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.

Mugdha MokashiAfter 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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