Ranjani Ponnazhagan, a senior majoring in the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, writes about her experiences in the program and at UAB.
Attending medical school was always in my plan, and through UAB’s Early Medical School Acceptance Program I was able to apply and become accepted to University of Alabama School of Medicine my senior year of high school. Since I knew my future was set in the field of science, I initially thought my only options in terms of which major I should choose were limited to biology or chemistry. Learning about UAB’s Neuroscience program opened a door for me that I didn’t know existed.
The most rewarding experiences through the Neuroscience program have been the opportunities given to me through my involvement in research. Under Dr. David Standaert in the department of Neurology, I was able to devote three years to understanding the role of inflammation in Parkinson's disease and the possible mechanisms involved.
My first challenge was overcoming my anxiety of public speaking. I used to be terrified just to raise my hand in class to ask or answer a question. Presenting my research at lab meetings each week and at UAB’s EXPO helped me overcome this fear until I was confidently presenting my discoveries at national undergraduate research conferences at Harvard University and winning national poster conferences around the country.
I also became an Undergraduate Research Ambassador in hopes of inspiring young minds to pursue similar research opportunities and experience the same rewards. So far, I have personally mentored several students in helping join labs of their interest and helped the Office of Undergraduate Research grow and gain support on campus. The Neuroscience Program not only allowed me to involve in research and take unique classes with inspiring faculty, but also to take on mentorship roles.
Sharing my research journey, writing and publishing a first-author paper, winning National Honors poster competitions, and mentoring students interested in research have been the highlights of my Neuroscience experience. Without the support of our hard-working advisors and research mentors, accomplishing everything I was able to may not have been possible. The program pushes students to take advantage of opportunities available to us and to achieve our potential. I have been able to form lasting relationships with both research mentors and aspiring students and look forward to pursuing my neuroscience interests in medical school.