Immigrant. Neuroscientist. Skater. Gamer.
My family and I immigrated to the U.S. border town of Calexico, California from Mexico when I was nine years old. I remember how the intimidation I felt trying to learn a new language in a short amount of time to keep up with schoolwork led to a growing fascination with the universal language of science. Despite my family’s financial hardship and institutional barriers as a result of my Title I schooling, I managed to pursue an undergraduate education at UC Berkeley fully funded by the Gates Millennium Scholarship. Since then, I find it difficult to name any aspect of my professional life that wasn’t influenced by my interest in the brain.
My background reflects a commitment to immerse myself in interdisciplinary neuroscience research as a future faculty member. During my undergraduate years, I used a combination of human brain stimulation techniques and computational approaches to investigate motor inhibitory mechanisms and the brain basis for multi-tasking performance. These experiences cemented my interests in incorporating computational methodology into my research career. In addition, I learned a great deal with regards to experimental design, data collection and large-scale brain signal analyses. More importantly, these experiences fostered an early interest in understanding how cognitive processes shape behavior, and as my coursework continued, I became increasingly interested in neurobiological disorders due to the potential impact of translational research on human patient populations. To this end, my postbaccalaureate research focused on using animal models of depression to validate the efficacy of novel anti-depressants and on investigating the detrimental effect of interictal spiking on epileptic patient’s ability to recall memories. My postbaccalaureate years thoroughly prepared me in both experimental and computational techniques that I I’ve applied throughout my doctoral research. For example, not only did I learn how to conduct surgical procedures and behavioral assays on animals, I also gained the programming skills necessary to develop a large-scale data analysis pipeline from scratch. In the Gremel lab during my Ph.D. years, I found a perfect fit for my career goal of investigating the neural circuit computations supporting complex behaviors, and how these may break down in the context of neurobiological disorders. By using a combination of computational and in vivo experimental techniques, my graduate work focused on to 1) studying the neurobiology of decision-making processes controlling actions, and 2) assessing how alcohol dependence affects these decision-making processes.
To accomplish my long-term career goal of becoming an independent investigator, I decided to join Dr. Kay Tye’s lab at the Salk Institute due to her proven track record of training postdoctoral fellows who make significant contributions to the field of neuroscience and go on to start their own research labs. In addition, Dr. Tye has successfully created a multi-disciplinary lab environment composed of computational and experimental neuroscientists, all of whom collaborate to study the neural mechanisms for how emotional and motivational states influence behavior in health and mental disease. Through her supervision, I will build upon my prior training and bridge any gaps in knowledge with regards to rodent models of social behaviors, neuromodulatory circuit dissection, and multivariate analysis and decoding of in vivo brain signals. Dr. Tye also encourages her trainees to develop their science communication and mentorship skills by supporting their travel to international research conferences and participation in Salk/UCSD mentorship initiatives. Most importantly, my decision to select Dr. Tye as a mentor was due to her genuine interest in my professional development not only as a future independent scientist, but also as a future faculty of color.
My ultimate career goal is to take what I’ve learned in the Gremel and Tye labs to develop an independent and scientifically separate research plan that combines systems neuroscience with computational approaches to investigate the neurobiological causes of social deficits in neurodevelopmental disorders. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has long been characterized by problems with social decision-making and social interactions. Despite monumental advances in understanding the genes that contribute to ASD, the development of efficacious therapies has been hindered by a lack of knowledge on the disrupted neural circuitry associated with ASD behavioral disturbances. As someone with immediate family members affected by ASD, I acknowledge the urgent need to fill these conceptual gaps to guide future treatment. In line with my career goals, completion of postdoctoral training in the Tye lab will lead to an expertise in social behavior assays and circuit interrogation techniques that I plan to use on genetic and developmental mouse models of ASD to increase our understanding of why individuals with ASD experience difficulties in social decision-making and ultimately guide future intervention strategies.