Episode Notes | Episode Transcript | AskTheGuest
As an undergraduate student and Goldwater Scholar at University of California San Diego, Sophia Barber shares her undergraduate experience. Sophia is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Neurobiology.
Sophia’s immediate family members have a neurological condition which motivated her to want to go to Medical School. When time came for college, Sophia decided to go to Pasadena City College for financial reasons.
Later, she transferred to UCSD to pursue the 4-year program.
Sophia joins our podcast to share her undergraduate college journey, UG Research at Pasadena City College and UC San Diego, About winning the Goldwater Scholarship, and her advice for high schoolers.
Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:
Episode Title: Sophia Barber of UCSD: Goldwater Scholar, UG Research at Pasadena City College to Neurobiology Lab.
Sophia’s immediate family members have a neurological condition which motivated her to want to go to Medical School. When time came for college, Sophia decided to go to Pasadena City College for financial reasons.
Sophia joins our podcast to share her undergraduate college journey, UG Research at Pasadena City College and UC San Diego, About winning the Goldwater Scholarship, and her advice for high schoolers.
In particular, we discuss the following with her:
Topics discussed in this episode:
Our Guest: Sophia Barber is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Neurobiology at University of California San Diego. Sophia received the Associates degree in Biology from Pasadena City College. Sophia received the Barry Goldwater Scholarship in 2021.
Memorable Quote: “And so I think it's important when you're going to [a] lab to realize that you have just as much right to be there as everybody else. And that regardless of you know, you're going to make mistakes when you go in. And that's not a reflection on your person, your personal character or your abilities and lab because everybody makes mistakes. Yeah. And just, you know, enjoy the experience and work hard and it will pay off.” Sophia Barber.
Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.
Similar Episodes: College Experiences , UG Research
Transcript of the episode’s audio.
There's obviously the money of course, that's as a financially independent student. That has helped me significantly. But more than that, there's the connections that I've gained to fellow Goldwater scholars the support I've received from them. The Goldwater scholars community is truly a wonderful thing. We have a whole bunch of committees and initiatives I've been lucky enough to be on the Executive Council within that within the community.
That is Sophia Barber, a Goldwater Scholar pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Neurobiology at the University of California San Diego.
Hello! I am your host Venkat Raman.
Sophia was a good student in High School.
While she was not much into extracurricular activities, she did a lot of reading.
Her immediate family members had a neurological condition called the CMT (Charcot Marie Tooth) Disease, which motivated her to want to go to Medical School.
When time came for college, Sophia decided to go to Pasadena City College for financial reasons.
Venkat Raman 1:35
Sophia joins our podcast to share her undergraduate college journey, UG Research at PCC and UCSD, about winning the Goldwater Scholarship, and her advice for high schoolers.
Venkat Raman 1:53
Before we jump into the podcast, here are the High-Fives, Five Highlights from the podcast:
So I started my college journey at a community college. I was in Pasadena City College for two years and then I transferred to UCSD. I joined a research lab at my CC at the end of my first year of college.
[UG Research at PCC]
And said we're going to be starting this project utilizing Python. I had zero pythons experience at all whatsoever. And I set up an eval and I with Doctor Ashcraft. I listened to your talk. I have no Python experience. But I'm willing to teach myself and I would love to have the opportunity to help out with your project in any way I can. And he said sure.
But I applied to Goldwater, I hadn't yet been able to step into the lab because of COVID guidelines. Yeah. So I based that a big part of the Goldwater application is writing a research essay. So I wrote the entire essay on the the nanoparticle antibody project, but on discussing how I had done all of the background research and for posting the project as something that I was planning to do once we were able to start getting into lab.
[Research at UCSD Lab]
So I work in a neurobio lab, I was lucky enough to get into the one lab at UCSD that specifically studies the condition that my mom, sister and grandfather all have, which was truly an absolutely wonderful opportunity. I'm unbelievably grateful for it.
[Skills Developed by doing Research]
I think in going into research, it's very focused on working with other people and learning how to collaborate effectively has been such a wonderful field to you know, develop and gain.
Venkat Raman 3:58
These were the Hi5s, brought to you by College Matters. Alma Matters.
Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Venkat Raman 4:09
Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast with Sophia.
So without further ado, here is Sophia Barber!
Venkat Raman 4:18
If you're ready, we can jump right in.
Sophia B 4:21
Venkat Raman 4:22
Cool. Cool. So maybe let's just start with sort of your overall experience at the undergraduate as well as with the UG research so far.
Yeah, so I started my college journey at a community college. I would then pass the state college for two years and then I transferred to UCSD. I joined a research lab at my CC at the end of my first year of college I And it's quite interesting, because I had initially planned to do med school only. I actually didn't think I was smart enough to be able to do research. But I knew it was a not a full requirement, but was highly recommended to do some kind of research before you apply to medical school, so I reached out to a professor at my community college and thought asked if I could get involved with this research over the summer. He said yes. And I kind of dove in and immerse myself at FAU that I absolutely loved it. And it made me decide to do an MD PhD. I have a a couple family members who have neurological conditions. So I decided to major in neuroscience and going to do an MD PhD and study those specific conditions. So it's, it's been an interesting journey, but I'm loving it.
Venkat Raman 6:08
So maybe we can start a little bit about your high school what you were like what your interests were, and then we can talk about the community college, Pasadena community college. Yeah,
yeah. Um, so I went to a pretty good high school. I did fairly well, academically, I got mostly A's, I got some B's. But I didn't apply myself to extracurriculars, which, you know, going into college and I realized how important that was to immerse myself. So those extracurriculars, I was the kind of student who, while they did, well, I would come home, I lived with my grandparents in middle school and high school. So come back to my grandparents house, and I would read books, and hang out with my grandparents until about 9pm 10pm at night, and that's what I would start by homework, and I'd be doing homework till 2am in the morning. And then I just I spent time with my grandparents and I read my books, and I really did it immerse myself in extracurriculars. So I think that was that was one thing that I when I started college, I made it a priority to change. I started college working 24 hours a week, which was my schedule now isn't as intense as I thought it was back then. But um, but I made sure to, you know, while working, trying to start getting involved in pre med clubs at my CC and just kind of, to really immerse myself in my community by my CC in the way that I really didn't do when I was in high school.
Venkat Raman 7:51
So tell us about your CC. So what was, you know, what did you go in for? Did you go into the plan of transferring secure some of the mindset going in? And then what your experience was there?
Yeah, so I decided to go to a community college for financial reasons. I had my honors chemistry and AP, honors chemistry, honors biology. And then that same professor taught me AP biology. And the Honors Chemistry and my biology professor have both told me that for financial reasons I left first and then transfer, and then save myself all of that money. So that's, that was what I decided to do. So I entered PCC as a biology major. I start off as molecular and cell biology. Because I thought that was, I thought that was that that sounded pretty cool. I knew I wanted to do biology, but I wasn't sure exactly what field I want to go into. And then the neurological condition that affects my family started affecting my family significantly more than it did when I was growing up. And I switched my major to neuroscience upon transferring. But I spent my first two years at my community college. The very first semester was in person I took the second level of calculus over the winter quarter is a five week session. And then the spring quarter, we all ended up going online. So I had my very first semester in person, the rest of my college experience was online. But I was able to, I was commuting from home at my CC from my grandparents house. So I was able to, you know, invest the time that I saved in community in joining a whole bunch of more clubs and organizations and committees at my CC
Venkat Raman 10:03
You found undergraduate research while you were at community college? So tell us what what exactly did you do and a little bit about not just the experience, but what impact it had at that point?
Yeah. So I did, I did a couple of things. So the piano that I worked under is is still very, very big on getting community college students a kind of taste of what research is like, which is very hard to find at the community college level, there's not a lot of research that happens on that level. So it was a fantastic opportunity that I was able to, you know, have some research experience as a community college student.
But we I started off I met him at a it was a Pi day conference that our Community College hosted. And it was postponed because of COVID. So they did a Pi Day times two. And he talked at it and said, We're going to be starting this project utilizing Python. I had zero pythons periods at all whatsoever. And I sent him an email and I do Dr. Ashcroft. I listened to your talk. I have no Python experience, but I'm willing to teach myself and I would love to have the opportunity to help out with your project in any way I can. And he said sure.
