Megan Chang ’21

Megan Chang Why I Majored

I have always loved how the seen and the unseen are made richer and more complex by one another. That intricacy is the reason the science of medicine and the art of storytelling blend harmoniously to me. There is a general perception that arts and sciences are singular disciplines and not compatible; while one may become a successful cardiologist or famous writer, one does not become both. For so long, I stood at a crossroads - I knew I loved medicine, but I wasn’t prepared to leave my creative side behind. Wrestling with the two seemingly opposite paths for years, I began to wonder whether it was possible for the two to eventually merge.

A Pomona professor once told me that the reason he loves neuroscience is because you can use neurobiology to explain psychological phenomena and states, and also take a psychological phenomenon and reduce it to neurobiological mechanism. I decided to major in neuroscience for a very similar reason, as I believe it is an area of study that is the perfect intersection of the physical and the abstract. Through the neuroscience program, I have been able to explore both the “why” and “how” of human behavior.

During the summer of 2019, I also had the opportunity to do independent research at Columbia University Medical Center through the Pomona College Internship Program (PCIP). I chose to do my research on sociological health care barriers such as stigma, giving me the opportunity to interview and talk to patients and providers and hear their stories. By using neuroscience as a platform to explore the combination of medicine and the arts, I hope to find richer, more complex human interactions. 

Emily Rainge ’22

Emily Rainge

Since I was a little girl, I always knew that I wanted to pursue a life in science. It took me a while to figure out what discipline I wanted to explore specifically. But I know that I’ve always had a thing for observing people. Not in a weird way. But observing how people use their body language towards other people. How people talk, how people walk. I wonder about the chemicals in the brain shape people’s actions, ideas, other aspects of life. I’m fascinated by what makes people unique from others. I want to understand how our brains differ from one another because our brains are what make us form our own individual thoughts and opinions. It took me a while to realize that I might want to make this interest in the human brain into a possible career later on in life. I didn’t know I wanted to study Neuroscience until my junior year of high school, and that desire has not changed since. When I tell myself that I want to do something, I won't rest until I get it done. So I declared my major as neuroscience in the spring semester of my first year. And for the reasons below, I think I made a great choice.

My science classes at Pomona College have been quite challenging, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m enjoying the major so much. I have made several friends from my chemistry and biology classes, and I enjoy the collaborative environments that all of the science departments here provide. My professors have been really amazing and caring, and they motivate me every day to want to continue my science career. My favorite class in the major so far is Biology 41C: Cell Chemistry and Biology. It was the class I struggled with the most last semester, but I believe that it’s the class that made me completely re-wire the way I think about science, from thinking about it on the surface-level to thinking about it as more of a multiplex network. I am taking my first Neuroscience course this semester, and I’m also really enjoying it so far. I really look forward to taking upper-division neuroscience electives!

What I find the most interesting about neuroscience is that there are so many ways to make it interdisciplinary. This past summer, I did a research project with both the Neuroscience and Chemistry Departments, working with Professor Charles Taylor and Professor Elizabeth Glater. I spent the summer analyzing the chemical components of different bacteria types and studying if microscopic worms called C. elegans showed a preference for them under certain conditions, and I loved it so much that I decided to continue my research into the semester with an assistantship under Professor Glater. I love this because I’m getting to dabble a bit in analytical chemistry while also studying the behavior of a model organism. It’s so cool that I’ve been given the opportunity to learn so much already. This research intrigues me because I think about the bacteria and worms as being my children, in the sense that I have to grow them myself and then “nurture” them into testable samples. Being able to do research and challenge myself at Pomona makes me feel intelligent, independent, and powerful!

Sammy Little ’20

Sammy Little

I spent my undergraduate career chasing an understanding of neuroscience. The molecular basis for sensation, perception and cognition were elucidated class after class. The bulk of my research as an undergraduate was spent working in a neural development lab under Professor Johnson at Pomona College. I studied a protein, called chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs), that is involved in the development of a properly wired nervous system. The overarching purpose of CSPGs is to prevent neural growth in areas where the protein is expressed. This is significant because CSPGs help ensure that axons of developing neurons do not make connections in the wrong places. I am specifically interested in CSPGs because they are involved in spinal cord injury. When a person severs their spinal cord, the glial scar that develops has high expression levels of CSPGs. This is one of the reasons that humans are unable to regenerate their spinal cord: with the expression of CSPGs at the sight of injury, any axons that are trying to grow through the lesion are stopped by the CSPG gradient.

To study the function of CSPGs I used a biochemical technique called CRISPR which allowed me to edit the fly genome so that CSPGs are not expressed. Over the previous summer I was able to successfully knock out an enzyme in the biosynthetic pathway used to create CSPGs. When I started my work in CSPGs there was only circumstantial evidence that CSPGs existed in flies. After my research last summer, I was able to characterize the first CSPG expressed in flies using concrete evidence rather than conjecture.