The benefit to working at a Brandeis lab, or the burden depending on your personal philosophy, is literally seeing summer coming to a close. As the campus first became awash with upperclass volunteers (e.g., Orientation Leaders and the like), first-years soon followed, and all other returning students arriving over the past few days show that summer has truly ended. As sad as this is, I look back on my summer experience with a sense of completeness. A large learning goal for my summer internship at the Katz Lab was to learn what it is like to be a research scientist, and by going into work everyday, running experiments, analyzing data, researching relevant literature, and writing up exciting results, I think that I have a better handle of what is entailed in the life of a professional researcher. Additionally I had the great fortune to present our findings at the Brandeis Division of Science Poster Session
The work that was completed this summer has laid the foundation for a great number of research projects and during the year I will be performing one as my senior thesis in neuroscience. I hope to take the skills and knowledge I’ve gained over this internship and use them to aid in my future research (both in my senior year and beyond). This is not to say, however, that I am well adept at performing at a professional level, and I can’t wait to continue these projects to learn more about the scientific process of creating an experiment and seeing its completion.
To any interested students who want to see what research is like: try it! As an undergraduate it is difficult to have a sense of what the “real world” will be like in your 4 years, but luckily at Brandeis you can have a keen sense of what life is like as a researcher. There is no way that you will know unless you find a project to work on. Professors, though intimidating, are still people and a quick email or an in-person introduction may just be your way to get your foot in their door. Also, if you’re looking for outside funding, please don’t put on blinders to those sources which cater to all disciplines; if you can show how beneficial the internship is, then you are equally a strong, competitive candidate. Finally, once you have your position, show initiative and be driven to complete your project as you are going to need all of your ambition to get you through the rough patches that are omnipresent in science. If you do follow through and work hard, you will be well rewarded!
At the beginning of the summer I began work on an exciting project in the Katz lab at BrandeisUniversityon a specific aspect of taste memory. For the sake of brevity it’ll suffice to say that the project is looking at a well-founded behavior in rodents in which the animals learn that a taste is “safe” over the course of a few days (interested in knowing more? Click here!). Recently it has been suggested by data in the lab that this behavior can show itself in a faster time course if the behavior is measured using different techniques. At the beginning of summer I began collecting data to verify the claims of the past study, and had figured that this would be a quick task and that by this time I would have started on the next leg of the project. Like many things in life, however, science does not work on the timescale that you expect. We are now halfway through my internship and we are very close, just now, to being confident in the presence of this behavior. But don’t take that as a complaint; even though the timing has showed itself to be longer than expected, I am very proud to know that with the data I gathered and the additional analysis we are on the precipice of finishing and submitting my first data paper. Also, life in the lab has been incredibly enjoyable and very, very rewarding.
Whenever I’m not working with data at my desk, I am getting hands-on experience by shadowing my co-workers to learn and perfect certain techniques that will greatly assist me when it comes time to manage my own project. These techniques, it should be noted, are incredibly important to my future career plans as the skills I am currently learning are easily transferable to post-college studies and work. Additionally with certain techniques it is difficult to tell if I have actually improved, but I have noticed that I am asking for less confirmation and help as my hands and mind become steadier. It’s impossible to explain the immense amount of gratitude I feel to my labmates as they have walked me through virtually every step with a smile. Because of the experience I’ve had so far, I feel very confident and excited to proceed to the next step of my project.
It goes without saying that the atmosphere in the lab is incredibly conducive to learning; each person is willing to help one another in times of need. Recently, a post-doctoral fellow needed help finishing up the final parts of her project before she left the country. Virtually everyone in lab spent their free time helping to make sure that things were completed. As the thought of graduate school and additional research work weigh on my mind, it is a relief to know that a lab can not only exist but thrive with this sort of group mentality.
As we go into the latter half of summer, my days will likely be filled with similar activities as the first half. There are still many techniques to learn and perfect, and as the elusive behavior becomes more and more apparent there will come the next step of writing and submitting the final manuscript. Additionally, with the stronger evidence that the behavior exists, I will be presenting a poster at the Brandeis Summer Science Poster Session in early August. The technical skills I have gained and the knowledge I’ve learned about the research process are both goals that I had wanted to obtain during my internship. With these learning goals already started, there is little doubt in my mind that the next half of my internship will be just as rewarding, if not more so, than the first. – Kevin Monk ‘ 13
In the Latin American country of Ecuador, during semana santa or Holy Week, everyone eats the creamy soup, fanesca. Fanesca is an old Spanish word that literally means mixture and its significance is apparent if you try the hearty soup made of every grain in the kitchen, peanut butter, cheese, and white fish (and that doesn’t cover the small food items you add as garnishes later). At first, you might find yourself being slightly ill-at-ease by the thick consistency as the cream-based liquid coats your taste buds and the slightly fishy overtones mix with the peanutty aroma. It’s difficult to notice that there are beans and quinoa mixed in as you reluctantly finish the first bowl. The next days give rise to more fanesca and over the course of the week you find yourself enjoying the soup more and asking for seconds (maybe even thirds): congratulations! You’ve experienced the behavioral phenomenon called the attenuation of neophobia. Neophobia being, literally, a fear of the new and its decrease over the course of days has been studied as a model of learning and memory. Recently, however, research from the Katz lab at Brandeis University has shown that there is another version of this attenuation that occurs over the course of twenty to thirty minutes. This recent discovery will form the basis of my internship this summer.
The Katz lab at Brandeis University has a history of using a seemingly simple neural system (i.e. the chemical senses system) to reveal more about neural activity, systems interactions, and behavioral processes. It is a research laboratory in Waltham, MA that uses rats as a model organism for these systems. The lab is under the direction of Professor Donald Katz and has ten members ranging from post-doctorate fellows to undergraduates. As mentioned above, my internship will require that I perform a new and exciting experiment regarding the recently described behavior; the project is, in essence, to inject a chemical compound directly into the brain blocking the often-seen attenuation and determining if there is any effect on the more rapid, and less understood, attenuation. Eventually, I will be responsible for analyzing the data which will shed more light on this mysterious aspect of taste memory. This data may also serve as a foundation for future research that has clinical implications because the same circuitry has been implicated in anxiety disorders.
I have known about the Katz lab since I started my education at Brandeis with Professor Katz as my academic adviser. Sophomore year I gained a better understanding of the work done in the lab, at which time my interest grew. Starting in my junior year I worked in the lab part-time, and during this time I worked on a former post-doctorate fellow’s project that was used to describe the rapid attenuation. From this, Professor Katz and I designed the new project that forms the basis of my internship.
Though I just started on Monday, June 4th, work is already under way. My project entails many technical skills and this first week I have not only observed those techniques in action, but also tried my hand at a few. The other undergraduate researchers, post-doctorate fellows and Professor Katz, himself, are all incredibly helpful and the overall attitude in the lab is that of helpfulness and camaraderie. I remember this feeling when I first started working in the lab and am sure that it will remain throughout the summer.