Pharmacy Pre-Grad Intern Tiffany Nguyen
This is my second semester in the IE Pre-Graduate Internship Program. Last semester, I didn't have a clue about graduate school and dabbled my feet into the realm of research in the College of Pharmacy. All the information I gained from the program was completely new to me, and it was my first experience in a research lab. Under my mentor, Esther Maier, and supervisor, Dr. Duvauchelle, I had the sole role of analyzing ultrasonic vocalizations data of rats that they used in their research. This semester, I took the time to discover more information about graduate school from other people in the same field and figure out if graduate school is really what I want to pursue. While I continued analyzing data under Esther and Dr. Duvauchelle, I had more of a hands-on role in the research of another graduate student, Allison Feduccia, who works in the same lab.
At the beginning of the semester, Allison's new five-week-old rats came in, so I got to handle them every day for two weeks so that they can get used to human touch, food train them for the next few days so that they can learn to press the lever for a drug reward during the experiment, and weigh them for the rest of the experiment. During the rest of the semester, I set up the chambers that the rats experimented in and the syringes with the appropriate drugs that they were given. In my spare time, I analyzed data and prepared caps for rats that would undergo surgery. The role I was given this semester really gave me insight to what it was like to carry out research in graduate school, and working with the rats and setting up the experiment really cemented my understanding of the data that I was analyzing.
Following the rats that I tended to since they first arrived throughout the entire experiment was an exciting experience for me. However, I learned that Esther and Allison have been carrying out the same experiment with a different batch of rats for the past few years. This fact really hit me that one must have the passion and drive for their research because replicating the same experiment over and over would seem tedious if one wasn't really into it. The rats that I worked with this semester were actually Allison's last group of rats, so I'm glad that I was able to contribute to her research, and I plan to attend her dissertation, which I hope will also further my knowledge of graduate school.
Esther's data analysis, which I started on last semester, is almost completely finished this semester. It's unbelievable how much time it took just to analyze the results, but the feeling of accomplishment really overcomes us, seeing how far we got. This also made me realize that graduate school truly requires a lot of dedication and commitment to get to the finish line.
One of the biggest things that this program contributed to my learning experience was the opportunity to attend a conference through the travel grant. My mentor applied and was accepted to present her research at the Society for Neuroscience 39th Annual Meeting 2009, held in Chicago. As the event was nearing, I helped her edit her poster, and from that experience alone, I realized that it's not only about carrying out the experiment, but also relaying the information so that others can understand and use your findings to further their own research. Just editing the poster to make sure that there were enough details but not too much to overwhelm the audience was painstaking, but it was all worth it when it the conference came.
I have never planned or taken a trip alone, without parents or school faculty, before, so I experienced many new things that gave me a sense of independence, from traveling on a plane and checking in at a hotel to walking around a conference and asking about other research being done, all by myself! On the first day of the conference, one of the other students in my mentor's lab presented her poster, so going there to help her set up allowed me to have my first exposure to this world of academia.
There was an insane variety of novel research done in this one field, so much that there was a thick booklet for each day of the conference that listed the schedule and location of all the posters and seminars being presented. When I picked up the package of booklets, I felt like I had just left the Co-Op with textbooks for all my classes on the first week of school. The people attending the conference were also really diverse, and it surprised me how much research was conducted from all over the world! As one of the youngest attendees there, a lot of the information being shared flew over my head since they were targeted for people in this discipline who already have a thorough knowledge of neuroscience, but just the fact that there is so much going on to discover more in this field really made an impression on me.
My mentor encouraged me to help present her poster on the second day of the conference, which I feel contributed the most to my experience. Because I was already intimidated from the first day and I wasn't sure if I knew her research well enough to present thoroughly, I initially just kept to myself and observed my mentor. However, more and more people started to ask her about her research and kept her busy, so when some other undergraduates asked me to explain her poster, I was on my own. I figured if I were to start with anyone, it should be undergraduates since they're not likely looking for details that I wouldn't know the answer to. I briefly described her research methods and results to the best of my understanding, and surprisingly, it was fun! Before I knew it, I was answering some other graduate students and professors from renowned institutions!
There is such in thrill in being able to share information about research you're involved in, and I'm sure it would feel even greater if I were a graduate student presenting my own research. I never would have been able to experience that without the opportunity to attend a conference that my mentor and this internship provided.
After two semesters in the IE Pre-Graduate Internship Program, I have decided to apply to all the pharmacy schools in Texas, including UT College of Pharmacy, which offers a concurrent Pharm.D/Ph.D degree program. The Pharm.D program will allow me to have the clinical experience that I would like in order to interact with patients and people outside of the research lab while the Ph.D program will help me learn the techniques and methods of research that I have found to thoroughly enjoy this past year. This program has facilitated the process of finding out the information I needed to guide me to the career path that I now know I truly want.