And so I joined his I joined his group, I ended up Co-leading a couple of different projects. The first was using this program called Data classroom and teaching statistical analysis. And then we added a Python to that and I taught myself how to code that winter. And so, we worked on that aspect of the project as well.
And then I ended up leading with another student, a gold silver hybrid nanoparticle antibody conjugation project, we are trying to, we are starting out with gold nanoparticles. So we are trying to conjugate the antibodies. We were working with CSU Northridge and UC Riverside. And ultimate goal was to then move on to these hybrid gold silver nanoparticles that UC Riverside had created conjugate them to antibodies, since Silver has antibacterial, antiviral and anti cancer properties. And gold is much more stable and could potentially protect against the toxicity of the silver. So we had silver cord, we had a silver core and then gold encapsulating it. And the thought was if we conjugated that to antibodies, it could be led directly to a cancer site and work to fight cancer will also find a symbiotic relationship between cancer and bacteria.
Venkat Raman 13:03
So what were some of the takeaways from that?
I think we had we had a lot of restrictions going into the project, I started the project with the other student, we're essentially, we were given a project, we were told that the the previous groups at the CDC had already left they'd been working on it, and they hadn't left us anything to work on to, to kind of start off with which I think was intentional to make us you know, to do the research ourselves and build everything ourselves. I think that was that was a clever way of getting us invested to another level.
But we spent, we were told, I think in November. And we spent all of our winter break. This is while I was trying to teach myself Python, I was meeting with her every day, trying to figure it out. What is a nanoparticle? First of all, how do you conjugate that to an antibody? We were going through, we spent hours and hours and hours and hours going through papers and trying to figure out what we were doing and how we might possibly do it. And then building are what we're going to be our procedures. So we worked on that we were initially supposed to be able to go into the lab that January. And then the COVID cases spiked, if I remember correctly, and the time we got we're able to go into lab got pushed to march. And so we continue working our procedures, we'd have to figure it out. All right, what do we need to order from the lab? We had a whole bunch of students come join the project a little bit later on. And so we were kind of getting them up to speed and applying for conferences and all of that jazz stuff. And then March rolled around and we still weren't able to get into the lab at It hasn't we ended up having to wait till to April till April to be able to actually start the starter research. And then we were only allowed in the lab one day a week.
So Tuesdays I had a an 8am to 12pm shift with the other students. And then we would meet the the other girl's name was Sophia Isabella as well, which is quite ironic, because that's my first we would meet Tuesday mornings and go over it. And then we went after and figure out, you know, What, did it work? Why do we think it didn't work, and then we would prep and then we'd have big group meetings with the rest of the group, we'll go over as a group, what we did that week, what didn't work, we're going to try and do next week to see if we can get any positive results. And I think that process of the months of, you know, going through the literature, trying to teach ourselves what nanoparticles are, how to read scientific literature, because that's, that's a, something you have to learn how to do and of itself. And really, just trying to learn how to how to build all of this to make a functioning project are really, really key research techniques that I definitely learned while working on that project.
Venkat Raman 16:23
You mentioned that the previous group had done something and had kind of taken off, quote, unquote, but how did you guys leave it? And did it? Did you guys take it to some next level.
