Graduate Student Profiles

Dave Marzan, Salzer Lab

On Neuroscience
The ability to investigate abstract concepts such as learning, memory and cognition fascinated me deeply. Reading books such as Phantoms of the Brain and The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat opened my eyes to how the mind can be studied in humans and what conclusions could be drawn from diseases and disorders of the brain.
I am interested in studying how the innate immune system, primarily microglia, plays a role in the degeneration and regeneration of the nervous system. I study this using animal models of Multiple Sclerosis. The adult brain contains stem cells that are able to repair damage caused by the autoimmune disease MS. I am interested in finding factors that promote this process.

On NYU
I wanted to apply my undergraduate experience in neuroscience to the field of biomedical sciences. The exciting, diverse and collaborative environment of NYU hooked me.  The idea of doing basic research in a medical center with translational potential was extremely attractive. The administration and faculty were friendly and I felt at home. I decided that pursing a PhD would be extremely difficult no matter where I went, so I might as well do it in the heart of NYC.

The grad program has really formed the foundation for my graduate education. My fellow classmates are extremely supportive and fun whether we are talking about science or plans for the weekend. My colleagues and I constantly discuss projects, commiserate and even collaborate. The administration is also always there to help the students with scheduling meetings, advising and are a great resource.

On life as a graduate student
Outside of lab, I enjoy attending a weekly group meeting where scientists discuss their research in an informal setting. It is an excellent way to learn what people you may see on a regular basis are doing in their own lab. The annual retreat at Mohonk is always a treat and an exceptional weekend of science and camaraderie.

The most amazing part of living in NYC is that you can make it whatever you want. I love to explore museums and galleries when I am in an artistic mood. I love trying new cuisine when I am more adventurous and want to try something new. But my favorite thing to do is to take long late night runs through the city. It is an awesome feeling to be in a city of millions and to look out onto the city and see no people, only lights.

Bianca Jones, Froemke Lab

On Neuroscience
My current interest in neuroscience stems from my undergraduate work in elementary and adolescent education. As an educator, I have seen firsthand the effects of healthy interpersonal relationships, or the devastating lack thereof, on cognitive development and quality of life. Now with my research I explore both behavioral and neuronal responses to auditory social stimuli.  Specifically, I examine the role of the neuromodulator oxytocin in mouse maternal responses to the distress calls of young offspring. Through my work I can potentially contribute to the exploration of the human condition in a greater effort to advance social neuroscience, education, policy, and society. More specifically, I am fascinated by the operation of neurochemicals in shaping and re-shaping the brain. So, when the opportunity came to study the fundamental science behind the popular and infamous “love drug” oxytocin, I took it!

On NYU
Sackler has instilled a sense of community that fosters our scientific growth. The Sackler Neuroscience and Physiology program grants us access to different departments and faculty both at the medical center and the Washington Square campus. I feel students are comfortable reaching out to professors for feedback and scientific collaborations, while professors invest in our growth as scientists. The graduate student community continues this relationship.  We support each other, offering project feedback and sharing techniques. I think we have collectively learned that science is not a task for the individual, and our strength lies in the synergy of our community.

Christopher Wilson, Rinberg Lab

On Neuroscience
My initial draw to neuroscience was toward studying how neurons and the molecules within them contribute to mental illness and emotion. Thinking about it now, I must say that I’ve shifted quite far from that initial draw!

I am now trying to learn how the olfactory system encodes the qualities (or identities) of odors. The brain has a remarkable ability to maintain a single identifiable quality of odors over a wide odor concentration range despite changes in sensory input across these concentrations. I’m using a behavioral task enhanced with optogenetics to try to determine the time scale on which odor information transduced in the nose is used to discriminate between two odors. We are finding that it is much quicker than expected. Now I’m beginning to use multichannel electrophysiology probes to record action potentials from neurons in the olfactory bulb to determine how odor information is encoded during this time we’ve identified. At the end of it all, I have the hope that we will be able to say that odor percepts used for decisions are formed from a relatively simple encoding scheme that manifests relatively quickly after the first sniff of odor.

On NYU
Of the universities that I was choosing between, it seemed to me that the program at NYU's medical center was the most ambitious. My lab is located here at the medical center, and there is a host of young and established faculty that is clearly striving to make their labs and, in turn, NYU world-class.
The diversity of the faculty and curriculum has been the biggest asset that I see. The program does a good job of balancing the need to have a solid curriculum in both the molecular and biophysical underpinnings of the brain as well as an understanding of how neurons form systems that can process information and drive behavior.

On life as a graduate student
Honestly, my favorite thing is to leave the city and climb on weekends. It is easier than you would think. I’m not a huge city person, but there is plenty of great food and free or cheap events.

Julia Brandt, Ringstad Lab

On Neuroscience
I came to NYU wanting to study neurodevelopment. I find the cellular and molecular diversity of the human brain fascinating. How is all that complexity generated? While I had my heart set on working in a rodent model system, my rotation in a C. elegans lab blew me away. Using powerful molecular genetics to understand a biological phenomenon really appealed to me. Taken together with Niels’s enthusiasm for science, these things made me think that I would rigorously learn the scientific method in his lab. It was and still is a really exciting time in the Ringstad lab.

During nervous system development, an incredible diversity of neurons is formed. This diversity allows different neurons to have different functions, thereby allowing the nervous system to generate complex behaviors. To study neuronal diversity in the Ringstad lab, I work on a small roundworm: Caenorhabditis elegans, pioneered as a model organism for genetic analysis of neurobiology. I'm studying the developmental mechanisms that generate particular sensory neurons that detect the respiratory gas CO2 to understand what specifies these neurons and endows them with the capacity to act as sensory neurons.

On NYU
While graduate work is challenging, the neuroscience program offers lots of resources that make it a rewarding and enjoyable experience. I’ve benefited from the broad curriculum, talks from famous scientists, weekly group meetings and travel grants that allow me to attend and present my work at conferences. All these things are great, but I think the strength of the NYU Neuroscience program lies in the diversity of the faculty. For example, when a student like myself gives a talk about neurodevelopment, you can be sure that there will be some challenging questions that take a systems neuroscience approach to the problem. That feedback can really give you a gem you weren’t already thinking about, enriching your own work.

One of NYU’s strengths is the community. I’m in Skirball, and there’s a nice solidarity amongst students that I can rely on for support during the ups and downs that make up a Ph.D experience. I’m also an international student, and it’s great to have other international students on the floor to talk with about stuff like getting visas for conferences, etc. People are also really generous with their time when I need guidance on an experiment I’ve never done before, borrowing reagents or just talking something through.

On life as a graduate student
When I went to my first conference where I presented my work I had a powerful feeling of ownership and pride, like I had really created something. Unlike thesis committee meetings, meetings with my PI and all the other commitments of grad school, I felt like that moment was mine. It’s a pretty exhilarating experience, sort of like discovering something at the bench.

Finally...Advice for new graduate students
Keep an open mind! There’s such diversity in research topics and approaches at NYU neuroscience that it’s a great time to fall in love with a different area of research.