My fascination for research began when I was very young, about five years old or so. Watching young kids science shows, such as Bill Nye and the magic school bus gave me an initial passion that science was cool and conducting experiments would be something that would make a great career. Upon entering college I majored in Biological Sciences and Chemistry, knowing that I would like to have a career that involved scientific research. Having many interests and passions made it difficult for me to nail down what exactly I wanted to do post college in terms of my career. In order to get some research experience I volunteered in the lab of Dr. Michael Meredith during my sophomore year. During this time, in addition to learning basic lab etiquette and technique, I also got to assist the graduate students in their dissertation work, “studying the neural mechanisms that mediate pheromone chemosensation in the vomeronasal organ in the Syrian hamster”. This lab experience was very rewarding to me. I did feel however, I wanted to make a further leap into research, given me being a novice up until then and my class load made it difficult to spend a lot of time in the lab.
During the first semester of my junior year I took a class with Dr. Kimberly Hughes titled “Biology of aging”. The class consisted of dissecting peer reviewed literature, scientific op-ed pieces and interviews, as well as speakers whose research tried to uncover what is biological aging and how can its deleterious side effects be mitigated. This was the first class in which I felt totally immersed in science (as opposed to a lecture test taking style of class) and I instantly fell in love. Up until now I was encouraged by faculty members to seek out undergraduate research opportunities to see if actually doing the science may be something that I would stick with given that learning about science and actually doing it are totally different experiences. On a Tuesday sometime near the beginning of this semester, I scheduled a meeting with my Brains and Behavior professor Dr. Orenda Johnson to discuss working in a laboratory. Dr. Johnson did not have a lab herself (she was a lecturer) however, she had many contacts between labs in Biology, Psychology, and Medicine as well as being a good person to seek out advice from. My intent was to give her the list of principle investigators I was considering working with and to receive some advice on what to get out of an undergraduate research position. A bit of serendipity was present this day as Dr. Johnson had just finished a meeting with Dr. Karen Berkley, a professor in Neuroscience and psychology, just before I arrived. Dr. Berkley was discussing how her previous lab manager was moving away in a month and had no replacement. Dr. Johnson relayed this information to me and suggested that I should meet with Dr. Berkley and that this could be a great opportunity. After reading up on Dr. Berkley’s research we both agreed that I would be a good fit to take over as the group’s lab manager. In addition to assisting with the research and experimental design, I also was responsible for the business side of the lab. This included ordering supplies, balancing the lab budget, and setting up group meetings and travel plans. This experience gave me an understanding on many of the intricacies involved in the research lab, and skills that would be very beneficial to graduate school. On the research side, the graduate student and I explored chronic pelvic pain in a rat model of endometriosis.
I am now currently a Ph.D. candidate in Neuroscience at the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University. Working in the lab of Dr. Kyle Frantz, I have spent the first few years of my studies identifying the neural mechanism behind age-related cocaine relapse. Specifically, I have attempted to discover whether certain stimuli can be used to attenuate cocaine relapse. For my dissertation work, I am attempting to answer the question whether the gut microbiome can influence cocaine relapse and vice-versa.