So we by the time we, we finished working on the project in June, we ended up I ended up going to a a program in New Mexico, learning about micro systems and more micro nano technology, working in a cleanroom. And then I had to immediately fly back after a week. This was what I was in New Mexico in the cleanroom at UNM while I was taking my finals. And then I flew back home, I spent a day at my visiting family, and then jumped on a flight to University of North Dakota, the School of Medicine for an internship there over the summer. So I wasn't able to work on a project over the summer. But a lot of the other students working on the project they all that year, we almost all of us transferred and have all of us had programs that we are involved in over the summer. So we had a new group come in the next August and they started working on it. And from what I recall from my conversations with my old pi is he did the same thing he did for us and he told them that they had to start fresh egg couldn't use anything that we had. Okay, so they had to teach everything to themselves and figure out all the procedures. And I don't think he left the view that anything that we had done so far. So they could you know, learn how to figure it out. But we had a we had a lot of troubleshooting that we were trying to do. We met with a company that did conjugation to see, we were doing, you know conjugations, slightly different than they were with different nanoparticles and everything. But we connected with them and went to the process to see what possibly could we do, we'd be doing wrong. One key thing about working uniquely in college lab is the lab equipment isn't as extensive as you would find in a four year university. So we were trying to do conjugations. With equipment when we didn't have the correct equipment, we had a centrifuge and we needed the centrifuge to go to a higher RPM. But the centrifuge there can be college had didn't have the capabilities to go to a higher RPM. So we're trying to figure out, okay, if we have it go for longer will that work, but then the longer it goes, the more heats up. We didn't want the antibodies jet to break start breaking down. So we're trying to troubleshoot that so we're meeting with a company, but we don't have the right technical capabilities. I remember we have a a rotator either, so we're doing it by hand. We were at posters were at posted the hill, the conference, and we're both sitting at a computer and one of us we're switching back and forth between flipping our file upside down and writes the entire hour back and forth with one of our arms got tired, we handed it off to the to the other person and Sophia would start doing it on her end. So it was a lot it was a lot of troubleshooting and trying to figure out how exactly do you utilize the techniques that we had learned about without the proper technology to do so.
Venkat Raman 19:59
You transferred at that point, or were you there another year at the community college?
I transferred at that point. So I worked on the project for about six months and then I ended up transferring to UCSD. So I did the internship at North Dakota, I came back to my grandparents house for about a week. Stay with my family and then I left for UCSD early. Because I was I was able to I received a place in the UCSD routes internship, it was an internship for transfer students, that kind of introduction, introduced them to biology research, and I had done a lot of education, research. And then a lot of a lot of chemistry stuff, my professor that my PA at the time was a chemistry professor. So I had learned a lot of you know, the typical biology research techniques. I didn't know how to do western blots, I didn't know how to do gel electrophoresis. And so I was able to secure a spot in the internship that pretty much taught us all of those main techniques that allowed me to join a neurobiology lab shortly after the program ended or actually no, just shortly before the program ended. So I got to UCSD about a month earlier, month, month and a half earlier than the quarter started. And have been there ever since
Venkat Raman 21:32
fabulous now. So you started research at the community college in your second year,
Sophia B 21:39
second year, and then my summer before my second year.
Venkat Raman 21:46
So let's move from there to the Goldwater Scholarship. First of all, why did you apply? And then what did you know? Just your thinking behind it? And tell us a little bit about the research you're doing? Or what you what you really applied for in that right? Yes.
Yeah. So I applied initially upon assistance on the insistence of my PI at the time, at my community college, I had been co leading the education on based projects, trying to increase students understanding of statistical analysis, and engagement in their virtual STEM classrooms. As well as we worked on a project to see how to best develop a virtual undergraduate research program. And then I had the hybrid gold silver nanoparticle conjugate antibody conjugate that I previously discussed. Yeah. So I applied to go butter with those three projects going in. Now something to note is I had done with the other Sophia all of the background and research that we had to do to kind of figure out what we were doing and develop our procedures. But when I applied to Goldwater, I hadn't yet been able to step into the lab because of COVID guidelines. Yeah. So I based that a big part of the Goldwater application is writing a research essay. And so I wrote the entire essay on the the nanoparticle antibody project, but on discussing how I had done all of the background research, and for posting the project as something that I was planning to do once we were able to start getting into lab,
Venkat Raman 23:29
Sophia B 23:31
But a lot of the application, the big focus is they want to support students who plan to go into research. And so I wanted to do an MD PhD, but research was a very, very important part of what I wanted to do. So I had to explain why exactly a medical degree would benefit me in my research goals. Which is really important for for the scholarship because it is about supporting students who want to go into research. Yeah. And then I talked about my journey so far. Why I wanted to do research, and the experience I had in research thus far. And so some life difficulties I talked about, there's an optional section where you can discuss any kind of challenges that you've had, that has affected where you are now. So I talked about, I'm a fully financially independent student. And so I talked about going to college to save that, that money and how it was such a better flow of beneficial experience for me, both in terms of people I met and experience that I had and being able to get into research and also in terms of just the the base reason of why what to the College of being able to start my transfer at UCSD without any debt
