Undergraduate Research Program

Sofia Shirley

Sofia posing for cameraMajor: Biochemistry
Mentor: Michael Bruchas, Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, Pharmacology, Bioengineering

Contact: sofia98@uw.edu

Current research project: Amygdalar-Striatal Neural Circuits that Encode Action-Outcome Strategies, Ventral accumbens Shell Cholinergic Interneurons that Enhance Positive Reinforcement

Sofia is a senior at the University of Washington studying biochemistry. She became involved in neuroscience research because she wants to understand the underlying mechanisms of mental illness and addiction. Since joining the Bruchas lab, she has been involved in a few different projects studying neural circuits relating to action selection and reward, and a new inhibitory opsin. Outside of the lab, Sofia likes to spend time in nature, take care of her houseplants, and watch documentaries.


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
All of our thoughts and behaviors are controlled by neural circuits in the brain. Understanding how these circuits function will help us better understand and treat mental illness, addiction, and other brain disorders. One project I am currently working on investigates the role of neurons projecting from the amygdala, a subcortical brain region involved in emotion, to the striatum, which functions in reward and motor control. I am also investigating how opioid receptor signaling affects this circuit. My other project is studying how cholinergic interneurons in the nucleus accumbens, the reward center, respond to long range GABAergic neural projections from the ventral tegmental area, which also functions in reward and is acted upon by many addictive drugs. These projects focus on understanding and characterizing neural circuits that are relatively unknown.


When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I wanted to get a science-related job, so I began working as a laboratory technician starting my freshman year of college. I realized I really liked working in the laboratory setting, and this motivated me to want to be more involved in research projects. Towards the end of my sophomore year, I decided to seek out a position as an undergraduate researcher. I did some digging to find labs that fit my interests, sent out some emails, and landed in the Bruchas Lab.


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
Do your research on research! Joining a lab is a big commitment, and it makes a huge difference if you are studying something you actually care about. Don’t just join any lab, join a lab that makes you excited. Being passionate about your work will help you be a successful researcher. The URP database is really useful for finding labs, and if you are interested in a lab be sure to check out their website and publications to get a good idea of the work they do.