Major: Cognitive Science (Computation and Cognition), Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience (BCN) in Psychology, and German

Research Position:
Chris spent three months this summer as a research intern in the Experimental Bioinformatics Research Lab at the Technical University of Munich, Wissenschaftszentrum Weihenstephan campus (in the town of Freising, northeast of Munich).

Below, Chris answers questions about his experience:

How did you hear about this opportunity?
"I was simply looking around on the internet for summer research opportunities, although I knew that I would search in Germany first as I’d visited before, and liked the country a lot. I had also begun taking German language courses here at U-M to fulfill my language requirement, so it was a plus to search for a place that I’d already been learning about."

What was the goal of the research?
"One of the lab’s main projects is called Repotrial, a project funded by the European Union to research and implement large scale drug-repurposing. Drug-repurposing attempts to find novel uses and applications for pharmacological drugs that have already been established as safe to use in the market and healthcare practice. Drug-repurposing involves first establishing relevant biological mechanisms behind medical conditions, then scanning through relevant databases of established drugs that had not previously been considered as medication and seeing if they can treat said conditions. This potentially minimizes the time and cost related to researching, developing, and testing new drugs." 

What was your role in the research process?
"I worked on two sub-projects while I was there: developing applications of Graphics Computing technology to speed up algorithms used on graphs; and applying the project’s theoretical paradigm to investigating psycho-affective disorders, focusing mainly on whether there were drugs that could be repurposed to alleviate/treat symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. 

"Most of my time was spent coding, or writing scripts to parse through data and do comparative analyses. I would find data (mostly gene expression data) between disorder and control groups, find their main differences, use statistical analysis to see what gene-protein associations existed, and finally, write and use scripts to find drugs closest in target to the disorder in question. I spent a large amount of time learning about and implementing graphics computing, mainly under a CUDA framework."

How did the work connect to your Cognitive Science studies?
"I would say that the research aligned most with the computer science skills I’ve been learning under the Cog Sci curriculum. The skills I’ve learned with different programming languages were absolutely invaluable to my experience and work. Learning more about graphics programming was also extremely interesting and definitely revitalized my interest in computer science. My particular project naturally focused more heavily on hard biology and mathematics as opposed to psychology, in spite of my project being on psychological disorders. I learned more about the in-depth biological processes behind psychoaffective symptoms, and how certain gene expressions and protein interactions can affect cognitive functioning."

What language did you speak?
"I spoke a mixture of German and English! The lab I was working in was very international, with people coming from all over the world (China, Brazil, Italy, Iran, India, to name a few). The main language of choice was English, but outside of the lab, I would use German whenever possible in day-to-day situations." 

How has the experience influenced your future academic or career path?
"Being in the bioinformatics lab helped me get a better grasp on what I enjoy and don’t enjoy about doing research: I certainly enjoy being around motivated and knowledgeable people, and I enjoy learning new skills constantly. One of the best aspects of doing research in that setting was the academic freedom; I wasn’t constantly on a schedule to do menial tasks, or pressured by restricting directives. However, I realized that I don’t enjoy being on the computer nonstop for the majority of the day and being isolated in my own project. My work in the future will likely incorporate a lot of what I learned while on the trip, most likely in an interdisciplinary context."