Major:Intended Neuroscience & Psychology
Mentor:Chris Tschumi PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Mi-Seon Kong PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Current research project: Nucleus Accumbens Neuronal Activity During Social Behavior
I am a rising junior in the Interdisciplinary Honors Program intending to double major in neuroscience and psychology. My work in the Zweifel Lab focuses on the mesolimbic reward pathway and its implications with social behavior. My current project is to determine nucleus accumbens (NAc) neuronal activity during social behavior which may lead to treatments for neurological diseases and psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, and depression. Outside of research, I play ice hockey for the club team at UW and am a staff coach at First Tee.
Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Strong social networks are associated with positive outcomes while deficits in social behavior are often hallmark symptoms of a range of neurological diseases and psychiatric disorders. In order to develop treatments for these disorders, which are caused by alterations in brain function, we need a better understanding of how the brain encodes social behavior. While social behavior is complex and recruits many brain regions, brain regions of the mesolimbic reward pathway have been well studied in the context of the rewarding effects of social behavior. Specifically, the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Previous studies have established that this VTA-NAc dopamine connection is important for the maintenance of social behavior across a range of species. The goal of my project is to determine if the NAc encodes social behavior in order to develop a greater understanding of the underlying neural circuits of social interaction.
When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I got involved with research the summer after my freshman year. I participated in the UW STAR Teach Lab and was able to join the Zweifel Lab immediately after the summer internship ended. I had seen a posting on the URP database and reached out and eventually got in contact with one of my mentors, Chris Tschumi PhD. Research was something I had always heard about, especially since I am on the pre-MD/PhD track, and knew that I should try to get involved with it early on. One of the first questions I had to ask myself was whether I enjoyed conducting research because the path I intend to take is 8 years. That internship with the UW STAR Program, as well as my continued involvement with the Zweifel Lab, both under Chris Tschumi PhD and Mi-Seon Kong PhD, have only increased my passion and drive to do research in neuroscience.
What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
No matter what experiences you may or may not have, having a master resume/CV/cover letter will greatly increase your chances of landing a research position. Many people watch the URP database and listserves, and having a resume you can send the moment you see a posting you want to inquire with can give you the advantage. Additionally, when you get to the stage of corresponding with your possible mentor, ask if you can speak to undergraduates in the lab, they can give you invaluable information that postdocs/PIs may not be able to.