Interview with Cathy Tran

By Colin Michael Lynch

My name is Cathy Tran, and I am a senior studying Neuroscience and Cognitive Science (NSCS) and I’m on the neurobiology track. I work in the lab of Dr. Lynne Oland and Dr. Leslie Tolbert where we study the interactions between neurons and astrocytes. I am also in the Undergraduate Biology Research Program (UBRP) and serve as UBRP Ambassadors President. As I love working with people, I eventually want to go to pharmacy school and use my knowledge of the brain to prescribe drugs that can help people cope with various cognitive disorders. I also love taking pictures and playing music on the horn, which I do with a few ensembles here at the U of A.

What got you interested in science and the brain?

There wasn’t a specific instance that got me interested in science. I have just always loved to see the results of experiments. I participated in science fairs from elementary through middle school and high school. Early on, I was interested in how music affected the brain. As a fifth grader, I conducted an experiment where I would have people play music for five minutes and I found that this helped increase people’s memory when playing the card game “Concentration.” It was a very simple project through which I learned about the scientific method and how the mind worked.

I started learning about the brain in my senior year of high school. That year I took a Research Methods class where we were paired with faculty members from the University of Arizona to work in their labs. I was paired with my current lab with Dr. Lynn Oland and Dr. Leslie Tolbert. They first had me do larval locomotion before I adopted my own project investigating the effect of neuronal reduction on glial cell morphology. At the end of my freshman year, I decided that I had to join the NSCS major – before, I was just doing pre-pharmacy coursework.

Have these experiences helped prepare you for a career in pharmacy?

Yes, they have. While I do not plan on going into research pharmacy; I imagine myself doing clinical pharmacy in a rural area, research has given me the foundational skills necessary to solve problems and ask people the right questions. It has also given me a better understanding of how the brain is put together and taught me how to communicate scientific ideas to a general audience. As I prefer social interactions over laboratory work, my main career goal is to be a resource for people by connecting them to each other so that they can find information more easily. I want to have one-on-one conversations with people where I get to help them understand how the brain works and how it interacts with various drugs.

What are your next steps for getting to pharmacy school?

After I graduate, I plan on taking a gap year before going to pharmacy school. I want to work as a pharmacy technician and volunteer at the El Rio Health Center as well as the Arizona Poison and Drug Center because they represent different aspects of pharmacology that I haven’t been exposed to yet. I’ve also applied to be a Med-Start Counselor. It’s a program for incoming high school seniors who may or may not have been exposed to the world of healthcare. They are chosen from areas of Arizona that are underprivileged or under-resourced, which are usually the more rural areas. They live in the campus dorms for six weeks in the summer and go on field trips, take classes, and perform experiments together. I want to help guide them as a counselor and give back to that community since it was because of Med-Start that I reaffirmed that I wanted to be a pharmacist.

Has your NSCS degree helped prepare you to do that sort of thing?

Yes, definitely! The NSCS community has especially helped my development. The faculty here are great, and the students inspire me to be better all the time. There is no one person who is the “smartest”; everyone here is intelligent and talented. It is very easy to go up to any one of them and ask a question when you do not understand something. We have the best supportive community and everyone just becomes friends. I don’t think that I could have made it through NSCS 200 without the help of my friend Kendra Liu, who worked in the same lab that I did. There are also many opportunities for professional and academic development. My experiences have included participating in the NSCS Summer Research Program under UBRP and attending a Society for Neuroscience Conference. They were invaluable. I hope that many students take advantage of the opportunities while they are here.