After taking a philosophy class during her freshman year, Liz Nies x’20, a neurobiology major, spent “a lot of time thinking about thinking. I developed a much bigger appreciation for the brain and what our minds can do.” So when an undergraduate research assistant position opened in psychology professor Craig Berridge’s Neural Bases of Behavior Lab in October 2018, she jumped at it. In the lab, Liz researches how the drug methylphenidate works in the brain. More commonly known as Ritalin, methylphenidate is a stimulant medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “We know Ritalin works in treating ADHD, but we want to know how,” says Liz.
To that end, Liz works with ten typical rats to assess how different doses in the two hemispheres of the brain affect sustained attention and working memory. It’s worth noting that these “healthy” or “normal” rats can be studied because Ritalin and other ADHD drugs improve prefrontal cortex cognition in both healthy people and those with ADHD. ”It’s an exacting science and requires an inordinate amount of attention to detail. Among other things, “you have to be meticulous about how much, how often, and at what times you feed the rats,” says Liz.
That attention to detail is something she’s learned to value not only in the lab, but from her professors as well. Her Biology 152 mentored research project met the scrupulous eye of Professor Berridge who, Liz says, marked it all up. “You have to take constructive criticism,” she says. Lab colleague and postdoc Rob Spencer has provided a helpful support system as well. “My science writing has improved significantly [as a result].”
This spring, between classes and rugby practice, Liz will take the MCAT as part of her application to medical school. She’s approaching this next big step the way she’s approached everything in her life, and it’s the same advice she’d give to others: “Take the opportunities that come your way and keep an open mind.”
Interested in getting involved with a psychology research lab? Now’s the time! Make plans to attend the Undergraduate Research Fair on Tuesday, February 25 from 2:30-4:30pm in the Berkowitz Room in the psychology building.