WOW post #3: Coming to an End

Me alongside my poster at SciFest.

This summer has been one filled with a great deal of learning. Although it is not quite over, I have already gained new knowledge from my time at Boston Children’s that I would not have been able to if it weren’t for my summer research internship. My goals at the beginning of the summer included learning more about how research is conducted and participating closely in the research; I would say that I have achieved both goals. Over the course of the summer, I met with my post-doc along with other teams from our lab to discuss the project. I helped in explaining the white-matter segmentation protocol we use to new undergraduate students and provided the new lab members with data that I worked on to use as a model. Additionally, I have made some interesting discoveries regarding our data that have further expanded the scope of our project. I am so happy I have been able to participate in such a hands-on manor and am excited to continue participating in the lab throughout this upcoming year.

In addition to gaining research experience, I was further able to clarify my future career direction. I still want to go to medical school to become a physician but doing clinical research at a hospital has opened my eyes to how deeply interconnected research and medicine are. Research is vital to the progress of science and medical practice; the two are so deeply intertwined that it is impossible to have one without the other. I learned that I really enjoy thinking critically and I believe the career path I am on is truly the correct one for me as I will be able to continue using the skills I gained in this internship and in college in the future.

Although there are many accomplishments from this summer that I am proud of, one I am most proud of is my poster from SciFest. It has been a goal of mine to create a poster of my research and hang it up in the halls of Gzang since the first time I walked those halls to my introductory biology class. Although my poster was not perfect, I am very proud of myself for working as hard as I did to accomplish this goal before I graduated from Brandeis. In addition to doing my lab responsibilities, I worked on creating a scientifically correct and aesthetically pleasing poster for several weeks, receiving a bit of aid from my post-doc student as needed. At SciFest, I was happy to present the project I have been working on to other students and faculty. Most importantly, I got to speak to our university’s president, Ron Liebowitz, and his wife about my research as they asked me several questions regarding the project. Seeing how genuinely interested they were with my current and future directions further validated me in feeling proud of myself. Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better summer experience, and I am beyond grateful for everyone who has assisted me along the way.

Ron and Jessica Liebowitz listening to me explain my project.

My advice to future undergraduate researchers and WOW fellows is to never give up. I experienced several setbacks due to covid-19 and for some time I lost faith in myself. I began to accept the fact that I might not be able to complete my MS/BS as I had trouble finding a research position. However, due to my hard work and persistence in addition to support from the Brandeis University faculty, I am about to begin my senior year of college with almost 2 years of research experience under my belt. I can attest that hard work does pay off.

WOW Post #2: Mid-Summer

Infant Human Diffusion Tensor Image

It’s a little bit past mid-summer which means we WOW fellows are also close to mid-way through our internships. Being fully remote had its advantages and disadvantages, one of which was feeling like the summer has flown by. I believe that working online can be repetitive which is one of the reasons as to why it feels like time is moving extra fast. Other than this, I don’t mind working remotely. It gives me flexibility to work around my busy schedule and be able to work my other two jobs in addition to my research. However, remote research is a bit different than remote academic life. I personally did not enjoy online courses as much as in person courses because I felt like it was harder to pay attention and get work done. However, I do not feel the same about remote work. It absolutely can still be difficult to pay attention when doing my research alone in my room, but the weekly meetings I have with my post doctorate student at the end of the week motivate me to get my work done. In addition, knowing that I’m doing important and impactful work encourages me to keep up with the schedule that I make for myself.

Over this summer, I am able to strengthen many scientific skills and grow as a researcher. These skills include reasoning, critical analysis, and communication. I have been enrolled in courses at Brandeis where I had to learn these skills through reading and writing papers and creating poster presentations, but it is much more exciting when the work I am doing is related to my personal interests. Reading scientific articles about the arcuate fasciculus doesn’t appear to get old for me.

In addition to gathering the data needed for my lab’s project, I am also preparing to begin gathering data for my senior thesis. It is especially exciting in our lab right now since we are beginning to extract data from baby humans and we will finally have primate data sets to compare. We have already found some interesting observations, but these will need to be further evaluated before they can be reported. I will also be using the data I have collected so far in my SciFest poster presentation that is coming up in the first week of August.

Overall, the experience I am gaining this summer thus far is greater than I have anticipated. I knew I would be learning a great deal about how research is conducted, but I did not think I would be so closely involved in the project, let alone soon leading my own. I am looking forward to what the end of the summer brings. Make sure to look at my last blog post to compare the images of two different primates and see if you can spot any similarities or differences!

WOW post #1 – At Home Laboratory

20 Month Old Macaque DTI Brain Image

It has been a great first month of summer working remotely with the Takahashi Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital. The main focus of this lab is to explore the development of the human brain across infancy through out young adulthood and compare this development to that of other species. The specific project that I am working on with my post-doctorate student is tracking the development of a white matter track called the Arcuate Fasciculus in baby humans, macaques, and chimpanzees using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). In humans, this track is responsible for our speech abilities. Since other primates such as macaques (which are your typical monkey) and chimpanzees are unable to talk, it was believed that they do not possess this track. However, recent research has shown that these primates may actually have a homologous track to the arcuate. This is exactly why the project that I am working on is being performed in the first place – this information is so new that any finding we find will be extremely useful to the field of developmental neuroscience. Whether our data is consistent or inconsistent with the prior research findings, it is going to be valuable and publish-worthy information.

The specific role that I have in this larger project is quite fascinating, especially since I get to do a great deal of the tracking work by myself. A typical day for me includes using the software TrackVis to isolate this white matter track in baby macaque data and then clean it up using several filters so that it is easier to compare and extract numerical diffusion data from in the future. I was given a rather large data set which I have the responsibility to complete, so I am certainly busy these days. This data is going to be used in our analysis of the arcuate in macaques and then compared to data we extract from baby humans and chimpanzees in order to make a final conclusion about whether this track appears truly homologous and how it develops across species. I also have weekly lab meetings with my post-doc student where we discuss any new lab matters and anything else ranging from new scientific articles to anthropological discussions. My post-doctorate student completed a degree in anthropology before switching over to the dark side that is neuroscience, so our lab meetings often get off topic to other interesting matters. Although I am slightly upset that I am not working in person this summer, my lab is deciding on possibly meeting in person once a month for lab meeting to mix things up a bit.

Since I will be starting my senior thesis this summer, my main goal is to get most of my data sets completed so that I can begin to simultaneously do the lab work needed for my post-doctorate student as well as the lab work I need to do for my thesis. I am also very excited to be participating in the Brandeis summer poster fair and am looking forward to creating a poster detailing the research that I am participating in. I am not sure what findings we will extract from our data, but I am definitely excited to analyze it and begin making some conclusions.