"I have always loved a lot of different things: literature and science, languages and music, sports and theater."
I struggled with the idea of having to focus on only one thing at university in Europe, which was where I originally thought I would end up. I was only 17 in my final year of high school and I felt that it was too early to limit myself to the study of one subject.
The core curriculum and other liberal arts aspects of NYU Abu Dhabi appealed to me. What really convinced me was Candidate Weekend and the students I met there. I felt quite intuitively that these were people that I would want to spend time with.
I love science because it leads me to question the way things are and why they are thought to be that way based on experimental evidence.
I love biology because it attempts to explain how complexities like behavior come about, and how aspects of living things are linked.
There are a lot of unanswered questions, and we have incredible tools to address these and advance our understanding of biological processes. I love neurobiology in particular because it speaks to the fundamentals of brain and nervous system, which ultimately shape our thinking, decision-making and other complex processes that dictate our every minute.
We tend to think that we are more than our biology, but in the brain, it ultimately comes down to an intricately connected, highly dynamic network of chemical and electrical signals. Using some very sophisticated tools to manipulate aspects of that network, we are trying to understand it a little better. And, in contrast to the popular idea that "we don't how the brain works", we actually do have a wealth of (sometimes contradictory) evidence on which we can base further research and hypotheses.
In our lab, we use a mouse model of depression, where depressive-like behavior is induced in mice after they are subjected to a form of social stress. We can study molecular pathways in the brain that are aberrant as a result of this exposure to stress, and also see how the amount and intensity of sleep is affected. In this way, we hope to gain a better understanding of why and how sleep-related symptoms come about in depression.
In the future, this will be important for the development of new therapies, especially as depressive disorders are on the rise and there is an increased awareness for the destructiveness of this disease both for the individual patients and society at large.
I'm extremely happy that I will be able to continue this work over the summer through the university’s postgraduate training program.
Youssef Idagdhour is an incredibly talented professor.
He has an impressive breadth and depth of knowledge about all things genetics, genomics, immunology and epidemiology. In class, we usually started talking about quite general concepts and then ended up somewhere else, discussing why those concepts were there in the first place from the perspective of evolution. Professpr Idagdhour taught me that there will always be more questions for us to answer, and his optimism about research is very inspiring.
As he is my academic mentor, he also happened to be involved in my graduate school applications. After a rough week of interviews and decisions, I wrote him a rather frantic e-mail one evening asking him what I should do. He replied immediately, telling me that I could call him anytime to talk through my options. I could hear his family talking in the background as he listened to me and helped me come up with a plan for what my next steps would be.
For nearly two semesters, I volunteered with the Filipina Safehouse.
We would drive there once a week, and prepare activities for the women who live there. We organized career advising and creative writing workshops, cappella singing, dancing, and arts and crafts sessions. My favorite events were the Halloween and Christmas parties. We would bring snacks and music, and the wonderful women who live at the safehouse would bring all their energy.
I always felt humbled and in awe of these powerful ladies who were working through a lot of hardships in their lives but radiated so much positivity and optimism, and never failed to smile and laugh.