"Get your hands dirty, get into research, and give something back to science because there is still so much to discover with neuroscience."
What first drew you into neuroscience?
“I think I was in the fifth or sixth grade when I became genuinely shocked and
wondered how hitting my funny bone made me feel weird throughout my body. This pushed me to think deeper about how the brain works and how it controls our bodies. A more serious first experience with neuroscience occured in the tenth grade when we were learning about hormones, the hypothalamus, and the nervous system in general. I was amazed as to how much is unknown, but I also believe that how far we have come in understanding the brain is so fascinating. This might be more philosophical, but I always found it so ironic that we use our brain to learn about the brain.”
What do you think is the most fascinating part of the brain?
“I would probably say the limbic circuitry. Understanding the pathways it takes for somatosensory stimuli to take over the cortex, I find it mind-blowing that the limbic circuitry can control the cortex so directly—such as emotions being a concept we make up ourselves in our own brains. Someone once told me that when you get scared or very uncomfortable, your amygdala sort of tunes out your cortex to escape the terrible situation you are in. In some cases, like mine, this translates into test anxiety. Above all, however, I just find it so fascinating that emotions are something that we make up in our heads and yet aren't something we can truly control.”
Could you tell us a little about your experience and background in neuroscience research?
“I started researching biology in the eleventh grade when, to apply for a fellowship, I submitted an abstract on the impact of space travel on the YAP gene. My project didn’t get selected for the fellowship, but the project was very close to my heart because it boosted my interest in the scientific research process in general. From there, I got more information through my biology lectures about neuroscience, which led me to do a project on the effects of antioxidants on oxidative stress, tested on soil fauna. As a sophomore in college, I began working in Dr. Ed Dixon’s traumatic brain injury lab, where I helped out with data and behavioral tests. Now, as a senior, I am working on an independent project that involves evaluating biomarkers for experimental TBIs [traumatic brain injuries].”
Are there any interesting projects you are working on right now?
“I am working on evaluating a biomarker for traumatic brain injury. I do ELISAs [enzyme linked immunosorbent assays] and western blots, and I also have some behavioral assessments.”
What major obstacles did you face in getting where you are today?
“As an international student, it was a whole new world when I started studying in the US—in terms of a lot of things, but most importantly, academically. I definitely found myself to be more comfortable with how things are taught here [in the US], but at the same time, examinations were completely different.
I think most of my challenges were because of being abroad for so long. Back home, studying in an Indian curriculum, I didn’t feel like scientists were valued as much. For example, the realization [that there are also doctorates in subjects other than medicine] made me very confused because growing up, the only doctors I really learned about in school were the clinical kind.
Also, in the tenth grade, we were expected to know exactly what we were going to do with our lives. We had to choose our school subjects for the next two years, which would ultimately determine our field of study. Mine was STEM with biology. Because of that, I felt the need to be extremely sure about going into science and explore the option of going into academia at that age.”
As a senior in university, what do you think is the most fascinating part of neuroscience that you have learned so far?
“I couldn’t possibly choose only one thing that’s the most fascinating. Nevertheless, one general thing that surprises me the most is how much is known about neuroscience, and yet it’s not enough. I’ve taken a variety of classes [on neuroscience], and every single one of them has taught me something super interesting. One of the methods that literally made my jaw drop was optogenetics used in neural circuits. I thought this technology was absolutely brilliant. I also think that the center-surround cells in the retina are a very cool mechanism of seeing light.”
What advice would you give to high schoolers or even middle schoolers who are aspiring to pursue higher education in the field of neuroscience?
“I think that neuroscience is such a great field with a very diverse curriculum. For example, you can be an engineer or a computer scientist and still be very involved with neuroscience (of course, you need to know the basic neuroscience anatomy and physiology to be able to apply the concepts). Because of how diverse this field is, it may be daunting, but I assure you it’s super rewarding. Get your hands dirty, get into research, and give something back to science because there is still so much to discover with neuroscience. One big piece of advice I would give anyone who’s entering high school is to find your passion and really focus on it, rather than chasing scores and grades. Research is highly rewarding if you let it be. It is very creative and it allows your mind to wander—something that most basic courses don’t let you do. Take advantage of that and grow as a person through your education.”
What are you planning to do after university?
“I’m applying to grad schools right now. I hope to get my PhD in Neuroscience— maybe something in neurotrauma. I know during rotations in year one of the PhD, most students change their minds, so I’m keeping my options open to things like psychiatry and neural circuits. After [I get my PhD], I hope to stay in academia. As an undergrad, I loved being a teaching assistant. It taught me so many different ways of looking at concepts, and in general, I learn things better by teaching others. It also gives me a way to meet new people in [the field of] neuroscience!”
Please note that this interview with Ms. Mohite was conducted in 2019. We have recently reformatted and made minor clarity edits to publish on the Simply Neuroscience Blog!