CURF #2 Research Mentors and Lab Colleagues

I chose Neuroscience as my major partly because of the role that research plays in the field. The idea of designing and carrying out novel experiments has always intrigued me, and it felt like something that I needed to experience myself to determine whether or not I truly enjoyed it. This curiosity to discover what research is really like led me to meeting Dr. Runyan. I discovered her lab while looking through the Neuroscience professors at Pitt and CNUP. My first impression of Dr. Runyan was through reading her Paper, “Distinct Timescales of Population coding across cortex”. I am still very new to the field of neuroscience; however, when I read her paper, I essentially knew nothing about the field, yet I still found the paper engaging. I had so many questions about her research, yet I wanted to learn through participation instead. In the summer of 2021, I reached out to her through email, and we set up a meeting. After discussing the general purpose of the lab, Dr. Runyan introduced me to the lab technician whose project I would be joining – Noelle Fala. Noelle is a 2020 University of Pittsburgh graduate with a degree in Neuroscience. Throughout my time getting acquainted with the lab, Noelle has been an extremely helpful mentor in addition to Dr. Runyan because of her knowledge of the field as well as her experiences as a Pitt Neuroscience major. The unique experiential knowledge that I have gained through conducting research has come directly through my interactions with Dr. Runyan and other members of the Lab.

In the past few weeks, I have been helping collect and process neural data of our behavior mice along with writing code for my analysis portion of the project. The code I have written so far is formatted to represent the accuracy (in regard to whether they complete the task correctly) of the mice in trial blocks across their entire training session. Once we gather more data, this code will be applied to analyze the behavioral influence of the stimulated release of norepinephrine on the accuracy of the mice across a session.

I would advise anyone interesting in conducting research to start reaching out to professors. Meeting with the people actually conducting the research is an essential step to getting started. It can seem difficult to begin, but if you have genuine curiosity, Professors will be excited to help you accomplish your goals. The amount of Professors conducting research initially made it daunting for me to pick which ones to contact, so in order to narrow it down, I choose a topic that I had some interest in, and then I looked for professors doing work in that area.

My current career path involves going to graduate school, and this path requires that I conduct research. Getting into research at this stage was a logical decision for me if I want to be successful following my undergraduate education; however, I have come to truly enjoy my involvement in research.

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