Undergraduate Neuroscience Program

  • Jasmine Cunningham receives Dream Award Scholarship

    Undergraduate Neuroscience student Jasmine Cunningham has been awarded the Dream Award Scholarship after overcoming significant barriers to make it to college.

    Jasmine Cunningham, a student in UAB's Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, has been awarded the Dream Award after overcoming significant barriers to make it to college.

    She is one of 22 Dream Award scholarship recipients this year and more than fits the description of "sheer determination" that Scholarship America looks for when identifying qualifying students.

    According to a profile published on al.com, Jasmine has battled a pituitary brain tumor that led to Cushing Disease, which causes stress, severe fatigue, muscle weakness, headaches and cognitive difficulties, and other challenging symptoms. Despite all of this, she has finished her first year of college at UAB, studying neuroscience and psychology with the goal of becoming a doctor.

    You can read more about Jasmine on the al.com website.

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  • UAB in Norway: Fulbright Seminar Weekend

    "It was inspiring to see all the incredible work that is being done through the Fulbright Program. I was humbled to share the floor with some of the brightest and kindest people I have had the pleasure of knowing."

    From left to right: Shruthi Velidi, Adam Wise, Remy Meir, Anna Schwartz, and Arunima Vijay

    Editor’s Note: For the 2018-2019 academic year, UAB had a record number of students and alumni selected for the prestigious Fulbright Student Program, the flagship international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Four of the six award recipients are from the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, including Remy Meir. An Auburn, Alabama, native, Meir has been awarded the Fulbright Study/Research grant to conduct research at the University of Oslo in Oslo, Norway. Meir graduated from UAB Honors College in Spring 2018 with a bachelor's degree in neuroscienceHer research project will focus on stress as a potential risk factor for addiction. 

    We’re excited to feature monthly posts from Remy as she chronicles her Fulbright experience, which began in August 2018, at the University of Oslo.


    By Remy Meir

    I normally don't care for Valentine's Day, but this year I had a very special day (well, weekend). On February 14, all of the Fulbrighters in Norway got together to host a seminar where we all gave 10-minute presentations on the work we have been doing for the past six months. And when I say all, I mean all of us. We had those doing research grants, study grants, English teaching assistant grants (ETA), roving scholars, and everyone in between present at the event.

    The great thing about the Fulbright Scholarship is that grant recipients aren't forced to pursue any particular project on any particular timeline. There are several students like me who have recently completed a bachelor's degree and wanted to pursue an in-depth research experience or complete a master's program. There are also scholars who may be professors at a university in the U.S. who are using the Fulbright Program to teach a class abroad or collaborate with an exciting research partner. Then there is an assortment of people who are working as ETAs or roving scholars. These Fulbrighters may have just completed a bachelor's degree, have been working in their career for a couple years, or are currently working as teachers in the United States and wanted to see how the education system differs abroad.

    So, even though we share a grant title, our projects and experiences have been vastly different. And on Valentine's Day, I got to hear talks spanning from how my friend Adam is modeling the aerodynamic wake interaction between multiple utility-scale floating wind turbines to how my friend Kelly is working in Ås as an ETA but spends most of his time talking to Norwegian high schoolers about American government and culture. Twenty-five of us presented that day, and all 25 had different projects and experiences to share. It was inspiring to see all the incredible work that is being done through the Fulbright Program. I was humbled to share the floor with some of the brightest and kindest people I have had the pleasure of knowing.

    Following the day-long seminar, we continued the festivities into the evening with a reception at the American Ambassador's house. It was a delightful evening filled with two more talks from Fulbrighters and intermingling between the grantees, political officials, and notable guests. The house was beautiful, the food was exceptional, and the company was unparalleled.

    The following day we all loaded onto a bus and headed into the mountains. We spent Friday through Sunday tucked away at Skiekampen in Lillehammer, Norway. We spent the days indulging in downhill or cross-country skiing, which was followed by a trip to the sauna and hot tub. At each meal, we would sit together and share in our experiences. It was fun to come together as a group and not only talk about our work, but actually get to know one another. This weekend allowed me to build lifelong friendships with some truly amazing people. I am so thankful to Fulbright Norway, especially Rena, Kevin, and Pedder, who organize these events where we get to build bonds and see the work that is coming to fruition with this scholarship.

    This weekend will go down as my favorite Valentine's Day celebration and I'm not sure that anything will top it.

    Pictured below: Photos from our Fulbright Seminar Weekend, from a selfie taken at the U.S. Ambassador's house to the top of a ski run in Lillehammer, Norway.

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  • Undergraduate Neuroscience Program's Outstanding Seniors: Sid Chandra

    Sid Chandra, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about his experiences in the program and at UAB.

    Sid Chandra, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about his experiences in the program and at UAB.

    When I was a freshman in high school, my grandfather was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, an untreatable neurodegenerative condition. Over the years, I watched my grandfather lose the ability to recognize and communicate with the people closest to him. It was frustrating to watch him suffer and not be able to do anything to help him. I began to read about his condition and similar neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. To understand disease research articles, I needed to understand the basic biology of the brain, so I read Neuroscience for Dummies by Frank Amthor, a UAB neurobiologist. I began to become fascinated by the brain and diseases that cause it to malfunction.

    When deciding where to attend college, UAB attracted me because of the strong neuroscience research, the well-established Undergraduate Neuroscience Program (UNP), and the resources available to students from the UAB Honors College. Soon after joining UAB, I began to seek out research mentors. With help from Dr. Cristin Gavin, co-director of the UNP, and Dr. Diane Tucker, director of the Science and Technology Honors Program, I was able to join the lab of Dr. Andy West, an expert in Parkinson’s disease. In the West lab, I focused on studying the role of a protein kinase called LRRK2 in rodent models of Parkinson’s disease and strategies to target LRRK2 for therapeutic benefit. After three years of working with Dr. West, he moved to continue his career at Duke University, and I joined Dr. Talene Yacoubian’s lab. In Yacoubian lab, I have focused on understanding how modulation of the 14-3-3 protein influences neuropathology in rodent models of Parkinson’s disease. I have been fortunate to publish my results in peer reviewed journals, communicate my science across the country at several regional and national conferences, and win competitive fellowships to support my research during the summers. My experiences in the West and Yacoubian labs have solidified my interest in basic and translational research and affirmed that I want these practices to be a significant part of my career.

