Navigating Science Through My Experiences

By: Alexandra Filipkowski

Science is an act of “self expression” because it allows me to question and explore my reality. To elaborate, before I was exposed to the world of scientific research I felt that my questions that ranged from topics in health disparities to exercise to mental health could only be answered by a Google search. This being said, I could never explore the answers to my questions for myself – essentially I was never able to determine the WHY or the HOW to answer my questions. Essentially, before my exploration into science I felt I had a brick wall standing between my many scientific questions and the answers. However, with the guidance I have received from the Vanderbilt PAECER research internship and from the “Planning Your Scientific Journey” course I have started to feel like the process of scientifically answering my own questions is not unreasonable, unrealistic or impossible. Now that I have gone through the process of developing my first research question, doing ample reading and collaborating with students and content experts I believe I have finally grasped the reigns of science and now feel comfortable pursuing other research interests in my future. 

Now that I have “grasped the reigns” of scientific research I am excited to explore questions relating to cognition and exercise. Being a Division 1 collegiate athlete I train over 20+ hours a week during the fall season; however, after the season is over I go home for winter break and hardly exercise. I have realized that despite being significantly busier and my body feeling more sore during the fall season I often came to class alert, productive, excited to learn, and overall more euphoric. To the contrary, when I was home on my break I felt slow, and lazy and lacked motivation to even do simple tasks such as emptying the dishwasher. This pattern has happened for the past two years and has made me incredibly interested in the connection between cognition and exercise. In the past, I have done my typical Google searches to try to determine some answer for my sudden lack of motivation upon arriving home. I have found that in general, exercise has a stronger effect than medication on treating anxiety, depression, and other mental issues. However, I want to extend my knowledge on this connection beyond a Google Search – I want to carry out my own research experiment.

I believe from my PAECER Cardiovascular research experience I have gotten the opportunity to learn how to digest complex scientific talks and papers, how to appropriately collaborate with elite researchers and doctors and I have learned how to effectively communicate my science to different audiences. These three pillars are absolutely critical skills that I can add to my toolkit going forward; however, I believe I need to develop more technical skills at the bench in order to gain new lab techniques. As of right now I have only been in the lab for General Biology 1 and 2 and General Chemistry 1 and 2 classes. This being said, I haven’t been able to go into a lab and activate my “scientific self-expression” because I have only been doing required classwork. However, now that I have defined my research interest, I need to move forward and find professors and researchers at my university who also share these same research interests.

One final goal I have is to help implement a class or a lesson plan at my university about how to be an effective scientific communicator. Although this goal isn’t specifically “research oriented” it has become a topic I am extremely passionate about. I believe many individuals are disadued from pursuing the sciences because they are greeted with posters and presenters who speak with jargon that sounds like a second language! Additionally, around my university science buildings there are all of these beautiful posters; however, the lay audience would not be able to fathom any of it! This being said, I believe that science loses its greatness if the majority of people can’t understand it. Thus, we need to work to inform our current, and upcoming scientists on the importance of conveying their research in a comprehensible and approachable fashion. I hope to relay this importance to those in the science department at my university to see if I can make real change in this front.

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