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SORCE Final Reflection

If my original intention of participating in research was to demystify it, then I would say I
have succeeded. Throughout the course of a dense year of experiences, I have had the chance to
observe the research process from the beginning to the end. However, in retrospection I realize
that my preconception of research turned out to be simply a context for a variety of meaningful
personal experiences.
As an intern for the RYGB Mechanisms lab, my work pertained to the meat of research:
the day-to-day data collection, preparing the pigs for study, and the general housekeeping that is
typical of an undergraduate lab assistant. That was the description on paper anyway, but what it
entailed and how I had to change to meet its requirements was much more significant. On a
superficial level, there was the fact that I had never worked with animals before. I had shrugged
my shoulders during the interview for the position and told them that I would be fine, but it was
not until I had my first training session with the pigs that I questioned whether I was out of my
depth. I distinctly remember my trainer asking me if I had any pets at home, and I lied when I
told her that I had a dog (a beagle apparently). I wanted to exude confidence in this muchcoveted research position that I had won, perhaps to compensate for the sinking feeling that I
was about to fail miserably.
It became rapidly evident that I did not own a beagle.
It wasnt surprising that I had no confidence in approaching the pigs and was very
hesitant in handling them. But I did manage to amaze myself with the tenacity with which I kept
on coming back and trying harder to work with the pigs. What was truly surprising was that it
only took a week or two before I was completely comfortable working with pigs, as if Id done it
my entire life. This was great since my duties required me to get pretty close to the pigs: I had to
take their pulse by placing a stethoscope over their hearts, check for respirations (which I
discovered was easier by standing by their side so they wouldnt run around and palpating
their stomach), and taking their temperatures (a rectal temperature I might add, which required
quite a bit of intimacy). I could never have imagined that I would go from being someone who
would practically cross the street to avoid walking next to a dog on the sidewalk to someone who
became lovingly attached to a couple of pigs named Lola and Boobeh.
In fact, one aspect of this internship that I greatly appreciated was that it consistently
asked me to rise to some challenge or do something I did not feel comfortable with. Before I
could assist in the actual RYGB surgery that we were experimenting with on the pigs, I had to be
trained for it through UW Surgery. I was taken through the standard aseptic procedures how to
wash, the sterile field, etc. but then I was handed a live rat, a hair clipper, and a full set of
surgical equipment with the simple command: perform a nephrectomy. If I had felt out of my
depth working with the pigs, imagine my consternation as Im hesitantly slicing open a rat and
the training nurse asks So youre a second year medical student? My meek reply: Try second
year undergrad.
I thought that having the entrails of a rat spilled out on a table in front of me while I
desperately searched for its kidney was going to be as extreme as it got, but after the pigs
surgery was actually where my responsibilities as an intern became more intimidating. Called the
critical care period, all my previous duties of feeding, weighing, habituating, and monitoring
the pigs became even more crucial given the fact that the post-op period was where the pigs
lives and the most relevant data collection for the study hung on the line. This was also when I

began administering medicine through the catheter that had been placed in the pig during
surgery. The prospect of delivering medicine was both exciting and frightening given my desire
to be a physician, but when I learned that there was actually a series of steps that had to be
performed in a very precise order on the catheter and that if I administered the medicine too
rapidly the pig could go blind, the prospect became just frightening. This even more so
considering that I had the midnight shift when there would be no one in the entire Health
Sciences building for me to go to for help (and it only got creepier when I was in the stall with a
pig and the lights went out in the windowless room, plunging me into pitch darkness). But, as
with working with the pigs and helping out in the surgery, after thoroughly understanding my
responsibilities and simply carrying them out, I found that everything worked out just fine. Never
before had I been given such a significant amount of responsibility and been expected to carry
them out completely alone. This was ultimately the catalyst that allowed for my personal growth.
For if the consistent requirement of the internship to perform tasks I felt uncomfortable
with taught me anything, its that my discomfort arose from two fears: the fear of the unknown
and the fear of failure. I was afraid of doing things I had never established myself to be good at
before, which led into a fear of letting down the people I was working for. Having finished this
internship though, I can honestly say that Im not afraid anymore. Failure is still very much on
my mind, but it does not keep me from diving into new tasks confidently anymore. I noticed
throughout the internship that where once a new task would elicit a subdued response from me,
by the end I was gung ho about trying new things. Doubt is no longer an overwhelming presence
in my life thanks to the challenges Ive faced and met in this internship.
This is good because there were several times throughout the internship where I did
stumble and fail. There was one instance in particular where I did not completely read my
instructions for the day. Near the end of my assigned tasks, there was a note instructing me not to
take a certain pig out of its stall because it had displayed signs of violence. Overlooking this, I
took her out anyway. Thankfully neither I nor the pig were harmed, but as my intern lead
explained to me later, it didnt matter that my shift went flawlessly and the pig was completely
docile: what mattered was that through my negligence, I had put myself and the pig in a situation
where something could have happened. It was tough hearing those kinds of words, and if I had
the same level of doubt that I had before the internship, it would have crushed me. The person I
was before the internship would have felt the weight of the prestige and esteem of all the
fantastic researchers and physicians of SORCE, and translated my failure into a sign that I did
not belong there. However, I took a moment to digest my lead interns criticisms, and upon
reflection I understood that he wasnt attacking me personally. Rather, it was a chance for me to
grow and be an even better intern. From that day on, there was never a day when I did not
meticulously triple check my instructions or work that I produced, even beyond my internship.
This attention to detail was not a product of a neuroticism fueled by the fear of failure, but an
understanding of the integrity and work ethic required to be a part of such an impressive
organization.
What this internship has given me the most then is a sense of the maturity and
professionalism that is expected within the field of healthcare, and the standard to which I now
hold myself responsible in regards to all aspects of my life. The internship was instrumental in
shaping how I should carry myself both externally and internally. It instilled within me a
mindfulness of what is appropriate to say and do, and also how best that should be carried out.
Some of the most instructive moments during this internship werent in the lab, but actually at
my weekly front desk shift. It was not only humbling to perform clerical duties, but it provided

me a tangible experience of what the professional atmosphere in such organizations are like. I
had to learn to not be intimidated when the Principal Investigator of the entire organization
greeted me, to be able to display confidence and personality during conversations rather than
feeling awkward or out of place, and being able to mediate my personality with professionalism
in a way that distinguished me while maintaining propriety. More than any of the technical skills
I picked up in the lab or in the variety of other tasks I was assigned, its the sensibility that I
developed during this internship that I value the most. Although my one year commitment to
SORCE is now complete, I am confident that the lessons and experiences that have informed my
technical and personal development during the course of this internship will allow me to carry
out any and all of my future endeavors with aplomb.
Yuki Aokis Comments:
As you may see from his essay and from the fact that he has applied for the Honors Program, Taj is an
individual that will reach for the stars at any given opportunity - he has a constant drive to learn and seeks
challenges. Our lab was extremely fortunate to have Taj as a team member; not only for his hard work and
effort, but for the humor and positive energy that he would bring with him on a daily basis. He was a pleasure to
work with, as well as teach. Clearly, he has absorbed more than what was initially offered to him, and I am
highly impressed by what he was able and gain from this one-year internship, and am grateful that he has
made the best out of it. Should there be another opening for a student assistant position, without reservation, I
would love to invite Taj to come and work with me again.