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Undergrad lab experience increases visability

Lab experience goes a long way in preparing students for post-graduation. Rachel Choi recently found her work in the bioengineering lab of Dr. Robert Rennaker, department head for bioengineering and associate professor in neuroscience, helped her gain admission to the University of California, Berkeley, School of Optometry with $10,000 in scholarships.

Rachel, a senior in the neuroscience program and a National Merit Scholar, has worked in Dr. Rennaker’s lab for two years assisting with work using vagus nerve stimulation to improve the recovery of motor function following stroke or spinal cord injury. She said her experiences prepared her beyond the hands on skills she developed at the bench and helped hone her abilities to interact professionally and think critically.

“Interacting with Dr. Rennaker inspired me to continuously learn more and push myself to become a better student and scientist; he is very encouraging and supportive of his students,” Rachel said. “I did not realize how interconnected neuroscience, engineering, and physiology are before joining his lab. It’s really amazing to see how different fields work together to find solutions to major scientific issues.”

Rachel selected the UC Berkeley program over offers from two other highly regarded optometry schools. A research program focusing on the genetic links of retinopathic diseases helped draw her to Berkeley. Her first inspiration to study vision came after her mother developed macular degeneration, a potentially hereditary disease that blinds the center of the visual field by slowly destroying the cells in the retina. Rachel added to her laboratory and academic experiences by shadowing optometrists and participating in a relief program to Peru to distribute glasses and provide vision screenings.

“I would recommend research to other students because it is a valuable opportunity to apply the knowledge you learn in class to a real-world problem,” Rachel said. “By engaging in research, students can actually see and better understand the concepts learned in the classroom.”