Nathaniel Harnett: Catching the neuroscience bug

Nathaniel Harnett: Catching the neuroscience bug

September 09, 2015
By Jeff Hansen
Meet Nate Harnett, a member of the UAB Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program who exchanged music studies for a science career.

Nate Harnett plays the tuba, euphonium and trombone, and he went to Ithaca College for its music conservatory. Music was going to be the future for this jazz and marching band performer. Then he went to a neuroscience class.

“It was a lecture on how the action potential works, how this smallest bit of energy can create all our perceptions of the world,” Harnett said. “I instantly caught the neuroscience bug. It’s funny how one lecture can change your life.”

Nate Harnett on the lecture that changed his lifeHarnett was raised in the Binghamton, New York, Southern Tier region just north of Pennsylvania, by a single mom who finished her college degree as he began his college years. After a major in psychology and one summer training at the University of Maryland in cognitive motor neuroscience, Harnett came to UAB, attracted by the breadth and wealth of neuroscience research. He is entering his third year of graduate school in the UAB Department of Psychology’s behavioral neuroscience program. He is interested in emotional neuroscience, and his research mentor is David Knight, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology.

Harnett’s career coach is Luca Pozzo-Miller, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Neurobiology, whose interests include synaptic plasticity.

“The chance to talk with someone who is not in your program or on your thesis committee is a great grounding force,” Harnett said. The Argentinian scientist has told Harnett about his own life path, and how life can be a series of fortunate accidents.

Harnett has an African-American heritage, and also one grandmother who emigrated from Italy. When he was invited to join the UAB Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program as an advanced student by co-directors Lori McMahon, Ph.D., and Farah Lubin, Ph.D., who are both Department of Neurobiology faculty members, he thought, “That’s a wonderful idea.”

At the NEURAL Conference this summer, Harnett gave a presentation about stressful life events and racial differences in the neural response to threat. In the NeuroLab Bench for incoming UAB Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars, he taught MATLAB (a programming environment for numerical computation and visualization), functional magnetic resonance imaging and brain anatomy.

Harnett says he appreciated how Roger Nicoll, Ph.D., shared his struggles when he spoke to the NEURAL Conference.

“Despite his grades, he never stopped,” Harnett said of Nicoll. “He had a goal, and he never stopped.”

Learn more about the Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program in this feature