Jakob von Morgenland

Jakob von Morgenland is a senior majoring in Neuroscience and double minoring in Biomedical Research and Applied Developmental Psychology. He is currently conducting research in Dr. Sharmila Venugopal’s lab, in the department of Integrative Biology and Physiology.

Jakob recently published a first-author paper in the Encyclopedia of Computational Neuroscience titled, “Hill’s Model for Muscle Physiology and Biomechanics.

Read Jakob’s interview with us below:

How did you first get involved in your research project?

My first quarter at UCLA, I took LS30A with Dr. Sharmila Venugopal; I remember during the first lecture, she was discussing her research in neurodegeneration and I was immediately enthralled. Near the end of the quarter, I asked to join Dr. Venugopal’s lab, and I began learning experimental and computational research techniques. However, over the course of my 4 years in the lab, I have taken a much greater focus in conducting computational neuroscience research. My published work is a continuation of a larger study creating an in silico model of a basic neural reflex circuit to investigate how neurodegeneration causes biophysical changes in the properties of neurons and muscles.

How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

Before coming to UCLA, I did not really have a concept of what scientific research was; in fact, I was planning on attending a university to study musical performance but had to change my career plans due to personal issues. When reevaluating my career options, I found this indescribable interest in neuroscience; I decided to attend UCLA majoring in neuroscience to better explore the field. My primarily computational research experience in Dr. Venugopal’s lab, as well as my clinical research studying schizophrenia in Dr. Yee-Bradbury and Dr. Miller’s lab, have developed my passions and helped guide me towards pursuing an MD/PhD program post-graduation. To put it simply: research at UCLA has been enriching and eye-opening to what matters most to me.

What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

Before reaching out to potential mentors, do your own individualized research! UCLA offers opportunities to interact with thousands of experts in a vast variety of fields, which may feel overwhelming at first. Ask to meet with mentors whose research most interests you to discuss their research; this is great to see if your interests align with the goals of the research lab, as well as giving you prime interaction time with an expert in their field.

For those who have just started research, do not be intimidated trying to understand everything early on! Ask questions and be proactive in receiving feedback or help about your assignments. Everyone in your lab wants you to grow and become the best scientist you can be, so do not hesitate to lean on them for support.

What are your future career goals?

I want to pursue an MD/PhD to eventually become a physician scientist; as of right now, I am very interested in pediatric neurosurgery to help save children’s lives while working in an intellectually challenging and stimulating field. Additionally, I want to continue my research in motor dysfunction by looking for clinical solutions, primarily in neuroprosthetics and neurobionics. Finally, I would like to pursue teaching at a collegiate level in computational biology and neuroscience to help cultivate passions of young aspiring scientists like myself.