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Student Perspectives

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Katherine Andersh

3rd year Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

Why Neuroscience

I've always had a curiosity for science and upon learning more about neuroscience and the brain, I fell in love with its intersection between biology and psychology. Growing up I experienced firsthand how aging and devastating injuries like stroke and traumatic brain injury can impact not only the patients themselves, but entire families. These events drove my curiosity to investigate ways to help patients and families stay connected and improve after experiencing acute injury or age-related disease.

Why The University of Rochester

During my interview at the U of R, it was clear that the Neuroscience Graduate Program is full of supportive, closely-knit faculty and students committed to the growth and training of scientists. Out of all the places I considered, the students here felt happy and supported, while still taking place in cutting-edge translational research.

Program Uniqueness

When I joined the NGP, I felt as if I had joined a welcoming family. I have been able to grow as a scientist with the support of faculty and students both in the classroom and as a part of several student-run groups within NGP.

Advice To Prospective Students

My advice would be to form connections within the NGP community, whether it be with fellow classmates, older student mentors, or faculty. Friends and mentors in NGP can share their own experiences and challenges and help you navigate through trying times since they all want to help the community stay strong.

Research Interests

The role of neuroinflammation in neurodegenerative disease, specifically in glaucoma.

Current Research Projects

In the Fall of 2017, I joined Dr. Richard Libby's laboratory to study the cellular and molecular mechanisms of neurodegeneration in glaucoma. Glaucoma is a progressive and age-related neurodegenerative condition affecting the output neurons of the retina-the retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). Through unknown mechanisms, chronically elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) leads to RGC axonal injury at the optic nerve head, ultimately causing loss of vision. This primary axonal injury triggers distinct mechanisms controlling RGC apoptosis and axonal degeneration. The molecular signaling pathway leading from initial glaucomatous injury to retinal ganglion cell (RGC) death remains incompletely defined. While several studies had alluded to a role of extrinsic neuroinflammatory signaling arising from glial cells, relatively little is known concerning the combinatorial role of proinflammatory cytokine signaling cascades in driving glaucomatous damage. Throughout my remaining years researching in the Libby laboratory, I intend to better understand the role of inflammation in glaucomatous injury. I will hopefully be able to identify potential targets that could be inhibited or activated to promote neuroprotection and prevent vision loss in glaucoma.

Career Goals

After completing my graduate training, I plan to seek postdoctoral fellowship training centered on basic molecular and translational research to identify therapeutic targets for neurodegenerative disease, particularly those involving neuroinflammation.

Living In Rochester

Out of all the places I have lived, Rochester feels both like a big city and a small town at the same time. There are plenty of events going on to explore, such as festivals, but also so much outdoor space to explore both at the Lake and in the Finger Lakes region. Anything you could need is no more than a 30-minute drive away.

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Holly Beaulac

5th year Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

Why Neuroscience

In high school, learning about the CNS, dissecting brains, and being able to design and conduct my own experiment enhanced my interest in the neurosciences. I have since earned BS and MS neuroscience degrees from the University of New England (UNE) in Biddeford, ME, and Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, respectively. Prior to attending the University of Rochester (UR), I worked as a technician and lab manager in three different labs within UNE's Center for Excellence in Neuroscience. Contributing to our understanding of various neurological diseases and disorders continues to be a very rewarding endeavor.

Why The University of Rochester

University of Rochester has a sterling reputation for neuro-scientific research and its laboratory community is very collaborative and supportive. This was the first school at which I interviewed for a PhD and I immediately noticed the fervent, friendly, and caring attitudes expressed among the faculty and students. Everyone is extremely knowledgeable and always going out of their way to help others improve. This is exactly the environment in which I want to prepare my future scientific career and maintain a healthy social life.

Program Uniqueness

The NGP emphasizes individual intellectual rigor balanced with communal engagement within and outside of the university. You're not here solely to pump out data for your lab but instead are encouraged to create a well-rounded skill set and network to enhance your role as a neuroscientist.

Program Recommendation

The NGP does its best to prepare students for upcoming challenges they will experience in the field through rigorous classes, writing exercises, and annual presentations on their lab work. Having an assigned first year committee for guidance is extremely helpful and the Student Seminar is a great way to track the progress of your own and others' projects. The students and faculty are also very close and collaborate often.

