Raul Ramos

Raul Ramos shared his inspiring personal journey into science with high school students from Waltham High School as part of the series, The Brandeis MRSEC and WHS present: Science Pizza Talks. AAAS provided additional support for this event.

Transcript (YouTube) 

00:04
so I am a mexican-american neuroscience
00:09
PhD student at Brandeis University I
00:12
feel very fortunate to be there because
00:15
Brandeis is neuroscience graduate
00:17
program as among the highest ranking in
00:20
the nation but I wasn’t always so
00:23
fortunate and today I’m going to talk
00:25
about the journey that has brought me
00:27
here and I want to start by asking me
00:30
and how many of you are seniors or
00:32
juniors
00:34
so a lot of upperclassmen right and
00:36
graduation isn’t too far away right and
00:40
it’s an exciting time but it’s also a
00:43
time of uncertainty right it can be
00:45
really intimidating and I’ve been in
00:48
those shoes I know what that feels like
00:51
especially if you’re interested in
00:52
science some of you may have already
00:55
exposed to the have been exposed to the
00:58
misconception that becoming a
01:00
is impossibly difficult I like to call
01:04
it the science is hard gossip
01:06
you’ll hear people tell you things like
01:08
that’s just too much information to
01:11
memorize or they might ask you or you’re
01:14
even good at math you might find
01:16
yourself thinking but it’s something you
01:18
can never learn or maybe you don’t do so
01:21
well in your high school science classes
01:23
and you get to college and think that a
01:26
science major is not an option
01:28
my hope today is that my story will help
01:31
dispel some of these misconceptions and
01:34
give all of you some insight on what a
01:36
path into science can look like and then
01:39
at the end I’ll briefly talk about some
01:41
of the work that I’m doing now at
01:43
Brandeis University so we’re gonna
01:46
backtrack a little I was born and raised
01:48
in the river of Texas by the time I was
01:51
14 years old I had been in and out of
01:54
juvenile detention three times I had
01:56
been expelled from the entire public
01:59
school district and a lot of people have
02:01
given
02:02
I was an underachieving student when I
02:05
got expelled and many of my teachers
02:07
would have told you that I was a lost
02:09
cause
02:09
at the time my parents were the only
02:12
advocates I had that but I was too young
02:14
and I was too stubborn to realize them
02:17
there was a period in which I didn’t
02:19
attend school but eventually I was
02:22
enrolled into a private high school and
02:24
it was the only school in the entire
02:27
city that were taken it was either that
02:29
or military school during my time at
02:33
Power Christian Academy my high school I
02:36
took creationism biology
02:38
I dropped physics and I dropped
02:40
chemistry because they were too
02:42
intimidating for me how was it it wasn’t
02:44
ready to take those classes and as
02:48
graduation approached I I didn’t know
02:51
what I wanted to do I had a strong
02:53
community that I didn’t want to go to
02:55
college I signed up for the SAT and I
02:59
took it
03:00
I support the no average as a matter of
03:03
fact I scored 100 points lower than the
03:06
average here at Walt that much I started
03:09
my
03:12
studies taking developmental math that’s
03:15
a math class for students considered to
03:17
have mad skills window of the standard
03:19
college level but while I was taking
03:21
that math class I was also taking a
03:23
sociology class and that’s where the
03:26
peers began to turn it was a really
03:28
challenging class but it became
03:30
interesting I started to pay attention
03:33
and I started to think that maybe maybe
03:37
higher education could be the right
03:39
thing for me the midterm exam for that
03:41
class came around and everyone building
03:45
the professor was it was a shock because
03:47
he had to give a retest and this was the
03:51
only time in my entire five and a half
03:53
years as an undergraduate that a
03:55
professor gave a retest but it was the
03:58
second chance that I needed and I didn’t
04:00
know it but my life was about to change
04:02
I decided that I was going to pass the
04:05
test
04:05
that I was going to put in the work so I
04:07