    Outside of the lab, I have been heavily involved with UAB Student Multicultural and Diversity Programs as a Free Food for Thought facilitator, board member of the Social Justice Advocacy Council, and a SMDP retreat leader. Through these endeavors, I have had the opportunity to advocate for marginalized groups and help educate my peers on social issuing plaguing our world. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to work substantially with the UAB Honors College as a communications chair for the Honors College Leadership Council and as an Honors College Ambassador. Through my experiences with SMDP and the Honors College, I have grown as a person and as a leader. I intend for advocacy to be an important part of my career going forward.

    All of my experiences and success at UAB could not have been accomplished without the help of several mentors — Drs. West, Gavin, Tucker, and Yacoubian (and many more). UAB is truly a unique university in that students here do not learn only in a classroom, but they are given experiential opportunities to grow professionally and personally. My experiences at UAB have inspired me to become a physician-scientist, so that I may investigate the molecular basis of disease, develop mechanism-based therapies, and treat patients directly in the clinic. By providing research opportunities, coursework, and fantastic mentorship, the UNP has fully prepared me for the challenges that lie ahead. This summer, I will begin an M.D.-Ph.D. program to start my journey of becoming a physician-scientist and join the fight against incurable disease.

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  • UAB in Norway: The importance of communicating science

    "I received an email saying I was needed to help film a segment for a show on NRK, the largest media organization in the Norway."

    Editor’s Note: For the 2018-2019 academic year, UAB had a record number of students and alumni selected for the prestigious Fulbright Student Program, the flagship international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Four of the six award recipients are from the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, including Remy Meir. An Auburn, Alabama, native, Meir has been awarded the Fulbright Study/Research grant to conduct research at the University of Oslo in Oslo, Norway. Meir graduated from UAB Honors College in Spring 2018 with a bachelor's degree in neuroscienceHer research project will focus on stress as a potential risk factor for addiction. 

    We’re excited to feature monthly posts from Remy as she chronicles her Fulbright experience, which began in August 2018 at the University of Oslo.


    By Remy Meir

    For Halloween this year, I dressed up as an IKEA shopping bag as everyone in Norway loves IKEA and uses the bags to complete daily tasks, like grocery shopping.Science and research fuel where society is headed-how we treat illnesses, how we advance with technology, how we are going to conserve or create resources. However, there tends to be a disconnect between the scientists trying to unlock this information and those who can use that information to implement change. Additionally, there exists an even bigger gap between scientists and the general public.

    With field-specific jargon, complicated data, and no one willing to simplify their work, the public is often confused about what exactly is happening in the field of science. Most people aren't going to sit down and sift through Google Scholar articles to try to understand current cancer therapeutics or Alzheimer's medications. While news sources do address some of the exciting findings in science, I believe the scientists should be doing more to communicate their ideas to the public.

    One thing I admire about my mentor, Dr. Siri Leknes, is her drive to make her research findings accessible to and understood by the public. Last week, I received an email from Dr. Leknes saying that I was needed to help film a segment for a show on NRK. NRK is the government-owned, public broadcasting company in Norway, which also happens to be the largest media organization in the country. One of the shows wanted to address the topic of loneliness. The segment's purpose was to incorporate a scientific experiment to demonstrate how loneliness and social stress can affect you. We decided that we could implement a modified version of our current experiment into their show to model the effects of social stress.

    The project I am piloting utilizes the Trier Social Stress Test as a way to induce psychosocial stress in participants. The main tasks are to do a five-minute public speaking task followed by a five-minute arithmetic task all in front of two cold, unresponsive panel members. There are other factors at play to help generate a stressful situation, but if you are like most people, just the idea of speaking in front of strangers is enough to make your palms sweat.

    Our modified version for the TV segment had the host, a woman in her twenties, come into a tiny room to give a five-minute talk about why she is a good friend while the panel members, a clinical psychology student and myself, sat quietly staring blankly at her. In order to see how the social stress situation affected her, we recorded her heart rate variability before, during, and after the social stress paradigm. From the minute she entered the room, you could sense her discomfort. She refused to make eye contact with us (which she later told me was because she was really intimidated by us) and kept looking to her camera crew for some sort of support.

    After she made it through the task and they recorded all the measurements, we were able to officially meet her with smiles. It was interesting to discuss with her how she felt during the "experiment" as well as go over her results. Her heart rate variability showed that she was able to recover quickly during a stressful event. She was excited to hear this, and it was fun to see how for her this experiment shed light not only on her topic but also on her personal qualities. My Primary Investigator (PI) and the doctor who recorded her heart rate variability went on to talk on the show about social stress, loneliness, and their impacts on one's health. It was cool to see how they were able to adapt the concepts they are studying in the lab and present them for a general public audience. I think that sort of openness and interest in science should be pushed for in public programming and events.

    There has been a large push to create more accessible and open-source science. This has been seen with the development of the programming language R and open-access journals. There is also a greater effort by news outlets to convert impactful studies into interesting articles. However, sometimes there is a lack of rigorously reported science in these cases. People presenting these scientific ideas to the public want to make them as interesting as possible; because of this, the articles can lose some of the scientific validity found in their original reporting. Therefore, I advocate for scientists themselves to get more involved in sharing their results with the general public. It can be frustrating to step out of the comfort of field-specific jargon, but I think it is important that society be able to relish in exciting discoveries alongside the discoverers.

    Interested in accessible science? The article, "Accurate science or accessible science in the media – why not both?" published by The Conversation, addresses the topic and provides information about groups working to deliver scientific findings to the public.

    Pictured below: Fellow UAB alumnus Adam Brookins and I went hiking in Bergen, Norway, when he came to visit me this fall.

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  • UAB in Norway: Celebrating my mentor

    "The whole evening reminded me why I am pursuing science."

