The Thrill of Research

This is part of series of posts by recipients of the 2019 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Danielle Harris, COL ’20

From a young age, I was always perplexed as to how the human body and mind functioned so intricately. I found myself with many questions most five-year-olds had no interest in asking. Coming to Penn finally put an end to the pang of curiosity with no one to entertain my inquisitions. I found myself able to ask questions to the very experts leading the search for answers. So naturally, I spent my summer experiencing just how thrilling research can be. Because of the summer funding through Career Services, I was able to stay in Philadelphia and intern for the Department of Neurosurgery at the Perelman School of Medicine to study the impact of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). TBI is one of those fields that seems comprehensible on a surface level. However, upon analyzing the data or reading about new findings, one further understands just how complex and enigmatic the brain can be in response to injury.

I studied the connection between axonal injury in response to impact and the chronic degeneration which can follow. Being a BBB major at Penn, topics such as neuronal injury, cognitive decline, and neurodegeneration have always been fascinating to discuss and study in a classroom setting. Being able to take that information and then translate it in such a way that can guide me in my research project was gratifying. I constantly felt refreshed, and my mind always stimulated because of the work environment filled with curious and intelligent minds. I was able to experience the challenges that come with histology and imaging. I came to discover the delight of uncovering findings that shifts my understanding of the central nervous system.

The Department of Neurosurgery is extremely collaborative and is composed of many cutting-edge researchers. I learned so much regarding how to navigate the medical field and the options for me as a student pursuing a career as a physician. Merely listening in and absorbing how these scientists and doctors think or ask questions or carry out their hypotheses was incredibly illuminating.

It was also wonderful to be able to carry out my own projects out as an undergraduate researcher. A lot of time, I hear about undergrads who feel unfulfilled and like they are there to take care of “scut work” solely. I could not have had a more opposing experience, as I always felt involved in what was going on in various studies. It was great to have the opportunity to bounce off ideas with those in my lab as well as others in neighboring TBI labs. I am so grateful to have had the chance to spend my summer constantly fascinated and challenged by the mysterious organ we call the brain. TBI is a complicated phenomenon which affects over 3 million people per year in the United States. Therefore, it is a privilege to be working in an area in which so many are impacted. There is something special about pursuing topics of passion, while also contributing to a field with much potential to improve the quality of countless lives. I look forward to returning to TBI research in the fall, with the hopes of one day in my career making a positive impact.

By Career Services
Career Services