Simulating neural interactions
Luzdary Ruelas, now a senior in MIT Chemical-Biological Engineering, spent her summer interning in Dr. Massimiliano Caiazzo’s lab at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. She explains, “Dr. Caiazzo’s lab creates disease models with the goal of creating in vitro human neural systems that can simulate interactions between different neurons and their complex pathways.” Luzdary’s project focused on producing a 3D model of the nigrostriatal pathway in the brain, which connects dopaminergic neurons to GABA neurons.
Working in a new environment outside of my comfort zone exposed me to new perspectives and has inspired me to dream bigger.
Greater collaboration in the Netherlands
In contrast to the U.S. where projects tend to be more autonomous, Luzdary noticed that within her lab group there was a lot of collaboration. “The work environment was also much more relaxed as work-life balance is an important part of the Dutch working culture,” she says. “Working with others on a research project makes experimenting with new techniques less stressful and asking my peers to teach me new skills was the fastest way to learn new things.” Luzdary also explains that her hands-on experience in the lab made her more proactive. While she was initially hesitant to ask her director for more or different work, she quickly learned that her work benefitted when she spoke up. “By pushing myself and setting the bar higher, my supervisor challenged me even more which really built my confidence. I can honestly say that this experience has helped me grow as a person.”