Neurobiology (Kinesiology Pre-Grad Intern) Senior Apurva Sarathy
I am a graduating senior and will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Neurobiology. Neuroscience, specifically Developmental Neurobiology has always been of tremendous interest to me. However, the pre-graduate school internship has shown me exactly the direction I need to take to pursue my interests. I took a class called Experimental Physiology (BIO 371L) with Dr. Silverthorn in fall 2007 and my teaching assistant for the course Jacqui Crissey informed me of the pre- graduate school internship. She said that she would like to be my mentor if I was interested in enrolling for the internship. I was a little apprehensive at first because she is a graduate student in the Kinesiology department and her dissertation deals with muscle anatomy and physiology whereas my interests lie in the nervous system and its role in development. However, Jacqui told me that Matthew Tierney, a graduate student and her colleague in the same lab was working on a project that dealt with reinnervation of denervated skeletal muscle with the help of Schwann cells. Schwann cells are a part of the Peripheral nervous system and are believed to release a growth factor namely Neuregulin. Matt's goal was to determine the ability of neuregulins to stimulate the formation of nervous tissue via process extension, soma migration, and proliferation of Schwann cells. The project immediately grabbed my attention. After speaking with Dr. Farrar who is the Principal Investigator under whose guidance the lab operates, I was set to start work early in the semester. Shadowing Matt has been a very informative and enriching experience. He is an extremely intelligent, dedicated and hard working individual and with his rigorous schedule has managed to take time off to help me develop skills that will benefit me in graduate school.
My assignment was to master the functioning of the cryostat which is a muscle tissue sectioning machine and also practice immunostaining muscle sections so as to obtain great visual images in the future. To achieve the above goals, I practiced obtaining smooth, intact muscle sections with the help of the cryostat and also learned the function of the various stains used to stains different parts of muscle cells. In order to visualize the stained muscle, I was also introduced to fluorescent microscopy. This I believe is an absolutely essential skill required for image collection and visualization as all the pretty pictures that one sees in scientific papers and articles come from these advanced pieces of technology. The Leica Application software manual was something that I had to read carefully through to understand how to beautify an acquired image. Some of the stains I worked with include DAPI, desmin, hematoxylin and eosin.
I am preparing to improve the quality of muscle sections as I will be working at Dr. Farrar's lab over the next year and will be helping Matt acquire data for his Master's thesis which he will submit in December. This project is in the stage of data collection. Initially, we had faced some problems with trying to get one of the stains namely desmin to stain the muscle tissue. However, we have figured out where the problem lies and hope to get some good images by May 15th. These images will also be used by Ed Meritt another graduate student in the same lab for his research. As a budding researcher, I have learned a great deal about the intricacies of the life of a graduate student. Also, I am more prepared now than I was at the beginning of the internship to deal with the frustration of experiments not working. From my experience working in Dr. Farrar's lab I have learned that research is slow and solid.
This experience has shown me exactly the projects I would like to be involved in for my dissertation as a graduate student. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be working in Dr. Farrar's lab next year. I will have the chance to learn several things and develop several skills to assist me in graduate school. Also, talking with the graduate students at one of the pre-graduate school internship meetings has helped me prepare in advance for the application process in fall 2008. I plan to attend graduate school in fall 2009. I am excited as I would like to continue work with the Peripheral Nervous system. Glial cells so it seems are the new neurons and possibly play a huge role in the regeneration of the nervous system. The prospect of finding a project related to my interests excites me greatly.
As far as investigating the life of a graduate student is concerned, the experience has been very informative. I have attended the weekly lab meetings which help integrate the lab and keep everyone informed of the work undertaken by the various graduate students in the lab. Lab meetings are a great way to keep Dr. Farrar up to date on the multiple projects and to gain his input which is extremely critical to the progression of these projects. I also had the opportunity to attend talks by various Professors in the Kinesiology department and imbibed the professionalism that accompanies such gatherings. Also, this semester Matt was the teaching assistant for the experimental physiology lab course I took last semester and I realize that that class requires that the TA carefully grade and evaluate each student's lab report. I understand that being a teaching assistant is something that most graduate students undertake. This is important training for the graduate students who plan to pursue Professorship in the future. Another very valuable skill I have learned is the reading of scientific literature. I was surprised at how hard it can be to carefully analyze and read scientific literature and articles. These are critical to the success of one's project as one gets an idea of how research must progress. Important information like the type of experiments, the type of solutions to be used and their recipes and the mechanisms of various pathways can be read about in recent literature published. It is extremely important in my opinion to keep one's mind fertile by reading current literature and staying up to date with current research related to one's project. I believe that analyzing literature is an essential skill in itself.
Then the question of balancing work and play arises. I have been very active in a student organization called the Asian American Culture Committee for the past two years. In the year 2006-2007, I was the Reservations Director for the organization while in the year 2007-2008, I was the Chair of the organization. These leadership opportunities have been a very enriching experience for me. However, I was taking extremely challenging upper division neurobiology classes simultaneously, and balancing extracurricular activities with academics was not an easy task. I also had a part time job this semester. Doing multiple things at once is something that one learns to handle eventually. It depends on how disciplined a person is. I believe that the glue that holds these various things together is careful organization and planning. It is important to make a timeline and stick to it as much as possible. Rigorous coursework is something that must be made the priority, however overworking oneself can prove detrimental to the successful completion of work. Matt is extremely involved in sports and plays a number of sports here at UT such as soccer, softball, basketball etc. He is in various sports teams here at UT like the graduate student league. In order to take breaks from work, he plays a game during the day. Exercise and physical activity is not only beneficial for one's physical health but it also assists in keeping the brain active. Staying physically healthy is vital for graduate students. Graduate school is the most important and stressful phase in a person's life and one is often bogged down with several deadlines and tons of course work besides the responsibilities of the research project undertaken. Exercise is a great stress reliever. The pre-graduate school internship has helped me gain perspective on what I need to accomplish in terms of the graduate school application process, contacting prospective faculty and chalking out my specific research interests while preparing for the life that awaits me in graduate school. The discussions with the professors and the graduate students were invaluable and really assisted me in thinking about next steps among other things. What excites me most about the life in graduate school is that it gives a researcher something new to think about each day. It is not monotonous like a lot of jobs. If experiments don't work, it causes one to think about what exactly went wrong and develop a new plan of action. I cannot see myself in any other career path and any doubts I had regarding graduate school before undertaking the pre-graduate school internship have now been washed away. This research experience will prove invaluable as to what graduate schools require from their prospective students.