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Meet Maleeha Agha, a Junior double-majoring in Biology and Neuroscience, with a minor in Chemistry. She is currently working in Dr. Yen-Yu Ian Shih’s Shih Lab under the supervision of Sung-Ho Lee. Maleeha assists in electrode optimization and stereotaxic surgery in order to investigate how deep brain stimulation can be used as a treatment for Parkinson’s Disease.

What do you like most? I really enjoy the diverse range of opportunities available at my lab! We are operating under both Center for Animal MRI (CAMRI) and the Biomedical Research Imaging Center (BRIC), so I get to sharpen my expertise in the field of neuroscience and also get a lot of exposure to skills in computer science and biomedical engineering! We make a lot of our own equipment so it’s fascinating to see the broad range of knowledge that goes into a single project! Our team is made up of MRI physicists, computer scientists that code for MATLAB, and veterinarians that perform procedures on and take care of the animals! I would highly encourage students to get to know team members and learn more about other fields, you never know what’ll spark your interest!

What is the most difficult part of your research experience? Some of the most simple, quintessential procedures can be incredibly difficult! I remember spending weeks trying to learn how to properly place the ear bar to prep an animal for surgery. The person I was training under was incredibly patient, but I couldn’t find any good advice on how to know if it was in the correct position or not. No YouTube tutorial or in-person demonstration could properly explain how it was done. Some skills are not learned but rather experienced through several instances of trial and error. It can be really discouraging to fail at simple tasks but know that every good scientist has gone through the same thing, nothing is exactly perfect on the first try!

Do you think people have any misconceptions about the type of research you do in particular? A lot of people have misconceptions about what animal research entails. People will often tell me that the work I’m doing is unethical and inhumane, but animal welfare is taken very seriously by researchers! Labs conducting animal research include teams with skilled veterinarians, who abide by the regulations very strictly for animal care. Our lab ensures that animals don’t feel any suffering, using a lot of the similar anesthetics that you would administer to human patients. We all have a moral obligation to limit the amount of suffering in this world, and through the research process we are able to help improve the quality of life for thousands if not millions of people today and for the generations to come.

Our Undergraduate Research Series features spotlights on our Psychology and Neuroscience majors and minors who are conducting undergraduate research with our faculty! We believe strongly that undergraduate experiences are greatly enriched by inquiry and discovery through undergraduate research. Research experiences allow students to better understand literature, determine areas of interest, discover their passion for research, continue on to graduate studies, and to jump start their careers as researchers. If you are an undergraduate who is interested in pursuing research experiences, we offer PSYC and NSCI 395 as an opportunity to work side-by-side with graduate students and faculty members on cutting-edge psychological and neuroscience research. We also recommend you visit the Office for Undergraduate Research to find research opportunities, apply for research funding, and for helpful tools and advice. Research opportunities abound at UNC – find one that works for you!

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