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Student Perspectives

Monique Mendes

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Why did you decide to study neuroscience and why at UR?

I am originally from Kingston, Jamaica and did my undergraduate work at the University of Florida in Gainesville. I decided to study neuroscience due to observing those around me succumb to the effects of neurological disease. Recent improvements in developing novel treatments for neurodegenerative diseases and the hope that these will favorably impact those affected are my main motivator.

I chose the University of Rochester because of the diverse and collaborative nature of the Neuroscience graduate program. I have no doubt that I will receive the best training and opportunities.

How do you like Rochester?

I've only been here for about 2 months and I enjoy the city. If you’re an outdoors person like me you'll find there is always something to do. I've gone kayaking down the Genesee River and that was a lot of fun. I look forward to exploring Rochester in the coming months.

What tips would you give to applicants and/or incoming students?

I would suggest applicants and/or incoming students to take advantage of the many resources available on the website and to get to know the institution and the faculty. Last, don't be afraid to ask questions.

What are you plans after you earn your PhD degree?

I enjoy the camaraderie of an academic institution and see myself excelling in that setting; therefore I will enter academia upon completion of my degree.

Holly Beaulac

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Where do you come from?

I am originally from Gorham, New Hampshire. I earned a BS degree from the University of New England (UNE) in Biddeford, ME and MS degree from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. I have worked as a technician and lab manager at UNE in three different labs within the Center for Excellence in Neuroscience.

Why did you decide to study at UR?

The University of Rochester (UR) has a sterling reputation for neuroscience research and its laboratory community is very collaborative and supportive. The environment here stresses both individual intellectual rigor balanced with social engagement within and outside of the university. These are exactly the elements that I want to better prepare me for a future career in science and to have a healthy personal life.

How do you like Rochester?

The area is quite nice and has a lot of beautiful green space (e.g. parks, Erie Canal bike path, Mt. Hope Cemetery), bars and restaurants, shopping areas including malls and the Farmer’s Market, and museums/historical sites. Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes are only short drives away and the Adirondacks and Niagara Falls are relatively close by for longer trips. The people I’ve encountered here have been very friendly and though there’s a bit more traffic than in rural Maine, driving is relatively easy.

What are you plans after you earn your PhD degree?

I am leaning towards a position in industry or even scientific writing. UR offers a short internship opportunity that I may take advantage of. The neuroscience field will likely undergo a few changes between now and when I graduate and may produce a completely new set of jobs based upon the work being done today. To become a part of that work is extremely exciting and I look forward to my time at UR in helping to prepare me for the challenges of tomorrow.

Matthew Cavanaugh

Photo of Matthew Cavanaugh

Why Neuroscience at the UR?

Neuroscience has always been a passion of mine, and growing up in the next town over I was always aware of UR's reputation. Once I came to visit the campus and met the rest of the program I was pretty much decided that this is where I wanted to go.

How do you like Rochester?

Rochester is amazing as a school and a city. There are always things to do and something new going on. I'm from nearby so this area has always been a lot of fun for me.

Why Huxlin lab?

I came from a pretty molecular/genetic background from my undergrad. But I joined lab that works on systems. I never expected it is something I would do. When I join neuroscience I wanted to try something new, so I did an early rotation with Dr. Huxlin in the summer. I greatly enjoyed the research and my experiences in the lab, and now here I am.

Humberto Mestre

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Why did you decide to study neuroscience and why at UR?

I finished medical school at Anahuac University in Mexico City, Mexico and decided to study neuroscience because during my clinical training I saw that we were not able to offer effective therapies for many neurological diseases. UR is a global leader in medical research and with an active interest in translation. With the establishment of the Ernest J. Del Monte Neuromedicine Institute, the Center for Translational Neuromedicine, and the future Neurorestoration Institute, UR is a hub for research in the field of neuroscience and neurology, and I wanted to be a part of it.

What tips would you give to applicants and/or incoming students?

The NGP at URMC is one of a kind. It really is the perfect confluence of a top-level scientific environment in a friendly and collaborative atmosphere. The myriad extracurricular opportunities sets NGP apart from other neuroscience programs in its tier.

How do you like Rochester?

Rochester is a vibrant city, rich in culture and history. There are a lot of activities and places to see. It also has many amazing nature parks that are very worthwhile for hiking and camping.

What are you plans after you earn your PhD degree?

I am interested in establishing a research institute in Mexico focused towards studying the neurobiology of aging.

Heather Natola

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Why NSC at the University of Rochester?

I chose the NSC program for it's emphasis on translational research. During the interview weekend the students seemed to have the best work-life balance of all the schools I interviewed. The students have a strong support network in each other, which I think is important in graduate school, especially in a new city.

How do you like Rochester?

It is small but there is plenty to do. So far it has been a very affordable city to live in.

Why did you choose the lab you are in?

