Undergraduate Research Program

Valerie Tsai

Major: Neuroscience and MCD Biology
Mentor: Sam Golden, Biological Structure

Contact: v881@uw.edu

Current research project: Visualizing and interpreting brain-wide cellular activation dynamics


Valerie is a graduating senior majoring in Neuroscience and MCD Biology interested in exploring the interdisciplinarity of science, particularly science, and how its applications can shape the way we see the world around us and ourselves. She believes research and its results, as something that has consequence to everyone, should be human-centered: researchers should focus on helping people and never forget that everything we do is for people. As such, she firmly believes that research should be accessible to everyone and has been committed to making her research and other advancements in the field of neuroscience approachable to the general public through her work as editor-in-chief of the undergraduate neuroscience journal, Grey Matters.


Translate your work so that we can all understand its importance
Much of behavioral neuroscience research has been composed of research targeted to specific brain regions that capture neural activity on a cellular level but fail to grasp brain-wide patterns of neural activity or focus on global scale activity, which comes at the cost of single-cell resolution. My project with the Golden Lab explores ways to visualize brain wide activation data on a cellular level, which would allow researchers to understand the neurological basis of behavior in a way not limited to our preconceptions and labels for brain regions, but rather through activity-based associations between parts of the brain.



When, how, and why did you get involved in undergraduate research?
Research was an avenue I knew I wanted to pursue since starting at UW because I’ve always wanted to apply class concepts in the real world and be able to learn the interdisciplinary connections made when those concepts are put in practice. Through the pursuit of research, I hope to not only expand my own knowledge, I hope to do so in a meaningful way that can contribute positively to the scientific community and the lives of others. I got involved with research the summer after my freshman year by applying to a variety of positions listed in the URP database. I was lucky enough to get an interview for a position with a lab I stayed with for three years, before I applied to another lab, the Golden Lab, which I felt had research that really and truly resonated with my passions, and I was lucky enough to get it! I juggled time between the two labs for a while, before ultimately realizing I was really putting all my energy into my work for the Golden Lab. I finished my project for the other lab, and presented on it at last year’s Undergraduate Research Symposium before parting ways to fully devote my time and energy to the Golden


What advice would you give a student who is considering getting involved in undergraduate research?
My advice to anyone considering getting involved in research is to go for it! Send those emails, talk to those professors or TAs about their research, and just keep reaching out. As long as you keep trying you will definitely find a lab or project that fits you and your interests, and oftentimes, what PIs or post-docs are looking for is that tenacity or dedication to their research– you need to show them that you’re making an effort, whether it’s by reading their published papers or showing up to an interview with questions about their current projects. Something I’ve also learned the hard way is that there will always be room for growth. When you’re first starting in a lab, you’re not going to be an expert, and you might be the person with the least knowledge in the room, but don’t let your pride hold you back from embracing that. Ask all your questions about what you don’t know or understand, and just be ready to learn and absorb as much as you can. Ultimately, research is what you make of it and what you get out of the experience, so just go in with an open and curious mind, show that passion and commitment to