CURF #2: Becoming a Researcher in the SAND Lab

My interest in research began in high school after conducting a research project. Through this project, I learned about the scientific process and was able to present my findings at a science fair. I enjoyed this experience and knew that I wanted to seek out research opportunities in college. When I began college, I realized that I was interested in the subject of neuroscience and psychology. Therefore, I was interested in finding a lab that revolves around these areas of study here at Pitt. During my freshman year, I learned that Pitt has a Center for Sleep and Circadian Science at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital. This center intrigued me because I found the topic of sleep research fascinating. So, I reached out to Dr. Soehner, my principal investigator, to express my interest in being a part of her Sleep, Affective, Neuroscience, and Development (SAND) lab as an undergraduate researcher. After I interviewed, I was offered the opportunity to join her lab.

Dr. Soehner gave me the opportunity to start my own independent project once I joined the lab and introduced me to different topics that I could potentially pursue. Investigating the correlation between light exposure during the night and its association with mood especially appealed to me, so I decided to pursue this as my independent project. For my initial project, I presented the findings at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Science 4th Annual Research day poster session and Data Blitz talk. This semester, I am working on writing a research manuscript and running analyses. Along with this, I am also running participant visits with the lab’s current studies. For example, the lab is currently hosting a sleep study that investigates how light therapy can help us adjust to jet lag.

The advice I would give to a student who would like to conduct research is to contact the department you’re interested in and search through some PI’s lab websites to see if their work interests you. Then, reach out to the PI and express your interest in joining their lab. I would also advise talking to students who are currently participating in undergraduate research and learning about the different things they are working on to familiarize yourself with the various topics and types of research that you might want to be involved in.

For my professional goals, I am interested in attending medical school. Gaining research experience will be crucial to my future career because of all the hands-on training that medical students complete, in addition to the extensive lab work. 

This is an image of an actigraphy watch that monitors movement and assesses circadian rhythms. Behind the watch is an example of an actigraphy record.

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