducting directed research for credit, which is designed for students who are doing so for the first time and need more faculty guidance. Again, Dr. Aoh worked with my schedule to ensure that I had enough time to carry out each experiment. I was given instructions and shown what to do each day, and then was periodically checked on by my professor. I was very nervous at first when she would leave me to conduct experiments on my own, but eventually I learned how to trust myself and be incredibly meticulous in every aspect of the experiment to get the desired results.

I had the opportunity to present this project at two conventions, the first being the Pennsylvania Academy of Science at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and the second being Sigma Xi at Penn State Behrend. Each consisted of poster presentations, during which research posters were on display while judges, professors, parents, students, etc. walk around and ask presenters about their projects.

When it was my turn to present, I was very nervous at first, but as I continued the presentation I became much more comfortable presenting. I talked to others who worked with similar equipment and organisms as I did, and also to people who had no idea about my project, which gave me practice in explaining it to them.

An important experience I gained through my research was practice with grant writing. As part of the research process, I had to write a grant requesting funds for the project. This was a very tedious process, but I learned even more about the project and the future of it through this experience. Dr. Aoh made suggestions to my proposal as I wrote it, which taught me a lot and ultimately helped me in being awarded the grant.

Ally Owens at Celebrate Gannon

The more I’ve learned about this project the more I’ve fallen in love with it. I feel that I now have a good foundation for my future classes and have gained a real passion. Dr. Aoh, has been wonderfully patient in teaching me and has taught me a great deal of information.

I never thought that I would be so lucky to conduct research as a sophomore. At other universities, students attending conventions or completing projects are typically upperclassmen. However, at Gannon University research is available for students to experience early in their academic career so we can learn and develop projects, and even become peer mentors.

Research has taught me various skills, including professionalism, grant writing, presentation skills, how to conduct myself under pressure and other skills in the lab. I love being able to tell my friends and family about my research. I have found that it is a real passion of mine that I’d like to pursue in my undergraduate studies. 

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