Wendy Herbst (Neuroscience 2014) has been a student researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Maragaret Saha (Biology Dept. and Program in Neuroscience) for the last three years, but this year marked a big achievement. Wendy’s research poster presentation at the International Developmental Biology meeting, entitled, “The role of calcium activity in neural phenotype specification”, won second place in the undergraduate competition (a former student from the Saha lab also won first place). Her research examined the intracellular calcium patterns in neurons during the various stages of frog embryo development including neural induction and neural tube closure. This research provides the basic knowledge about calcium signals to then allow determination of what factors alter this normal pattern and potentially lead to developmental abnormalities and diseases, such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, autism, and epilepsy. She is now applying to graduate programs in molecular neuroscience and hopes to become a research scientist running her own laboratory.
Wendy, who grew up in Falls Church, VA, did not arrive at William & Mary with the goal of becoming a scientist – she originally thought she would be a veterinarian. But within months of beginning her freshman research in the HHMI-supported program, she was hooked on research. She found it amazing that adding some clear liquids into a tube (such as with a PCR reaction) can result in original data. She found research challenging, fun, and much more rewarding than her previous experience with biology which seemed to only involve memorizing facts. Wendy’s experiences at national scientific meetings only strengthened her resolve to pursue science. She found it exciting to meet other scientists from various places studying related phenomena, and has been delighted that there was so much interest in the novel calcium probe she is using (called GCaMP). She describes scientists as a welcoming community of people, which is very appealing to her.
For a bright student like Wendy, studying only Neuroscience was not enough for her. She has also pursued study in computer science. Wendy credits the programming skills she has learned from her computer science courses at William & Mary for allowing her to perform complex data analysis on the calcium signals she collects. Understanding the computational side of biology is a rare talent in the field, and according to Dr. Saha, a challenge that few students take on.
In what little free time Wendy has, she has been a science and math tutor for local middle school students, which has given her a chance to share her love of science with the next generation. To top off her research career here at William & Mary, the Saha lab is about to submit a paper with Wendy as second author, with likely more publications to come. We will be keeping our eye on Wendy as her scientific career unfolds!
For more information about Wendy’s research, click here: http://www.wm.edu/as/neuroscience/news/herbst-w.php