Leaping into lab work!

I started to get interested in research as a junior in high school, when I began studying harder biology courses where my teacher would often discuss what’s unknown in the field. Eventually, I realized that there is a whole world of information available to read from research articles. I was fascinated by how beautifully all the topics I learned in school came together to solve larger unknowns in science. I worked on one major project as a high schooler one on the effects of antioxidants on oxidative stress in bacteria and its correlation to neurodegenerative disorders. I also submitted a project prospectus to Genes in Space about investigating the activity of YAP gene in astronauts after they return to earth. Even though these projects weren’t of the best quality, they still taught me so much about the field and more importantly, how to research! I enjoyed working on these two projects a lot and that it convinced me to become a neuroscientist.

My research journey at Pitt with Dr. Ed Dixon commenced when I spoke to him at a research fair as a freshman. I heard what his lab works on and thought that his research contributions to the traumatic brain injury field was impeccable. I then went home and di a little more research to see what exactly his lab was working on, and if it possibly something I see myself doing for three more years at Pitt. Dr. Dixon pioneered the controlled cortical impact injury – a widely used injury model. After the interview, I got onboarded on to the team and was mainly reading more on research in traumatic brain injury and conducting behavioral tests on rats and mice. As a senior, I have been working more in the wet lab setting on analyzing brain tissue and serum samples pre- and post- injury. I am doing a Bachelor of Philosophy degree and my thesis topic in Evaluating BACE-1 as a biomarker for experimental TBI.

I think the best ways to meet PI (head of the lab) is at research fairs, or you could talk to upperclassmen about the research they are doing. If none of those are opportunities available to you, it’s always a good idea to look up your specific department (like neuroscience, biology, etc.) and see if there’s a list of all faculty working there. I would then look them up on PubMed and see their most recent work. If that sounds like something you are interested in, go ahead and send them an email! You may not hear back from some people and that’s okay, it’s probably because they are too busy at the moment. Consequently, it means that you should be emailing many PIs when looking for a lab. This is beneficial inn two ways – more chance of you hearing back from someone, and also if you interview at many places, you are more likely to find a lab that suits you. As I mentioned above, I want to be a neuroscientist. I enjoy working (a lot of troubleshooting) in the lab and it’s the way I learn the best. Ever since I was a kid, I was fascinated by science, and I always wanted to learn how things work and why things exist as they do. These questions are usually always answered by teachers and professors by “There was an experiment that proved…”. That is one of the reasons I want to be a scientist. I am so blessed to be mentored by amazing people in my lab and I strive to be that person for many others. This is why my next step is to go to graduate school to get my PhD in Neuroscience. Another passion of mine is teaching. I have been an undergraduate teaching assistant for many classes and have enjoyed teaching science to others. I would love to have a career in academia where I get to teach students as well as run my lab as a principal investigator.

Here’s a photo of my western blot running 🙂

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