Venkat Raman 24:58
you know, what do you think what To the application, you know, we obviously, were awarded the scholarship, what do you think we're, from your point,
I think I was able to show my love for research, and how much I was excited to, you know, make that a core part of my career in the future. And I think that the, I think it's really important. When writing your go water application, I mentored a couple students this past cycle. And applying for the scholarship, it's really important to have a flow to have all of all of the pieces of your story kind of flowed together in a way that kind of makes your goal just that, you know, ribbon on top, make it all, you know, make all the puzzle pieces fit together. And I think that's one thing that I spent a lot of time on in my writing, is I talked about how, you know, even in high school, I had, I didn't think that I was smart enough to go into research, but I had that those core developments that I you know, I considered research is something that I potentially wanted to do. On and I talked about, I wrote I wrote a small section talking about, I think it was we made a plasmid, I think, in like an AP Biology class, I, I'm not sure if I'm remembering this correctly, it was it was a long time ago. But I remember going through this whole process, and just having this moment of just be like, This is so unbelievably cool. I will be so happy doing this kind of stuff for the rest of my life. And then you know, it really really sparked an interest in research. So I talked about that, like that core memory from high school because there's a section that talks about your previous experiences that have led you to consider a research career. And I talked about you know, my family has neurological conditions that my mother, grandfather and sister all have a neurological condition called check for my tooth disease. It's a peripheral peripheral nervous system condition, I talked about how that affected my you know, desire to go into research. And, you know, I think my my love for research and my value of research really, really came through in my application
Venkat Raman 27:36
How does the scholarship make a difference. How do you how do you think it has changed you or made things different?
Um, there's, there's, there's a number of ways there's obviously the money, of course, that's as a financially independent student, that has helped me significantly. But more than that, there's the connections that I've gained to fellow Goldwater scholars, the support I've received from them, the Goldwater scholars community is truly a wonderful thing. We have a whole bunch of committees and initiatives, I've been lucky enough to be on the Executive Council within that within the community. But we have a whole bunch of initiatives and committees, trying to both trying to create make this community a place where students can, you know, connect with each other and make friends and support each other in in their in their goals and dreams. And it's truly a truly wonderful place. And I'm thrilled that I've been able to be a part of it and, you know, been been able to help it as it continues throughout the years.
Venkat Raman 28:52
Sounds great. Yeah, absolutely. John, was talking about the community and certainly a great thing. And it's been, you know, what is it 40 plus years now, almost 40 years. So lots of scholars, Yeah lots of scholars.
Venkat Raman 29:11
Let's move forward and talk about your transition to UC San Diego. So you go from a two year to a four year college. Was that a huge jump? Was that transitional? simple?
It was a little bit interesting. I think I had a little bit of a unique transition. I think a lot of community college students, especially when they transfer to a quarter system school, from a semester system school. Yeah, the quarter system just it moves so quickly that if you get behind in the first couple of weeks, it's so difficult to catch up. And so I learned that my first quarter going in, I started the quarter. At the very beginning of the quarter I had a lot of personal issues start. My living situation became unsafe. I had to start commuting from like 40 minutes away because I couldn't live in my apartment. And so I had a lot of trouble staying on top of my classes, when I was also trying to deal with that situation and making sure I was safe where I was. So it was it was it was a, you know, a lot of distraction from my school, I was able to get through the quarter relatively well. But I think one thing that I definitely learned is that in the quarter system, especially when you transition not only is the transition from semester to quarter a little bit difficult in making sure that you change your time series and the semester system, there is in the beginning, a little bit of a period where you can get to know your peers, and you're kind of eased into a little bit of material a little bit more, whereas a quarter system, you immediately start, people start having midterms and second week. So you have to make sure that you are very, very, very on top of all of the material and all of the information. To do that. I did that while immediately jumping into a research lab. So I was working in the lab. While trying to transition I had also helped found an organization working with creating advocacy for foster kids. So I was very involved in that. And at the end of the quarter, I was working with another friend for we were co founding another organization working with high school students. So I was trying to manage all of that. While also volunteering and being in lab and working with UCSD, I was living on campus at the time working with UCSD to make my living situation a safe situation again. So it was a lot that I was trying to balance and then jumping in and transferring from a quarter sister semester system to the quarter system, I really, really demonstrate the importance of making sure that you are very on top of everything that you're doing so you don't fall behind.
