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Campus Celebrity: Vanessa Diaz’17


Vanessa Diaz, a junior Neuroscience major from Palisades Park, New Jersey, is off to a great start of the semester after having spent this past summer in Pittsburgh doing research. She spent the majority of her summer in Pittsburgh researching for a Neuroscience lab at University of Pittsburgh. Her research dealt with the behaviors of rats, male and female, and how anxiety affects their behavior depending on gender. They went through reward and avoidance (of punishment) training and established a routine behavior. Then, Vanessa and her team of researchers measured any differences in how they handled tasks after having received an anxiety-inducing drug. The purpose of the research was to add onto the research that her PI (principal investigator) is conducting for pharmaceutical companies so they know how drugs will affect genders and thus properly administer them.

Vanessa first decided to partake in this research because she loves learning about everything and anything that’s happening within our brains such as anxiety, depression and pretty much anything that has to do with some sort of chemical mishap in the brain. Especially as a CMU student, she understands how much anxiety affects people’s everyday lives and she was really excited to get to do research in such a relevant field. However, Vanessa admitted she was nervous in the beginning because she had never worked in a lab or with rats before but she learned quickly and interacting with the rats became a huge part of her day (#onlyfriends). In fact, she grew very attached to the rats. She tried not to give them names but after having spent so much time with them everyday, she just knew them all by their ID numbers.

At the end of the 10 weeks, Vanessa presented her research at a symposium at Duquesne. She was really nervous but she was glad a lot of people found her research interesting. As a pre-med student preparing for medical school, this experience was very valuable to her. It taught her more about anxiety than she ever knew and how it can impact genders differently, which is important to know when administering drugs or medicine. It reinforced her interest in wanting to figure out how to help people with the best of her ability. Vanessa is planning on taking a gap year after she graduates before she enters medical school. She said, “I know what I want to be, but I also know I’m not ready to tackle the intensity of med school right after the intensity of CMU. I’m hoping to continue research as I prepare for medical school the following year.”

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