Class of '09, Major: Psychology (Honors Thesis Program)
Dr. Peter Thanos, Behavioral Pharmacology & Neuroimaging Lab, Brookhaven National Laboratory
"Because now when I take these advanced psych courses, and am in class hearing about the latest research techniques, how the latest research is done… instead of reading about it and listening in class, I’m actually doing it in person. I can go to class and say I’ve done this. This is how it actually works. . . "
Interview: read more >>
Researcher of the Month
Last fall, Ronald Kim was one of a dozen undergraduates to receive URECA Travel grant to support his research presentation at an off-campus meeting. His destination was Washington D.C. where he presented "Differential expression and disruption of cocaine conditioned place preference in rats prone or resistant to diet induced obesity" at Neuroscience 2008—the 38th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Other URECA-grant recipients presented at BMES, AiChE, SHPE, and the American Astronomical Society annual meetings, as well as Neuroscience 2008.
Ron is a psychology major, and a happy participant in the Psychology Department's Honors Thesis program. His research mentor is Dr. Peter Thanos, a neuroscientist at BNL who is an adjunct faculty at SB and has served as a mentor to many an SB student. Getting involved in research in the Thanos lab and being a part of the Psychology Thesis program directed by Prof. Klonsky have both, Ron reflects, been invaluable for his education. Ronald Kim also values the interactions with other students in the program and in the lab. He co-collaborated with other Thanos lab colleagues on several other Neuroscience 2008 posters/presentations, and has also presented at the URECA Celebration of Research and Creativity (April 2008). Be sure to look for his poster at the upcoming Research Celebration on April 29th, 2009.
Born in Elmhurst NY, and a graduate of Brooklyn Technical HS, and now about to graduate, Ron is very satisfied with his Stony Brook undergraduate education overall. "It’s really great. I’ve met so many great people, Dr. Thanos, Dr. Volkow, people in my lab. . . Getting involved in research has helped me a lot. " Ron plans to pursue graduate studies in biopsychology or behavioral neuroscience to continue research on drug abuse, addiction, and obesity—which has become a "rising crisis in the United States." Below are some excerpts of his interview with URECA Director, Karen Kernan.
Karen: What kind of research do you do?
Ron: I work in the Thanos lab at BNL. Our lab deals with the neurobiology of addition, including drug addition, alcohol addition, and even obesity. We specifically look at the neurotransmitter dopamine which has been involved in reward pathways. I've worked on a variety of different projects. But my first project looked at the effects of THC on drug abuse. There's a theory called the gateway hypothesis which says that the use of cannabinoid such as THC in adolescence will lead to addition to stronger drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines, later on in life. That project is still ongoing. The second project is the one that I presented at URECA and at the Society for Neuroscience conference. And that deals with obesity as an addition rather than a metabolic disorder. That's the area I'm primarily interested in because obesity is a rising crisis in the United States.
Tell me about how you got started in research.
I had taken Biopsychology in summer of 07 and that’s when I realized that this field was what I wanted to go into. So I started reading up about labs at Stony Brook and at Brookhaven National Laboratories—primarily the Biopsychology labs because that’s what I was interested in. When I saw Dr. Peter Thanos’s website, which talked about cool technology, like MicroPET and imaging, I was immediately interested. I emailed Dr. Thanos, we talked and I found we had a lot in common about what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be. So I started working with Dr. Thanos in the fall of 07.
The Society for Neuroscience meeting is big. Was it overwhelming to be a presenter there?
It was very exciting. You read about these authors and these researchers online, but to get to see them in person was very exciting. I’m just a student and having these PhDs and researchers that are well known in the field coming up to me, saying “I read your abstract and I really wanted to meet you” was great. I even got to meet a couple of people that I used in my research in my references.
Do you know what you want to do, post-graduation, in May?
I am thinking about applying to grad school next year. I want to take some time off and continue doing research for awhile first and see where that takes me.
Dr. Thanos has been a wonderful mentor to many students.
Before I met him, I was really kind of lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. When I got into his lab, he kept pushing me and pushing me. ..and he opened a lot of doors to me. He told me to present at URECA and also at the Society of Neuroscience conference. He told me about a lot programs that I had no idea about—like the Psych honors program. Through him, I also met Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Dr. Thanos is always pushing his students to work harder, to continue to work at the research… he’s very supportive.
How many hours a week do you work in the lab?
In the summer we work ~30-40 hours a week. In the semester, we work around 15 hours or so. It’s a lot of work but we also get a lot out of it.
Did you have any research experience when you first started?
Before I started, I knew absolutely nothing. Now I can do imaging by myself, and a lot of surgical techniques. I’ve actually mentored students on my own, other undergraduates. I feel like I’ll be prepared for grad school.
How would you say being involved in research has enhanced your education?
It helps a lot actually. Because now when I take these advanced psych courses, and am in class hearing about the latest research techniques, how the latest research is done… instead of reading about it and listening in class, I’m actually doing it in person. I can go to class and say I’ve done this. This is how it actually works. I took a class last semester, Drugs in the Brain, and I got the opportunity to talk and explain a little – based on the research I’ve been doing– how it’s done, what sort of techniques are used. That was neat.
You’re also part of the Honors Program in Psychology.
Yes, I enjoy the honors thesis program. We all have our own independent research projects with our mentors. Dr. Klonsky, our advisor in the program, goes through how to write manuscripts, advises us on how to get started, get approval from the Review Board, how to finish projects…lots of practical advice. We also get to interact with the other students, see what other labs are doing.
What is your lab environment like?
I think there are around 20 undergraduate students, and 2 post docs. It’s great because we’re from a lot of different parts of the world. So we do a lot of work but there are also days when we celebrate birthdays, go out to dinner . . You make a lot of friends there. At BNL, too, there are other activities outside lab. We just had a Chinese New Year Celebration this past week.
What you would consider your best and worst days of research?
When I completed my second project, the first project that I had taken all the way through from the beginning stages, that was probably the best day. All our results looked good! All I had to do was write it up and put it on a poster!...There are also other days, not so good. In the summer, for instance, my partner and I were imaging our rats in MicroPET and our computer crashed on us. We lost a whole group’s worth of data and had to start that over in the fall. That was one of the worst days…but it happens.
Do you have any advice to other students?
I would definitely say, get involved. Not only does it look good on your resume, you get to meet a lot of people, you get to learn a lot of cool things, and it will help you with schoolwork. It’s really great. I’ve met so many great people, Dr. Thanos, Dr. Volkow, people in my lab. . . Getting involved in research has helped me a lot.
How difficult is it to balance class work and research?
At first it was hard. But if you really like what you do…it’s works out. And I like it a lot. Instead of watching TV or not doing anything, I’d rather be in lab doing research!