Works and Days

Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Washington: LB Miller, Winter Shadow 2016

One of the pictures I took of glowing antibodies in a brain slice

I can’t say that I ever imagined myself slicing up a brain before junior year of college. A few short weeks ago, I found myself doing just that: turning the huge crank on a deli-slicer-like machine to create a fifty-micron slice of rat brain. I then used an extra fine paintbrush to fish the brain slice out of the negative 22oC resting place and into a room temperature solution that would preserve it for future experiments.

I started high school thinking that psychology was the path for me. Somewhere between the first day of 9th grade and my first day at Reed, I reimagined myself as a rebel who would never follow in their parent’s footsteps. As a freshman I wandered around the philosophy department, and stuck my head in the political science department and finally, with much chagrin, signed up to take intro psychology my sophomore year.

Because I came home to psychology relatively late in my college career, I had to find my way through the department quickly. I had only three years to complete my major requirements, while those who knew what they were about from early freshman year had four. When I found myself enchanted with behavioral neuroscience, I found that I did not have room in my schedule to pursue this interest as well as graduate on time. This is when the winter shadow program appeared in my life and gave me a wonderful opportunity to explore the field of behavioral neuroscience in a hands-on way.

For two weeks I shadowed Dr. John Neumaier in his behavioral neuroscience research lab at the University of Washington. While John’s guidance was instrumental to my understanding of the material, I spent quite a lot of time working on an experiment designed and supervised by other researchers in the lab. During this hands-on experience, I learned how to slice brains, perform immunohistochemistry, operate a microscope, and do image analysis.

The skills I learned in this shadow are skills that I will use for the rest of my life. The time spent in John Neumaier’s Lab solidified for me that I want to spend the coming years performing research. The most important thing that I gained from the winter shadow, however, was not a firmer understanding of what I want to do with my life.  During the course of my shadow, I worked alongside Atom, a post doc in the Neumaier lab.

Like me, Atom is transgender and nonbinary, which means that they are not a man or a woman. They use the pronoun “they” instead of “he” or “she.” Up until January 2016, I had never met a transgender person over the age of twenty-two. I just had to believe that there was a future for me and that I would continue to exist. And then I met Atom, a nonbinary adult, living their life, and doing exactly what I imagine myself doing one day. Because of this externship, I not only have a strengthened idea about what I want to do with my life, but I can imagine myself living it.  


Tags: winter shadow, winter externship, neuroscience, research, biology, behavioral neuroscience, psychology