Student view:

Brent Strong: A stroke of insight

Feb. 24, 2020

Brent Strong is a junior majoring in physiology from Saline, Mich., and a College of Natural Science Dean’s Research Scholar.

If it seems that things happen at random, it is because they often do.

Coming to Michigan State, I thought I had a clear plan to carry me through the next four years. I was fascinated by infectious diseases, especially hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola and the Marburg virus, and when I had the opportunity to participate in research my freshman year, I immediately thought of doing something related to viruses.

But as I searched for faculty members whose interests aligned with my own, I was frustrated in my attempts. Nothing seemed particularly exciting. Nothing jumped out at me.

So, when I stumbled across the profile page of professor Mathew Reeves, in the MSU Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, I was willing to settle on just about any research topic.

Reeves’ focus is strokes — a topic which I knew precisely zero about. Undaunted by the fact that I could not even tell you what a stroke was, spurred on by this newfound spark of interest and impressed by the myriad publications coming out of his group, I immediately sent him an email.

Our meeting was a good one — except for my discovery that in order to be of use to someone, you had to actually know something. In other words, in order to be valuable to a stroke epidemiologist, you had to know a thing or two about stroke and about epidemiology.

Reeves immediately assigned me the task of working my way through a textbook of clinical epidemiology. That made for some long hours in the library as I worked through the pages.

But like all difficult moments, this one soon passed, and I found myself involved in stroke research. By now, I could give a moderately coherent description of what a stroke was, and I knew a few things here and there about epidemiology. I was now able to work on a few projects.

In one, I interviewed patients to collect data for a randomized controlled trial. In another, I studied whether women were under-treated with tissue plasminogen activator, a drug that reduces long-term disability.

However, the project that has helped me to realize that my passion lies in stroke research has been a recent review of randomized controlled trials of stroke treatments. Stroke is a time-dependent disease: every second, thousands of brain cells are lost. Thus, researching strokes gives me the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives in a critical way.

Doing these things has made me sure of what I want to do. Sometimes pure happenstance illuminates our path forward. All we have to do is have patience and the drive to pursue it.