Scientific research to me means having an educated guess about where to go and then taking an often circuitous path to get there. Hypotheses don't always have to match the results, and the results don't always have to be immediately applicable to benefit mankind as long as they maintain their integrity in the face of scientific inquiry and scrutiny. My job as a graduate student scientist is to be curious and skeptical of the natural world. We do not learn unless we observe, and I believe science is the only way we can exist longer on this planet as a species.
Research has always been an integral part of my life because of my Tourette's. Since I was diagnosed, I immediately became scientifically curious and determined to gain self-understanding. I don't do research for the resume. It certainly looks nice on a CV, but I would never last long in a lab if a resume entry or a recommendation letter were all that kept me going. I do research because I have a genuine interest in many fields of science and want to learn more about the world, and ultimately about myself. Research has always had a self-discovery component to me.
Most of the reports that were written in the following sections have not been peer-reviewed and published. They simply reflect the culmination of months of work in a laboratory on fascinating projects.
Yale University In the summer of 2010, I worked at Yale University's Child Study Center under the supervision of Dr. Yuko Kataoka and Dr. Flora Vaccarino, the Principal Investigator, on a project on my own condition. I learned immunohistochemical techniques as well as a bit of stereology. My findings became incorporated into a larger study (a transcriptome analysis) that was published in 2016, and I was a co-author on the paper. You can check it out here.
UC Davis Medical Center In the summer of 2012, I was an Edmondson Research Fellow at the UC Davis Medical Center working under Dr. Josh Miller and Dr. Ralph Green, the Principal Investigator, on a project on homocysteine. I learned about one-carbon metabolism and how to use high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC). I attempted to correlate homocysteine measurements to Alzheimer's disease and dementia progression in my project.
The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research In the summer of 2015, I worked at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research under the supervision of Dr. Eric Chang. I used image analysis software to compare DTI (diffusion tensor imaging) white matter integrity to labeled fiber tracts in CLARITY whole brains. CLARITY is a relatively new technique that allows the investigator to make the mouse brain transparent, and it allows for greater resolution imaging and for molecular phenotyping of neuronal circuits. I was a co-author on the conference abstract that is linked above.
Emory University For my first rotation project, I worked under Dr. Chad Hales in the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease investigating the aggregation properties of certain candidate proteins in post-mortem cases of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). The prevalence of FTD is about 10-15 cases per 100,000 people, depending on the study, and it is a neurodegenerative disorder, meaning that neurons in the brain progressively die until the person can no longer function on their own. We took a proteomic data set of enriched insoluble proteins and conducted an extensive literature review to determine which proteins warranted further research.
For my second rotation project, I worked under Dr. Brad Pearce in the Department of Epidemiology investigating sex differences in physiological predictors of aggression. I was tasked with taking an MPH thesis and condensing it into a publishable manuscript. The thesis project looked at how changes in fear-potentiated acoustic startle, resting heart rate, and heart rate variability were correlated with self-reported aggression scores. Although the rotation is technically over, the manuscript is still being polished, so I can't show it to you right now until it gets accepted into a journal.
For my third rotation project, I worked under Dr. Jen Mulle and Dr. Joe Cubells in the Department of Human Genetics investigating the neuronal phenotype of a rare chromosomal microdeletion called the 3q29 deletion. This deletion of 22 protein-coding genes on the long arm of chromosome 3 is considered a copy number variant and confers a 40-fold increased risk for schizophrenia. Because I have committed to this comentorship for my graduate school career, I will be responsible for analyzing the RNA-sequencing data using R code. For Dr. Cubells, I will conduct literature searches and propose a hypothesis for interrogating the functions of important proteins in iPSCs from autistic individuals.