A Look at Non-Traditional Research

by Anjlie Gupta

Many pre-health students choose to get involved in research directly related to biology or medicine, with the belief that such research will best prepare them for medical school. In contrast, non-traditional research has appealed most to pre-med juniors Steven Strozza and Harleen Marwah.

Strozza, who is a biology and international relations double major and a global health minor, has been involved in research in four different departments as an undergraduate at USC: biology, sociology, international relations, and global health. He first became involved in research in the biology department from July to December 2012.

“I pretty much did it just because I knew I was supposed to do research as a pre-med,” said Strozza. “To be honest, I really didn’t enjoy it. There were a ton of students in the lab and so I never really had an ability to do a lot in the lab. It was always really menial things, and I really wanted to be part of a project.”

Thus, as a sophomore, Strozza got involved in sociology research for three months and international relations research for eight months. In sociology, Strozza studied labor disparities between gay and straight sex workers in the pornography industry. In international relations, Strozza studied peacekeeping in countries post-violence.

“For international relations, I’m a double major. I started looking into this topic for a class, and I kind of fell in love with it,” said Strozza. “I saw that there were different pieces of the puzzle that I could bring together through my research.”

Strozza was also driven by his interest in his global health classes when he decided to pursue research in global health at the beginning of his junior year. He is studying the long-term effects of taking HIV/ AIDS antiretrovirals in older populations.

In addition, as a junior, Strozza has gotten involved in biology research once again. In contrast to his first experience with biology research, “[In] the project I’m working on now with crab morphology, it’s the P.I. and one other undergraduate. I’m really doing the project. I’m very easily going to be a coauthor on it, and it’s me.”

Marwah has similarly been involved with non-traditional research. She is researching various species of shrimp and their responses to changes in the ecosystem at the Marine Biodiversity Center at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. She began working on the project in January 2013.

Marwah, who is a health promotion and disease prevention major, said, “Most HP majors do their studies in something related to people, behavior, or health trends. I decided I wanted to do research at the museum just because it was a really cool study. I’ve loved my experience there. I’ve gotten the practical lab skills and it’s like a family down there, so that’s really cool too.

“It definitely is different research. Through this research, I’ve definitely come to understand the importance of interdisciplinary study. We have students coming in from all sorts of majors and incorporating their perspectives into the research. Having these different perspectives has helped me progress.”

In addition, “Working at the museum has afforded me the opportunities to network with some of the top researchers in the country and to hear from some great lecturers,” said Marwah. “I’ve been very lucky to have that experience. I’ve been very fortunate to hear what years of hard work can amount to. And to see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel when you’re putting in all these arduous hours.”

Strozza said, “For me, in medical school, you’re going to get so much of science and medicine. I really wanted to utilize the opportunity now to broaden my horizons. I love that, with my international relations research, global health research, and sociology research, I can talk about it with a layperson and interact with people in a different way. I became much more developed as a person and I was able to interact with a lot more people in a kind of educated and different way.”

Overall, “For me, it was kind of an academic break from the sciences,” said Strozza. “I got different exposure. I don’t think I’ll be as burnt out in medical school. I think I’ll be better able to interact with patients. I now come from a point where I’ve been exposed to more things and understand more walks of life. If I’m interacting with a sex worker, I kind of understand more about what they’re dealing with and the walk of life that they come from. If I have a patient from Kosovo, I understand what’s happening in their country and how their life and environment has changed post-conflict.”

Marwah said, “It’s made me more passionate about science. It’s made me more well-rounded. I can look at things from a different perspective.”

For pre-health students still looking to get involved in research, “Step out of your comfort zone,” said Marwah. “It doesn’t have to align perfectly with your career goals to be a valuable experience. You never know what you will learn, especially when you’re learning from a different perspective than you’re used to. Sometimes the best thing to come from your hard work isn’t what you get from it, but what you become from it.”

One Comment on “A Look at Non-Traditional Research”

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