    My friend Ria and me at the celebratory dinner for Dr. Leknes.Editor’s Note: For the 2018-2019 academic year, UAB had a record number of students and alumni selected for the prestigious Fulbright Student Program, the flagship international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Four of the six award recipients are from the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, including Remy Meir. An Auburn, Alabama, native, Meir has been awarded the Fulbright Study/Research grant to conduct research at the University of Oslo in Oslo, Norway. Meir graduated from UAB Honors College in Spring 2018 with a bachelor's degree in neuroscienceHer research project will focus on stress as a potential risk factor for addiction. 

    We’re excited to feature monthly posts from Remy as she chronicles her Fulbright experience, which began in August at the University of Oslo.


    By Remy Meir

    Wine, speeches, dancing, and oh yeah, lots of science. This describes one of my favorite evenings I have had since arriving in Oslo as a Fulbright Scholar.

    My research mentor at the University of Oslo, Dr. Siri Leknes, received her Ph.D. from the University of Oxford under the guidance of one of the biggest names in pain research, Dr. Irene Tracey. However, Dr. Leknes was a bit disappointed when she found out that in Oxford people do not have big professorial dinners to celebrate the completion of their doctoral degrees. In Scandinavian countries, when one successfully defends their dissertation and earns their Ph.D., it is truly a celebration. Dr. Leknes would talk about grand dinners with intermittent speeches followed by a lively party.

    Since Dr. Leknes did not have a professorial dinner after earning her Ph.D., she decided to host one in celebration of becoming a full professor at the University of Oslo. She started off the day by hosting an Affective Neuroscience Symposium in which some of her closest colleagues came to speak about their current research. The lectures started with Dr. Irene Tracey giving a talk titled "All Pain and No Pleasure," and ended with a talk by Dr. Marie Eikemo and Guro Løseth, who discussed the current projects in the Leknes Affective Brain Lab, where I've also been conducting my research project through the Fulbright Fellowship. It was exciting to see the people that Dr. Leknes has been able to work with throughout the years, from her Ph.D. supervisor to her post-doc advisor, all the way to the people she now mentors in her own lab. It was exciting for me to see all the different paths you can take with your research. Just because you start in one lab with one particular focus, it does not mean you cannot grow to fit the focus of other labs and then develop a focus for your own lab.

    My research mentor, Dr. Siri Leknes, giving her toast about getting full professorship.Dr. Leknes has one of those infectious personalities that is equally great for getting students excited about a lecture and for hosting grand parties. In the evening, we had a lavish three-course dinner at the National Museum and, as is typical in Scandinavian celebrations, there were a number of speeches given by her past mentors and current mentees. Each person talked about how innovative, intelligent, and inspired Dr. Leknes was as a researcher and a person. After dinner, I was able to speak with the people who helped her along her path. I never thought I would have the chance to speak with the likes of Dr. Irene Tracey, but there I was with her in the museum gift shop discussing my past research projects and societal implications of the data.

    The whole evening reminded me why I am pursuing science. I love being surrounded by people who encourage me to see the world in different ways and to ask interesting questions. I left that dinner filled with good wine, great food, and high spirits. I was reminded that science does not always have involve sitting in a room surrounded by mice or struggling with statistics. Sometimes it is just about coming together with your peers and sharing ideas, and sometimes that happens at the best party of the year.

    Pictured below: I did a lot of hiking this month outside the city of Stavanger in Western Norway. Two hikes were to Preikestolen and Kjerag: Preikestolen is the flat sheer cliff and Kjerag is the rock that is wedged between two cliffs.

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  • UAB in Norway: Comparing cultures

    Fulbright scholar Remy Meir reflects on the differences and similarities between American and Norwegian cultures.
    Remy Meir introduces herself and her research project to the Fulbright Committee and distinguished guests at the Fulbright welcome reception.

    Editor’s Note: For the 2018-2019 academic year, UAB had a record number of students and alumni selected for the prestigious Fulbright Student Program, the flagship international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Four of the six award recipients are from the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, including Remy Meir. An Auburn, Alabama, native, Meir has been awarded the Fulbright Study/Research grant to conduct research at the University of Oslo in Oslo, Norway. Meir graduated from UAB Honors College in Spring 2018 with a bachelor's degree in neuroscienceHer research project will focus on stress as a potential risk factor for addiction. 

    We’re excited to feature monthly posts from Remy as she chronicles her Fulbright experience, which began in August at the University of Oslo.


    At the University of Oslo's welcome celebration where they welcome back students and celebrate the start of a new school year.

    By Remy Meir

    It has been nearly a month since I packed up my things and moved halfway across the world to pursue my Fulbright Scholarship in Norway. This first month has passed in a blur due to international student orientation at the University of Oslo, Fulbright orientation for all American grantees, and getting settled in my new research lab. One of the main focuses of both orientations I attended this month was understanding Norwegian culture and society.

    While there are many differences between American culture and Norwegian culture, there are a few similarities that have made the transition easier. Just like "Southern hospitality" is centered around being polite, Norwegian culture also instills the desire to be polite and to make others feel comfortable. But I quickly learned that is where the similarities between the two come to an end. Back in the South, if I wanted to make someone I did not know feel welcomed and comfortable, I would smile warmly or ask how they were doing on the street. In Norway, in order to be polite, you do not disturb another person. When passing someone on the street, smiling can make another person uncomfortable. You should also never sit directly next to someone on the metro if you can avoid it. Personal space is of the utmost importance here. You should not interfere with others as they go about their day and they will not interfere with you.

    Standing outside the Nobel Peace Institute where the Fulbright welcome reception was held. While this version of being polite may make Norwegians seem disengaged, it is part of what shapes their societal views. Their respect for individuals goes far beyond just giving someone enough space on the metro; it translates into policy. For example, maternity leave is nearly a year with the option to split part of it between maternity and paternity leave. They value gender equality and have one of the lowest gender pay gaps in the world. Norway is also a welfare state, meaning that its citizens have equal access to healthcare and education. These are just several of the standout social developments that come from Norwegians' devotion to treating each individual with respect and care.