began to read and I began to study I
04:10
developed little techniques like color
04:12
coded highlighted yellow forty turns
04:15
orange four concepts blue for important
04:18
people and paying for stuff that I
04:19
thought was cool right the exact came
04:22
around and I passed it with the highest
04:24
grade in the class and it felt good I
04:27
realized that I was learning really
04:29
interesting
04:30
so I set a goal said I’m gonna finish
04:34
with the highest final grade in the
04:36
class and this mentality felt awesome
04:38
it started to spill into my other
04:40
classes it was the middle of the
04:42
semester and I was behind but I got
04:45
organized and I began to study day and
04:47
day and then I did it I finished
04:51
sociology with the highest grade of the
04:54
class out of a hundred and something
04:55
students I went to go speak to the
04:57
professor after rain for out and he
05:00
asked me what did you major in
05:03
where you going to study and at the time
05:04
I was undeclared I didn’t know it’s my
05:06
first semester so I told him I’m not
05:09
sure yet
05:10
and he said any field would be lucky to
05:13
have you and that was the first time
05:16
that a teacher that a mentor a scientist
05:20
but even then was dr. marcozzi novice
05:24
and I’ll never forget that conversation
05:25
with class food there was that first
05:29
spark but then it became up to me too
05:32
bad those flames I began to take my
05:35
education a lot more seriously but I
05:38
still had no idea what I wanted to study
05:40
I would end up changing my major several
05:43
times every day I woke up wanting to be
05:46
they different but then I began to do
05:48
something that’s going to be critical in
05:50
all the girls lives for helping defining
05:53
I began to volunteer and to take on
05:56
internships I started volunteering for
05:58
professors at the University and at
06:01
first it was doing really simple things
06:03
like inputting numbers onto a computer
06:05
just number crunching numbers from
06:08
surveys that they would hand out to
06:09
other students and sit there the state
06:11
of music and putting that data but as
06:14
time went on I became increasingly
06:16
involved in projects and I didn’t even
06:19
realize that happening because I was
06:21
enjoying what I was doing I was focused
06:24
on the journey and not all on the
06:27
destination I had forgotten that I
06:29
wasn’t good at math I had forgotten how
06:32
terribly I did in school before college
06:34
I had stopped thinking I’m a science
06:37
career that’s something that was
06:39
unattainable eventually I applied to an
06:43
REU at Brandeis University
06:46
that’s natural research experience for
06:48
undergraduates they paid for me to fly
06:51
from Texas to Brandeis and to spend the
06:54
duration of the summer during research
06:56
it was during that summer that I was
06:59
placed in a narrow
07:00
laughs and I had finally found right fit
07:03
I realized that I was passionate about
07:06
the work and that I enjoyed it and not
07:08
only that til this day it doesn’t feel
07:11
like work to me and it’s because of
07:13
these experiences in life that I’m now
07:16
scientists at Brandeis that gets to
07:18
study how our brain and the cells in our
07:21
brain change in order to enable us to
07:24
learn and maintain stable learning over
07:26
time and the type of learning that I
07:29
study it’s something that you all might
07:31
have first-hand experience with how many
07:35
of you have ever been food poisoning you
07:38
need something
07:39
it’s gross that’s just sick and you
07:42
don’t forget what made you sick right
07:44
and the idea of consuming whatever made
07:48
you sick again it’s 100 percent off
07:50
pudding right and so this phenomenon
07:54
this type of learning is called position
07:57
taste aversion and we can replicate it
07:59
in the lab if we take something like a
08:01
taste it
08:02
let’s say sugar water and we give it to
08:05
a rack and the rack has a positive
08:07
experience this is a happy right the
08:10
next time it encounters that tasting
08:12
it’s going to really like it but if we
08:16
take a similar scenario and we have a
08:19
rack that instead experiences stomach
08:22
sickness then the next time it
08:25
encounters that taste it it’s going to
08:27
