Psychology major finds lab work leads to medicine

By Eunice Omega, CLAS ’10

Melissa Argraves, CLAS ’11, couldn’t have imagined, as a freshman, where she would end up as a senior.

“My journey through college brought me here. If anyone told me I would be applying to medical school I wouldn’t have believed them,” Argraves said.

Argraves, a psychology major and neuroscience minor from Shelton, Conn., had a rough start as a freshman. She was not involved on campus because she didn’t find anything that interested her that she could commit to. This all changed in 2008 after she took a “Learning Psychology” class with her adviser, Etan J. Markus, professor of psychology. Markus afterward invited her to work in his behavioral neuroscience lab.

“Working in the lab really turned things around for me,” Argraves said. “I enjoyed being at UConn more because I was doing something I loved.”

Argraves spends about 15-16 hours in the lab working closely with PhD students doing research on the brain, more specifically the hippocampus, the part of the brain that deals with learning and memory. Argraves looks at protein expression in the brain to figure out human learning processes.

“While working in the lab I’ve learned a lot of skills that I can use throughout the rest of my professional life,” Argraves said. “One great skill I’ve learned is a sense of independence. I go into the lab and get right to work. The grad students don’t have to hover over me or my work.”

Argraves has presented her research at a number of conferences and at UConn’s Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Conference, the annual poster exhibition for student research, scholarship, and creative projects. She is also in the process of having two articles published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

In addition to her laboratory work, Argraves is treasurer of the Gold Key Honor Society and traveled abroad to Italy in the spring of 2010 on a $2500 stipend awarded to her for being a Presidential Scholar.

“I took an art history class and it was so amazing to learn about this ancient art and then see it firsthand in Florence,” Argraves said.

After graduation Argraves plans on attending medical school to study dermatology. She has applied to UConn, Temple and Rosalind Franklin University in Chicago as well as many others.

With her degree in psychology, Argraves believes that she can better serve her patients and be prepared for medical school.

“I always knew I would work with people,” Argraves said. “With psychology I’ve learned to appeal to and effectively communicate with people. This will help with the people aspect of medicine, which I think is such an important part that is often undermined by many professionals in the field.”

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