Thesis Spotlight With Ana Verma '20

Updated: 5 days ago

This article is part of the ongoing Senior Thesis Spotlight series

Tell us a bit about yourself; what life experiences inspired you to write a senior thesis?

I am a Neuroscience major following the pre-medical track. I plan on taking a couple gap years before attending medical school to explore clinical research or pursue public health-related opportunities. On campus, I am involved with AWIS, Project Salud, Choral Society, and DASAC. In my free time I like to learn different languages and binge-watch YouTube videos (the goal is to eventually be a poly-glot).

Coming into college I didn’t know much about research or neuroscience. In fact, Neuro wasn’t even on my radar. However, my first-year seminar professor and my advisor were both Neuro professors and encouraged me to take Intro to Neuro, and I fell in love with Neuroscience! At the end of my sophomore year, I did a research program at Carnegie Mellon University and was able to be part of a lab with other undergraduate students, graduate students, and

postdocs. I was fascinated by how the postdocs and graduate students had their own projects and were constantly refining their experiments and approaches to certain problems. Being in that environment made me realize that I wanted a project of my own, and a senior thesis is exactly that! I can do background research in literature, but also carry out experiments and obtain my own data that I can then analyze whichever way I choose. 

Can you please talk about the research you’re doing for your senior thesis?

I am exploring the effects of knocking out a certain transcription factor (Nfe2) in zebrafish larvae. The gene for this factor is expressed in the ear, and I am interested in seeing whether it plays any role in hearing. I study the effects of the knock-out by measuring activity in the ear of both a wild-type and a knock-out larva and comparing them. 

What kinds of responsibilities do you have when conducting your research?

Since I work with a live organism, I have the responsibility for caring for my larvae! I do my experiments on larvae that are 5-7 days old, and I acquire them by mating adult zebrafish. I maintain the larvae in petri dishes and change out the water in the dishes daily. I also help (or helped considering most of us are home at this point) feed the adult fish once a week.

Of course, there are also the general responsibilities of conducting research as part of a lab. I make sure to clean up after myself, clean dishes, refill things that need to be refilled, etc. 

What does a typical day or week look like for you?

I guess I’ll describe what my schedule was like prior to Spring Break. Since I wanted to prioritize my thesis this semester, I opted for a lighter course load than usual (3.5 credits). I like to give myself large chunks of type for experiments, and so typically dedicated Wednesday, Friday, and the weekend to them. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, I focused on work that didn’t involve experiments since those days I had classes and DASAC rehearsals. 

As a first-year, did you think you’d be writing a thesis? Did you stick with the field of study you originally thought you’d pursue?

As I mentioned previously, I didn’t know much about research or Neuro coming in, so naturally I didn’t really know what a thesis was. I thought I was going to be a Computer Science major and eventually go into Software Engineering! So, no, freshman-year me probably had no idea she was going to be writing a thesis, and definitely not one in Neuro. 

Do you have any advice for students interested in writing a thesis?

It’s never really too early to start research. I would really recommend reading about the research that all the professors in your department do because there is some really cool stuff out there! If you find a professor whose research interests you a lot, just shoot them an email. They will most likely be more than willing to talk to you more about what they do and who knows, you could end up working in their lab! Just jumping into a thesis might be a little difficult, so make sure you take classes that teach you how to read scientific literature and try to get at least some research experience (though that’s not mandatory!). 

Also, schedule, schedule, schedule! It’s seriously so easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have lots of time because your thesis is not a scheduled “course”. Treat a thesis as more work than even a lab course, and try to set deadlines that you hold yourself accountable for.  

How has COVID-19 impacted your research?

A lot of my work in running my experiments involved troubleshooting things. At times different equipment would not work the way I wanted or larvae wouldn’t survive, etc etc. By the time spring break came around, I was getting very close to collecting meaningful data. Sadly, due to Covid, I wasn’t able to carry out my experiments fully after all that troubleshooting. The most frustrating part is knowing that I was really close — I was probably a week away from completing data collection — but regardless, I am grateful I have the next month to focus on all the writing! Data/results aren’t absolutely necessary to write a good thesis, and that’s what I’m focusing on as I write about the work I have done in the lab. 

Special thanks to Ana for participating in this thesis interview. 

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