2017 Grant Award: Akshilkumar Patel

During the summer of 2017, I stayed at Penn State University to complete my research project and to write my honors thesis. I have worked in my neuroscience lab for nearly 3 years, and we are interested in studying the molecular causes of depression. My thesis project involved treating mice with a high-fat diet to simulate obesity, and testing what effects the high-fat diet treatment produced on their emotional behavior. The ultimate goal of my research was to investigate how diet-induced obesity, especially in humans, may lead to the symptoms experienced by patients with depression. As a biology major and an aspiring physician, my experiences conducting cutting edge research at Penn State will form the foundation of my future career. The actual process of writing an honors thesis and learning how to communicate my findings with the general public have taught me many things. I have learned to better manage my time to satisfactorily meet deadlines, to write in a more professional manner, and to think critically about the data I collected. I believe science is best learned by “doing” rather than by simply listening to a lecture or reading a textbook. In this way, by developing my own research hypothesis and planning experiments, I have learned more about the process of science than I ever would have by taking additional upper-level courses. Besides just learning how to do better science, research has taught me valuable lessons that I can apply to other aspects of my life. For example, research has given be a new appreciation for failure. The first research project I worked on in my lab took nearly 3 semesters to develop. However, whenI was getting ready to present my findings at the Undergraduate Research Exhibition, I realized that the data I had collected did not make sense in the context of already published information. In that moment, although I had invested a huge amount of time into the project, I knew I needed to adapt to the situation I found myself in. If I had not failed with my first project, I never would have gotten the chance to develop a new project, which is the topic I ended up writing about in my honors thesis. Although the thesis took a tremendous amount of time and effort to compile, it is truly the biggest accomplishment I have made in my academic career. In my future endeavors, having significant research experience under my belt will serve me well. When I enter medical school, I will be expected to have familiarity with scientific writing and to know how to interpret a scientific study. Now, thanks to my thesis writing experience, I am more confident in my abilities than before.

Engaging in research and writing an honors thesis were the most transformative experiences I have had as a Penn State undergraduate. I am truly grateful to the Presidential Leadership Academy for the financial support they provided me with during the summer of 2017. Without their generosity, I would not have been able to spend an entire summer conducting research. Their investment in me and in my betterment means the world to me, and I would not have gotten very far without their encouragement.