While students come to Horizon Academic for a host of different reasons, one driving factor is to broaden their horizons amidst the absence of research initiatives locally. We’re sharing the story of one such alumni, UCLA-bound Prarthna, who “didn’t have the opportunity in school to do anything research related” but now, upon completion of the Horizon Academic Research Program, feels confident to build on her drug-related project by coupling her original methodology with experiments in the UCLA labs.
Prarthna hails from the Dhirubhai Ambani International School in Mumbai, India. She wrote her research manuscript on the acute effects of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide on the brain under the mentorship of PhD candidate Elisa P. for the Neuroscience (Labs 1-on-1) section. She explained that although she had long been interested on the effects of drugs on the brain, what really determined her research topic and affirmed her passion for the neuroscience discipline was the first few lessons Elisa spent introducing diverse concepts “such as different kinds of transmitters, different parts of the brain, different ways we react to drugs, how drug research is done, different levels of tolerance and relapse, [etc.]” However, she also admitted that often it is more about the person teaching you than the content itself — highlighting that she “really got along with Elisa. Elisa was really sweet, warm, and welcoming.”
Reflecting on her experience in retrospect, Prarthna focused on two key takeaways from the program:
- Committing to neuroscience as her college major and career choice; and
- Learning life-long research skills and tactics applicable to any subject.
With respect to the former, Prarthna was wrapping up her senior year of high school and notified us of her plans for the coming year, proudly stating, “I am going to be attending UCLA for a major in neuroscience! I actually decided that I love this major after completing the research paper and the program.” We could not have been more thrilled for her and upon congratulating her, she mentioned that the program had struck within her “an increased love for the field.” Prarthna was left without doubt that “the most gratifying part of the program was the realization that neuroscience is what I love the most and this is what I want to do in my life. I never expected that.” She eagerly pointed out several moments where this thought had crossed her mind and felt there were not enough words to describe that moment of pure certainty.
In our conversation together, we discovered that the determined and high-achieving students who apply to the program have certain pre-existing ideas of what they’ll get out of the program but these ideas seldom account for what they actually walk away with. Prarthna empathized with them; she recalled that, initially, “I thought it was just going to be a research paper for college — writing drafts straight away and getting feedback [but] I got way more out of the program than I ever anticipated. I learned more things than I thought I would.” She described how the challenges unique to her area of study — the foremost being that contemporary research on Lysergic Acid Diethylamide is limited, with the majority of studies belonging to the mid 1900s — “taught her so many skills in how to research, how to find old papers, and how to identify which one is credible and which one is not.” Prarthna’s research inquiries required her to become familiar with mining through archived information, a strategy Elisa advised on and guided her through.
The unforeseen obstacles Prarthna faced while carrying out her project sharpened her abilities as a researcher. Prarthna concluded, “frankly, in any subject, if I have to do research, the skills will always be helpful and I learned the skills through the Horizon Academic program. [...] What I learned with Horizon was something that I never learned in school and it will help me for the rest of my life.” While we are humbled by her kind words, we wish to recognize her tenacity and her hunger for knowledge at the intersection of drugs & neuroscience as the forces behind her academic success in research. Stories like that of Prarthna’s encourage and remind us why it’s important to bring high schoolers the opportunity to do research from anywhere in the world.