Hello there! My name is Austen Ott, and I am a rising senior majoring in Neuroscience and Spanish with minors in Chemistry, Biology, and Latino Studies. I am originally from La Porte, Indiana, which is in the Northwest corner of the state.
I am currently in the process of applying to medical school, which I hope to attend with the goal of providing healthcare to disadvantaged populations. In my future career as a physician, I want to use the knowledge I have gained at IU to give special attention to the health and well-being of immigrant and LGBTQ+ populations, as well as those facing housing insecurity.
For the past two years, I have been working under Dr. Ehren Newman in the Newman Memory Lab. The lab studies how neural circuits give rise to memory using behavioral, systems, and computational neuroscience.
This summer, I have been working on a project to eventually translate into a thesis during my upcoming senior year. This project focuses on the role of memory recall in stimulus discrimination tasks performed by rats.
By using electrophysiological recordings of certain cells within rats’ brains, we hope to isolate the cognitive processes being used when rats think about previously learned information to make choices about new stimuli. For example, if I list off the colors “red, green, blue” and then ask you which was the second color in the list, you would likely replay “red, green” in your head to determine the second color.
It is currently thought that this “replay” is a uniquely human phenomenon. The project seeks to determine if this cognitive process can be observed in rats, which would negate the idea that “replay” is uniquely human.
Working remotely during the time of COVID-19 and quarantine has posed some unique challenges, but I am happy to have learned from them. Initially, my research project for this summer focused on an entirely different topic. When we got the word that our work had to be completed remotely, it took some brainstorming between Dr. Newman and I to orchestrate a new plan.
It was discouraging at first to have to start over on my research plan and reorient myself to new methods, but it has ultimately been a rewarding experience. I have started learning to program, which is something I would not have learned without this new project, and I am working with talented scientists who I would not have had the pleasure of working with otherwise!
Something I have learned about scientific research is that you must be adaptable. Even the most well-thought-out research plans will change with time, and remaining flexible while pushing forward helps ensure that you do not get discouraged. Research is a process, and though the end goal is important, the process of getting there is equally valuable.
Getting involved in research can be a daunting task. I sought to become involved in research as a freshman and I did not know where to start. I browsed my department’s website looking for labs and faculty members performing research that I was interested in. I cold-emailed almost ten different professors to see if their labs had availabilities!
If you really want to get involved, do not be afraid to put yourself out there. Email faculty members who interest you, talk to your professors or advisor, or even ask your friends if they work in labs who might have opportunities. Once you find your spot doing research that truly interests you, you will be so glad that you put in the work!