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Jun. 27, 2012

Teen to Teen: Talking with Intel STS Finalist Danielle Goldman

by Caitlin Gee

Click to enlarge images
by Caitlin Gee, High Technology High School, Lincroft, New Jersey
 
A few months ago, I spoke with two of the 40 finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search competition. These forty high school seniors worked extremely hard to reach this stage of the competition. First, they had to come up with a novel idea that could induce positive change in society. Then, these young scientists had to carry out their idea with the utmost precision and passion.
 
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One of the finalists who was kind enough to share her experiences with me was Danielle Goldman, a current student at the Bronx High School of Science.

 
Explain what you did in your research.

I examined the role of y-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter, in the comorbidity of Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Through the use of data obtained from H-MRS scans and rating scale scores, I was able to find that lowered GABA is correlated with higher anxiety levels in both disorders. Therefore, in the future, psychiatrists and psychologists can more effectively diagnose and treat targeted symptoms in adolescents with these disorders.
 
How did you come up with the idea for your research project?

I have always been interested in children and mood disorders. Ever since I was a young child, I tried to aid whatever children seemed to be suffering. As I aged, I gained more knowledge on specifics of psychiatry and psychology that interested me. Specifically, i wanted to focus my research on depression and anxiety  When I began the process and I was taken in by Dr. Gabbay, my mentor, I learned that a lot of her research focused on GABA's role in psychiatric disorders. I noticed that not a lot of research has been conducted on GABA in adolescents and since these disorders have early onsets, I thought it would be important to study the effects early on so the symptoms would not have to persist through adulthood for the suffering children.

When did you first become interested in neuroscience?

When I began high school, I became much more passionate about my interests in psychiatry so I started doing more literature searches on different disorders. I noticed that many of the articles that I found most interesting were regarding neurosciences, so I continued to pursue researching that field.

I read that your research stemmed from the Social Science Research at your school. What did you learn in the class, and how did you apply the lessons to research?

During the Social Science program in my school, students learn the basics of research in this field. [The program] is continuous over a course of three years and from the start, we enlarge our knowledge of statistical analyses and ethical guidelines for research. Alongside this curriculum, we search for mentors in sophomore year, write and edit our research papers in junior year, and aid the rising upperclassmen with their papers in senior year once we submit our completed papers.

You go to a high school (Bronx High School for the Sciences) with a national reputation for providing students with an exceptionally strong science program.  How else did your high school prepare you for this research project?

At The Bronx High School of Science, the English department does aid students in advanced writing skills. Since writing is a very prominent part of the research process, it's extremely important to be able to express your findings clearly and effectively. Ever since freshman year, I have had teachers that have allowed my writing's strength to continue to grow.

How did your mentor help you complete your research?

My mentor aided me in providing me with a lot of background research in the field and allowing me to take part in her very busy lab at the NYU Child Study Center. Dr. Vilma Gabbay has fostered my experience and my passion in the neuroscience field. Along the way, whenever I had any questions or concerns, she always made the time for me to explain everything extremely clearly. Her support is very appreciated. Her research assistant, Benjamin Ely, has also helped me to gain more advanced knowledge in statistics and research methods in neuroscience.

What was your previous experience with science? What activities did you take part in as a younger student or presently take part in to pursue your interest in science?

Ever since I was in first grade, I have taken part in my schools's science fairs. My favorite projects always included an aspect of the brain and how different variables affected it. One year, I focused on how gender affects perceptions of pictures and whether gender-oriented pictures play a role in memory. Another year, I focused on key words in an article and how age affects memory of those words. All of my family and friends would take part in those studies and I always saw them as a bonding experience. Currently, I am still being mentored by Dr. Gabbay -- even after my research was completed -- in order to broaden my knowledge of other disorders and neurochemicals being studied in her lab. I will be forever grateful for what she has done for me by allowing me to pursue my passion.

What did you get out of the experience of conducting this research project?

Not only has conducting the research allowed me to realize that this is my calling in life, but it has also taught me the importance of time management and not being a procrastinator. I have never been a procrastinator and have always managed my time correctly, but conducting this study made me realize that these skills are extremely important in life and I should never forget that.
 
What do you think is integral in conducting good research?

To conduct great studies, researchers must remain persistent even if their conclusions do not follow their previously made hypotheses. There might be something surprising in the findings that may make an even larger impact on society. Further, researchers must be selfless and conduct their research for the good of society. [They must be] honest in their methods and motivated to help those in need. Research should not be done for the sake of the study but for the generalizability of future, more expansive studies to gain a more holistic picture of, in this case, psychiatric disorders.

What should younger children do to pursue their interests in the STEM fields? More specifically, what advice would you give to young girls who aspire to go into STEM fields?

Young children should have unlimited opportunities to get involved with science early on in life—even before entrance into the school system. By doing so, they will be able to gain an appreciation for the sciences. Children should actively pursue a topic of interest and get involved in science fairs and even just conduct experiments on their own to satisfy their curiosity. Children should have access to mentors and resources that will inspire them. 

 
About Caitlin Gee

Caitlin attends High Technology High School in Lincroft, New Jersey. She was a TalkingScience intern in the winter of 2012.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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