    Over the past month, I have made friends from all around the globe, including Turkey, Canada, Sweden, Australia, and many more countries. One of the exciting things about being part of the international community is discussing Norwegian society and how it relates to our home countries. The University of Oslo helped encourage these conversations by throwing a semester start-party in which international students dressed up as Norwegians and the incoming Norwegian students got assigned different countries. It gave everyone the chance to see how others viewed their country and open up a dialogue about what that means for these countries, both at home and internationally. I think discussing these differences allows us to see our individual countries' strengths and weaknesses and what sort of changes need to be introduced. For me, this past month has been about engaging in global conversations and reminding myself that just because a culture feels different, it does not mean it is wrong.

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  • UAB in Norway: Fulbright scholar Remy Meir leaves for Oslo

    UAB neuroscience alumna Remy Meir begins her Fulbright Student Program at the University of Oslo in Norway.

    Remy Meir spent the spring semester of her junior year studying abroad in Oslo, Norway. Now she's returning to the University of Oslo on a Fulbright Scholarship to continue her research.

    Editor’s Note: For the 2018-2019 academic year, UAB had a record number of students and alumni selected for the prestigious Fulbright Student Program, the flagship international exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. Four of the six award recipients are from the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, including Remy Meir. An Auburn, Alabama, native, Meir has been awarded the Fulbright Study/Research grant to conduct research at the University of Oslo in Oslo, Norway. Meir graduated from UAB Honors College in Spring 2018 with a bachelor's degree in neuroscienceHer research project will focus on stress as a potential risk factor for addiction. 

    We’re excited to feature monthly posts from Remy as she chronicles her Fulbright experience, which begins this month at the University of Oslo.


    By Remy Meir

    I was sitting in the library at the University of Oslo in early March watching the snow fall outside the window when I realized that a semester in this beautiful country was not enough. I quickly pulled up my email to send a message to Dr. Ashley Kuntz, director of fellowships at UAB, to tell her about my time in Norway and that I already wanted to come back. She followed up by sending me all the information I would need to start an application for the J. William Fulbright Scholarship. The Fulbright Program provides grants that are aimed to enhance cultural exchange between the United States and other countries through research, study, and teaching opportunities.

    While previously studying abroad in Norway, I worked under the guidance of Dr. Siri Leknes and helped design a human model that would address the role of stress in addiction. My previous research at UAB, in the lab of Dr. Robert Sorge, was all in rodent models, so much of my time in the Leknes lab was spent discussing the differences in animal and human research models. Having this scientific exchange allowed me to understand that the scientific questions I am interested in are multifaceted. It also opened my eyes to translational research and had me eager to explore this area of addiction research further.

    To date, most addiction research has relied on rodent models, and few translational studies have been done. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Clinical Director Dr. Heilig, most promising treatments in rodents fail once they reach human clinical studies. To close this translational research gap, we need to explore social factors, such as stress and social support, in addition to standard drug interaction studies.

    Norway is the ideal place for me to continue to explore this topic because their society allows for a greater investigation into these social interactions as behavior-influencing mechanisms, as they have reduced the stigma surrounding drug addiction that is still overtly present in the United States. This focus on drug addiction is supported by their government’s commitment to making prevention of drug and alcohol abuse a public health priority. Additionally, the Leknes Affective Brain Lab is the ideal lab for my project given their focus on understanding how the human brain encodes value in regard to reward and how this understanding can be used to improve treatments for substance abuse disorder and chronic pain.

    With Dr. Leknes continuing as my mentor, my project in Norway will focus on using an interdisciplinary model to explore how psychosocial stress can translate into increased vulnerability for addiction and the extent to which addictive drugs and social support act on overlapping pathways in the brain. While stress has primarily been studied as a factor for addiction relapse, this study takes a novel approach by assessing the role it may play in the initial development of addiction. This study could prove to be very beneficial by influencing the development of new interventions and policies regarding addiction. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15 million people suffer from opioid dependence, yet only 10 percent receive treatment. These statistics make it evident that this should be a public health and scientific priority across international borders. Hopefully, my time as a Fulbright Scholar will allow me to shed more light on this topic while having the adventure of a lifetime.

    Read more: UAB in Norway: Comparing cultures

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  • Record number of UAB students, alumni selected for prestigious Fulbright Student Program

    Six students will travel abroad to study, teach or conduct research for the 2018-2019 academic year.

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  • Three UAB students win Critical Language Scholarships

    Three students will spend the summer studying in China, South Korea and India.

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  • Undergraduate Neuroscience Program's Outstanding Seniors: Remy Meir

    Remy Meir, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about her experiences in the program and at UAB.

    Remy Meir, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about her experiences in the program and at UAB.

    During most of my high school career, I found myself struggling with a secret. I watched my brother suffer from a drug addiction that stemmed from prescription painkillers. I wanted to turn a blind eye to the situation, but the scientist inside me wanted to understand what guided his actions, what chain of events led him to this predicament. This experience drew my attention to the curiosities of the brain and its ability to guide our behavior, inspiring me to major in neuroscience. While I had already been captivated with neuroscience, my first step into the field came my freshman year when I took Neuroscience of Addiction with Dr. Robin Lester. That first real taste of neurobiological knowledge had me hooked.

    After my freshman year, I joined the lab of Dr. Robert Sorge, which focuses on immune modulation of pain and addiction for comprehensive therapeutics (IMPACT). My main project was driven by the CDC and FDA pressuring doctors to reduce opioid usage in the clinical setting. However, with the growing issue of pain disorders, we wanted to find an alternative that would continue to alleviate patients’ pain with prescription painkillers while preventing them from potentially developing an addiction. In order to accomplish this goal, I utilized a mouse model to study the ability of drug pairing to reduce the negative side effects of prescription opioids, such as addictive potential and tolerance, while maintaining the analgesic properties. The Undergraduate Neuroscience Program allowed me to completely immerse myself in this research through a summer spent in the Honors Neuroscience Research Academy. Having this intensive experience allowed me to gather valuable data that I was able to present at conferences such as the 2017 American Pain Society Conference.

    My time working in the IMPACT lab has been the most impactful part of my college experience, no pun intended. Without the dedicated mentorship and inquisitive environment, I would not have developed into the young scientist that I am today. I owe a lot of my success in college, from presentation opportunities to the Goldwater Scholarship, to the support I got from Dr. Sorge and the entire lab team.

