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Meet Esther Son, a senior Neuroscience major with a Spanish for the Medical Professions minor and a Chemistry Minor. She works in the Linnstaedt Lab with Dr. Sarah Linnstaedt.

Tell us about your research. The Linnstaedt Lab, as part of UNC Department of Anesthesiology’s Institute of Trauma Recovery (ITR), focuses on identifying predictors of adverse outcomes after trauma. My research projects have focused on sex differences in biomarkers that may increase the risk of developing chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What do you like most about your work? One of the things that I love about my research is that we focus on sex differences. Certain disorders and conditions, such as musculoskeletal pain, disproportionately affect women or manifest themselves through different biological mechanisms based on sex. Until relatively recently, the majority of academia has focused on White males—leaving many unknowns for women, who are more vulnerable to many chronic pain conditions. It’s thus incredibly gratifying to contribute to this field.

What do you want to do as a career? I want to be a physician in a major academic research institution. I hope to do research to find effective treatment and intervention methods for those I serve, while utilizing insight from my practice. It’s my goal to conduct clinical or translational research that draws upon patient data to have a clinical impact, and to utilize evidence from cutting-edge research to make medical decisions.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from this experience? From my research experience, I have learned the value of diversity in teamwork. My lab is one of the most diverse environments that I have been in; it reflects diversity in the age, ethnicity, cultures, and career interests of our members. I find myself surrounded by contrasting philosophies regarding not only approaches to research, but also in life. We enrich our research experience through frequent sharing of ideas, as well as team and individual works in progress. We also share our lives outside of professional settings, which have helped to build personal connections. I’ve learned that our diversity brings a variety of talents and promotes creativity, which ultimately advances our research.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your research? Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the undergraduate students in our research lab moved to remote work. I continued to run experiments to gather data needed for grants and projects; however, we took many safety precautions to limit the number of people in the lab at the same time and to prevent the spread of infections. Other changes in my research experience include: moving all group meetings to zoom and exploring data analysis methods/ learning to utilize analysis software, which I could do from home.

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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