Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 25

I always knew that I wanted to join a research lab as early as possible, however, I felt that with no experience, I would not be accepted for many positions that require knowledge of basic techniques. However, through the ARI program, I was able to join an unexpected stream that I had little knowledge about right after my freshman year. I felt that a wet-lab-focused research stream would suit me best as I would gain experience in elementary lab techniques and analysis needed to join larger neuro-related labs. The free-inquiry nature of DIY Diagnostics somewhat concerned me because I felt I would not figure out how to move forward or ask the right questions. I couldn’t be more wrong.

This past summer I was introduced to a project that started and ended with previous members of the laboratory. The premise of the project was to create a health diagnostic using keyboarding as an assessment of the progression of Parkinson’s disease in patients. Ultimately, it would be an inexpensive, universal replacement to the handwriting test that physicians have been using for years. There were no protocols to follow, and no set procedures I could read and repeat. Nonetheless, I loved how I had the power to pursue any question I felt was worth asking! Using a developed keylogging program called InputLog, we asked our labmates to copy a randomized paragraph multiple times to record and analyze their “typing behavior.” In other words, we wanted to distinguish an individual’s speed and accuracy from another individual’s just through their typing. We created daily and weekly surveys, which covered basic questions such as sleep and hunger and more complex questions such as positive outlook and well-being. So far, we have measured and analyzed to widely-studied variables, labelled “action time” and “pause time,” which represent the time it to press one key down and up and the time it takes to press one key down to the next key down, respectively. By logging our labmates multiple times, we have been find that individuals cluster in their own unique space when plotting pause vs. action times. Our goal would be to find different variables such as loud music or gloves to see how that affects each and every individual’s typing behavior.

However, the real goal in our minds to find a sample population of Parkinson’s patients and allow those individuals to log using the program so we can analyze their typing behavior. By comparing these results to a control group of patients who don’t have Parkinson’s, we will assess whether keyboarding becomes a telling health diagnostic. We found a sample populations of Parkinson’s patients who are enrolled in a local Austin non-profit’s exercise classes called “Power for Parkinson’s.” We feel that this project will grow into asking two different yet equally important questions: “Can we use keyboarding as a useful health diagnostic of Parkinson’s disease?” and “Can we assess the effects of exercise on Parkinson’s patients motor abilities using keyboarding and keyboarding data?”

Through the DIY stream, I’ve learned how to become and independent researcher, asking the questions myself and not being afraid of finding dead-ends. I gained coding experience in a powerful statistical language used for analysis of data, and I’ve learned about various studies in the field of “keystroke dynamics.” While I understand that this project will last for months and contain countless logging sessions with various individuals across Austin, I’m excited to see where this project leads us. Thank you to Dr. Riedel, the DIY Diagnostics stream, and ARI for allowing me to grow as a new researcher, and to allow me to research in a field I am very passionate about.

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Why YOU Should Join DIY Diangnostics Part 24

In a crazy world known as college, there are thousands of activities and organizations an incoming freshman can join. There are many paths one can take during the limited time on the University of Texas’ campus. For me, the best decision I could have made was to get involved with research before I even stepped foot on campus. By applying to Freshman Research Initiative, I was able to open doors in places that others could only dream of, including being apart of the DIY Diagnostics family.

DIY Diagnostics is not just another random stream in the lot of streams a freshman can choose from; it truly is a community all in itself. Every student in this stream gets to face hardship together and learn how to push through it, whether it be in a lab setting, computer programming setting or merely just with the stress that comes along with being at a stimulating university. Your freshman year is not made to be easy; if you aren’t put in challenging situations then you are not growing as a person or as a student. DIY Diagnostics helps create an atmosphere that throws you through loops every now and again. Research isn’t always easy and DIY Diagnostics does not sugar coat that fact, but this stream does allow you to dip your foot into the field of research and try it out.

Any stream in the Freshman Research Initiative allows you to try out this abstract term everyone calls research. What sets DIY Diagnostics apart from all of the other streams is that it has opportunities that are not warranted elsewhere. We have ground breaking research that students get to be apart of with recent medical issues, such as the ZIKA virus, along with exciting equipment like 3-D printers that students get to use their very first semester in lab. The wide variety of skills one learns within the first semester in DIY is unlike any other stream. You will learn how to make a working app using the language of coding, use technology such as LAMP or QPCR to carry out ongoing, relevant experiments, aid in your community by learning how to sample a site such as Waller, and you will gain lab experience that is valuable to future research labs if you should wish to pursue this field during your undergraduate and post graduate years.

