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An Undergrad's Experience in Neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon

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Fueled by a simple curiosity for how the human brain develops, Navid Shams (MCS '07) ventured into the undergraduate neuroscience program at Carnegie Mellon. Waiting there for him were research opportunities he feels he would not have gotten at any other university.

"Carnegie Mellon has both inspiring faculty who encourage undergraduate research, and the programs to support it," said Shams. "The skills I gained in the laboratory qualified me for a research position in a neurobiology lab at Harvard's Children's Hospital in Boston."

With funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Shams was able to study the visual system of an animal model and identify variations from normal development.

His work was part of Carnegie Mellon neurobiologist Justin Crowley's research on how neurons form intricate connections with one another and how the connections change and grow over time. The research could ultimately lead to treatment options for repairing damage to the circuitry of the nervous system caused by traumatic injury or disease.

"It was great to have Dr. Crowley and others around me in the lab who had so much experience," said Shams. "They understood that some of the more invasive techniques required were new to me and didn't add any extra pressure."

Nathan Urban, an associate professor in Carnegie Mellon's department of biological sciences and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, believes that undergraduate research has become nearly an essential part of a modern science education.

"Carnegie Mellon has tremendous strength in both computational and experimental neuroscience and has unique opportunities for undergraduates to become involved in these rapidly growing areas," he explained. "Becoming involved in research as an undergraduate is the best way to experience what science is really about.  No classroom experience prepares you for the challenges and rewards of discovery."

Shams — now a Master's student at Boston University School of Public Health and a researcher at Harvard's Children's Hospital in Boston — looks back on his undergraduate research experience as a key stepping stone to where he is today.

"I would highly recommend that undergraduates get involved with research as early as possible," said Shams. "Not only have the laboratory skills I gained been essential for future positions, but the experience as a whole truly helped me hone in on my specific interests in the broad field neuroscience."

Related Links: Neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon  |  Office of Undergraduate Research  |  Mellon College of Science  |  Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition