By Elinor Frisa
University Public Affairs
Starting this fall, all incoming undergraduates at Virginia Commonwealth University will be required to complete at least one Relevant, Experiential and Applied Learning experience before they graduate. But if you’re one of those students, before you start thinking, Ugh – not another requirement! – take a moment to consider what this will mean for you.
It means you are going to do something outside of the classroom. You’re going to do something that matters to you and it’s going to make an impact – whether on yourself, the community, the world or all three. When you sit down for your first job interview and you’re asked about your experiences and what sets you apart, you are going to have something to say.
There are many ways to meet the REAL requirement, whether it’s study abroad, a research project, an internship, volunteering, service learning … the list goes on. There are courses that have pre-approved REAL experiences baked into the curriculum, and there are plenty of other paths you can take that aren’t related to a course. The Student Opportunity Center provides a searchable database, and your adviser can help you figure out the best choice for you.
While the requirement is new, the REAL initiative has been underway for several years. Read what a biomedical engineering major had to say about how his REAL experience not only shaped him but helped him connect, create and contribute. Learn about five other students’ REAL experiences.
Name: Panth Doshi
Major: Biomedical engineering
Experience: Research fellowship
Through an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program summer fellowship, Honors College student Panth Doshi had the chance to work with Jennifer Puetzer, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering, on a research project that aimed to better understand the links between aging, health conditions like diabetes and injuries in tendons, and whether stretching routines might help reduce those injuries. Along the way, Doshi gained experience in literature review, critical analysis, statistical analysis, biochemical assays, data collection, report writing and presenting at conferences, in addition to developing technical skills.
Best part of the experience?
Learning the ins and outs of research firsthand was a fantastic opportunity. I was able to manage the project and be involved with each step, from design through conference presentations. It’s an experience not many undergrad students are able to have. Usually, they work alongside and assist graduate students, but Dr. Puetzer really encouraged me to think for myself and take control.
What do you feel is the most important thing you got out of this hands-on learning experience?
I fell in love with research. Research is difficult. You run into a lot of obstacles and things don’t always go your way, but you learn to be flexible. These skills, of resilience and adaptability, are applicable not just in research or in STEM, but in every aspect of life.
Did the experience have an impact on what you want to do after you graduate?
I knew I wanted to go to medical school and pursue a career in medicine. However, the longer I spent conducting research with Dr. Puetzer, the more research became an integral part of my career goals. I have been considering pursuing an M.D.-Ph.D. I will be starting medical school at VCU this July, and even if I don’t do a combined degree program, I hope to continue performing research throughout my life.
Did you make any connections that will last beyond the initial experience?
Absolutely! The Puetzer Lab has a fantastic culture. Each member has had a positive impact on me and I’m extremely grateful for them. We work together, but our connection doesn’t end there. We also have lots of fun together and I’m glad I can call them friends. While my time with the Puetzer Lab will end this summer, I am sure I’ll be keeping in touch with everyone for far longer.