My Neuroscience Research Journey

My research mentor for my fellowship this fall is Dr. Bill Yates, a professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at Pitt’s School of Medicine. For well over thirty years, Dr. Yates has been a major contributor to science in his research on the vestibular influences on cardiovascular regulation, neurobiology of motion sickness, multisensory integration of signals by the vestibular system, and research ethics. I initially joined Dr. Yates’s lab through the First Experiences in Research program in my freshman year. Dr. Yates then offered me an internship with the lab for the following summer, and I have been with the lab ever since. Currently, I am working in the lab under the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship through the Honors College.

Dr. Yates’s work and lab appealed to me for a wide variety of reasons. When I was initially checking out the lab, I was immediately drawn to Dr. Yates’s years of experience and his broad and impressive knowledge of human physiology. After starting in the lab, I also began to appreciate the multifaceted nature of the lab’s research process and the high number of opportunities available to undergraduates like me. I also was extraordinarily interested in neurophysiology in general, as it heavily relates to my future career goals.

In the future, as touched on in my last post, I would like to be an accomplished physiologist like Dr. Yates. I feel that the best way for me to pursue this goal is to enroll in MD/PhD school to become a medical scientist. I think I would like to focus on clinical and/or basic neuroscience research for my PhD and specialize in Neurology or Neurosurgery. Working in the research lab has been the single most helpful resource I have had in pursuit of these goals. In this experience, I have been able to apply what I have learned in my neuroscience classes to productive research, and I have also been able to talk to and get advice from Dr. Yates and the other members of the lab about everything from learning neuroscience to preparing for graduate school.

These important conversations have been especially helpful in addressing the uncertainties that come with research. Entering a new lab can be daunting, as it is tough to know what is expected of you, and it is hard to feel like you are contributing right away. My advice for anyone else who felt like I did at first is to just keep observing and learning for as long as you need, and then slowly try your best to help out wherever you can. Before you know it, you could be an important member of the lab, giving your own input and making decisions, as well as being a key contributor to the project. 

Conducting research can be a complex idea to wrap your head around, but the most difficult step can sometimes be getting started. My advice for those looking to start doing research would be to reach out to the people who are actually doing what you are interested in. Do not be afraid to send a professor or other researcher a quick email asking them about their work. People love to talk about themselves! And if they have openings in their work for you to participate, great! If not, just ask them for advice and keep looking. It is sometimes a stressful process, but it is absolutely worth it!

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