Day 32: Part 1 Reflections

Hi all!

The first part of my study abroad program is officially over. All I can say is wow. What an amazing four weeks. One month usually goes by pretty slow for me whenever I’m back home, but for some reason it went by so much faster over here. I’m going to use this post as a general reflection, so yeah this might be long.

I kind of regret not getting pictures with everyone prior to this (I forgot that many of the students either had class or usually don’t show up on friday… whoops!), but I’ve talked or grabbed lunch/dinner with a majority of them at some point, so that’s all good!

A big reason as to why I picked this particular study abroad program is because of this research lab. I know that I have to go to graduate school. But before, I had no idea if I can even see myself working on research. How in the world do people know what they want to research?! Especially since research topics are so specific! But being able to see how a lab works for graduate school is too good of an opportunity to pass up. I wanted to join Dr. Cheng’s lab because as mentioned before, his research has a big component relating to food microbiology. And since I took FSHN 312 and 471 last semester (both are food microbiology courses), I thought it would be cool to branch off from those classes and see what people can do with this material. I’ll be completely honest: I was pretty nervous on the first day.

I remember when I first met Dr. Cheng in person for the first time; he pretty much spoke 100% Mandarin. Don’t get me wrong, I was able to understand the majority of what he was saying; but knowing that I sometimes translate things incorrectly in my head, and also having limited vocabulary, I could only say things that I knew off the top of my head, which are generally basic phrases haha. Thankfully, the professor and many people in his lab are able to speak English. Not everyone can speak it 100% perfectly (I still get things mixed up in English myself even though it’s my native language LOL), but they’re clear enough that I can figure out what they’re trying to say without too many issues.

One of the PhD students was trying to explain what the lab generally does and he asked what I was interested in. I originally said wine fermentation, since that was the only thing that I was familiar with. But to be completely honest, I wasn’t really sure. I had no idea what I was even interested to begin with. The PhD student who’s working with wine fermentation walked me through his experiment/general fermentation process, and I got to see a few parts of his experiment, which was pretty cool! I think he’s making brandy right now, so that takes a few months to process.

Over the next few weeks, I got to see the other major component of this group’s research: Biotechnological applications with Lingzhi, a type of mushroom commonly found in Taiwan. Things kind of shifted around since I last wrote about this stuff, but I mostly shadowed two students throughout the remaining time that I was with the lab. One student taught me how to properly cultivate fungal samples – from agar media preparation, to sample transfer techniques. He also gave me a brief overview about how they store it as well. As for the other student, he showed me his experiment, gave a general explanation of it, and I learned how to cultivate human cells, while he applied different conditions in his experiment. It was then analyzed with a spectrophotometer, and I even calculated a standard curve at one point. However, I also got to see another PhD student’s work with melanin content at one point, and he showed me how a bioreactor works as well which is pretty rad if you ask me! Finally, I got to see and help out with another student’s experiment with rats – like seriously, how cool is that?!

Overall, I shadowed a lot of students, and everyone is working on some incredible research. They are all super friendly and down-to-earth, and it was great getting to know them – some individually, and as a group overall. I asked some of the students why they wanted to do food microbiology or biotechnology for grad school/PhD when they could have done anything else, or how they were able to determine what to research. The questions seem dumb, I know, but seriously; if I were placed in my food chemistry professor’s research lab right now for grad school, I wouldn’t even know where to begin! Some knew they wanted to work on this type of research, while others had no idea and sort of fell into it. But they do work with the professor and eventually figure out a specific topic. Overall, many of them, including the professor gave me some really good advice, and I definitely will keep it in mind as I look into graduate school programs. Honestly, I wish this study abroad program was just working in a research lab. One month is too short to be honest haha.

So a few big takeaways from this experience:

  1. Do I definitely want to pursue research for graduate school? Of course! I definitely want to look into applied food microbiology programs. If there’s a professor that also works with biotechnology as well, even better! Seriously, who knew this topic could be so useful? And as the name implies, you can literally apply food microbiology concepts to so many situations; human cells for crying out loud!!! Who knew bacteria and fungi could be this interesting, holy crap. I know it’s a lot of work, but hey, I’m willing to do it. Plus it’s more interesting than just sitting and taking classes.
  2. When I get back to UIUC, I’m going to start looking into undergrad research again. Spring 2017 was a busy semester, but I definitely want to start looking into it again (My food chemistry professor said I can come back this semester if I wanted to).
  3. Do I want to do a masters or PhD?: I’m not sure. PhD, while it would be awesome to have that kind of degree, I’m not sure if I’m ready for the whole dissertation/defending your thesis kind of thing. I’ll think about it, but otherwise I’m sticking to a masters degree.
  4. I love this lab group, oh my god. Seriously: (I hope they don’t mind me putting this up LOL. #snapchatstories)

So yeah! I can definitely now understand why National Taiwan University is considered to be the best school in Taiwan, and it’s been so much fun over here! To be completely honest, I’m even tempted to apply to NTU for grad school. I’m not sure if I even have the proper credentials (*coughs* me with my mandarin communication abilities *coughs*), but eh, I’m still thinking about it!

To Dr. Cheng and to everyone in his lab: thank you so much for everything! If I don’t see you on campus before I head back home, I’ll definitely miss all of you! Good luck with all of your future endeavors, and please keep in touch! Or come visit Illinois. That works too hahaha!

All the best,

Cassie

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