    However, I did not just find support in my lab. One of the things I loved most about being part of the Honors College and UNP is the constant encouragement to pursue my goals wholeheartedly. This has driven me to get involved on campus in a number of roles, from Honors College Ambassador to co-chief editor of Inquiro. Every role I took on gave me a new outlet to impact other UAB students and find a way to help them reach their own educational goals. While I pursued many opportunities on campus, my interests also kept me searching beyond the UAB bubble. Knowing that I had the full support of UAB behind me, I spent the spring of my junior year studying abroad in Oslo, Norway. While studying abroad at the University of Oslo, I worked under the guidance of Dr. Siri Leknes and helped design an experiment that would address the role of stress as a potential risk factor for addiction in a human population.

    The curiosity I have fostered here at UAB will have me graduating with a major in neuroscience and minors in public health and mathematics. After graduation, I will return to Oslo, Norway for ten months on a Fulbright Scholarship to complete the research project I designed with Dr. Leknes. Following completion of my Fulbright, I will return to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience with a continued focus on pain and addiction.

    I never would have been able to achieve these goals or dream this big if it was not for the education and network that I gained through the UNP. Whether it was Dr. Kana being a member of my Fulbright committee or Dr. Gavin writing me another letter of recommendation, at every corner there was someone driving me towards success. Sometimes all it takes to get where you are going is to have incredible people believing that you can; then you will start to believe too.

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  • Undergraduate Neuroscience Program's Outstanding Seniors: Mugdha Mokashi

    Mugdha Mokashi, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about her experiences in the program and at UAB.

    Mugdha Mokashi, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about her experiences in the program and at UAB.

    I came to UAB to answer the question: "why medicine?" Admittedly, answers to "why medicine?" felt generic and wistful early on in my college career. I was fulfilled during patient interactions, felt enormous respect for the physicians I shadowed, and relished the day-to-day problem solving in the hallways of the hospital. Still, these reasons did not fully capture what being a physician means to me now. My journey to answering "why medicine" combined a college experience that gave me a love for science with community experiences that inspired a passion for social justice. Looking back, I can say without a doubt that my major in neuroscience and the mentorship I gained through the program was critical to helping me craft that answer.

    After 20
    minutes of talking to the UNP (Undergraduate Neuroscience Program) director Dr. Carl McFarland just before I started college, I was on track to entering as a neuroscience major. I stumbled into the neuroscience program, unsure of what it entailed but reassured by upperclassmen that I had made the right decision. The neuroscience program combined the hard science classes I was looking for with intentional lessons about patient care and careers in biomedicine. My major fit in perfectly with my pre-health course requirements and supported the research I was pursuing as a member of the Science and Technology Honors Program. After my freshman year, I began work in Dr. Karen Gamble's behavioral neurobiology lab studying circadian rhythms in early aging mouse models. I learned to ask my own questions, conduct my own experiments, and proudly share my work with others at regional and national conferences.

    At the same time, I continued to foster an interest I've had since childhood: political advocacy. Instead of planning pool parties and sleepovers in high school, I threw viewing parties (complete with popcorn) for election nights and speeches. I listened to NPR politics podcasts nightly from eighth grade to this day: a testament to my lifelong fascination with public policy. Outside of my classes at UAB, I worked with social justice organizations that emphasized the link between policy and health. Serving on the board of a nonprofit, lobbying for sex education reform, and holding the office of Undergraduate Student Government Association president during my senior year showed me that understanding politics was essential to tackling health inequity. I spent a summer researching HIV stigma and knowledge in vulnerable communities in the Caribbean and gained a broader perspective on the healthcare needs of marginalized individuals.

    Surprisingly, in all these roles, I found that the skills I had acquired through the neuroscience major contributed heavily to my success. The tenacity and critical thinking skills that were required in my research lab proved to be just as useful in advocating for equitable practices. My ability to evaluate scientific literature and apply theory to research design was tremendously helpful during my summer research internship. In a more practical sense, the neuroscience major at UAB is designed to give students enough flexibility to pursue their outside interests — I used my remaining credit hours to complete a Masters of Public Health in four years. I credit the incredible advising and faculty support in my major for allowing me to balance both degrees, extracurriculars, and research all at once. Although they are cliché, I have two pieces of advice to share from what I have learned in my four years at UAB: (1) learn something from everything and (2) do what you love. I took some risks and found fulfillment in experiences when I least expected them and ended up re-discovering my passion for medicine in ways I never would have imagined.

    Ultimately, my path to medicine was very different from what I expected it to look like as a wide-eyed freshman. However, the one thing that has stayed the same is the enthusiasm I feel for research and academic inquiry. The neuroscience program allowed me to explore my passion with depth and gave me the tools I need to be successful when I start medical school this summer. My answer to "why medicine?" is directly tied to both my science brain and my advocate heart. Choosing medicine for me means choosing a path to directly empower and fight for my patients through research and evidence-based practice-and I couldn't have made this choice without the mentorship and community I have found with UNP at UAB.

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  • Undergraduate Neuroscience Program's Outstanding Seniors: Samantha Thompson

    Samantha Thompson, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about her experiences in the program and at UAB.

    Samantha Thompson, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about her experiences in the program and at UAB.

    My senior year of high school I struggled between choosing to pursue a career in graphic design or my newer interest, neuroscience. I had always loved science and excelled at it, but as most people, a close family member of mine developed early onset dementia that inspired me to add to the knowledge of the disease, so we could find treatments. I was worried if I pursued a job in the field of science I would never get to create or enjoy art again. I was very mistaken because my experience in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program has allowed me to merge my interest in art and science into one. I remember walking into my interview and the walls of the Neurosuite were lined with Dr. David Sweatt's paintings that partially felt like a universal sign that I would be able to pursue both passions as a part of this program. And now I get the opportunity to experience the most astonishing type of art, biological nature, by labeling neuron structures in immunofluorescence that still puts my inner Da Vinci on cloud nine.

