Undergraduate Life

Some context
My undergraduate years at the University of California, Berkeley, were extremely fun. If I could convey how fun my experience there was, this page would explode. I met some incredibly talented individuals, some of which would go on to be my Brothers at Pi Lambda Phi, my former bandmates, my academic mentors, and most uniquely my current girlfriend, who is the smartest person I've ever met my age. And I'm not just saying that because I live with her! Seriously, check out her research.

If you're curious

Freshman year was a blur. I tried balancing both the physical and social transition out of the bordertown of Calexico into the world of Berkeley as best I could, but unfortunately my academics took a toll. If you saw my college transcript now, you would see that my first year in college did not augur well for my future academic record. I joined a social, multicultural fraternity, and made some mistakes in prioritizing having fun over excelling in my classes. It wasn't until later that year that I learned how to combine both.

The following semester, I elected to transfer out of the College of Chemistry into the College of Letters and Science. At the time I thought I wasn't intelligent enough to get a degree in Chemistry. Feeling somewhat disheartened, I reflected on my interests from High School and began to search for something that matched them. I found a major that at the time I didn't know existed. Cognitive Science. My first Cognitive Science class was with Terry Regier (CogSci 1), a renowned faculty whose work in Language and Cognition piqued my early interests in the subject. He was an excellent public speaker, and I quickly noticed that I was paying attention a lot more to what I was being taught compared to last year. My graduate student instructor, Paul Li, who would go on to be a Lecturer for that same class later on, was instrumental in building my confidence on the material. CogSci 1 gave me an overview of an academic discipline that I could visualize myself in, one that integrated neuroscience, computer science, and psychology to study cognitive processes at multiple conceptual levels.

Starting my Sophomore year, I felt fired up. I recognized I was in a research institution, and thus I needed to seize the opportunities presented. Through the university's Undergraduate Research Education Program (URAP), I applied to work in labs related to cognitive neuroscience. Alas, I was rejected by all of them, probably due to my lack of research experience. That Fall I enrolled in CogSci 127 taught by Richard Ivry, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Richard based his explanations of cognitive phenomena on case studies, such as the disambiguation between short and long term memory as demonstrated by patients such as Henry Molaison. This approach to learning the concepts was very effective, since tying in a patient's story made it easier to form the memory of that concept. I distinctly remember his unique approach to midterms. In addition to the typical questions testing your knowledge of what was taught in lecture, he included a "design your own experiment" section at the end, where creativity was encouraged to study a proposed cognitive phenomenon. I would come to find out that this was very typical of graduate classes.

After doing much better that Fall Sophomore semester, I once again pursued the option of doing research through URAP. One of the three laboratories I applied to was Richard Ivry's, since his work on using non-invasive brain stimulation sounded very sci-fi to me. I mean, I liked him as a lecturer, but that’s really my biggest reason for pursuing his lab. Seriously, how cool is the concept of directly stimulating the brain?

Over the next two years in the Ivry Lab, I worked closely with Ludovica Labruna, whose tremendous patience nurtured the beginnings of my involvement in neuroscience research. Ludovica taught me how to use Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, as we as how to use Electromyography to record muscle responses. I felt awe in knowing that I was being entrusted with the responsibility of collecting the brain stimulation data, and the training process made for a very needed confidence boost in my abilities after my Freshman year.

In my Junior year, Richard was gracious enough to recommend me for the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) award at UC Berkeley. This award encompassed two years of undergraduate research funding, along with membership to the Biology Scholars Program and its resources. Things really began to hit their stride at this point. I began taking the idea of doing academic research in the long term a lot more seriously, and thanks to the MARC staff and their program I felt extensively informed about applying to graduate school. No one in my family had ever gotten to this point in their academic life, so I needed all the help I could get navigating through this process.

As my Senior year came along, I began to make my research experience more diverse. MARC funding allowed me to spend a Summer doing research at the University of California, San Francisco, under the guidance of Theodore Zanto of the Gazzaley Lab. Helping out his research on electroencephalography source localization of attention related changes in brain activity gave me some needed programming experience. My familiarization with Matlab had begun to go beyond homework exercises. In addition, I was part of Paul Piff’s undergraduate research group, where the focus was on using social psychology experimental design to probe gaps in empathy as a result of perceived socio-economic status. He was a member of the Keltner Lab at UC Berkeley, and the fun, personal, and educational way in which he engaged with his undergraduate research assistants gave me a venerable model to replicate if I ever get to his position. Perhaps my most memorable experiences during my last year was traveling to Boston and San Antonio for CNS and SACNAS, respectively.

So, with these experiences, why didn’t I apply to graduate school right after graduating?

I didn’t quite feel ready, in a personal way. I thought my self-discipline needed work, since I tend to procrastinate a lot. I also felt that I needed to unwind from coursework and exams, and rather learn what I wanted to learn on my own time. With the intent to develop both my research experience and my mental resilience, I ended up in UPenn’s Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP), where I’ve had the chance to work with Irwin Lucki and animal models of depression, and currently with Hoameng Ung of the Litt Lab to come up with evidence of a relationship between interictal spiking and memory recall performance.

And that’s the story so far. I matriculate at UC San Diego starting July 2016. I can’t wait to see where life takes me and the people I meet.

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