Home Opinion OPINION: Why OU’s science culture is surprisingly progressive

OPINION: Why OU’s science culture is surprisingly progressive

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Ohio U’s science culture is proving to be surprisingly progressive within the neuroscience program, which has big plans to lure its students and faculty out of the lab for a day.

Students all over campus are making last-minute tweaks to their posters, as the days are numbered before “Neuroscience Research Day” begins on Saturday, Oct. 7.

The event promises a keynote lecture by Anthony Brown of Ohio State University, who has received international recognition for his research on neurofilaments and axonal transport. His talk will be followed by presentations from six neuroscience faculty members of Ohio U, and finally by a poster session for student research.

If you have never heard of such a day before, that is because this event is the first of its kind at Ohio U. While it is a big step toward unifying the neuroscience community, it still excludes those without “a background in neuroscience.”

The event is a unique collaboration of undergraduate, graduate and faculty researchers in an effort to unite the neuroscience program at Ohio U. Such an effort may seem overdue, but faculty who have done research in universities all across the U.S. recognize just how progressive the idea of Neuroscience Research Day really is.

Dr. Sonsoles de Lacalle, an associate professor of neuroscience and director of the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Office of Advanced Studies, says the spirit of scientific collaboration at Ohio U is something she has not seen in many places. She can recall colleagues at other universities telling horror stories of research treated like top secret information, and even cases of researchers mislabeling chemical reagents and samples to prevent the sharing of supplies and “secrets” between labs.

In contrast, here at Ohio U, several students were happy to share the details of their research. They will be doing so soon at Lake Hope Lodge, a short 30 minute drive from campus where Neuroscience Research Day will be taking place.

Liz Murphy, a senior in biology, and Marissa Smarelli, a junior in neuroscience, are co-presenting on their research into the spread of Tau, a protein found to be infected in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Murphy and Smarelli both expressed that their biggest challenge in undergraduate research has been balancing lab work on top of the heavy course load required to get a degree in the biological sciences. However, they do not regret deciding to get involved in research here at Ohio U.

“Coming into college, I was very determined to have a career in medicine as a pediatrician,” Murphy said.  

“While my heart is still set on attending medical school, it has crossed my mind that a career as a researcher could be very rewarding.  I am now considering applying to schools that specialize in a dual MD/PhD degree that would allow me to continue pursuing research after my undergraduate studies have ended.”

Smarelli also believes her positive research experience here impacted her future career plans — specifically, it has inspired her to continue pursuing research.

“I will most likely continue doing research after I’m done with school, as I enjoy working in the lab,” Smarelli said.

“(Student Neuroscience Undergraduate Research Fund) helped me refine my lab skills, as I was running experiments mostly by myself, and I learned how to write a proper experimental protocol. I will need these skills if I am to continue doing research during my career.”

Ohio U is ahead other schools in the collaboration between its labs, but things get more complicated when it comes to sharing what is happening behind closed lab doors with the greater Ohio U community. Perhaps the next Neuroscience Research Day could take place closer to campus. After all, a portion of our neuroscience faculty studied math, computer science, and other disciplines in their undergraduate years versus  neuroscience. This is not unusual either. Recent trends in graduate neuroscience programs across the U.S. are actively looking for those with advanced computational training.

Despite their inability to reach out to a more diverse audience, these preliminary efforts of the Ohio U neuroscience program are a good model for other, traditionally isolated STEM disciplines to follow for the progression of student education and science itself.

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