Venkat Raman 32:04
So how are the peers and the professors? And you know, UCSD? Yeah, how are they? How are they? I guess it's still there? Yeah,
yeah, my professors were absolutely amazing. I've had some truly wonderful professors who have just made learning, I've always loved learning, but have truly made learning just the material. So fascinating. I think I think it helps them I'm taking all of my classes are in areas that I'm fascinated with. Since I'm upper division, I can pretty much choose my which which classes I go into, for the most part. But my professors have truly been amazing. And the courses have truly been amazing. And I'm so grateful that I was it was able to you know, come to UCSD.
Venkat Raman 32:54
How about your peers,
Sophia B 32:55
my peers, for the most part are great, too. I haven't had there. They seem to be very supportive. I know with going online and met some core peers at the internship that I started at before the semester started. So I became very close with them. And I know UCSD, we had our first quarter in person and I was off campus for a lot of that portion, dealing with the situation with my living. And then the second quarter. We were online for the first two weeks. And then most some of my professors transition completely online after that, because the COVID cases have spiked. And then the other two professors had an online option. And so I took the online option and spent a full day in lab Monday through Friday. So I would go to I would spend all day in lab on Monday, I was half the day in lab on Tuesday go to volunteering for the rest of for the next four or five hours, all day, Wednesday, half a day on Thursday, volunteering for four to five hours and then I would spend all day on Friday. And so I wasn't in the classroom as much as I would say most people typically are when they transition to a four year just purely because I was given the option to watch podcasts and watch recorded videos and watch happen to a zoom lecture and I was able to continue my lab work, which is what I decided to do. So I wouldn't say I've had as much interaction with my peers, as most students at this stage, because I have been, you know, taking that time to be in love instead. But, you know, from what I've seen about my peers, they all seem to be very supportive. And you know, they have discord groups for our classes where they help each other understand, you know, difficult concepts that they're struggling with, which was which was really great to see.
Venkat Raman 34:52
So let's talk about research at UCSD. What kind of stuff are you doing?
So I work in a neuro bio lab. I was lucky enough to get in To the one lab at UCSD, that specifically studies the condition that my mom, sister and grandfather all have, which was truly an absolutely wonderful opportunity. I'm unbelievably grateful for it. I do a lot of work. I do a lot of work with tracking lysosomes and mitochondria across various disease models. Right now I'm mostly working with our Huntington disease model and all our Alzheimer's disease bottle. And then I also I do a lot of dissection Association collecting dorsal root ganglion, from in between the vertebrae of mice. And then we're collaborating with separate lab that looks at external strife and stress with lasers, example cutting, so then they use the neurons that I collect for them for their projects, and I use the neurons that I collect for my latest novel mitochondrial tracking. And then I've also been involved in some preclinical projects, looking at novel therapeutics.
Venkat Raman 36:05
Sounds sounds great. So where are you headed with all this?
I'm hoping I'm gonna be taking a gap year, but I'm hoping to start applying to MD PhD programs at the end of my senior year. And then I'm hoping to be able to do a PhD in neuroscience, and then do research on neurological conditions and sharp from array to disease in particular. While working in ideally, pediatrics as a as a doctor, pediatric neurology.
Venkat Raman 36:38
Wanted to gonna talk about two things. One is you won numerous awards and scholarships. What does that mean to you?
