Gabriela's Story: Not Your Average Scientist. Not Your Average High School Student.

Not Your Average Scientist. Not Your Average High School Student.

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

 

When one thinks of a scientist, the typical image that comes to mind is of an old man in a white lab coat, hunched over test tubes and glass vials. Quite possibly the last image to enter one’s head is a high school sophomore – let alone, a female one. In the Brain Research Apprenticeships in New York at Columbia (BRAINYAC) program, these two images collide.

 

No, this is not the story of how a “Albert Einstein--high school sophomore” hybrid came to be. Instead, this is the story of how I, a 15-year-old female high school student, became a scientist.

 

I live in Inwood and I go to a STEM high school in Harlem. I've always be inclined towards science. Similarly, after one too many episodes of Grey's Anatomy, I was convinced I wanted to become a doctor. Science has always been one of my interests because it's very hands on and abstract. I love the idea of not knowing something and then trying to find the answer to it. I applied to BRAINYAC in hopes of better understanding what aspects of the medical field was like. I was excited when I was accepted and began my BRAINYAC experience in my sophomore year of high school. 

When I started at the Joshua A. Gordon Lab, I was a mess. As any sophomore entering a lab full of experts would be, I was scared. I was worried I would not thrive in the professional, jargon-filled, mentally challenging environment that is a neuroscience research lab. In the beginning it was these worries that prevented me from being proactive, asking questions and ultimately getting the most out of the experience.

 

However, as time progressed, and as I began getting to know my mentor and coworkers, I quickly grew out of that. In doing so, I learned that science is not about knowing everything. Instead, it is everything about knowing nothing.

 

My mentor, Alexander Harris, taught me a key lesson: to be okay with baby steps. In other words, be patient and don't get discouraged when you don't immediately find the cure for cancer, or discover a new element. Science is about failing as much as it is about succeeding. 

A successful scientist takes an idea, mixes it with some curiosity and adds a pinch of determination to gain the information that they know they don’t yet possess.

 

My research project was analyzing the neural mechanisms underlying how stress hijacks the reward system. We were essentially trying to better understand the links between stress and depression by looking at two main parts of a mouse's reward system (the Ventral Tegmental Area and the Nucleus Accumbens) after it had undergone stress.

 

Now I feel confident not only in explaining my research, but also in asking questions and accepting the fact that I don’t and can’t know everything. This newfound confidence has transcended into my everyday life, allowing me to better communicate with others and making me more willing to share my ideas.

My experience with BRAINYAC has not carved a clear path for my future, but it has opened me up to the possibilities my future possesses. I am passionate about writing, photography, and drawing. I also love studying human rights issues and I love to travel. I may or may not major in Neuroscience. I may or may not spend my life counting cells on a computer. I hope to study public health in college. Whatever I end up pursuing, I can say that there is something very satisfying about discovering something new. This is probably why I’m returning to the lab this summer. I am going to continue my research from last summer and I am also working on a new project.

 

As I head into my senior year of high school this fall I know that whether it be in neuroscience or not, I will continue to feed my curiosity. And thanks to BRAINYAC, I will always be a scientist. 

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