Advice To Prospective Students

Graduate school, and science in general, is a series of highs and lows. Not all of these are predictable. Being passionate about your work and willfully acknowledging what you know and don't know is what will drive you through the next 5 years or more. When deciding whether or not to pursue a PhD, be sure you're ready to dedicate yourself to developing significant and original research. This includes spending a lot of time reading/planning and taking full advantage of the tools around you.

Learned Skills

The most important skills I've been able to learn and improve upon include understanding how to conduct hypothesis-driven research, ask important questions, and communicate my research to diverse audiences. My training has included: research collaborations, career planning, scientific communication, public outreach, biomedical ethics, and teaching.

Research Interests

My research interests include the examination of specific molecular pathways that contribute to human neurological/sensory disorders and disease.

Current Research Projects

As a member of Dr. Patricia White's Lab, I'm studying the genetic mechanisms involved in cochlear response to stress within a mouse model of noise induced hearing loss. Specifically, I'm testing the effects of transcription factor FOXO3's deletion within the cochlea in response to a mild noise stimulus. I'm also helping investigate SIRT3's role in the quality of hearing across aging.

Career Goals

I'm leaning towards a position in industry or even scientific writing. UR offers a short internship opportunity of which I may take advantage.  I also plan on joining URBEST during my 4th year to identify other career avenues.

Living In Rochester

There's plenty to do when taking a break from the lab. Rochester holds several festivals, concerts, and sporting events year-round in addition to those in nearby Buffalo and Toronto. There's a lot of green space (e.g. Highland Park, Erie Canal Path), great bars and restaurants, several shopping areas and a Farmer's Market, and interesting museums/historical sites. Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes are only short drives away with the Adirondacks and Niagara Falls relatively close by for weekend trips.

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Emily Crosier

4th year Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

Why Neuroscience

For something that every single human has and uses every moment of their lives, we know so very little about the brain. Neuroscience is such a rich field with countless opportunities to study vastly different topics all with the common goal of understanding how the brain works.

Program Uniqueness

The strong sense of community is what makes the NGP unique. The connection between students and faculty is something that really drew me to this program. Everyone is working towards the common goal of doing great science and the strong support network every step of the way is what makes the NGP a great place for graduate education. Grad school is a huge commitment, you want to be somewhere that will not only push you academically but support you in all aspects of your life!

Advice To Prospective Students

Come in with an open mind! Although you may think you have a good idea of what you're interested in, you may surprise yourself if you step out of your comfort zone.

Learned Skills

I came into graduate school with animal behavior and psychopharmacology skills. Since joining the program I have gained skills in cell culture, electrophysiology, fluorescent microscopy, optogenetics, anatomy, and computational coding to name a few. The awesome thing about the NGP is that no matter the skills you have when you start, as long as you have a strong will to learn, the faculty are more than willing to teach you the skills needed to get a well-rounded graduate experience.

Current Research Projects

I am studying the feedback projections from ventral CA1 of the hippocampus to the main olfactory bulb. Currently, I am looking at how these feedback projections are anatomically organized to better understand the functional role.

Living In Rochester

Rochester is an awesome place to live. You can go from downtown city to rural farms in 20 minutes or less. There are plenty of parks and places to explore as well as awesome things to do right in the city. There's always something going on! Getting around is very easy and there is a variety of affordable living options from typical city apartments to entire suburban houses, whatever your living style is, Rochester has it!

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Johanna Fritzinger

2nd year Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

Why The University of Rochester

The collaboration within the neuroscience department is what drew me to University of Rochester, it was fantastic to hear ideas being exchanged between labs during interview weekend and made me want to become a part of this community.

Program Uniqueness

The program is structured to facilitate community and the exchange of ideas through weekly seminars, and it is great to hear about everyone's research throughout the year.

Advice for Prospective Students

Rotations are great! Having the chance to rotate in several different labs helped give me a background in auditory neuroscience that I did not have coming into the program and my experiences in those rotations will definitely impact my research.

Research Interests

I'm interested in auditory neuroscience, specifically using computational modeling and electrophysiology to investigate how the inferior colliculus encodes aspects of sound, such as pitch and timbre.

Current Research Projects

I've been using physiology-based computational models to study the interaction between pitch and timbre in the inferior colliculus, with the intent that these findings will inform electrophysiology experiments in the future.

