PhD Student in Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology
I study the way your eye connects to your brain. Part of your eye called the retina is an extension out from your brain and is composed of 1-1.5 million retinal ganglion cells. I study one type of retinal ganglion cell, called the intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cell which can sense light independent of any other cell around them. This is incredibly novel because just a decade ago people believed only the rods and cones, these outer photoreceptors, were capable of sensing light.
I use an electrophysiology set up to look at the input and output signals that the cell is giving and receiving.
I came to Brown and it was by virtue of the advisor who won me over and the people in the lab that I really gravitated towards the lab that studied the retina. And I believe regardless of what you believe you're interested in, you grow a passion for whatever you actually study.
Before I came to Brown University I worked at Pfizer, a major pharmaceutical company, in Groton, CT.
My first objective of everyday is a cup of decaf coffee to start the day. Thereafter, anything can happen! A typical day for me varies based on what needs to be done and what experiments will answer questions pertinent at that moment. Sometimes I work alone, such as during highly specialized and skillful electrophysiology experiments, but most often, I join forces with my fellow lab mates to accomplish team goals. Your lab mates become like a second family and the relationships you build in graduate school will last a lifetime. During a usual day in the lab, I may hypothesize the next logical steps with my team members, trial run new experiments, interpret data or present my scientific findings. I find the time I spend with my lab mates to be the most fulfilling, both technically and socially. After a day of dynamic and interactive discovery, I usually unwind with yoga or a night shared with friends.
Every researcher will tell you the hardest part of their job is when an experiment or hypothesis fails. A lot of time and energy is poured into every experiment, which can sometime take days to complete. The toughest part of my job is not losing hope in my abilities or that the problem is “solvable.” Instead during these moments of doubt, I dust myself off and either try again or approach the problem from a different angle. These are the times of greatest growth. If you can manage and conquer your fear of failure, your persistency and inquisitiveness with win out. Inconclusive or “failed” experiments will make you a better scientist because even a negative result answers a question; it just may not be the one you were wanted to uncover.
What is really fascinating about research is that you get to be the first one EVER to know something novel about the world we live in. In other words, your discovery is new to humanity and you have the opportunity to share this new found knowledge with the scientific community. It is true that research can be challenging; there is always a need to reinvent yourself to keep pace with the ever-growing demand of new scientific questions. Learning something new every day not only gives me satisfaction in my abilities to grow as a person (and as a scientist) but also helps strengthen the synaptic connections of a certain portion of our brains required for learning and memory called the hippocampus. Your hippocampus is like a muscle; the more you use it, the denser and stronger it becomes. In theory, by leveraging your hippocampus more often by always learning new things, you enable yourself to learn faster and better than before. For the neuroscientist in me, this gives me great pride in my work because I know that as I add to the plethora of scientific knowledge and lay down a foundation for the scientists to follow, I am also improving upon myself.
To be a Ph.D. is to be on the front lines of discovering new scientific models, theorems, procedures and medicinal cures. If you are interested in progressing our understanding of the world or how disease works or how to save lives, consider that research influences more people than any other profession. Physicians, i.e. medical doctors, are the implementers of our science to the general public but they can only influence as many patients as their time allows. Ph.D.’s on the other hand have the opportunity to potentially affect millions of lives with new advancements in basic science, medicine, chemistry, or anything you can imagine! To be a Ph.D. can be a thankless job at times, but the satisfaction I gain from knowing I have made a novel discovery that makes a difference to humanity is proof enough for me to take this path less traveled.
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.
Martha Graham, choreographer
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