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May 26, 2015

Megan Kechner: Academic Opportunity

May 26, 2015

Megan Kechner is an Honors College senior majoring in neuroscience in Lyman Briggs College and psychology in the College of Social Science. She is the recipient of a nationally competitive Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, awarded to scholars committed to a career in science, mathematics or engineering who display intellectual intensity and have the potential for significant contribution in their chosen field.

My undergraduate research journey began in 2012 during my first year at Michigan State University. Coming in as a freshman, I was intimidated by the idea of attending a Big Ten research university, making my mark at a school of nearly 50,000 students, and finding my niche as a science major who was interested in research. Although I had heard the word thrown around before and had a brief idea of what research was, at the time I had no idea how to become involved in something I had little to no previous experience with.

I’ve always had a love for science and how the human body works, particularly as it relates to brain function. It was during a meeting with an academic adviser that I learned of the new undergraduate neuroscience major at MSU. It immediately sparked my interest and soon enough, my worries about what major I would choose and classes I would take in the upcoming years had finally been resolved. I was ready to hit the ground running.

Right around the time I began looking for a volunteer research position, the neuroscience program hired a group of new faculty members. After reaching out to a few of these faculty members, I developed a strong connection with Drs. AJ Robison and Michelle Mazei-Robison. They both had a very distinct passion for the field and were excited about training strong undergraduate students. These qualities, along with their motivation to understand my professional goals, made it apparent to me that I would be extremely lucky to have them as mentors throughout my undergraduate education.

Currently, my scientific interest in the Mazei-Robison lab focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying psychiatric illnesses. In particular, we look at the specific signaling changes in areas of the brain that may be responsible for behavioral changes induced in human mental illnesses in order to illuminate novel therapeutic targets. I have been fortunate to present my findings in a variety of seminar settings, including the annual University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum and the national Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C. in 2014 with support from the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience student travel award.

My research in the lab also led me to an incredible summer internship at Vanderbilt University, where I focused on a genetic variation in the Human Dopamine Transporter gene and its role in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Here, I grew comfortable with new scientific techniques, discussion groups, and presentation opportunities that enhanced my perspective and enthusiasm for research.

Last year, Dr. Mazei-Robison encouraged me to apply for the Goldwater Scholarship, an award that recognizes STEM students who display intellectual intensity and who have the potential for significant future contribution in their chosen field. With support from my mentors, professors, the Honors College, and the National and International Fellowships and Scholarships Office, I submitted an application and was recognized for Honorable Mention by the Goldwater Foundation.

The following year, I was again encouraged to apply and this time was awarded the scholarship and named a Goldwater Scholar. When I found out that I had received such a prestigious award, I was very excited, as this opportunity motivates me to continue research and will likely open many doors for me in the future.

Without a doubt, my experiences at MSU are what helped me in achieving this award by providing me with exposure to hands on scientific research and academic opportunity necessary to be an exceptional candidate for the award. I would have never expected that undergraduate research would introduce me to the number of opportunities that have become some of my greatest achievements.

Ultimately, these experiences have given me the passion, determination and skill necessary for top-tier graduate admission and success in my future career in neuroscience. I am endlessly grateful for the research mentorship and support I have received, as it has supplemented my academic coursework and benefitted both my personal and professional growth as a scientist.

Throughout my time at MSU, neuroscience has continuously and increasingly become a huge part of my life. From maintaining professional contacts and personal friendships, to creating lifelong memories and understanding my grandpa’s recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, neuroscience motivates me each day to work towards advancing our understanding of the mechanism of diseases in the brain and developing potential avenues to new treatments.