Monday, March 4, 2013

Expanding Scientific Knowledge Through A Summer Fellowship

Syeda Hussaini, a triple major in Biology, Chemistry, and Biochemistry in the Verrazano Class of 2013, is an aspiring optometrist.  She participated in a summer research-based fellowship at Systems Biology Center of New York and learned a lot from the experience.  Read below for more about Syeda's research experience.

Syeda Hussaini (far right in the first row)
Systems Biology Center of New York (SBCNY) offers a 10-week research-based opportunity at one of the well-known institutes in New York.  It is located in one of the Mount Sinai buildings in Manhattan, New York. The program is for undergraduates who are entering their junior or senior year within CUNY.  Students majoring in these areas: Biological, Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences are encouraged to apply. This is a summer fellowship that rewards students who have an interest pursuing a PhD or PhD/MD with a unique experience and stipend. 

I found out about this opportunity during my sophomore year in 2010. The poster was on one of the walls of the 6S building at the College of Staten Island.   I wrote down the website and decided to check it out at home.  After reviewing the website I decided to apply, and when I was accepted that spring semester I was caught off guard.  I was extremely excited for this opportunity, especially since I was going to be part of the Mount Sinai community for 10 weeks! During the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to work alongside exceptional researchers and professors who worked at the Medical School. Although I had researched with a couple of professors at the College of Staten Island in inorganic and organic chemistry labs, this research fellowship was different.

Instead of doing my usual saline and catalytic reactions and obtaining their respective products, at Mount Sinai I had to construct a computer model of a signaling pathway. I learned so much thanks to my mentor, Dr. Susana Neves. She helped me through my entire fellowship experience.  Dr. Neves was nice enough to show me around the building, which was amazing. I learned step-by-step about her research on how dopamine and glutamate have an effect on the signaling pathway in the cell. I also learned how to use the bio-modeling program called Virtual Cell (Vcell). 

Our department had weekly seminars where everyone would gather in the conference room and listen to and observe speakers talk about new findings and/or graduate opportunities. We got a chance to meet with other PhD professors and researchers as well as enjoy delicious Thai food that was ordered for us during the meetings. I also got a chance to meet other undergraduates from different CUNY schools who were there for the fellowship. I still keep in touch with one of them. We helped each other out on understanding how to use the computer program when our mentors were busy.

With Vcell, I was able to construct what was actually happening inside the cell in presence or absence of the specific substrates Dr. Neves was experimenting with. The title of my research was, “Temporal Integration of Dopamine and Glutamate Inputs into the Striatum”. My research was based on the various levels/amounts of input of both stimulants: Dopamine and Glutamate. These neurotransmitters are involved in producing reward-dependent learning. I had to make a model of the effects of these two substrates in the striatum of the mouse brain where many diseases are seen, such as Parkinson’s disease, drug addiction and schizophrenia. I produced graphs that showed the trends of dopamine and glutamate (increase or decrease) when they were at higher doses and lower doses. I also produced charts that showed their affect on second messengers/ions such as: DAG, IP3, cAMP and cyctoplasmic Ca++. For more information about my research, here is a link to my abstract:

Towards the end of the summer, the summer fellows, including myself, presented at a poster presentation. Here, we talked about the research and our posters and answered questions. This certainly boosted up my confidence, especially since it was the first research conference I had presented at.  Plus, I received a 2,500 stipend that summer as part of the program.  The stipend has actually gone up to $4000 dollars since I participated!  I did not continue my research there, but I did learn a lot about Dr. Neves' work and so much about biochemistry. This prepared me for the biochemistry class I took a year later. I was relieved to have some background knowledge on what I was learning.
The fellowship with SBCNY was a great experience, and I encourage my fellow undergraduates to apply for this opportunity. I think everyone should want to be a part of the Mount Sinai community, even if it is for one summer! You can definitely return to continue on your own research there alongside the faculty.

Finally, here's a little about myself.  Right now, I am looking forward to the end of this semester, which will be my last.  It's sad to see myself leave CUNY, CSI, and the Verrazano Honors Program, but at the same time I am super excited to step into the real world. Right now, my goal for real world is to pursue a Doctor of Optometry degree and do research in the field.  I've had two interviews so far and have two more to go.  We'll see what happens!  Don’t forget to check out the SBCNY summer research program website; the fellowship is a great opportunity.

Link to SBCNY summer opportunity:

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