Hey everyone! My name is Cassidy Kershner and I am a senior from Columbus, Ohio majoring in both neuroscience and biology, with a minor in chemistry. Ever since I started school at UNC, the idea of research intrigued me. I have always been one to ask questions, and continuously strived to find answers about how the world works, and why. I knew that I could learn a lot from my classes, and was particularly drawn to those in biology and neuroscience. I wanted to explore the inner workings of the mind and body, through health and dysfunction, and made sure to fill my schedule with courses like genetics, neuroimmunology and biopsychology – those that could enrich my learning and teach me just that. Despite the cool things I was learning in the classroom, I felt drawn to do more, and get more hands on with my learning. I strived to find a position that could introduce me to the world of research, and hoped to have some of my many questions answered. It was this urge that led me to the MOTION Science Institute.
I began my path in research the summer after my freshman year, working as a research assistant in the MOTION Analysis Laboratory under Dr. Brian Pietrosimone. Here, I study neuromuscular recovery and musculoskeletal disability following anterior cruciate ligament injury. Over the last three years, I have learned how to process biomechanics data using various software programs, segment and register knee cartilage on both ultra sounds and MRI images, and assist in subject data collection. Through this experience, I have found a passion for research, and have gained much interest in the field of injury and illness prevention following physical trauma. While I maintain interest in this field as it relates to kinesiology, I was intrigued to see how I could further my research experience in other fields. I was encouraged to seek out other opportunities, and based off my class experiences, was specifically looking into expanding my reach into the fields of psychology and neuroscience. Luckily for me, this led me to discover the Gil Internship Program.
As a Gil Intern, I have gotten the opportunity to work in the Behavioral and Pharmacological Neurodynamics Lab, also known as the Robinson Lab, within the UNC Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies. The mission of the lab focuses on uncovering the neuronal circuitry and mechanisms in the brain which underlie the behavioral deficits experienced following drug exposure in adolescence. Ultimately, the aim of the lab is to enhance our understanding of the long term effects that alcohol abuse has on the developing brain, in order to develop therapies to counter the deficits into adulthood (particularly those experienced following alcohol and cocaine exposure).
My role as an intern in the Robinson Lab has been quite comprehensive, as I have gotten to learn many of the various techniques and procedures that are conducted for many different projects. I have learned how to study specific brain cells of interest in animal models, from collection to quantification, by learning how to slice the rat brains on the microtome, isolate brain regions of interest, and conduct immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence staining on the resulting tissue. I am currently looking forward to quantifying our cells of interest in the upcoming weeks, and hope to be able to visualize the results of our stains soon in order to determine phenotypical changes following binge-alcohol exposure. In addition to this bench work, I have also learned how to conduct behavioral tests in a traditional T-maze, and will be helping to conduct digging tasks with our next round of testing.
Overall, my experience as a Gil Intern in the Robinson Lab has been nothing but wonderful. Through this opportunity, I have not only been able to expand my interests in alcohol and substance abuse research, but have also gained many valuable skills that have made me a much more well-rounded investigator and student. I am greatful for the opportunity that this internship has provided me, and feel assured that it has given me the valuable tools I need to take the next steps in my research journey. After graduation, I plan on applying to medical school, with hopes of furthering my path in research along the way. I am confident that my experiences in the Robinson Lab have prepared me to be the best applicant I can be, and thank them and the internship program for providing me with this one of a kind opportunity.