The benefits of such a diverse field allows you to be more flexible with your fall semester when you finally get to preform your own research that you plan out. Unlike most streams, you can dabble in just about any field of study with such a well-rounded spring semester. Although you may struggle with the unknown and having to do something completely different each week in the spring, the experience will aid in your growth as a scientist as well as a future employee who doesn’t back down from the unknown. DIY Diagnostics is a family that I joined my first year at the University of Texas and although we bonded mostly by struggling, it’s a family nonetheless that I am proud to say I am apart of and helped contribute to

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Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 23

When I was looking into streams, I wanted to find something that would be beneficial to society yet still enjoyable, and DIY stood out to me as having these qualities. DIY’s goal is to create simple and inexpensive diagnostic tools for various health problems, such as concussions, viruses, and infections. Our stream also has a wide range of projects, ranging from research on ZIKA virus to dog genomes, so there is something for everyone to be interested in. Furthermore, DIY has a fun and relaxed atmosphere; there are always people laughing, talking about their most recent research ideas, and supporting each other over failed experiments. Research has always intimidated me, but my peers, mentors, and Dr. Riedel are always supportive, helpful, and there when I need them. All last semester, I was taught step by step the basics of research, learning how to experiment and report data correctly. I have learned it is okay to fail the first time, the second time, and the many, many times after that, and what to do if this happens. Overall, DIY is a great stream to learn how to research while pursuing interests and having fun.

Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 22

It all started when I went on the FRI stream tours and visits. Most of them seemed appealing. I even was planning on being in one of the easy streams until I visited DIY Diagnostics. From when they talked of helping others and developing tools to enhance diagnosing illnesses to developing web based applications I knew I was in the right place. This streamed required 6 hours and for me that seemed a lot, but I did not even have to think twice about putting DIY as my first choice because I knew that this was the stream I could spend hours in and it would seem as if merely minutes passed by. I was so excited when I got in to DIY that I immediately texted my family and friends to let them know.

The first time I met my fellow student researchers I did not know that these were the people that would become my really close friends. The first time I received my very first assignment, I was terrified. How could I, a mere freshman, simply go about the laboratory and find everything I needed for my experiment? The mentors really helped. They were not at all intimidating to talk to after you got past the first initial awkward conversation. We first started with learning the basics like sterilizing our workbench, learning about micropipetting so even if you did not have a background with any of these or simply forgot some of the steps they were a nice refresher course that helped me feel more confident around the lab and in my skills.

My favorite part of this laboratory is that it is very hands-off and we are allowed to feel and essentially be our own researchers, who can choose to collaborate with others, simply a must for coding, or work on our own. I really enjoyed the fact that I got to learn some basic coding skills and work on them because of the applications we were developing. The satisfaction from seeing that you built your own code and it works is immense. So far my favorite assignment was 3-D printing because it really feels relevant to the modern world and I do not think I would have had such easy access to learn to 3-D print had it not been for DIY. Everything done in this stream is done with the concept in mind that the information collected will lead to help through the form of a diagnostic tool from DIY. There are so many aspects to choose from and I really enjoyed the freedom of this laboratory compared to others. The variety is immense as well from working with acids and bases, to coding, to field sampling, to 3-D printing, DIY provides a variety of work options which help you discover what you like working on in the laboratory.

The majority of students taking laboratory classes always complain about the work they have to do and how much time they have to spend in the laboratory, but I think that stems from the fact that everyone is working on the same project. In DIY, one student could be working on developing an application while another is sampling Waller Creek or working with ZIKA information. For me the best decision I have taken so far for my career was to enroll in FRI and choose DIY Diagnostics and by chance getting into DIY Diagnostics. It has been a great experience so far and I hope it continues as I enter my second year in this stream.

 

Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 21

Being a part of DIY Diagnostics has definitely made my time here at UT more enjoyable. I remember being a little intimidated going through the stream sort process because I didn’t really know what to expect, but after visiting DIY at the open house, I immediately felt that I found a place where I belonged. I was still interested in some of the other streams, but none of them really compared to what you get to be a part of when you join DIY. It’s so much for than science; it’s science with a purpose.

