San Diego State University

Chemistry and Biochemistry

Research as an Influence

Jason Dinoso (B.S. Chemistry, SDSU)

During my freshman year, Dr. Douglas Grotjahn took me under his wing and adopted me as an undergraduate research assistant in his organic chemistry lab. Being a freshman in a research lab was a difficult task due to the lack of experience and knowledge I had at the time. I had only taken one course of organic chemistry and had not been exposed to doing research. With this in mind, I started my first research lab experience with a nauseating doubtful feeling, but soon enough that all changed. With this experience, not only did I learn valuable research techniques, but also most importantly I learned analytical thinking skills, a greater respect for science, and direction for my career.

Research is full of uncertainties and shortcomings; therefore it requires more analytical thinking than the ability to retain acquired knowledge. When faced with a contamination problem or an unforeseen side reaction, it was my ability to think analytically, not my acquired knowledge, that helped me solve the problem. My lab experience has allowed me to develop these analytical thinking skills as well as apply the book knowledge I learned through my courses. Also, with being able to think things through for myself, along came a sense of independence and confidence. In the beginning, I was lost and only knew book knowledge, nothing about application. Slowly I came off the supervision of a post-doc and began thinking on my own and independently running my own experiments. These qualities greatly helped me throughout my undergraduate study.

Before doing research, I always thought the material I learned in the classroom was irrelevant and too elementary for research purposes. However, I found the contrary to be true. Since I joined the research lab in the middle of the school year, I was taking my second semester of organic chemistry and starting my research project at the same time. My project was the synthesis of a ligand having two amide groups that would be involved in binding a zinc atom. I consulted with a post-doc in devising a protocol for the synthesis and was surprised to find that I understood what he was talking about. I was expecting to hear all kinds of scientific jargon spew out of his mouth, but instead out came knowledge straight out of my textbook. From that point on, I had a different perspective regarding my lectures and book knowledge. I took greater interest in my studies and had more respect for science.

In developing analytical thinking skills and gaining more respect for science, also came a sense of direction. I was always interested in science and medicine, but never thought about pursuing a career as a medical scientist. Coming in as a freshman, I intended to apply to medical school and practice clinical medicine. However, by participating in a hospital internship and conducting research, I learned that I could be involved in the medical field as a researcher, a career that I find more appealing.

My research experience in Dr. Grotjahn's lab has been very influential in my undergraduate study. It was the first time I was exposed to research and has deepened my understanding of science. Furthermore, research has taught me to think analytically and has brought direction to my career path.

Currently, I am in my fifth year biochemistry undergraduate at UCLA. Since my freshman lab experience, I have become involved in a coenzyme Q biochemistry lab at UCLA and a HIV-1 virology lab at Harvard Medical School. Upon graduation I plan to go back to Boston and continue working in the virology lab at Harvard Medical School for two years. During this time I will determine how I want to approach my research career, either continuing my education at medical school or graduate school.

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