Sophia Rueda

Meet Sophia Rueda, a 3rd year neuroscience major. Sophia is currently engaged in the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, a two-year, NIH-funded, undergraduate honors program that seeks to increase the number of biomedical scientists from diverse backgrounds that significantly impact health-related research. Prior to this, she was also a part of Program for Excellence in Education and Research in the Sciences (PEERS) and CARE Fellows–both programs that support students development of a strong foundation in the sciences and make teaching and/or research a part of their life’s work. Sophia is currently a part of the DeNardo Lab, where she completes research focused on investigating the brain-wide changes in circuit function following repetitive magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a promising and noninvasive depression treatment.

1. How did you first get involved in your research project?

Before arriving at UCLA, I knew that I was very passionate about the intersection between neuroscience and mental health. During freshman and sophomore year I was fortunate enough to be a part of the PEERS research program which helped me navigate the ins and outs of research at such a big campus. During this exploration, I sought out labs that resonated with my interests in neuroscience, ultimately discovering the DeNardo Lab during my sophomore year. Since then, I’ve been immersed in investigating brain-wide changes in circuit function following repetitive magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a noninvasive depression treatment.

2. How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

My research experience at UCLA has been incredibly enriching and insightful. Under the guidance of mentors at the DeNardo Lab, I’ve evolved both as a scientist and as a critical thinker, gaining confidence in my research skills. The supportive and collaborative atmosphere within the lab community has been instrumental in my personal growth. I have been lucky to be part of a community where everyone is happy to share advice and creative ideas.

UCLA has provided me with invaluable opportunities such as the CARE Fellows program and the MARC Program. These programs have allowed me to hone my technical skills such as mock grant writing, thesis development, and creating research posters. These experiences have deepened my appreciation for the complexities of research and the dedication required to advance knowledge in the field. I am very excited to be able to continue embarking on independent projects at the Summer 2024 Undergraduate Research Internship at the University of Pennsylvania which I could not have done without all of my wonderful mentors at the MARC program.

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

Entering the field of research can be daunting, and setbacks are inevitable. Experiments will not always go as planned and your questions may not always have clear answers. However, each obstacle is an opportunity for you to learn and grow. Approach every research endeavor with an open mind, passion, and perseverance. Embrace the unknown, as unexpected results often lead to new insights. Remember, mistakes and failures are integral parts of the journey and should never diminish your self-worth.

4. Have you attended a conference before? If so, can you describe your experience on preparation, presenting, etc.?

With the support of the MARC program, I had the privilege of attending the 2023 ABRCMS conference, where I showcased the research we have been conducting in the DeNardo Lab. Throughout last summer, I dedicated myself to developing a deep learning pipeline to analyze mouse brain slices post-rTMS treatment. With this brain wide activation data, we were able to propose a model of the effects of rTMS on circuit function. My preparation for the conference involved creating a poster with guidance from my research mentor, rehearsing my presentation, and answering questions from members of the lab, friends, and family. I wanted to ensure that I could communicate my ideas effectively even to those outside the field of neuroscience. Although a nerve-racking experience at first, I had the opportunity to discuss my research and future goals with brilliant researchers from all over the country. This conference definitely reinvigorated my passion for neuroscience and allowed me to grow as a scientist. I can’t wait to attend again next year!

5. Have you had your work published? Can you talk about what that process was like?

I contributed to a project currently undergoing the review process on the role of the retrospenial cortex in the emergence of persistent memories. Currently, I have also been working with my mentor on crafting the publication detailing our rTMS findings. Although writing a paper can be a lengthy process, it has allowed me to grasp the big picture and significance of our project. I have also learned the importance of communicating science in an engaging and meaningful way.

6. What are your future career goals?

My goals are to attend graduate school and pursue a PhD in either Neuroscience or Clinical Psychology where I will continue to explore my love for the brain and mental health. I hope to continue using creative research ideas and scientific tools to improve treatment protocols and outcomes for people around the world. Due to my passion for working with kids, I would also love to construct educational programs that mold young scientists. My dream would be to bring these tools and programs back to those in underserved communities in my home country, Colombia. I am dedicated to becoming a socially aware researcher who helps bridge the gap between academia and those in our community.