    Joining my research lab, which is to this day one of the greatest, life-changing opportunities I have had, was actually a result from complete failure. With little preparation in high school for college life, my freshman year was mainly spent learning how little I knew about studying and time management. I was amazed at friends of mine in the program already joining research labs on top of what seemed like endless studying at the time. I thought I would be better off applying to a prestigious college's summer research program (with no research experience doesn't make sense now in hindsight) so I could learn the ropes of research while I was out of classes. I asked the program director at the time, Dr. McFarland, to write me a letter of rec and he noted I had no experience in research and who was my top choice lab to work with. Long story short, I got rejected from the program but had an interview with Dr. Erik Roberson on Monday after talking to Dr. McFarland.

    The project I was given to work on in Dr. Roberson's lab was a drug discovery project for Alzheimer's disease that was incredibly intriguing but daunting at the same time. I was the only undergraduate working on the project with a Post-doc in the lab and rarely saw other undergrads in the lab that made me constantly compare myself and strive to be like graduate level students or higher. It took us months to get our assays to use for screening compounds to be reproducible and reliable that made me question my technique somedays. Once everything was working beautifully I realized how lucky I was to start learning early on in my career as a scientist that you will fail constantly, and imposter syndrome is a very real thing. And neither of these things determined my success as a scientist: only my continuous drive forward through the failures would determine where I could end up.

    Something I did not expect to gain from being a part of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program was an enthusiasm to give back to fellow students in the program. Freshman year I really struggled with staying on top of coursework and utilized the free tutoring programs offered through UAB. When the Undergraduate Neuroscience Society needed a new Mentor & Tutor Coordinator I applied knowing if I got the position I knew how important these services are to a student's academic (and mental) health. Being an officer through UNS has opened my eyes to how much I enjoyed helping others reach their goals and lending a hand when in need. It definitely has impacted my future career goals to be a mentor to young scientist someway, whether it be in the laboratory or classroom (or a wannabe Dr. Gavin).

    It is crazy to think my time as a UNP student is almost over, but I hope I have adequately expressed to all mentors, professors, and younger students that care to listen just how supportive this program has been in helping me achieve my goals for the next step. I gained the opportunity this past summer to be a part of the first UAB-Genentech Summer Research Scholars Program that confirmed how ready I am to pursue research as a full-time career. Starting next fall, I plan to start my graduate degree studies at Baylor College of Medicine as a part of their Neuroscience Program. Without a doubt I know that who I was coming into college would never have expected where I am ending up and I give all the credit to the mentors I have found to push me out of my comfort zone every step of the way. No matter where I end up I will always be ever faithful and ever loyally (and ever cheesily) a UNP alumni that found my future here at UAB.

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  • Undergraduate Neuroscience Program's Outstanding Seniors: Ben Boros

    Ben Boros, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about his experiences in the program and at UAB.

    Ben Boros, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about his experiences in the program and at UAB.

    Unlike many other students, I entered UAB as a blank slate with the goal of pursuing whatever I thought I would enjoy. In high school, I was enticed by everything I studied: each science, math, literature — ultimately concluding that all were neat. However, I found that neuroscience seemed to be a convergence point for each STEM and arts field. I was captivated by the mind-brain conundrum: how the physical structure and function of the brain can generate an immaterial mind. I knew the sheer complexity of the brain would demand investigation from various fronts and perspectives, allowing me to explore this convergence point further. I decided to pursue neuroscience because I knew it would expose me to diverse fields and because it seemed pretty cool.

    Soon after entering UAB, I had the chance to meet several researchers through the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program (UNP) and the Science and Technology Honors Program (STHP). Through their networks, I met Dr. Jeremy Herskowitz in the Department of Neurology, whose work immediately interested me. Broadly, he studies cellular mechanisms underlying Alzheimer's disease and tests the structure-function relationship at a fundamental unit for learning — the connections between brain cells. Over the last few years, I've enjoyed the chance to examine how these connections are altered in disease progression and probe potential therapeutic interventions to address these. Along the way, I also explored how certain protein molecules can influence the morphology of brain cells. My efforts have so far culminated in a first author manuscript examining the relationship between the structure of these connections with cognitive function. With the support of Dr. Herskowitz and the UNP, I have been fortunate enough to present my work at regional or national conferences including at Society for Neuroscience in Washington D.C. Undoubtedly, my research experience at UAB has given me critical skills and valuable tangibles that will remain with me for years to come.

    Outside the lab and coursework, I found myself drawn to a number of initiatives at UAB and in the community. With the support of the Honors College and its faculty leadership, I was able to help build the UAB community as founder and inaugural Vice President of the Honors College Leadership Council (HCLC). Soon after entering UAB, I recognized an opportunity for unity within the student community, and I channeled this vision of collaboration and cohesiveness into the HCLC. Wanting to share my enthusiasm for neuroscience, I've had many chances, including with Alabama Brain Bee and Brain Awareness Week, to spread my excitement in the Birmingham community to younger elementary to high school students. These experiences have been formative in seeding an interest in teaching a next generation. Finally, through the Equal Access Birmingham free clinic, I was able to develop perspective on some of the challenges that many in Birmingham face and also give back to some of the underserved community. Overall, each experience was not only personally rewarding, but also formative to understanding how I wish to interact with my community.

    My coursework, research, and community involvement have together expanded my amazement in the brain's complexity and function, but also revealed the devastation that those with disease face. Though I entered UAB with an unstructured and limited vision, the mentorship and guidance of those around me showed me how to expand my interests, formulate a goal, and execute my visions. For these, I relied on so many at UAB: the practical wisdom and personal support of Dr. Herskowitz, the direction and insight of Drs. Gavin and Wilson (UNP), and the unrelenting motivation and enthusiasm of Dr. Tucker (STHP). This fall, I will enter a MD-PhD program to receive training to investigate the complexity of the brain, to understand the mechanisms of disease, and to have a personal role in healing the suffering.

    As I reflect on my experience at UAB, I am most thankful for the freedom and support I had in pursuing my initial goal: devoting my time and effort to those things that I found personally fulfilling.

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  • Undergraduate Neuroscience Program's Outstanding Seniors: Rahul Gaini

    Rahul Gaini, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about his experiences in the program and at UAB.

