My STEP experience was a research fellowship through N.I.D.A.. The National Institute on Drug abuse (N.I.D.A) is a federally funded research institute under the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.) which specifically aims to add to the scientific body of knowledge as it applies to drug abuse and addiction.
As a N.I.D.A. Intern, I was stationed in the lab of Dr. Galizio and Dr. Bruce in the psychology department of The University of North Carolina Wilmington. This lab receives funding for its research through N.I.D.A.. As an intern, my main objective was to learn about how research in health is conducted and the process by which this information is made available to government policy makers and healthcare providers.
The lab’s main focus is on the effects of popular club drugs such as roofies, dizocilpine, and methamphetamine on episodic and working memory. Episodic memories are those very specific ones in which you actually place yourself back in the situation and remember sensory information such as smells, tastes, and feelings. This specific type of memory was chosen because it tends to be the first type to decay in Alzheimer’s disease. Finding that rats possessed this ability would not only help with understanding the effects of drugs on the human brain, but also possibly pave the way in using animal models to create early detection strategies for Alzheimer’s disease. Working memory is a form of short term memory in which small pieces of information are remembered and manipulated for a brief period. Dizocilpine was one of the drugs of increased interest because of its action as an NMDA antagonist. The NMDA receptor is a key receptor for the excitatory neurotransmitter Glutamate in the brain. Glutamate is hypothesized to be key to Long Term Potentiation within the brain.
Research in the lab really taught me a lot about myself in terms of my work ethic. While I already knew that I am willing to study hard to do well in classes I feel like that often goes unnoticed. I had never really had the amount of responsibility that this internship thrust upon me, but was able to to really make an impact in my lab. Things that I have always done when no one is watching such as attention to detail and staying until the job my goals are accomplished, soon became points of admiration from other researchers.
In terms of career goals this internship showed me that research is very different from the labs that you take as courses in college and that this work can be very fulfilling. While I do not plan on pursuing a career in psychology, I will use certain things that I learned such drug effects and information on how the brain works for future classes and work. This internship also put me in a position where I could prove myself and earn a letter of recommendation from a distinguished faculty member. My favorite thing about this research was that I had the opportunity to work with and learn from so many different types of people.
While I will not be returning to my research position this summer, I do plan on presenting some of the findings at a conference with this research group in the spring. This STEP experience allowed me to take a chance and pursue an out of state opportunity. Since this summer I have found a new lab at Ohio State University in which some of my skills have transferred over.