Researcher of the Month
Biochemistry and Psychology majors, University Scholars program, Class of 2019
Research Mentor: Current: Dr. William Collins, Neurobiology & Behavior, Dr. Irene Solomon, Physiology & Biophysics; Previous: Dr. Roman Kotov, Psychiatry.
Want to appreciate the benefits of beyond-the-classroom learning? Just ask Pamela Best, a junior in the University Scholars program, double majoring in Biochemistry and Psychology--and a URECA Summer research program participant who has explored multiple experiential opportunities while a student at SB!
Pamela's URECA project investigates the use of acute intermittent hypoxia as a treatment for incontinence following spinal cord injury in a rat model, and is a collaborative project with the groups of Dr. William Collins (Neurobiology & Behavior), and Dr. Irene Solomon (Physiology & Biophysics).
When Pamela joined this collaborative neuroscience research project, she had little to no research experience at the bench. Within a year, though, Pamela has became proficient in performing bladder cystometry surgeries with external urethral sphincter EMG recordings, doing data analysis, and is currently preparing a presentation for the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, titled: “Acute hypoxia alters reflex micturition behavior in urethane-anesthetized carotid sinus intact and denervated adult female Sprague-Dawley rat.” She will be receiving a URECA travel award in support of this presentation.
Pamela describes the satisfaction of being “ autonomous in the lab….being able to complete an experiment by myself,” crediting the immersive summer experience provided by URECA as fundamental to her development: “ URECA just opened up so many doors for me. I tell all of my friends, apply for URECA. The money is great – but it also says you are going to do your own project. …You are going to be in this lab because you are going to make decisions. Having the goal to have an autonomous project, and to present something changes the way that you conduct yourself in the lab. It makes you think more critically.”
Prior to this experience, Pamela had interned for the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research at Zucker Hillside Hospital (summer 2016) working with Dr. Barbara Cornblatt and Dr. Andrea Auther on a clinical research project on prodromal psychosis where she assisted in conducting surveys, taking EEG recordings, and processing saliva, blood and urine. In fall of 2016, Pamela joined a Suffolk County Mental Health Project research team led by Dr. Roman Kotov, assisting with conducting surveys/follow up interviews for a longitudinal study of 725 patients who experienced a first episode of psychosis 25 years ago.
Currently, Pamela is employed by YAI, and provides direct support services to group residents with moderate to profound disabilities (autism, schizophrenia, cerebral palsy, impulse control disorder and other psychiatric and physical disabilities). In addition, Pamela completed EMT certification in August 2016 and has enjoyed working since October 2016 as a Crew Lead for the Huntington Community First Aid squad; and as an Ambulance Attendant, Mentor Coordinator and Instructor for Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps. She has also been involved as a Summer Conference EMT, as a geriatric intern for Stony Brook Primary Care; and as a Stony Brook Medical Center volunteer. Last May, Pamela went on clinical volunteer trip to Honduras through Global Medical Brigades. Pamela is editor in chief of Spoke Literary Magazine; and has served as a chemistry teaching assistant for CHE130, and a tutor for the Academic Success and Tutoring Center. Pamela was also selected to be a part of the Women’s Leadership Council which matches high potential women undergraduates with top philanthropic leaders in the SB community.
Pamela Best is from Greenlawn NY. This summer, she will be working on a clinical trial with Dr. Lauren Krupp at NYU Langone regarding transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) as a treatment for the fatigue which is often experienced by sufferers of MS. Long term, she plans to pursue an MD/PhD and to work with people with neurological disorders. In her spare time, Pamela likes to create art and to listen to podcasts. Below are excerpts from her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen. Tell me about
your URECA research project, and how you became involved.
Pamela. Dr. Collins and Dr. Solomon are now collaborating on a project looking to use acute intermittent hypoxia as a treatment for bladder sphincter dyssynergia after spinal cord injuries. We’re looking at how the action of the carotid body chemoreceptor contributes to the urinary bladder response to hypoxia.
I had contacted Dr. Collins last spring. He remembered me from office hours when I took BIO203, and it turned out that he was looking for new undergraduates for this project that he was starting that summer. So I decided to apply to URECA. I really wanted the chance to focus on being in the lab and not have to work at the same time. I have to work. I need money to bring myself through school, to pay for tuition. So URECA was super, super-important to me. Getting the URECA funding last summer allowed me vast amounts of time in the lab—much more than I would otherwise have been able to dedicate to research.
There must have so many new skills and techniques to learn.
Yes, absolutely. I had some clinical research experience– but I never done anything like this before. It showed me what bench work was like for the first time. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to master the protocols or techniques. I didn’t really see myself as a researcher when I first started. But URECA allowed to actually perfect my skills in the lab. I spent a lot of time there each week—sometimes working 12 hour days, 5 or 6 days a week!... I just found that I really loved it. It opened up this new academic avenue for me...I went in, essentially not having any lab skills. But I was able to perfect them over the summer. And I was able to hit the ground running the next semester in the fall. After doing URECA last summer, I became autonomous in the lab. I was able to complete an experiment by myself and bring those results to Dr. Collins and to process my own data.