    Rahul Gaini, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about his experiences in the program and at UAB.

    My favorite classes in high school were, by far, biology and psychology. Specifically, I loved learning about the brain. Understanding the molecular basis of human action and thought was fascinating, and the brain's complexity and mystery continued to spark my interest. I also really appreciated the irony that studying the brain and its underlying mechanisms required my brain to utilize the mechanisms I was learning about!

    So, one thing I knew prior to starting college was that I wanted to pursue a degree in neuroscience. The second was that I wanted to become a physician. In fact, I had already planned extensively for this latter goal: in high school, I volunteered at local hospitals, shadowed an array of doctors, and learned medical techniques such as determining BMI, obtaining blood pressure, and performing CPR. In contrast, I had very limited knowledge or experience with research, an important and complementary aspect of neurology and modern medicine.

    Thankfully, after enrolling in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program at UAB, I had the opportunity to jump into clinical research during my first semester of college by joining Dr. Burel Goodin's lab. In this lab, I worked on a study that aimed to characterize the experiences of pain in HIV patients. I administered mild painful stimuli (I promise they were mild) to HIV participants and healthy controls and determined the quantitative differences in pain sensitivity between the two groups. After my sophomore year, I wanted to immerse myself in basic research as well. With the help of the UNP, I found a research opportunity under Dr. Lucas Pozzo-Miller. Here, I sought to understand the way in which Rett syndrome, a severe autism spectrum disorder, affects the brain. To do this, I investigated three subclasses of interneuron populations in the medial prefrontal cortex of Rett syndrome mice models. Through these laboratory experiences, I came to realize that research allows us to overcome barriers that would otherwise impede medical progress. In the future, I will strive to be a part of teams that provide compelling empirical evidence for the expansion of scientific and medical knowledge.

    Even in my time at UAB outside of research, I did not have to compromise. I had opportunities available to me in anything I wanted to pursue. In athletics, I was able to join the Tennis Club at UAB and compete at tournaments. Through the UNP, I joined the Undergraduate Neuroscience Society and hosted esteemed neuroscientists from other universities while also spreading neuroscience to both my peers and grade-school students. To maintain my interests in various cultures around the world and spread awareness of these cultures, I joined the Asian American Organization. I enjoyed these extracurriculars so much that I became the president of two of them and vice-president of one. I was even able to give a TEDx talk, volunteer at Children's Hospital of Alabama, write an article on the benefits of meditation, enjoy the amazing recreation center at UAB, and much, much more.

    I will be spending the next four years of my life pursuing a dual MD/MBA degree at UAB. Because of my time as an undergraduate student in the UNP, I feel confident in my preparedness and ability to succeed in both medical and business school. With these degrees, I hope to spark both individual and large-scale change, improving the well-being of my patients while also attempting to improve the medical field through hospital administration and healthcare policy.

    There is an authenticity and uniqueness that define both the UNP and UAB. The numerous opportunities they offered these past four years allowed me to feel as if my aspirations for college were possible. Moreover, as a student within the UNP, I had the chance to not only work towards my career, but also grow as a person. UNP mentors like Dr. Cristin Gavin helped me learn the importance of living in the present, taking life one step at a time, remaining mindful, and detaching from situations that are out of my control. My undergraduate experience also taught me that a positive mental attitude is vital to getting things done. After all, if you believe you can, you're halfway there.

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  • UAB Ethics Bowl team will compete for national title

    The UAB Ethics Bowl debate team beat 16 teams in the Southeast Regional Ethics Bowl to advance to the national competition.

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  • Neuroscience Major a Finalist for Gates Cambridge Scholarship

    Hriday Bhambhvani, a double major in mathematics and neuroscience, was named a finalist for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship

    Hriday Bhambhvani, a double major in mathematics and neuroscience, was named a finalist for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, a post-graduate scholarship awarded to undergraduates worldwide and endowed by Bill Gates and his wife Melinda. Typically about 40 winners (of the total 95) come from the United States; winners are able to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, free of charge.

    Bhambhvani conducts research in the lab of James Meador-Woodruff, M.D., professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry. The lab’s primary research focuses on understanding how different parts of the brain communicate with other parts via a variety of chemical signals, and how this communication is disrupted in schizophrenia. 

    He was previously selected for the NIH Summer Internship Program and the Amgen Scholars Program, and was named Honorable Mention for the Goldwater Scholarship. Though he was not selected for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, Bhambhvani was accepted to study medicine at both Stanford University and UAB.

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  • Undergraduate Neuroscience Program's Outstanding Seniors: Cooper Bailey

    Cooper Bailey, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about his experiences in the program and at UAB.

    Cooper Bailey, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about his experiences in the program and at UAB.

    I never thought I would end up majoring in Neuroscience. There, I said it. I came from a very small high school (go Conquerors!) in a very small town and I had no idea neuroscience was even a thing that someone could get a degree in. Going into college I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Sure, I had various dream careers throughout my childhood but I never really settled on one. I carried this indecisiveness as long as I could: up to my very first orientation day. College was such a different world, and I had a hard time comprehending what was going on around me. At the end of the day, all the future students were brought into a room and sat down at computers to declare a major and sign up for some classes. Needless to say I had never felt that scared before or since. I signed up as a Psychology major, as I have always been interested in behavior and I had never really been exposed to psychology before. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but little did I know that in a few short months my undergraduate plans would change drastically. A few months later I was sitting in my first psychology class when my professor, Dr. Carl McFarland, gave a short presentation about the undergraduate neuroscience program. Up until that point the only thing I knew about neuroscience was that it seemed to be the major of most of my classmates in the University Honors Program and that it sounded really cool. I thought his presentation was extremely interesting, so I met with him later to talk about neuroscience. We ended up talking about language centers in the brain, the various things that could affect them, and how people learned things on the synaptic level. One thing led to another and I walked out of that meeting with a brand-new major.

