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Attending the University of North Carolina at ______ I began my undergraduate career with the intention of obtaining a degree in Psychology. This decision was based on my general interest in the brain and human behavior. After completing my second year I decided to double major in Biology due to my desire to understand the brain at its’ most fundamental level. As I advanced through my degrees and questioned what type of career I would like to pursue I became increasingly interested in the experimental side of neuroscience. I was particularly fascinated by research identifying the ways in which conscious beings possessed differing perceptual abilities and the various environmental and biological causes behind these differences.

 

My growing curiosity towards the research aspect of neuroscience prompted me to take the initiative to seek out research experience through my university. Pursuing an interest in the role of learning and memory in mental disorders, I applied for a position in Dr. Blank’s Behavioral Pharmacology and Comparative Cognition lab.  I was accepted and completed five semesters and two summers as a research assistant. This opportunity allowed me to gain experience in a lab and become familiar with the daily proceedings that occur within a research setting. I was able collaborate with graduate students on various aspects of their research endeavors. This included weekly presentations which allowed me to become skilled in the communication needed in an effective lab group. I also had the opportunity to attend the Society for Neuroscience conference which further opened my eyes to how vast the field of neuroscience is.

During my time in Dr. Blank’s lab I studied the effects of both drugs and non-pharmacological variables on memory processes in rodents. I assisted graduate students on several projects seeking to identify drug effects on rodent reinforcement learning, recognition, and episodic-like memory using behavioral assays such as the odor span task and radial arm maze. In addition to studying behavioral pharmacology I also worked on projects seeking to identify the limits of certain cognitive abilities in rodents. I appreciated the breadth of our research because it gave me exposure to both the biological underpinnings of behavior as well as the importance of experimental design.

 

Under the supervision of Dr. Blank I was also able to hone my interests and experience independent research as well by completing an undergraduate thesis project titled Effects of Ketamine on a Rodent Model of Memory Capacity: A Test of the NMDA Hypo-activity Hypothesis of Schizophrenia. The purpose of this research was to determine the validity of NMDA antagonists as an animal model of the working memory deficits commonly seen in individuals with schizophrenia. After an extensive literature search I became interested in which NMDA antagonist might provide a rodent model with the most translational significance. In the past different NMDA antagonists had produced disparate effects on cognitive measures. While completing this project I was able to follow my own experimental question from its original hypothesis through to the analysis of the resulting experimental data and it’s subsequent presentation and defense. I found this to be a highly rewarding experience that solidified my interest in pursuing graduate work and an academic career.

 

Following my undergraduate education I have continued to learn and focus my research interests in neuroscience through reading and following online course materials such as MIT’s  Neural Basis of Learning and Memory, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Cognitive and Behavioral Genetics as well as courses on data analysis and MATLAB programming. My long term goal is to continue to conduct research and teach at a university level, however I would also love to be involved with the same open courseware platforms that have allowed me to learn outside the walls of a university.

 

I enjoyed the research I was involved in during my undergraduate career, however, I felt that I would like to explore neuroscience working directly with humans. During my search for graduate programs I hoped to find a program with an interdisciplinary approach that would allow me to explore this interest. I would love to be able to gain experience with brain imaging techniques and computational modeling while contributing to the field of neuroscience. After researching the doctoral program in Psychology at UC Blank I found that it provided everything I was looking for.  I am especially interested in the work of Dr. Blank combining behavioral experiments and computational models to study working memory and learning. Working memory became one of my biggest interests during undergraduate school and I am interested Dr. Blank’s research on it’s interference with reinforcement learning. I am also interested in how motivation plays a role. I was also intrigued by Dr. Blank’s research involving genetic factors influencing cognition.

 

I believe this program would help me gain important foundational skills and allow me to explore my research interests further so that I can develop myself as a research scientist further. I believe I am a good fit for this program because my interests closely align with the research being conducted. I hope to bring what I have learned so far and build upon this while continuing my research career at UC Blank.

 

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