There is no question that times are tough right now, however, I also really think that this is a time of amazing opportunity. Scientifically, we have never known more, but our challenges in terms of medicine have never been greater. While pharmaceutical and medical technology industries have been hard hit, structural changes within these industries have also created great opportunities. I can't imagine a better time to be a creative and industrious thinker coming out of higher education.
My experience at UT Dallas was critical for my development as a scientist and as a professional. My training in math and physics really helped me develop an analytical mind. Then, Dr. Alice O'Toole (Aage and Margareta Moller Professor in Cognitive Science) was nice enough to see something in me and give me a chance in her lab. From there I really feel like my life completely changed. I learned several crucial things from Dr. O'Toole: how to design an experiment that tests a hypothesis, what it is like to be a professional scientist and how much fun one can have studying the brain. I also found a mentor who has never stopped supporting me.
Nearly everything. I was a physics major for three years and, while I enjoyed it, it was quite clear that I wasn't cut out for a career in physics. When I switched over to neuroscience, it was a brand-new program, and there were four of us slated to make up the first graduating class. We were in tiny classes with amazing teachers, and I really feel like we all got a graduate education as undergrads. When I finally arrived at graduate school, all of my neuroscience classes were a breeze and I was more or less ready to go in the lab based on what I had already learned.
Research! The wonderful thing about universities like UT Dallas is the world-class research that is happening all around you. Sure, you can get the basics in the classroom, but it is the research atmosphere where you really learn to push your intellectual boundaries. I have between five and 10 undergraduates in my lab at any given time, and only a few of them ultimately want to do research as a career. But they all see the value of working in a research lab for their intellectual development. There is no replacement, in my mind, for developing a hypothesis and testing it yourself. It brings you a whole new level of intellectual satisfaction that I think is mostly unachievable in the classroom.