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Linh Le

2nd year Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

Why Neuroscience

To me, the brain is simply the coolest organ. Its intricate cellular networks and cells at play interest me.

Why The University of Rochester

The truly friendly and caring environment here is what made me decide to come to UofR.

Program Uniqueness

The NGP is highly collaborative.

Learned Skills

I like the focus on discussing science and writing here in NGP, it really helps me think more critically about my work and others.

Advice for Prospective Students

There are many places with great research, choose one that will not make your PhD journey miserable.

Research Interests

The role of microglia in regulating amyloid pathology over the course of Alzheimer's disease.

Current Research Projects

My current project examines the role of newly-born microglia post-depletion on amyloid pathology in AD using transgenic mouse models.

Career Goals

I am pretty flexible with my long-term career goal. While certainly being a PI at a research institute would be ideal, I don't object to other paths like being editor, going back to business or research in industry.

Living In Rochester

There are many great restaurants, more than you would think :) 

Alexandra McHale

Alexandra McHale

4th year Neurobiology & Anatomy Ph.D. Program

Why The University of Rochester

I chose University of Rochester because of the range and quality of its neuroscience research. Their research core facilities are impressive too, as well as their Center for Professional Development and URBEST programs. In addition to the high-caliber research and facilities at this institution, faculty and students in the NGP are very collegial and collaborative. Faculty members and students frequently collaborate and openly discuss ideas in order to move neuroscience forward.

Learned Skills

Before joining the Neuroscience Graduate Program, I had undergraduate research experience examining the effects of exercise and meditation interventions on emotion, stress, and cognition in humans. My experiences and skills have broadened tremendously while in the NGP. I had the opportunity to rotate through diverse laboratories and learned about primate neuroanatomy, iPSC cell culture, molecular neuroscience techniques, and mouse neural circuits in the process. During my thesis work, I have been able to gain not only technical experience conducting microscopy work, immunohistochemistry, and neuroanatomical tract tracing, but also big picture skills such as long-term project management, extensive writing experience, a greater ability to read the literature critically, and how to effectively communicate my research to a range of audiences.

Current Research Projects

I have a deep interest in understanding how development and early life experiences alter brain structures critical for social-emotional processes. Therefore, my thesis work uses a nonhuman primate model to examine

  1. Neuroanatomical connectivity between the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and striatum
  2. Changes in amygdala cellular development during normal postnatal growth
  3. Changes in amygdala cellular development and social behavior in response to negative early life experience.

Living In Rochester

Rochester is a beautiful and affordable place with a rich culture and history. Everything from a downtown area to rural countryside can be reached within 20-minutes by car. There are great restaurants with a wide range of cuisines throughout the city. Micro-breweries are plentiful, and Finger Lakes wineries are not too far away either. For the "outdoorsy"-types, Rochester has many fantastic public parks and trails that you can hike or bike through, as well as nearby access to Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes for swimming or kayaking. For the "indoorsy"-types, Rochester has great museums to visit, like Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester Museum and Science Center, and Strong Museum of Play among others.

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Monique Mendes

5th year Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

Why Neuroscience

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.

Why The University of Rochester

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.

Living In 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.

Advice To Prospective 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.

Career Goals

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.

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Humberto Mestre

5th year Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

Why Neuroscience

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.

Why The University of Rochester

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.

Advice To Prospective 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.

Living In 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.

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Kathleen Miller-Rhodes

4th year Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

Why Neuroscience

When I was 6, my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). At the time, I didn't really understand what that meant, but I do remember feeling scared and worried. Back then, there wasn't many treatment options for MS, other than weekly injections of interferon-beta. Those injections were the worse - they always made my mom feel sick. I can't tell you know many times I told my mom "I'm going to discover a new drug for MS and it is going to be in a pill form." The pill actually happened by the way, although I didn't discover it! Anyways, I think that is why I initially decided to study neuroscience - I wanted to help my mom.

Advice To Prospective Students

Getting a PhD is hard. But there are certain things you can do to make your experience more smooth sailing. When picking a lab to join, think about your personality and the work culture you thrive in. How do you like to solve problems? Is experimental autonomy important to you or do you prefer more guidance? Are you sensitive or do you have thick skin? These are just some suggestions of  things to think about when joining a lab. Every lab is different and you want to make sure you find a lab that you fit well into.     I think a lot of incoming students want to work on a particular research topic and only focus on finding a lab that meets that sole criteria. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what you're studying if you are miserable doing it.