I have just been incredibly grateful for all of the you know, awards and scholarships that I think get in. It's actually a bit of a funny story. When I was first awarded the Goldwater Scholarship, I thought that it was a technical error on their website. So I, they send an email, and I was I was aware of this before it came out on the website, they send an email to all of the scholars who are awarded scholarships at the same exact time as they post the list of students that are awarded the scholarship on the website. Well, I didn't know is the congratulations, you've been awarded, the Goldwater Scholarship was automatically placed in my spam. So I checked the website, and my name was on the website, and I checked my email, and there was no email in sight. So I'm receiving, you know, congratulation emails from my mentors. And my initial thought is, oh, no, I'm gonna have to tell them that there was a technical error on the website, because I didn't get an email. Yeah, I did find an email that 20 minutes later in my spam. But I truly didn't think there was any chance that I would have been have been awarded a scholarship. And I've just so unbelievably grateful for you know, the opportunities that I've been able to take advantage of the support my my scholarships have given me, it's truly been astronomically helpful.
Venkat Raman 38:21
So, you know, you've been, you know, I think you've been into research, you mentioned right from high school, at least conceptually speaking, and then you've done all this work over the last few years. How has the research changed you? Or how has it impacted you? What, what skills do you think you've developed that you feel are directly attributable to research?
Besides the, you know, general, you know, skills of like how to work in a lab, which I think are really important. I think I've learned, you know, how to work with other people a little bit better. I think, in your know, your classes, you have a lot of focused time, or you work on things by yourself. And it's a bit of a one man show, because it's it's essentially at it comes to you needing to learn the material yourself. Yeah. Yeah. And I think in going into research, it's very focused on working with other people and learning how to collaborate effectively has been such a wonderful skill to you know, develop and gain. It's yeah, Truly, truly, truly, incredibly important.
Venkat Raman 39:35
Cool. Now, what about a writing you mentioned writing quite a bit early on and your application for Goldwater also, was writing something that you were pretty good at right from school, or is that something that you think you've developed over time?
Sophia B 39:52
I would say both. I would say for me, it's helped that my mother was an English teacher. So anytime that When I was a kid, anytime that I would say anything wrong, or my sister was saying anything wrong, she would sit us both down in front of a whiteboard. And give us a lecture for about 20 minutes on the correct use of grammar. So I, I think there was there was that that influence was really helpful growing up, and, you know, really develop in my writing, but I have noticed significantly, that my, the way you write science and the way you write English are very, very different things. And so learning to write the science was definitely a skill that I really had to learn. And so that's been very something that it takes a bit. It takes, you know, a bit of time to learn to write and read, to write and read science. And I think working in a research lab, and just needing to do both, has been a great takeaway from from my experience in research.
Venkat Raman 41:02
Yeah, you mentioned earlier about reading scientific articles. And, and I, you know, I agree with you that it's, you know, starkly different from obviously reading a novel. But what do you think, are a couple of key points you would make about reading scientific stuff? I mean, what is it that you needed to do differently?
Sophia B 41:25
I think when you're reading scientific papers, especially when you're starting out to read scientific papers, it's very easy to get caught up in the Oh, my God, I understand none of what they're saying. Everything's new to me. What am I reading? So that's definitely something I experienced. Yeah, I think it was very beneficial for me, especially when I was struck out to focus on the abstract. It's basically a summary of the paper. And so you can get to the abstract and, you know, take your time, look up all the technical terms that you don't understand. I downloaded a program called Mendeley, which is so helpful for me, both in terms of organizing the papers that I read, which I still I still did to do, I'll admit, I'm very, very bad at organizing the papers I read. But I learned I wish I downloaded it sooner. When I was initially starting to go through the process of reading papers, I was taking the physics class online. And so when it started, this was it. This was what I very first started doing. But I was I was in the process of reading papers, I had about 60 tabs on the computers of different papers that I had started reading, and that I was keeping track of and I, I had a mental image of like, where everything was and what I needed to know. But I didn't remember you know, all of the names of all the papers. And so I went to take a physical exam online, and they had a lockdown browser, and I get to the to the exam, I start the exam, it closes all of my tabs, and I lose all of the paper. Sorry, like shortly after that, to download a software that could store buy papers for me so they don't get lost. So my browser closes. Sure. Um, so I find Mendeley super helpful for that. And then I'm also able to annotate the actual papers themselves. So I highlight and write comments on things. So that's what I do a lot. When I read papers, any words that I don't understand, I'll look it up, I'll put it in a comment box, the comment box will appear beside the word. And so I'll slowly go through the abstract, make sure I understand the abstract, and then I'll continue for there. And it's very, when you first read a paper, it takes hours, it took me so many hours to get through one paper, just purely because I'm having to look up almost every other word to understand what it means. And then going through graphs and trying to look at graphs and then the analysis and trying to understand how they got from the graph to their, you know, their their analysis of the data. It takes a long time. It's can be frustrating initially, but it's it's very, very, very beneficial. Because the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Venkat Raman 44:17
Awesome, awesome. So Sophia, you know, what would you tell high schoolers? What kind of advice would you give them? You know, first of all research and second about the undergraduate process.
