Undergraduate Research, and a Significant Internship

Thanks to my summer research internship after freshman year, I was able to spend summer after sophomore year studying abroad and travelling in Europe! Here I am in Amsterdam on my 20th birthday repping Pitt RUF.

Hello hello! I’m Katrina Gazo, and as I write this in April 2020, I’m a senior at Pitt — but in a week I’ll be an alumni, which is pretty crazy to think about! Originally from Maryland, I moved to Pittsburgh just for school and have loved my time here way more than I thought I would. 

I’m graduating with a B.S. in Neuroscience (with departmental honors), a B.A. in History & Philosophy of Science, a minor in Chemistry, a certificate in Conceptual Foundations of Medicine, and the Honors College Scholar Designation. About a month after my graduation in April, I’ll begin a masters program in Physician Assistant Practice at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago, Illinois — one of the top-ranked PA programs in the nation.

While at Pitt, I’ve been involved in the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF, a Christian student ministry) and Panther Habitat for Humanity on campus. I’ve had the privilege of serving as fundraising coordinator for Habitat sophomore year, vice president of RUF junior year, and the RUF president senior year. I also volunteered at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, and for the last two years, I’ve worked in their emergency department as a technician. 

I’ve had a lot of really fantastic experiences with the honors college, as a resident in honors housing, a UHC ambassador, and a student in several honors classes over the course of my undergraduate career. While all these experiences have been integral to my academic experience, the greatest opportunity the honors college has provided me with was an internship the summer after my freshman year. 

During my freshman year, I knew I wanted to go home to Maryland for my first summer. I was particularly interested in opportunities with the NIH, so that my work that summer could be academically beneficial. Since NIH internships are nationally competitive, I was able to go to the National Scholarships advising office in the honors college for help with my resume and cover letter. The advisors were so easy to work with and incredibly helpful; I felt confident that my application was the strongest it could be.

And sure enough, I was accepted into a summer internship program, and placed in a lab at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). I can’t stress enough how wonderful of an experience this was. I got to work alongside several post-baccalaureates and PhDs in a lab that is truly on the cutting edge of addiction science research. I learned so many skills that summer, from rodent handling to intraperitoneal injections to brain slicing. In addition to assisting the other members of the lab with their projects, I had a research project of my own, where I was taught how to perform several behavioral control tests to assess the effects of a novel repurposed pharmacotherapy on alcohol use disorder. I presented this research at an NIH-wide poster day, in addition to the NIDA summer research poster day, where I won an award for outstanding poster. 

At NIDA’s summer poster day, I presented my independent project alongside around 30 other summer undergraduate interns. I was one of three to be voted as an outstanding poster presentation!

Even though I will not be pursuing research as a career, having a summer’s worth of full-time research work under my belt has significantly enhanced my academic experience. The postdoctoral fellow I worked with at NIDA continued the research on my independent project after I left, and it eventually led to a publication, of which I am a coauthor. When I returned to Pitt sophomore year, it was relatively easy for me to find a lab to join in the department of neuroscience to fulfill my research requirements for my major. Because of my experience at NIDA, I quickly became comfortable with my tasks in the Pitt lab, and was able to make enough of a meaningful contribution to be included as a coauthor on another publication.

My work at NIDA stimulated a long-lasting fascination with addiction science, enhancing my resume and giving me a valuable topic of discussion for graduate school interviews. Furthermore, it has continued to inform my perspective as I enter the clinical world, since the crisis of drug abuse impacts every area of healthcare. I truly believe I would have missed out on all these experiences if not for the help of the honors college. 

I chose Pitt because of the extensive health community, but the more time I have spent here, the more I have benefited from – and been amazed by – the quality of the Pitt education. I’m convinced there is no better place to be, whether for health sciences or philosophy or business or anything else. The honors college is the icing on the cake, a wonderful way to pursue even greater opportunities and supplement the Pitt experience. I know the impact of these experiences will last a lifetime, and I am so thankful for my time here. Hail to Pitt!

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