Learned Skills

As I am gearing up to complete my PhD in the next year, the skill set that I believe I have benefited the most from is science communication. During my first year of graduate school, I was taught how to give pubic seminar talks as well as how to write research reports/proposals. Over subsequent years, I've continued to refine these skills through yearly seminars, local conferences, and other writing experiences (grant applications, etc.). I definitely think that the NGP does a great job training its students in how to effectively communicate science.

Research Interests

I am broadly interested in neuroimmunology in various neurological conditions. In particular, I enjoy learning about research that focuses on the interplay between the immune system and the CNS as well as signaling between the CNS and other peripheral tissues.

Current Research Projects

The overall arc of my research is to investigate the relationship between the lung and brain following ischemic stroke. We are interested in characterizing the extent of lung injury and inflammation following stroke. Additionally, we are investigating how stroke impacts the levels of antioxidant SOD3 in the lung, and how manipulating the expression of SOD3 in the lung may attenuate neurological injury.

Allison Murphy

Allison Murphy

3rd year Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

Why The University of Rochester

I was hoping to do my PhD studying the visual system, and the University of Rochester is one of the best places to be to study visual neuroscience and visual science in general. I knew that I'd have the best access to potential mentors as well as many opportunities for collaborations.

Program Uniqueness

Many programs will say that they're collaborative, but the students and faculty here really embody that quality. I've been able to learn from and collaborate with students and faculty across the program.

Current Research Projects

Currently, I study the role of feedback from primary visual cortex (v1) to the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus (LGN) in visual processing. To study this, I use electrophysiological, anatomical, and computational methods as well as new technologies such as optogenetics to examine the structure and function of this interesting circuit.

Career Goals

I plan on staying in academia and eventually starting my own lab as a PI.

Living In Rochester

Rochester is an underrated place to live! It's affordable on a grad student stipend while still offering a lot of great resources. The Finger Lakes region is beautiful and great for outdoor activities too!

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Laura Owlett

6th year Neurobiology & Anatomy Ph.D. Program
Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/PhD)

Why Neuroscience

Neuroscience has been a passion of mine since I started reading Oliver Sacks books as a teenager. Since then, my motivation is derived from experiencing the toll that neurological diseases have on patients and their families. In my opinion, neuroscience and neurology have the greatest potential for change and discovery in the coming decades, and I'm excited to be a part of that.

Why The University of Rochester

Actually, I really did not want to stay in NY for my graduate work- I felt like experiencing something new after being in the area for undergrad. However, after visiting the U of R and meeting a number of faculty, I was impressed by the collaborative nature and ease with which faculty interacted. It was that feel along with the high impact research happening here that convinced me to stay in NY- and I don't regret it!

Program Uniqueness

One unique thing about the U of R that I love is the 'all under one roof' philosophy. Most of the biomedical science labs are in the same building as the medical school, which is also connected to the hospital. It's easy to walk over to another lab if you have a question. This is in contrast to other schools I visited in which labs were spread out over a large campus. Having everyone in the same (large) building sets the stage for collaboration and connection and Rochester certainly takes advantage of it. 

Research Interests

My research interest is in neurodegenerative disease. These diseases, particularly Alzheimer's disease, have such an impact on patients' quality of life, and the failure of many clinical trials begs for more basic science research in order to truly understand the pathogenesis. 

Career Goals

I hope to enter a research-focused residency program in neurology following graduation. After that I hope to specialize further in the field of neurology by doing a fellowship, which I hope will lead to finding a niche in which I can see patients and conduct research. 

Living In Rochester

Rochester is an underrated city! It has the culture and arts of a large city but also has many opportunities to be outside with its numerous festivals and parks. The cost of living is pretty low too, making it easy for graduate students to have a high quality of life.

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Jacob Rudlong

3rd year Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

Why The University of Rochester

The UR NGP has an excellent neuroscience reputation both in terms of curriculum and the diverse research topics being pursued. The student body is warm and welcoming, and faculty are enthusiastic about sharing their research interests and expertise.