I joined Dr. Proschel's lab because I felt that his enthusiasm for science was contagious. His projects are very interesting and he gives me a lot of freedom to carve out parts of them and design my own experiments.

Rebecca Rausch

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Why NSC at the University of Rochester?

The NSC program at UofR combines a stimulating course curriculum with a wide range of laboratories to join. The faculty here are very collaborative and eager to help you succeed. Lastly, the students are a lot of fun which helps to provide a balance between work and having a social life.

How do you like Rochester?

There is always something to do in the city of Rochester, from the summer festivals and concerts to the variety of bars and delicious restaurants. Having four seasons was also an important factor for me - the winters here really make you appreciate the warmer months! Additionally, there are many opportunities to get involved in sports, including a neuroscience summer softball team.

Why the Libby Lab

I chose to join the laboratory of Dr. Rick Libby due to both the supportive environment and my interest in the ongoing research. Topics in our lab range from developmental abnormalities in the anterior eye to neurodegenerative models of glaucoma.

Fatima Rivera-Escalera

Photo of Fatima Rivera-Escalera

Why Rochester?

I decided to apply to the University of Rochester after spending a year in the Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP). I was interested in studying the role of neuroinflammation in the Alzheimer's disease and Dr. Kerry O'Banion's lab presented a good fit for me. Although, I must say, it took me some time to get used to Rochester weather. Coming from Puerto Rico, long and snowy winters were novelty for me. Now, on the other hand, it is too hot for me when I go back home.


Garrick Salois

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Why did you decide to study neuroscience and why at UR?

I am from Bay City, Michigan and I was a psychology major at Saginaw Valley State University. My time as a psychology major made me extremely interested in the fascinatingly complex physical phenomena that ultimately underlie behavior and cognition. I was especially interested in how different cell types of the brain interact in neuroplasticity and neurodegeneration. Several labs from the University of Rochester produced papers that were pivotal to this interest, and that led me to pursue a graduate education here. After I got a chance to speak with so many incredible scientists during my interviews and witness the academic atmosphere here, I was confident this was where I wanted to be.

How do you like Rochester?

I really like Rochester so far! Compared to where I am from, there is so much more to do - especially great food and music.

What tips would you give to applicants and/or incoming students?

For applicants, don't be afraid to show how excited you are about science - if you aren't passionate about your work, interviewers will notice. For incoming students, definitely try to do a summer lab rotation if at all possible, it is a great way to focus on a lab as well as get used to Rochester before you are inundated with classes.

What are you plans after you earn your PhD degree?

I'm not sure of my plans after earning my PhD. What I do know is I like to be at the bench doing experiments and constantly learning new things, so the idea of being a career research scientist appeals to me.

Grayson Sipe

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Why Rochester?

I was interested in studying at Rochester because there was a large group of visual neuroscience faculty doing interesting research. During my interviews, I felt they genuinely cared about my goals and interests. Being here for a year, this has held true and the atmosphere is friendly and supportive. There is lots of cross-talk and collaboration. As for the city of Rochester, it is a good mid-sized city with the country not far away.

What are your plans after graduation?

After graduating, I plan to secure a position as a post-doc and eventually teach and do research at an institution that requires excellence in both.

Aleta Steevens

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Why NSC at the University of Rochester?

I really liked the collaborative nature of the Neuroscience Program. It fosters a supportive environment that is conducive for growth as a scientist. Along similar lines, the faculty take great interest in each student as a person beyond the results they generate. Together these factors make the U of R a very healthy and encouraging place to start one's scientific career.

How do you like Rochester?

Rochester has a great mix of factors that make it a perfect fit for me. I love how many opportunities there are for me to engage in an active lifestyle: several half marathons a year, beautiful trails for running or biking, and the lake for swimming, boating, or simply going to the beach. The artistic scene in Rochester is also a big draw for me. Myriad art galleries and museums, live jazz, and a classical ballet company complement my science interests to make this city a good fit.

Why the Kiernan Lab?

I have always been interested in the cellular processes in development and the potential for reactivating similar pathways as a regenerative therapy in a disease state. The research in the Kiernan lab complemented these interests perfectly.

Wei Sun

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Why Rochester?

I like Rochester because it is a very clean city and it is not too busy or too quiet. I think it is a good place to do research.

Why the Neuroscience program?

The neuroscience program at University of Rochester has professors working at multiple fields of neuroscience, and some of them are quite good studying neurological diseases, neural stem cells and genetics, which are of my particular interest. It is very beneficial for graduate students to communicate with researchers in various fields.

Why the Nedergaard Lab?

Astrocytes are a very interesting cell type and are not as widely studied as neurons. Dr. Nedergaard has so many fantastic ideas on astrocytes, so I decided to come to her lab to study astrocytes.

Nguyen Mai

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Why Neuroscience at the UR?

I love the colorful seasonal changes in Rochester and the city's proximity to nature. I chose NSC and the Halterman lab because I wanted the opportunity to integrate clinical research and basic science.