    I joined Dr. Jarred Younger’s Lab in the department of psychology the summer of my sophomore year. He had quite a few interesting projects going on, and the one I started to work on was a very large R01 clinical trial, where Kate Wesson-Sides was my mentor. Dr. Younger’s Lab is the Neuroinflammation, Pain, and Fatigue Lab, and the purpose of this particular clinical trial was to try and find a potential biomarker for chronic fatigue syndrome. This required the participants to come to UAB for 25 consecutive days and get some blood drawn, all while answering questionnaires on a tablet. Working on this project helped me understand that the most important part of clinical research is taking care of the participant. Some of these individuals lost their jobs or the ability to go about their daily lives because of chronic fatigue, and every day I worked with them opened my eyes more to how important this research was to them. My experiences in Dr. Younger’s Lab helped me realize that my actual dream career was working as a clinical psychologist.

    It sounds really weird typing this, but I have spent the last four years’ worth of weekends and Wednesdays getting cross examined for a team sport. Yes, I did say cross examined. I have been a member of the UAB Mock Trial Team for four years now, and I got the privilege to serve as a captain of one of the teams this year. Mock trial is basically what it sounds like- a manufactured case is sent out every year to the competing schools from the American Mock Trial Association, and the schools compete against each other by trying one of the sides of the case (prosecution/plaintiff or defense). I can honestly say I have made some of my dearest friends through UAB Mock Trial, and some of the best memories I have made in college stem from going to mock trial competitions. Apart from the friendships and memories, mock trial has prepared me for a career in research oddly enough. Before mock trial, my public speaking abilities were not that great. However, as you can imagine, getting cross examined for four years’ worth of weekends certainly helps you with speaking in front of a group, and especially thinking on your feet. Communication is key to science. If you can’t talk to someone about your research, then what’s the point?

    Although I never thought I would major in neuroscience, I am so glad that I did. The neuroscience program here at UAB has given me so many opportunities that helped me through my undergraduate career. It exposed me to countless researchers and scientists doing some amazing work in a field that continues to grow. The neuroscience faculty guided me through classes and career decisions that I would have been completely lost without. UAB has given me a perfect undergraduate experience through programs like neuroscience and the University Honors Program, which, through its interdisciplinary coursework, let me see science, and life in general, in ways I never could have imagined. I am eternally grateful to both the neuroscience program and UHP, and cannot begin to express in words the impact they have had on my life. Following graduation in a few short weeks, I will be starting back at UAB in the fall to pursue a Ph.D. in Medical/Clinical Psychology. One day I hope to help individuals suffering from eating disorders, and would like to research new treatments that can help those who experience these disorders. I can honestly say that without the amazing programs at UAB I would not know what I was doing after graduation. I owe everything I have to UAB, the neuroscience program, UHP, and of course mock trial.

     

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  • Three UAB students selected for the 2017 Amgen Scholars Program

    The highly-selective program provides fully-paid summer research opportunities for students at some of the country's premier institutions.

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  • Undergraduate Neuroscience Program's Outstanding Seniors: Celeste Fong

    Celeste Fong, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about her experiences in the program and at UAB.

    Celeste Fong, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about her experiences in the program and at UAB.

    Whether you read any of the other senior spotlights, or saw my picture and noticed I was Asian, it will probably come as no surprise when I say I came to UAB with the hopes of becoming a physician. Choosing my major, I didn’t put too much thought into what I would study. My cousin decided to major in neuroscience and suggested I join her, so I did. I thought, “Courtney is much smarter than me. It must be the right choice!” Neuroscience was different and exciting, but when I met with Dr. Carl McFarland I learned that the UNP was more than just that, and being a part of the neuroscience family would provide me with the best undergraduate experience possible.

    When I came to UAB I realized there were so many opportunities that I had yet to be introduced to, and I wondered if there were fields apart from medicine that I might be better suited for. I stepped away from the conventional route and began to do some exploring. I became involved in Dr. Qin Wang’s neurobiology lab where I researched the interaction of a2A adrenergic G-protein coupled receptors during the formation of Ab plaques in Alzheimer’s disease. This was my first foray into the field of neuroscience, and I was blown away! I had never comprehended how complex and mysterious the brain truly was, and I was fascinated by the information I learned in both the lab and my neuroscience classes.

    I am glad that the UNP and University Honors Program provided a curriculum that encouraged me to explore other avenues. I was able to take art studio electives and receive minors in chemistry, Chinese, and philosophy. Outside of classes, I had the chance to be an international mentor for many of UAB’s international students, serve as co-chair for UHP’s recruitment committee for two years, and, with the help of Dr. Cristin Gavin, start a fun UNP blog. Outside of the university, I participated in the U.S. Department of Energy’s undergraduate internship program, where I worked for two summer semesters at Brookhaven National Lab in New York. There, I interned in the Sustainable Energy Technologies Department, quite a step away from my predominantly biomedical background. I found that I had the skills to learn and succeed in an entirely novel field, and I gained the confidence to pursue different opportunities, even if they were outside of my comfort zone.

    Despite my love for science, we could never be exclusive. The University Honors Program was my chance to take a break from science, do a one-eighty, and incorporate a liberal arts curriculum into my education. I read War & Peace (talk about a real accomplishment), took nine-hour essay exams, and had a seminar about aliens. I learned to approach my studies from an interdisciplinary perspective, and soon found myself needing more from the strict science classes. Philosophy allowed me to gain the deeper understanding of neuroscience, and science as a whole, that I craved. This has easily become the most impactful experience of my undergraduate career. It taught me to love learning for the sake of learning and inspired me to alter my post-graduate plans.

    My time at UAB has been filled with the most random, meaningful experiences. I can’t thank the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program and University Honors Program enough for their support in my various endeavors. Following my graduation, I will attend Emory University to study for a Master of Arts in Bioethics, and obtaining a neuroscience degree has influenced me to pursue neuroethics as my main research interest. The education I have received has done nothing but scratch the surface of the neuroscience field, yet it has been invaluable. I knew I was right to choose the neuroscience major four years ago! I mean, technically Courtney was right, although I did call it so who’s really the smart one here?

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  • UAB sees record number of students selected for Fulbright Scholar Program

    Five students will travel to Israel, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany or Estonia to study, teach or conduct research for the 2016-2017 academic year.

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