Breaking memories

Breakingmemories_1This is the first post in a twice-monthly series. 

Hello fellow scientists!

Have you ever wondered what the life of an undergraduate researcher is like? Well I’m here to share my perspective on what it’s like to work in a lab as a student. My name is Andrea Weckman, and I’m a fourth year neuroscience major doing a full-year research project in psychiatry.

The typical image that people envisage when they think of a lab involves test tubes, petri dishes, or rats. I spent my summer working in such a stereotypical lab — but my current research is completely different.

I stumbled upon the name of my supervisor while browsing Minerva for courses to take. I read his research blurb, which led to reading abstracts of his published papers, which led to me emailing him about the possibility of working for him during the school year. If there’s one thing I have learned during my four years as a student, and especially a student hunting for research positions, is that perseverance is key! So naturally, when my potential supervisor didn’t reply after one week, I emailed him again. And again. Until finally, a reply! My apparent desperation for this research position was based on two things: my supervisor is in the department of psychiatry, a field that I am very interested in as a potential career path, and, his research doesn’t involve test tubes or rats, it involves people! Real-life, living, breathing people! An extremely refreshing and welcome change from my previous research position analyzing histological specimens all day, every day.

I work at the lab, or from home on lab related stuff, for approximately 9 hours each week. I am working on a clinical project involving patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There are two phases to the trial, but the first phase is the one that I will focus on. It is a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, the objective of which is to test whether the drug propranolol, when given before evocation of a traumatic memory, is capable of reducing subsequent physiological trauma-related responses such as heart rate, skin conductance and EMG recordings, as well as self-reported PTSD symptoms. The trial involves one experimental group, three control groups, and an overwhelming amount of data to deal with! The hypothesis, of course, is that the experimental group will have a greater reduction of these responses and symptoms than the other groups. Since the project has been underway for two years already, my main role so far as been to sift through mountains of data to get a statistical idea of what the results will eventually look like.

The monotony of exploratory data analysis, however, is broken up with exciting data collection sessions involving real patients, that make it all worth it! The ultimate goal of this research experience, as it is with most research experiences, is the production of a coveted publishable report.

Will I make it? Stay tuned to find out!

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