Chris Mazzone recently joined the Curriculum in Neurobiology and is in Dr. Tom Kash's lab. He is also a trainee on the Neurobiology Training Grant. We asked him some questions to get his fresh perspective on being a new graduate student...
(NBIO)- What does your current research focus on?
(CM)- While I’m getting my initial pilot projects up and running, I’ll primarily be focusing on parsing the circuitry underlying anxiety and addiction. Two areas of the brain that contribute to these behaviors are components of the extended amygdala: the central amygdala and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. My initial projects will focus on isolating and activating subpopulations of neurons within these areas to determine the roles that specific neuronal populations play in driving aspects of these behaviors. It’s an exciting time for neuroscience (although when hasn’t it been?) because we now have the tools, such as optogenetic and DREADD technology, to selectively control neuronal subtypes and see how they affect behavior, cell morphology, gene expression, and individual neuronal activity.
(NBIO)- What type of work in the lab does this entail? Does it require a great amount of work outside the lab?
(CM)- Right now most of my time in lab is spent doing some type of “bench” work: stereotaxic surgeries, immunohistochemistry, or running mice through behavioral assays (not actually done on the bench). I try to read articles or analyze data whenever I can during the day, but I normally save the bulk of this for “outside of the lab” time where it’s easier to not be interrupted by experiments.
(NBIO)- What kind of hours does your research require? Can you explain a typical day in the lab?
(CM)- As with all research, the daily hours and tasks in the lab can vary from day to day. I often don’t really think about working hours and focus more on particular tasks or experiments I would like to finish that day. Science seems to have a way of making everything take longer than you would expect, so there are days (or nights) where I’ll be in lab hours longer than I would have anticipated. Some days I’m doing stereotaxic surgeries, some days I’m running behavior experiments, and some days I’m doing immunohistochemistry or using a confocal. All days I’m enjoying a morning cup of coffee.
(NBIO)- What are your plans following your education at UNC?
(CM)- It’s too early for me to say with any confidence. If somebody asked me a similar question during my freshman or sophomore year of college, it turns out I would have been totally wrong. It’s always important to keep an eye on the future and to plan accordingly, but right now I feel comfortable saying that I would enjoy continuing doing research in some fashion. That’s so insanely broad that I think this time I’ll be right.
(NBIO)- What recommendations would you give to a student entering your field of study?
(CM)- This is probably a cliché answer, but the best recommendation I can give to a student is to take time to think about how awesome your work is. This is something I often need to remind myself because it’s easy to get frustrated when there are many, many times that experiments don’t work and there can be many weeks or months of troubleshooting/feeling like a failure/wondering what you’re doing with your life/thinking that maybe working at Yogurt Pump would be amazing because you could eat frozen yogurt every single day. However, the world is your brain. Literally every single thing you do, feel, think, want, know, or anything else really, is the result of activity in the brain. Remind yourself that having the opportunity to help figure out how it all works is incredible.