Vani Selvam, Biological Sciences/Psychology
“Unique Molecular Alterations in Synapses Related to Context-Induced Reinstatement of Cocaine-Seeking”
Vani's current research focuses on using animal models to investigate how learned associations between drugs of abuse and cues in the environment cause the reinstatement of cocaine-seeking behaviors. Currently, She is working on a time course for the translocation of Arc into synapses between specific brain regions using novel transgenic rats. She will assess unique synaptic alterations within these neurons that were selectively activated by cocaine and use novel methods for analyzing and manipulating these neurons to assess the role in behavioral models of drug addiction. She is currently an Intern at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in Baltimore, MD.
Who did you work with on this project (PI, graduate students, other students) and how did you learn what you needed to know to be successful in this lab?
I would say that I have been extremely fortunate to have a position in this lab mainly because of the people that I work with. My most immediate team consists of my mentor, a post-bac, and a post-doc, with whom I am currently working on a series of projects. I have done my fair share of reading articles and practicing certain skills to gain a solid understanding of my project, but everyone in my lab has been extremely helpful and supportive of fostering my growth in the lab.
Do you get course credit for this work? Paid? How much time do you put into it?
This internship is unpaid, but I do receive credit through the Honors College and courses in my major. I put in approximately 16-18 hours each week.
What was the hardest part of your research experience?
The hardest part for me was finding the perfect balance between classes and research. Especially because I have a 20 minute commute to my lab, I had to be careful in scheduling classes while making sure I was still challenging myself academically. I have learned to get things done ahead of time in either lab or in studying for my classes depending on upcoming deadlines or exam dates.
What was the most unexpected thing?
We still laugh over it, but my current mentor and I entered the lab at the same time last year and went through training together- little did I know back then that I would be working under him!
How does this research experience relate to your work in other classes?
This research has given me a head start on the material covered in a few of my science and psychology classes, especially BIOL302 (Genetics) and PSYC335 (Physiological psychology).
What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
My best advice would be to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself because you never know where it will take you! And don’t hesitate to ask your mentor or peers if you have any questions- they were in your shoes at some point in their lives so keep that in mind and make the very best of your experience!