One of the things I really appreciate is that we get to work in areas that are relevant to what’s currently going on in the world. For instance, we get to work with the Zika virus and attempt to create a diagnostic that accurately detects Zika in mosquitoes.  However; once you get passed the first semester of learning how to utilize the equipment and performing cookie-cutter experiments to gain knowledge of the lab, you essentially get to choose what you want to work on for your project.

DIY is probably one of the more laid-back labs. While they are, of course, required assignments and lab hours, Dr. Riedel gives you plenty of time to get your work done under as little stress as possible. As long as you work diligently, due dates for labs are flexible. In DIY, you gain hands-on experience with research and learn many valuable skills that you can carry on in your academic career regardless of whether you plan on continuing with research. One of the most important things that DIY will help you develop is time management skills; especially with a rigorous course load, learning how to balance that with 6 hours of lab a week may seem difficult at first, but eventually it becomes second-nature. Also, while lab notebook write-ups can be frustrating, they prepare you for future labs, such as chemistry or biology, that you have to take later on at UT.

All-in-all, being a part of the Freshman Research Initiative is a great accomplishment in itself. It’s an experience that not many people have the opportunity to be a part of. That being said, DIY is definitely the stream to join! What starts here changes the world, so why not start in the best possible stream you can?

Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 20

When I first heard about FRI, I had no idea what stream I wanted to research in. I was walking into all the info sessions with an open mind. What caught my attention first about DIY was the amount of diversity in majors: there were people who were in, engineering, biology, computer science, and even neuroscience like me. It was really refreshing to see! I chose DIY because of the excitement and curiosity everyone displayed about their own little projects and they sounded so passionate describing everything. The lab was working on diagnostics for local projects, like Waller Creek, to international ones such as Zika as well, and it was just really cool to see such a wide range of ideas.

It was definitely fun to try and explain to my friends and family what exactly I was doing in the lab because it can’t really be summarized in a sentence. One week we would be taking samples from Waller Creek to test, while the next we’d be doing a sort of PCR test, and then the week after it’d be 3D printing! Seeing everyone’s eyes go wide as I was recapping my semester was pretty funny to say the least.

Even though I have had about a year’s worth of lab experience, I still sometimes catch myself if I refer to myself as a scientist or a researcher. When you think of scientists, you think of old people in lab coats, rubbing your chin speculatively, and doing long tedious cycles of centrifuging. And even though scientists do all above the above quite a lot, we also do a lot of collaborative work, collecting samples from questionable places, and even wanting to pull your hair out in frustration because you forgot one semicolon at the end of a long line of code. So in a long story short kind of way, I do consider myself a scientist and a researcher because at this point it would kind of be silly not to.

One memory I will always remember (partly because it was recorded on a news channel and will probably remain on the catacombs of the internet forever and also because it was super embarrassing) is me holding a pipette in a not-so-correct manner. Fortunately I was in the background of said video for a split second so its fine now, but I wanted to hide forever when I saw that clip for the first time. It had been the first week of lab and we were all learning how to pipette correctly and I held the pipette in an almost horizontal way, which would have been disastrous if a chemical had been in the pipette tip at the time. A news reporter was also in the lab at the same time just asking questions about DIY and diagnostics in general. A positive outcome from that scarring experience is that I always hold my pipette up the right way regardless of the situation. The proper pipetting procedure has been ingrained into my brain

All in all I am really glad I chose this stream to be my FRI stream because I learned a ton of skills in only a semester, and have gotten to know some really cool people! The experiments and projects we do are also a lot of fun and it is ok to make mistakes on assignments! How else does one learn if failure isn’t in the books every once in a while? I would undoubtedly choose this stream again because it’s just a really nice environment that fosters growth and teamwork without being too slack.

Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 19

I joined the DIY Diagnostics stream because I am a pre-med student and it sounded really interesting to be able to do research and make my own diagnostic tool.  I felt that being a part of this stream and learning how to apply research to diagnostic testing was something I could use later on in my career as a physician.  I’m really excited about different possibilities of improving testing on different diseases.  There’s been a lot of hype surrounding possibly getting a diagnostic for Zika virus, so that is definitely something I would be excited to see one of my classmates work on.

Sometimes explaining what FRI is to people who don’t really understand it can be a challenge.  The most typical question that is asked is, “How are you conducting research now, you’re only a freshmen?” I always just say that FRI stands for the Freshmen Research Initiative and so the whole point of the program is to introduce aspiring scientists to the world of research early on in order to ensure that research is a career that they would like to pursue after college.

