My journey to neuroscience
Hello! I just thought I would dedicate this post to a brief history on how I really got involved in neuroscience; firstly, because this is something that I haven't talked about, and secondly, because maybe, and hopefully, it could help provide knowledge to even one or two students out there who may be considering neuroscience as a potential career path.
Before I begin, let me start off with a disclaimer: everyone has their own path into any field they take. Maybe they always knew they liked that field. Maybe they decided to do the field 10 years after they finished a degree in a completely unrelated field. Your path is yours to follow (I will repeat this later); but again, hopefully this could help.
I took an interest in neuroscience at a pretty young age; perhaps what really got me hooked was firstly, reading books by Oliver Sacks— he is a great writer and I would recommend his books to anyone, whether they like neuroscience or not. This led me down a rabbit hole where I read more books - by Ray Kurzweil, David J. Linden, Frank Vertosick, Henry Marsh… anyway, you get the idea. This exposed me a lot to the neuroscience field from a variety of angles.
I then decided to try and get some first-hand experience working in the field of neuroscience by joining a computational neuroscience lab. Coding is not my forte, but nevertheless I learned so much just about Hebbian learning, neural plasticity (STDPs), long-term potentiation and memory, and so much more just from doing part-time work in the lab for a few months. This fascinated me further in the field, but, wishing to avoid coding again, I joined two wet labs one after another. Both labs aimed to help find treatments for neurodegeneration: my first lab worked with neural stem cells, while the second lab worked with fruit flies. (Shoutout to Dr. Shiyan Ng and Dr. Sherry Aw). Having taken a more medical interest in neuroscience, the research here was truly amazing. It taught me not only how much we know, but also how much we don’t know. It taught me how much potential there is within the field of neuroscience, and how badly we need to contribute to this field—how badly patients need us to get better; patients for whom there is no cure, and thus hearing the word “neurodegenerative disease”, “Alzheimer’s”, or “dementia” currently feels like a curse for doom. I learned that there are ways to potentially—hopefully—help these patients, some day, even if it is several years from now, and hearing these words will not be as demoralizing then as it is now. This made me want to contribute to this field, more.
Perhaps the icing on the cake was when I shadowed a neurosurgeon. I am fortunate that a family member’s family friend happened to be a neurosurgeon, and they so kindly and graciously gave me one of the most inspiring and eye-opening experiences of my life. Spending that one week in the OR changed my life. It taught me how much we can make a difference in patients’ lives; patients who come with severe trauma and/or illness, and the possibilities of curing them. It also, of course, showed me the darker side of the field—patients often don’t fully recover. Procedures may not always work. But all we can do is hope, and try; and it is this hope that I wish to use to help support people who have suffered. Nobody deserves suffering.
This isn't everything. There is more interspersed in between. I completed a few online neuroscience courses from EdX (they are a great online learning tool), and I would often read Nature Neuroscience to try and stay up-to-date with any interesting research within the field. However, these aspects were comparatively smaller contributions to my interest in neuroscience (they were valuable contributions, nonetheless).
Perhaps this post came out a bit more self-centered and poetic than I thought; and I definitely did not write this in chronological order. However, my point is: everyone has their own path. Whether you take an interest in learning about neural networks and artificial intelligence, a purely scientific interest in neuroscience by recording brain and/or behavioral activity in response to electrical stimulation, a more psychological/sociological approach (i.e., how our brains change in response to social and/or psychological pressures), or a more clinical interest like me—or any combination of the above—that path is yours to follow. You could read, do research, and shadow doctors like I did; or you could volunteer in a local neuroscience museum or maybe in a hospital, take online classes- heck, even enroll in a community college if you wish! Attend neuroscience camps (Rice holds Neurocamp in Houston every year), read Neuron, obtain a mental health certification, or contemplate the brain in your free time: everyone has their own approach. Find what fits you best, and keep exploring.
Good luck; and if you ever have any questions about neuroscience, please feel free to reach out!