Learned Skills

Manuscript and grant writing, primary cell culture and cell line maintenance, cellular and molecular biology techniques, rodent surgeries, fluorescence and confocal imaging.

Current Research Projects

Investigating the role of transglutaminase 2 in astrocytes and how it influences astrocytic modulation of neuronal health and survival, using in vitro cell co-cultures (astrocytes & neurons) as well as in vivo using an optic nerve crush injury model.

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Garrick Salois

5th year Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

Why Neuroscience

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.

Why The University of Rochester

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.

Living In 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.

Advice To Prospective 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.

Career Goals

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.

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Keshov​ Sharma

3rd year Neurobiology & Anatomy Ph.D. Program
Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/PhD)

Why Neuroscience

Every since my first biology class in high school, neuroscience captured my fascination. The fact that everything we perceive is a result of such sophisticated biological "hardware" and the algorithms performed by that system is worth a lifetime of exploration, in my eyes.

Why The University of Rochester

From the outside looking in, there are many reasons to come to the UofR. However, the most compelling reason for me could only be discovered by being on site. When I came here to interview, I found that there was a serious emphasis on teaching and mentoring. Many of the PIs that I spoke with prioritized getting to know me, my way of thinking, and my ideas. I felt like my interviews were very focused on my development and it became quickly clear that this is a place where I would receive support for carving my own path. A couple years later, this couldn't be more true.

Program Uniqueness

In my case, the research that is going on here is especially unique and unexpected considering the smaller overall size of U of R. On a larger scale, the diversity of neuroscience ventures here, from cellular to BCS and imaging makes this a great place to string a bunch of modalities together.

Program Recommendation

I would recommend that people who want to experience a variety of different neuroscience related fields and/or take the lead on pursuing their own ideas consider Rochester because people have been supportive of both these things here.

Learned Skills

Some medicine, some research, and a lot about myself. 

Research Interests

Connections between the Amygdala and Prefrontal Cortex Neuroimaging.

Current Research Projects

Comparing the structure and function of amygdala prefrontal circuitry between mice and non-human primates    Developing a resting state fMRI network analysis algorithm that reproduces histologically verified directional connectivity.

Career Goals

I would like to be a practicing neuropsychiatrist, primary investigator, and institute director. 

Living In Rochester

Rochester is wonderful place to be for graduate school. It has a city infrastructure but is spread out enough to avoid being crowded. It is very affordable to live here, many students own homes, and you won't be priced out of fun experiences. The position between Lake Ontario and Letchworth State Park make it one of the few places where you have beaches and canyons available for outdoor activities during the summer.

Anjali Sinha

Anjali Sinha

3rd year Neuroscience Ph.D. Program

Why Neuroscience

During my undergrad in Engineering, I got more interested in functioning of the biological machine that was giving me the capacity to design and understand other machines, than the machines I was designing. More I read, more curious/fascinated I became with the organ that essentially makes us who we are; and changes in the functioning of this machine can change our personalities, goal and everything we hold dear as a person.  So, I decided to my pursue higher studies and a career in neuroscience. After getting my MS in neuroscience from UB I joined NGP to pursue PhD.

Why The University of Rochester

I was awe-struck by the amazing, ever-growing group of neuroscientist at U0fR, who were trying to understand brain from various perspectives and asking questions that I found very fascinating and challenging at the same time.

Program Uniqueness

I think strength of the program lies in the supportive environment NGP provides.

Learned Skills

NGP provides ample opportunities to practice public speaking and that has helped me immensely with my presentation skills.

Research Interests

I am interested in understanding how brain processes sensory information and adapts accordingly, especially how mutlisensory inputs are processed and utilized.

Current Research Projects

An exciting component of brain is its ability to modulate the information it receives from external environment, by changing the properties of sensory organs itself. This is done by efferent system which takes command from CNS to the sensory system/target. As part of Holt lab, my current work involves understanding how efferent neurons in Vestibular system, which is responsible for our sense of balance and motion,  affect afferent neurons that take sensory information about our balance and motion to the CNS.

Career Goals

I plan to pursue postdoctoral fellowship where I can expand my technical skills to help me answer questions that got me into Neuroscience.

Living In Rochester

It gets cold (well.. I am from India so a tad bit more sensitive). But the spring here is so beautiful that you feel that winter was worth it. Also, there is a huge art and music scene in Rochester so there is always something to do.