CCD: Tell us about your experience. What were your responsibilities?
JM: As an undergraduate research assistant in the Walsh Lab, I was paired with a graduate student in order to help them with their various projects. Due to COVID19 my internship ended up being remote, but luckily much of my work ended up being conducive to online learning, and I was given two primary responsibilities for the summer. One was to help compile a database for the lab’s polymicrogyria cohort, and the other was to begin to learn how to perform image analysis on stained slices of cortex and convert the data into figures. The polymicrogyria cohort work, while interesting, was admittedly tedious at times. I became familiar with the lab’s genetic databases, and was able to synthesize and transfer information on over 284 families into an excel spreadsheet. The ultimate goal of my work was to compile information which was spread across multiple databases into one place, so that my mentor could begin to work on a cohort analysis paper.
My second responsibility for the summer involved image analysis and counting migrating interneurons. This took quite a while, as I had to become familiar with programs that I had never used before. I also further built upon my basic understanding of the MATLAB programming language in order to generate figures from the date I collected.
CCD: How did you get the opportunity? What resources at BU or elsewhere did you use?
JM: While at my internship, I found much of my basic foundational neuroscience knowledge to be essential, as I was often expected to know “common knowledge” things, such as the various parts of the brain and their respective functions. The time I spent reading research papers for class was also useful, as I had to read many review articles in order to gain a better understanding of the systems I was working with.
CCD: What was the best thing about the experience? What was the worst?
JM: Both image analysis and figure creation are highly important skills to have while working in a neuroscience lab, and I found it enjoyable to play around with and figure out how to use the various imaging programs. As a neuroscience major who is considering pursuing a career in research, the ability to work with a lab this semester was invaluable. It gave me insight into what it is like to conduct research and also the general environment that comes with working in a lab.
The one issue I had, as far as the learning objectives went, was developing the expertise needed to work in a lab. As my internship ended up being online, I, unfortunately, did not get the chance to learn any new experimental skills. While I did learn about the processes and rationale behind conceiving new experiments, as well as some image analysis skills, I still feel that I am lacking when it comes to actual experimentation. This is something that I know can only come with time, and actually being in a lab environment. Looking back on my internship experience, if there was one thing I could change it would be to be more confident in my abilities. Throughout the summer I found myself second-guessing many of the things I did or feeling that my work was inadequate. This was often not the case, and I feel that it is important for me to learn to trust in my abilities.
CCD: What was the most rewarding part of your experience?
JM: At the end of the day, the most rewarding part of my internship was speaking with everyone and learning first hand about what it is like to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Although it was a little intimidating to be around Ph.D. and medical students, they were all very welcoming and friendly. In addition, my mentor often spoke of helpful things to think about and focus on when applying, and spoke very candidly about what it is like to get a Ph.D. and work in a lab.