Being a part of FRI has really helped me here at UT.  I’ve learned so much about working in a lab and conducting my own experiments and following protocol.  This experience is something that no other UT student gets to have, also another perk is that when sitting in a Gen. Chem. lecture and the professor mentions PCR you’ll not only know what that stands for, but you will know exactly how it works and have run a PCR before going to that class.  As a part of FRI there is so much hands on experience and it’s a really unique environment to learn in.

One interesting thing that is typical of the DIY stream is that as a part of the course we learn to code apps.  I found this experience really enlightening.  I found out that I really don’t like coding, however I am glad that I had this experience because at times it was fun to be able to make my own app and build it from scratch.  While coding can be frustrating it is definitely a skill that could come in handy some day and at the very least it was never boring.

Another cool perk, this year since Zika virus has been such a big deal in the news and DIY was working on a diagnostic for it, I actually got to be featured on the nightly news for working on my lab project for the week.  The great thing about this stream and FRI in general is that you have the chance to preform ground breaking research and sometimes you will get recognized for your work in cool ways (like being featured on the news).  And if for some reason working on a Zika diagnostic sounds unappealing then there is always the opportunity to work on your own research project in the Fall Semester, and you can work on whatever interests you and it can be something completely different than what your classmates are working on.  The great thing is that while your research ideas may be vastly different, the same basic skills needed to conduct that research are the same, and that is something you can learn in FRI.

Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 18

 

            I chose DYI because it was the only lab that I felt had the potential to make an impact in our world today. Our lab conducts research that aims to develop practical diagnostic tools for our world today. It isn’t a lab where you spend years studying something before any real progress is made or all you do is work with plants for the entire duration of the lab. The practical applications of our research is what really drew me in.

 

            The Zika diagnostic tool is still very interesting and relevant in our world today. The diagnostic tool that really interests me however is the Parkinson’s disease/Mental Health project. As a neuroscience major, this project is very intriguing to me and I am really excited to begin working on it. As an individual who has ALS running in his family, any opportunity to study and research ways to assist those with debilitating neurological disorders fascinates me and draws me in.

 

            I tell them that I am getting to do real research as a freshman that could actually have an impact. It isn’t chem lab, bio lab, or any other basic lab one takes for a course requirement where the procedures are laid out and the results are already determined. I am getting to work on things that are relevant to the world today and answer questions that are still left unanswered.

 

            At this point in my life, I do not consider myself a researcher or scientist. I still don’t know enough and I haven’t produced any meaningful results. That being said, I do feel that DIY has put me on a path that would allow me to become a scientist or researcher. This lab has taught me many valuable skills that are key to working on research. I’ve also gotten to experience a bit of what working in a research lab feels like. While I may not be a scientist or researcher yet, I am well on my way.

 

Being in DIY specifically has helped me a lot with my time management. Having to schedule on spend 6 hours in lab on your own time requires a lot of commitment and planning on an individual’s part. Because of DIY I now keep a pretty updated calendar which has drastically helped with my planning. I also really learn how to take advantage of the time that you have. There are not a lot of hours in the day but DIY shows you how to make the most out of those hours. An hour doesn’t seem like a lot but you can get a lot done in that hour if you put in the time and work efficiently. Say you are waiting for something to finish incubating in the lab. You could just sit there or you could work on other things or projects that need to get done while you wait. I wouldn’t be as good at these skills if not for DIY.

 

            Programming was really stressful for me. It was a whole new experience for me because I had never coded before this lab. Each assignment was a struggle for me. I didn’t know where to start and it often took me days to finish the assignments while some people could finish them in a few hours. That being said, it felt really good for me when I finally got the assignment worked. The things we did were really simple but it made me feel pretty excited when I could get it to work.

 

            I didn’t really understand the nanophotometer and the Qubit the first few times we used them. They would constantly mess up for me and wouldn’t give me the results that others were getting. Around the third assignment in which we used these devices however, I finally got good results. I didn’t necesarrily discover that I was making some super huge error that was ruining my results. Rather I found at that I had probably made a bunch of little mistakes along the way that added up to one big failure. By the 3rd time however I think that I had gotten good enough at the procedure that the errors were eliminated and I got good results because of this.

 

            I really enjoyed talking with the mentors and my peers. The mentors are all really cool and just getting to have casual conversation with them was a lot of fun. They were all really approachable and would often help answer questions regarding future classes we were planning on taking which was also nice. I also met a lot of cool people that I would consider my friends through this stream that I don’t think I would of met without DIY.

