Angel Odukoya is a senior studying Neuroscience. In an interview with The News-Letter, she discussed her passion for neuroscience, her research experience and her advice for underclassmen.
The N-L: How did you know so early that you were interested in the brain?
AO: My parents had an assisted living clinic. When I was there, I would always speak to the elderly people, and I would see how different their brains were, how different they spoke and how they acted compared to me at my age. I found it interesting how differently we process things: how certain things I know that they don't know and certain things I can remember that they don't remember. What causes that?
Through my science classes, I learned that the brain is the foundation for all of this. It really spoke to me how something so small within our skulls is responsible for nearly our entire existence. And that's what made me realize this is something I want to know as much as I could about it
The N-L: How have you contributed towards research on the brain?
AO: When I first got to Hopkins, I wanted to look at all the different ways to study the brain and that's how I chose my different research opportunities. One was computational research and another one was a cellular molecular/biochemistry research opportunity. In my computational research, we would look more at the gross interactions with the brain. Everything we were looking at directly affected patients and could immediately translate to future surgeries. Whereas, in the cellular molecular lab, we were looking at why the brain is the way that it is, and small minute things that probably wouldn't translate to people for decades. My current research opportunity is in a pediatric neurosurgery lab, which combines the cellular molecular aspect along with the direct translation to patients aspect.
The N-L: What are some of your favorite projects that you've worked on at Hopkins?
AO: In the cellular molecular neuroscience lab, we were studying a brand new neuroscience phenomenon. Essentially, we found that cellular components that normally go inside of the cell are actually inside of the membrane of neurons — but that doesn't happen in any other cell of the body. And it's conserved through a number of species. Why is it in neurons? What is it doing there? And does this have any potential relevance to different disease models? It was so fascinating to me. There's still active discoveries that are taking place that we're learning about in the brain. No disease can be considered incurable when there's still so much left for us to discover.
The N-L: What are your class recommendations for underclassmen who are interested in Neuroscience?
AO: [Two classes] that really transformed the way that I look at the brain would probably be “Brain Body Interactions” and “Hope and Disease.” You have to read like 20 research papers. That was the only daunting thing, but afterwards it completely changed how I saw the brain and how reciprocally the body can interact with the brain. Another class was “Behavioral Endocrinology.” At first, I thought ‘what does the endocrine system have to do with anything?’ I love classes that show you how the brain works with other parts of the body. The professor is amazing. Those are probably my favorite classes that I've taken here, and they were definitely the classes that I dreaded signing up for, but they ended up being probably the most important classes I took.
The N-L: How do you maintain work-life balance?
AO: That's honestly something I'm still figuring out. In order to maintain that balance, I have to find those aspects of work that I love so much, so it feels like my life, and those aspects of life that I can use to take a small break from work but doesn't completely detach me from work, like my clubs. The thing that's helped me the most recently is forcing myself to have feel-good times during the day. Just be happy like a child at the end of the day. Because, though we're adults, I don't want to lose that part of me that was the kid that came into Hopkins.
The N-L: What clubs are you involved in on campus?
AO: I've been a member of Nu Rho Psi since freshman year. I'm also president of the Neuroscience Undergraduate Research Journal, which is about publishing articles and bringing light to Hopkins Neuroscience majors. We have a blog section where, if you find any neuroscience topic interesting, you can write about it, send it to us and we'll put it on our website. I'm also the vice president of the Brain Exercise Initiative chapter at Johns Hopkins. Our entire mission statement is to go to retirement homes or assisted living communities and work with elderly patients. I'm also a writer for Hire Hopkins. Our entire purpose is to help Hopkins students get hired, seeing which populations of Hopkins students were getting hired versus which ones weren't. No matter what your background is or where you fall on the intersectionality or diversity scale, you are just as qualified to be hired.
The N-L: What are your plans after college?
AO: After college, I'll take a gap year, and then I'm applying this upcoming cycle to medical school. I'm going to spend my gap year in my current research lab. I am staying here because I like research. I've also always been interested in the brain and understanding the brain in a way that can't be done alone through surgery. I've always had an inkling that I want to be a surgeon who has their own lab. My hope is that after medical school and after residency, and once I've really started working with patients, I'm able to go beyond just being a surgeon or being a doctor, making sure that I'm not only helping my patients but that any future patients are also getting help because of my research.
The N-L: What has been your favorite part of your Hopkins experience?
AO: My favorite part of my Hopkins experience is that everything I've wanted to do, I've been able to do. Every little thing that I said I wanted to explore, I've been able to do through either Hopkins connections or through just having the Hopkins name attached to myself. And the people that I've met — I've definitely made several lifelong friends and connections that I wouldn't have made had I not come here.