I’ve always loved to read. My strongest memories from middle school were of my favorite young adult novels. In high school, with sports, extracurriculars, and lots of A.P classes, my reading time dwindled. Then when I came to Hopkins and decided to delve deep into a neuroscience major, I thought my reading days were over. I was so, so wrong.
Freshman year I was influenced by the great (now alumnus) JHU_Noah, to join NeuroJAYS (The JHU Neuroscience Association For Young Scientists). Once a week NeuroJAYS meets for about an hour to discuss a neuroscience journal paper. At this point in my life (and this is embarrassing) I barely knew what a research journal was! I had never actually read a scientific paper. The first paper we read had a long and complicated name…in which I didn’t understand a single word. My knowledge of neuroscience at that point was pitiful. But I absolutely loved each Wednesday night meeting. I loved spending a solid couple of hours trying to digest what the paper was actually saying, asking questions, and analyzing the strengths and weaknesses.
Research papers are like stories. In fact, my PI is fond of saying at lab meetings “what story is the data telling us?” Every paper has an introduction where the main players (the molecules/proteins/cells) are introduced, and a methods section which details how the story was created. Next come the results—the main storyline, complete with colorful figures (diagrams, beautiful cells, and graphs). At the end of the paper comes the discussion section, the conclusion in which the story comes to an end. Like in every good essay or novel, the theme even broadens to global importance.
At the end of my freshman year I started working in a lab. The faculty member I worked under handed me a packet of papers to read to gain some background knowledge. It took me weeks to get through them. I was googling almost every word, and I couldn’t understand any of the protocols used in the paper.
I now have two years of research under my belt, and reading papers has become much easier and so much more enjoyable. This summer while I was working in lab full time, I became enamored with a new project. Along with Leslie, a grad student in the lab, we developed a potential new mechanism for transdifferentiation of a progenitor cell. I spent an entire week reading papers related to the topic. I’d get into work at 9 am and still be reading at 5pm. Call me crazy, but that was the most fun week of the summer. I just love to read.
This semester I’m taking two upper-level Neuroscience electives called the Cellular and Molecular Biology of Sensation, and Emerging Strategies in Biomedical Research. Although the semester has just begun, I already know that I am going to love them.
In Emerging Strategies in Biomedical Research we are learning about some of the amazing, cutting-edge techniques being used in the lab today. Today we learned about optogenetics, a crazy method of activating and depressing specific cells in vivo using a specific wavelength of light. Last week we learned about Brainbow mice, a complex transgenic model in which the neurons fluoresce all the colors of the rainbow! The assignments for the class are to read related papers to the research method and write analyses of the papers.
Cellular and Molecular Biology of Sensation is a class that focuses on the research being done in molecular neuroscience on all of the sensory systems. Our first lecture was on the discovery of electrical tuning in turtles. Although turtles don’t have cochlea, they hear just as well as humans!! Every week we have to read a related paper on the subject.
Next week NeuroJAYS will start up again. Instead of being the freshman with zero experience and a thousand questions, I’m excited to pick out the papers and help explain them. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned in just three years at Hopkins.
Although during the semester I can barely fit in any pleasure reading, I’m still reading for hours every day. Somehow I was lucky enough to keep reading, my favorite hobby, as an integral part of my life.