 

            Specifically, in our stream, I know for a fact that we work a lot more than other streams. I don’t mind this however because when I tell people about what we do in DIY, almost all of them respond with, “that’s really cool,” or my personal favorite,” that’s way cooler than my stream.” I feel that I had a very good experience. I know a lot of people that didn’t really enjoy FRI but when you talk to people from our stream, almost all of them enjoyed it.

Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 17

Are you interested in the Freshman Research Initiative? If so, I highly suggest joining the Do It Yourself stream! Whether you have a yearning passion for scientific research or are trying it out for the first time, DIY is a fun stream that allows you to learn about different methods of research from hands on experiments to even coding an app! The reason I chose DIY was because of what I heard about it from past students. I heard that it was a very fun lab and that the people who got out of stream left simply because research was not something they were interested in pursuing. I am mostly excited about the diagnosing with LAMP. LAMP is a tool that is used to amplify certain DNA strands and diagnose, for example, a creek positive with a certain bacterium.

If I were to explain what I do to someone who hasn’t heard of FRI I’d say that I am doing an abundance of scientific research that ranges from identify pathogens, bacteria, feces, etc. in everyday life to creating apps that can help keep track of diet and exercise. One of my favorite labs I’ve done was a field assignment at Waller Creek. We were advised to go to the creek in groups to collect a water sample. We gathered the water sample and went back to the lab to analyze the DNA that contaminated the creek. The entire lab allowed me to interact with new people and make some new friends. Because of assignments like this, I do consider myself a scientist/researcher. We have to follow the scientific method and write down all of our work in a lab notebook just like any famous scientists you may have heard of. Also, in the assignment I just described and all the others I’ve done in DIY, all my results are completely new to the scientific community which in time could possibly contribute to a major scientific discovery in the future.

Believe it or not, a lot of the research I’ve done has coincided with the classes I was taking. I remember I was learning about pH in my chemistry class and I wasn’t really understanding the whole concept. It turned out that our lab assignment that same week involved us understanding the concept of measuring pH and how to alter a substance’s pH value. I’m more of a hands on learner so after completing this lab assignment I felt a lot more confident in my chemistry class.

It turns out a big “aha!” moment I had was when coding for mobile apps. The assignment was to add a picture to your mobile app and I was spending more time than I should have trying to figure it out. I was looking up different websites on how to add a picture with the right dimensions. It took a while but when I finally figured out I felt so accomplished! I literally exclaimed “Aha!” in my dorm at 11pm. Designing apps isn’t my forte but completing the app assignments is very satisfying!

The funniest thing that has happened to me in this stream was during the Waller Creek assignment. There is a small, muddy hill where Waller Creek is located and I just so happened to wear shoes with virtually no grip to them on the day my group went to get our samples. Walking down the hill I told myself “I’m fine. Just watch your step and you’ll be okay!”. We finally got down the hill and I was still in one piece. We retrieved our samples, which was really fun, and headed back up the hill to the lab. I was carrying a small ice chest with the samples. I know I wouldn’t have slipped if I wasn’t carrying the kind of heavy ice chest. I was almost up the hill when I felt my foot lose its grip. My initial reaction was “So this is how it ends”. It wasn’t that bad of a fall but I gave another person in my group the ice chest and walked back to the lab half embarrassed half laughing. All in all it was a fun experience and helped me connect with the people around which I think is something different about DIY than other research streams. I have a friend who is in another FRI stream. She likes it at her stream but she told me that its more individual work than collaboration. Collaboration is very important in labs for various reasons such as questions, conserving materials, and making new friends!

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Collecting samples from Waller Creek

Why YOU Should Join DIY Diagnostics Part 16

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a doctor. DIY Diagnostics initially appealed to me, because of its direct relation to healthcare. Creating tools for both physicians and non-physicians to use at their fingertips will streamline our approach to healthcare by providing more timely assistance. To me, FRI is an opportunity for even the most inexperienced students to find a place in a research environment, may it be a wet lab or a computer lab. Being in a research community has complemented my experience at UT by allowing me to share a workspace with students who have similar interests to mine, as well as encouraging me to manage my time between schoolwork and lab. My favorite experience in DIY so far was during my summer fellowship, when I finished my last round of ZIKA PCR for the summer, and I saw all my data come together in a plot. Seeing everything I had spent hours on put together in a clean graph felt like placing a cherry on top of a “freakshake”.