- Name: Nimesha Gerlus
- Year: 2017
- Concentration: Cognitive Neuroscience
- What type of research experiences have you been involved with during your time in college?
Up to this point, I have had two major research experiences at Brown. During the summer of 2014 after freshman year, I participated in a research collaboration between Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Brown University meant to help first-years and second-years develop foundational biology research skills. I worked with a team called “Drug Discovery” toward a collective goal of using three-dimensional cell culture technology to test chemotherapeutic drug models in human cancer cell lines. Specifically, my partner and I examined whether certain drug models could reverse drug resistance in cancer cells by inhibiting proteins responsible for efflux of common chemotherapeutics. Funded by an UTRA during the summer of 2015, I began working for Drs. Richard Liu and Tony Spirito as a summer undergraduate research assistant for a clinical study at Bradley Hospital investigating whether intensive cognitive behavioral therapy would have different treatment outcomes for teens with suicidal behavior compared to standard community care. This summer I will again be working at Bradley under the Royce Fellowship, studying the prediction of behavioral symptoms using computational methods used by Dr. Michael Frank’s lab.
- How did you find out about this opportunity/these opportunities?
I found out about HHMI-Brown because I took a biology class taught by a professor who directed the program at the time and encouraged students to apply. However, I came to Bradley a different way; I attended a small symposium on mental health in high-achieving college students of color advertised through Morning Mail, and met a psychology post-doctoral fellow who began mentoring me on my journey toward a career in psychiatry. She worked with Dr. Spirito on a different clinical study, but connected us when his lab was looking for undergraduate research assistants.
- What is your favorite part about the research process?
I love the flexibility of my research work schedule and my primary investigators’ accommodation of those who prefer working late as well as those who prefer working early in the morning, so long as all the work is done. But favorite part about the research process is the learning experience. Throughout the past three years, I have found that even if I set out to answer one question, other questions will inevitably arise. My research experiences have taught me to redefine failure and to embrace opportunities to think critically about approaching questions in innovative ways.
- How has doing undergraduate research shaped your potential career plans?
Undergraduate research has changed the trajectory of my career plans. I came to Brown planning to eventually practice medicine, particularly psychiatry. After my clinical research experiences, however, I am interested in fusing my medical interests with research and becoming a physician-scientist; next year I now plan to apply to programs (M.D./Ph.D.) that combine medical and research training.
- Any advice for students looking to find out what research interests them?
Don’t commit to a lab that is that you’re not passionate about! This sounds intuitive, but I have met many people who joined a lab during their second or third semesters and stuck with the experience because they wanted to be in a lab even though they were not particularly interested in what the lab was doing. Undergraduate research positions should be as enriching for students as they are helpful to professors, and I would encourage my peers who are interested in research to talk to professors whose classes they find engaging and inquire about opportunities in the field. I think it is also important to keep in mind that research experiences are not monolithic; they depend on the discipline, the investigator, and the lab’s dynamic, so one bad research experience shouldn’t turn you completely away from research in general! I personally find working with people much more rewarding that “wet lab” research, and I would not have discovered my interest in clinical research if I hadn’t been open-minded toward the new experience.