Yeah. I would say when you're going into research, first off, first of all, spend the time if you have, if you have the resources, spend the time going through the resources available to you to find a lab that you think that you can fit in. I think it's really important to find something that you're interested in. I know for UCSD When I was looking for the labs, I spent hours upon hours upon hours upon hours, going through the different biology PI's that they had, in their different portals, they have a portal for the med school, which is the one my PA is in. And then they have a portal for the overall like, you know, UCSD research. Because the schools are separated in their their other portals. And so I spent hours upon hours going through each portal, trying to find PIs that study things that I was interested in, there's so many things that I was interested in how specifically looking for stuff for my GCSEs, which I found in the medical school portal. But if you have the resources, spend the time, you know, you know, narrowing down what you think you've most be interested in, and then find a lot that studies that because if you're passionate about your research, it makes research so much more fun. But the caveat to that is, if you don't have a lot of resources, any research experience is good experience. And when I entered my first project, as a community college, I didn't think I would love what I was doing. It wasn't biology research, I was working on understanding statistical analysis, which well, I like math is not ideally what I wanted to do research on. But I recognized that it was a good opportunity. And I took advantage of it. And I am so grateful that I did that. Because it exposed me to research and then gave me the skills I needed to succeed in what I'm doing now. So any you can to be involved in research, regardless of whether it's something you're absolutely fascinated by is good experience. And to just, you know, throw yourself into it. And I think it was, it was very helpful for me to essentially give my all whenever I'm whenever whatever I'm doing to just, you know, put my whole soul into it and do the very best I can do.
Venkat Raman 47:00
You know, it, of course, was great that you had a passion coming into this right in neuroscience. And absolutely. I mean that that sort of is a huge driver. But why does well taken. So here we are starting to wind down here. I thought if you had some interesting memory or anecdote or vignette you want to share about research or any experience, that'd be great.
Yeah, um, I would say a lot of the times, research isn't successful. And a lot of the times you mess up. And this is this is one thing I struggled with, especially going into a lab at UCSD, where everything is very well established. And everybody seems to know what exactly they're doing. And you're entering with little experience compared to everybody else, you're entering as a transfer student. And there's already a bit of a stigma with transferring. And I, I've struggled very, very much though, with imposter syndrome. And so I think it's important to when you're going to lab to realize that you have just as much right to be there as everybody else. And that regardless of you know, you're going to make mistakes when you go in. And that's not a reflection on your person, your personal character or your abilities and lab because everybody makes mistakes. Yeah. And just you know, enjoy the experience and work hard and it will pay off.
Venkat Raman 48:46
Cool. So Sophia, this has been truly very inspiring. It's a your experiences really rich and diverse and wide. And I hope you continue on your path and achieve all the stuff you want to achieve. And I would like to talk to you in the future, but for right now, take care. Be safe, and thank you so much.
Sophia B 49:10
Take care. Thank you.
Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Sophia Barber on her undergraduate journey.
Sophia’s family’s neurological condition, created a passion in her for research.
She was able to find a way to do research at Pasadena CC.
This led to her applying and being awarded The Goldwater Scholarship..
Now at UCSD, she is pursuing her research in the Neurobiology lab on the neurological condition that her grandfather, mom and sister have.
I hope Sophia’s story motivates you to explore UG Research in college in your area of interest or passion.
For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [email@example.com].
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