Olivia Abraham, a Cox Research Scholar and senior majoring in Biology and Chemistry and minoring in Psychology, was first inspired to study science by her mom, a nurse, and her dad, an analytical chemist for Eli Lily.
Abraham was further motivated to pursue medicine and become a physician after her grandfather became very ill. While it was a scary time for her family, her mom and aunt used their nursing experience to advocate for him throughout his treatment until he was healthy.
As a physician, Abraham wants to be an advocate for the wellbeing of her patients like her mom and aunt were to her grandfather. She believes that every patient deserves a physician they can trust to remain fully dedicated to their care even when hope seems slim.
Within the biochemistry department, Abraham is a research assistant in the Ressl lab and mentored by principal investigator (PI) Dr. Susanne Ressl and graduate student Perla Peña Palomino. One of the lab’s areas of research is structural neuroscience.
Abraham first became interested in this field of research after taking a neuroscience course. When she was searching for faculty mentors, she was drawn to Dr. Ressl’s work because it blended Abraham’s interests in biochemistry and neuroscience research. Abraham instantly felt welcomed when she met with Dr. Ressl to discuss the lab and joined after they determined she would be a good fit.
While Abraham recommends researching faculty mentors online when looking for a lab, she also emphasized the importance of meeting in-person with potential mentors.
Beyond learning more about the PI’s work, Abraham said, “You’ll also gauge what they’re excited about and what they really like about their research, and also what they value in their undergrads and their grad students.”
In the Ressl lab, Abraham studies the proteins that stabilize the synaptic cleft between neurons. If the synaptic cleft becomes disrupted, impairments in brain function can occur.
Abraham’s research focuses on a family of synaptic organizer proteins called C1QL. C1QL proteins bind to G protein-coupled receptors implicated in schizophrenia. Abraham’s work intends to determine how proteins within the C1QL family act at the synapse and what they look like.
Abraham was most surprised to learn that research requires a lot of collaboration.
“Sometimes when people think about research, you think about a scientist alone at their desk or at their bench working on experiments,” Abraham remarked. “But you are always talking to other people in the lab. Your PIs will talk to other PIs and try to figure out what they could be doing differently to get the results they’re looking for.”
After working on several research projects, Abraham was also pleased to discover that different projects and labs can yield completely different experiences. She noted that it’s vital to figure out which experiences will best develop you as both an undergraduate student and researcher.
“The most important thing is to find a place where you’re happy, involved, really intrigued by the research that you’re doing, and also where you feel supported by your mentors and the other people in your lab,” Abraham concluded.
Research has substantially helped Abraham prepare for medical school. She has a more in-depth knowledge of what happens within the human body at a molecular level and how research can lead to the development of treatments or prevention of disease.
Through presenting, participating in research talks, and describing her work to her grandparents, Abraham has developed science communication skills that she is excited to apply to patient interactions.
“Research has definitely solidified my interest in learning more about how humans work, how all the different parts work to make us who we are,” Abraham said, “and also wanting to talk about that and explain that to people who aren’t involved in research.