Featured Day in the Life of; Michelle, Doctoral Student in Behavioural Neuroscience

Hello to all! I am Michelle Martínez, a 3rd year Doctoral student in the Behavioral Neuroscience Program at the University of Texas at El Paso. I am part of a neuroscience lab where we model addiction in humans through pre-clinical models. More specifically, we investigate the underlying neural, cognitive, behavioral and molecular pharmacological mechanisms that drive nicotine addiction and the factors that contribute to withdrawal and relapse. My projects will investigate the effects of nicotine on brain reward systems and more importantly, the progressive negative impacts this drug of abuse has on current adolescent and adult e-cigarette smokers.

I am the daughter of an immigrant family that has worked extremely hard to have the same opportunities as others do and succeed in life. So, as a woman in STEM advocate, I am proud to serve as a role model for a community of young girls and women that want to empower each other, have a strong work ethic and stand for what they believe in. The field of behavioral neuroscience is primarily made up of male figures thus continuing to establish an imbalance of genders in science. It is therefore, important to grow this field with female researchers not only to create a balance but to provide motivation to women that are afraid to follow their passion.

I have been blessed enough with the ability to conquer my fears and follow my passion in research without seeing it as a drag or something I dread. In fact, I love my field of addiction research and the possible broader impacts it may have in our society. I see my research as a stepping stone to better our every day life, one experiment at a time!

Currently, I use my social media (Instagram: michelleishere_) to document my life in a PhD program and have found it to be useful as many other women in STEM from different research areas (e.g. physics, stem cell research, cancer research etc.) and different parts of the world (e.g. Australia, Germany, Canada etc.) do so as well. It is comforting to know that other women have similar experiences as I do and are available to support me along the way!

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9:02 am: I don’t usually finish getting ready for school this late but because class was “canceled” I decided to take my time!

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9:30 am: I like to already have an idea of what I need to get done before I leave the house so I tend to have my to-do list ready. I check off the tasks that I complete throughout the day but of course sometimes there are unexpected meetings or experiments to tend to so I forget this step.

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10:10 am: Finally ready to drive to school and sit in 1-hour traffic listening to a playlist titled “Traffic Playlist”. Genius.

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11:24 am: Here, am looking over my notes for a developmental neurobiology course before taking an exam. As you can see, I beat the traffic and treated myself to Starbucks. Here is what I ordered: (got the drink order from Pinterest) A cold brew with salted cream cold foam, 2 pumps of caramel and almond milk

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12:34 pm: So after taking my exam, I took inventory of our surgical tools. This is important to do before any upcoming surgeries so that you know of what additional tools you may need to order and what you already have. Since my project will require electrode implantation I had to take into account how many surgical tools we had (e.g. screws, scalpels, hemostats etc.).

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1:15 pm: Here, we have the set up for polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR entails making copies of specific DNA regions. This is done through use of DNA polymerase, Taq polymerase and primers that are specific to the region of interest.

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2:48 pm: Here I am continuing to assist with PCR where I am separating RNA from brain tissue.

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4:33 pm: I had a meeting with a new research assistant in my laboratory, so I decided to show her the way that our lab documents experiments. Every lab has their own way of documenting (e.g. creating protocols, drug doses etc.) procedures and/or data. It is important to know where there were inconsistencies during the experiment such as accidental administration of a different drug during experimentation. These types of mistakes can definitely affect the animal and the results of the project. So proper documentation is necessary and vital in every research field.

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5:50 pm: Time for dinner: Here we have chicken tacos with lettuce, avocado, sour cream and of course some green homemade salsa (it was very spicy).

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6:24pm: As you can tell, I was so frustrated that I just stared at my computer. I was working on a poster that I will be presenting at a conference in San Antonio, Texas in about a week or so. I have never been to this conference so I was overthinking every detail!

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8:32pm: I ended my day by doing an intense home workout. My puppy was ready to sleep and so was I!

Thank you for making it to the end!
I had so much fun and held myself accountable more than I would without documentation of my day. ☺

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