Is it a challenge, balancing academics and research during the school year?
I admit I have trouble with work/life balance because I really love work. But it is definitely manageable to balance hours in the lab and classes.
With the type of research that I’m doing in the Collins lab, the thing to remember is that we do such long experiments. To do one experiment from start to finish, you need 8 or more hours. So I had to arrange my schedule so that I have almost 3 days that are free, during the week. I decided to take online classes for physics so that I can continue to be productive in my research.
It would have been almost impossible for me to be involved in this if I didn’t start in the summer—and have that time to really perfect the techniques I needed to learn. That’s why URECA was so important for me. I needed to be able to spend all that time learning how to do things.
Will you have the chance to present your work, share what you’ve learned so far?
Yes – we’ve got some interesting preliminary data. I’ll be going to the Experimental Biology conference in San Diego in April. I’ve never been to a research conference before. This is another thing that URECA opened up to me which I’m grateful for. Going to an entire conference is going to be such a great window for me to learn more about different research areas. I can’t wait.
Are you planning to stay in the lab through senior year?
Absolutely. I’m involved in lots of activities, but I absolutely love my days in the lab. Dr. Collins is so patient and so accommodating. He helped set up an entire different room for me to do experiments. And I have a really good working relationship with him, and with Dr. Solomon.
Do you find that research gives you a different perspective about your classwork?
It definitely helps me retain certain information from BIO203 – standard physiology intro material that I remember so much more because I’m applying the information a lot. …And it even helps me appreciate classes that are not as connected to the health field, such as physics. For my research, I need to know how circuits work, and to know what Ohm’s law is – so it’s good in that way too, helping to see the connections that are there. Plus, I think that in some ways, doing lab work it helps you fall in love with your classes more.
It allows me to see physiology happen. To be able to be in the lab and to open up a rat and stimulate nerves and transect nerves and take those measurements and analyze that data… it’s really satisfying. I’ve learned so much. When I first started…it was hard to find a protocol written up for some of the things we were doing. I had to go and seek out papers that were describing related procedures, and look at anatomy textbooks. I kind of had to figure out what procedures I was going to use …. I really wanted to understand what I’m doing and to be able to make my own decisions in terms of choosing what experiments I was going to do. I found that it was really, really satisfying when I finally got my experiment to work. I actually used science to do something.
What are your future plans?
I would love to pursue an MD/PhD. Neurology is really my goal. I want to work with people with neurological disorders and disabilities. And I want to have the tools to run my own lab and to be involved in research.
It’s amazing seeing the range of experiences you’ve had as an undergraduate, with
your research, your volunteer work, etc.
It’s been a whirlwind of 3 years! And yes – in addition to research, I love being an EMT. I love working in a group home- working with people with disabilities. And I see a lot of crossover with the research I’m doing in Dr. Collins and the clinical work. …To some, it may sound funny when I say that I’m doing “incontinence research” or working with a lot of rat pee…But having the opportunity to work with people who have incontinence because of neurological problems – to see the impact it has on so many people’s lives….it just makes the research that I’m doing in the lab that much more important.
What advice would you give to students who are thinking about research?
Don’t doubt yourself. I got involved a lot later than I think many students do just because I did not consider myself a researcher… I was intimated by research, and I didn’t really know what was involved. The work that I’m doing now with electrophysiology is much more hands-on, say, than the lab work I did in freshman chemistry classes. I’m doing stuff that I’m super, super engaged with. And yet, I wouldn’t have experienced it if I hadn’t tried it out. So my advice is to find a lab and a research area that really interests you. Don’t be intimated by not feeling like a researcher. Don’t count yourself out.
Did you know you were interested in neuroscience when you first come in to SB?
Not at all. In high school, I thought I was going to go to art school. I spent a lot of time getting my portfolio together…But even when I got in to the competitive schools I had applied to, I came to realize that I couldn’t afford it. It was so out of my budget. So I made the decision to come to SB. And somehow, I gravitated towards the health field, in part because so many around me were interested in it.
…It was a huge shift. I probably wouldn’t have even considered health as a future career/profession if I had not come here to Stony Brook. But I feel more fulfilled doing this than anything I had ever thought about doing before.
What are some of the long term benefits for you of doing research?
Becoming more confident, more independent. At first, I was not that independent with troubleshooting. I could learn how to do an experiment all the way through perfectly one day and the next day, the electrodes wouldn’t work …I might not know how to fix the experiment when it went wrong. That skill took longer to develop. And the process was frustrating at first…but you develop more perseverance over time. You realize that things go wrong. If you can keep your cool and try to figure it out by yourself, a lot of times you can troubleshoot the problem. I’ve developed over time to the point where I come on Saturdays and do an experiment by myself.
URECA just opened up so many doors. I tell all of my friends, apply for URECA. The money is great – but it also says you are going to do your own project. …You are going to be in this lab because you are going to make decisions. Having the goal to have an autonomous project, and to present something changes the way that you conduct yourself in the lab. It makes you think more critically. The connections also mean so much.