My Thoughts On Working In The Neuroscience Lab
Posted on: November 7, 2013, by : Brandon Gilliland

Hello everyone!


It has been awhile since I have posted anything on here. I have been busy with classes and other projects here at college. I have been enjoying it. God has opened up many opportunities for me recently. I had to write a reflective paper for my school in regards to my internship at The Scripps Research Institute in the neuroscience lab. I thought that I would share it here because it gives a small glimpse of what I’ve been up to lately.


Scripps Research Institute

[The Scripps Research Institute]

When I enrolled in my first set of classes this semester at the Honors College at Florida Atlantic University, I never expected to be working alongside brilliant research scientists at The Scripps Research Institute. A few short weeks ago, I sent various emails and submitted resumes to several individuals at The Scripps Research Institute to inquire about a possible internship opportunity. I never expected anything to happen; however, I just wanted to do my part to pursue the opportunity. After a few days, I received a response from a neuroscience lab. The initial response was to inform me that there were no apparent openings. In fact, the only possible opening was being considered for a post-doctorate position. I sent a respectful email back asking for information regarding other labs that might have openings for undergraduate students to work on an internship. A few days later, I received an email from the neuroscience lab informing me that I had an interview. It was clear that this interview was more informative, and I would have no guarantee of any internship, especially in this lab.


I set up a time for the interview to discuss some possible labs that I could eventually conduct work as an intern. When I arrived at the lab, I met Dr. Tomchik. We sat down in his office and began to talk about his research and the current projects within the realm of neuroscience research. I began to answer personal questions about my future goals, education, and interests. After the interview, I was asked to see the lab and to go meet some of the other staff. As I began talking with the other researchers, I started to gain an understanding of their research projects. It was only a few moments later when Dr. Tomchik introduced me to the remaining researchers stating that I was going to be working for him. The introduction almost caught me off guard, but I excited to come to the realization that I had been blessed with an internship in the neuroscience department with some incredible researchers.


It has been a few weeks since I unexpectedly received the internship opportunity at The Scripps Research Institute. I have started working on many different projects to assist Dr. Tomchik and the other researchers in the lab. Initially, I was trained to understand health and safety, as well as the other technical aspects of the job. Once the preliminary seminars for training were completed, I was able to start working on the experiments. On the first day, I started getting familiar with the locations of chemicals and equipment in the lab. I was also able to watch all of the experiments to get a basic overview of the procedures. The next day, I was able to start working on an experiment. This experiment used a chemical known as EtBu to test  the neural pathways in the fly. The experiment involved using timed intervals of oder and control tests of pure air to allow the fly’s brain to send signals between neurons. This allowed us to target certain dopamine receptors within individual neurons in the fly’s brain in attempt for a chemical response. After the first week, I was able to start working the majority of the experiments myself. The particular experiment I conducted with Dr. Tomchik focused on elevating cAMP within individual neurons in the fly’s brain. The drug we used to elevate cAMP is known as forskalin. I was able to mix this drug to three different concentrations. The concentrations were based on a logarithmic scale in micro molar units to insure proper reception from the fly’s brain. I worked on these sets of experiments for almost three weeks. I was responsible for conducting the experiment by mixing and introducing the drug to the fly and recording the results using the software on the confocal microscope. Also, I was responsible for importing the data from these experiments into files which were then interpreted for analysis. The first few weeks of this experimental work was tedious because of the amount of information needed to conduct the experiments and operating the confocal microscopes.


A few weeks later, Dr. Tomchik mentioned that he wanted me to start training on the fly dissections. Fly surgeries are important because they are needed to conduct research on the fly’s brain. Basically, the fly is placed into a chamber. The chamber is small and has a slit just large enough for the fly to be placed. The eyes are then glued to the chamber with myristic acid to keep the fly’s positioning in tact. Next, a small scalpel is used to make three small incisions in the fly’s head. Using forceps, one can peel back the layer of tissue and cut it away to expose the brain. Once the brain is exposed, fat bodies need to be removed from the brain carefully. This is a simple explanation for a fly surgery. Initially, I thought it was going to be easy. For the past few weeks, I had watched the doctor complete the fly surgeries successfully with ease. I even remember thinking to myself, “I have steady hands! I can do this!”


I was quickly humbled.


The first day of fly surgery training was rough. Trying to make three small incisions on something smaller than a piece of rice was challenging. It took me almost twenty minutes to get the fly into the chamber. I worked for several hours to try to successfully complete a fly surgery. After experiencing what I thought was a complete failure, I returned the following day determined to make some progress. A few moments later, I was able to successfully complete my first fly surgery. It was a nice realization to know how perseverance eventually paid off.


Over this semester, I have learned how to work in a lab, but more importantly, I have learned professional skills to last a lifetime. Success does not come instantly. Instead, it comes with self-motivation, tenacity, and creativity. The past few weeks have been challenging, but they have also been exciting. Through this internship experience this semester in the neuroscience lab, I have gained a better understanding of lab procedures, specifically in the field of neuroscience. I have also been able to handle a significant amount of responsibility in the lab. Although this is an experience to broaden my learning objectives, I have learned much more than pure academics.


  • My team is putting the final touches on a new Neuroscience and Psychology building at Princeton University.

    • That’s awesome! Which team do you work for?

      • I work for the building automation group. We control temperature, humidity, pressure, lighting, and lab and vivarium air changes. It’s been a pretty advanced project. We’re in the commissioning stage of the project, and we’re finalizing integration and vivarium reporting. Fun stuff!

  • Alex Lassen

    Awesome to see that you’ve progressed so far in your career already, especially as a freshman. It’s extremely rare for someone as young as you to become an intern. I’m still trying to decide on a major here at UNF. Good luck to you in your endeavors.

    • Hey Alex! Good to hear from you! God is definitely opening some great opportunities for me. I’m thankful.

      How are you enjoying UNF?