want nothing to do with it and this is
08:31
conditioned taste aversion and thanks to
08:33
the work of many great scientists we now
08:36
know that this type of learning takes
08:39
place in an area of the brain known as
08:41
taste for its scent so we have here it’s
08:44
little dark but we have a slice of red
08:47
brick the brick the red cells are
08:49
labeled in blue and in green we have
08:52
taste cortex and we now know that
08:55
information information about taste and
08:58
information about stomach sickness come
09:00
together and taste quartzite and that’s
09:02
where this connection is made and this
09:04
type of learning takes place now I’m
09:07
studying how the single neurons single
09:10
brain cells in taste cortex how these
09:14
neurons change at the cellular level to
09:17
allow for this learning to happen and
09:19
what are some of the properties of these
09:23
cells that enable this type it’s a very
09:26
unique type of learning
09:29
so if you take anything from this talk I
09:34
want to say that if you’ve ever
09:36
dismissed the idea of becoming of a
09:39
career in science I want to invite you
09:41
to think again because you don’t have to
09:44
be the next Einstein that watch the
09:46
earth I’m not all you have to do is be
09:50
curious and be interested and quite
09:52
something that you want to learn more
09:54
about and I want to leave you with two
09:57
pieces of information to hopefully keep
09:59
your interest the verse is that science
10:02
careers are considered some of the most
10:05
stressed I pay careers but not only that
10:08
I have the two wet out of all the things
10:11
you could study a PhD in and this is not
10:14
a curative medical school this is not
10:15
including a master’s degree but out of
10:17
all the fields you can study for your
10:19
PhD 18 out of the top 20 highest-paid
10:23
are science careers and with that I’d be
10:29
happy to take any questions
10:40
feel free to ask me about anything
10:52
I’m part of the Therese Jana so Jia Jia
10:56
no it’s in one of the science centers
10:59
there so we have several science
11:00
buildings at Brandeis she is so in her
11:05
lab we study have how experience
11:08
dependent and changes in the brain so
11:11
you have to when you experience things
11:12
our brain changes in response to that
11:15
and that’s how we learn and her lab
11:17
studies have those brain cells change in
11:19
order to accommodate its learning but
11:21
not only that if you think about it your
11:23
brain is always changing how does that
11:25
maintain stable over time how do we not
11:28
lose information how are we how are we
11:30
able to keep it together for lack of a
11:33
better word and so that’s a very
11:35
interesting problem right now in our
11:37
science the fact that our brain is so
11:39
dynamic and yet it’s so reliable
11:46
yeah so I started off one day Claire and
11:49
then I started off and then I went into
11:52
psychology and then I realized that I
11:54
didn’t want to do psychology and so I
11:56
did biology and then while I was reading
11:58
biology I fell in love with chemistry
12:00
Robert I I didn’t do chemistry in high
12:03
school I actually dropped it the first
12:05
time again in college because I had a
12:07
professor who wasn’t doing a good job of
12:09
explaining the material and eventually
12:12
made my third time trying to get into
12:15
chemistry it was with a really good
12:17
professor and I actually fell in love
12:19
with it and started taking a bunch of
12:21
chemistry classes and so I ended up
12:24
graduating with a psychology major with
12:27
a biology minor but I had more bio
12:29
classes and more chemistry classes that
12:31
I needed for for anything so it was
12:33
almost like I was triple majoring but
12:36
what I was actually doing was I was just
12:38
taking classes that I was interested in
12:40
whatever I whatever sounded like
12:42
something I like I wasn’t worried about
12:44
what degree I was gonna get I was just
12:47
more interested in learning things that
12:49
I wanted to learn about and that
12:52
happened to translate into neuroscience
12:54
because it’s a very special field of
12:57
science that combines psychology and
13:00
biology and chemistry physics computer
13:03
science it’s awesome there’s a place for
13:06
everybody
13:20
it’s a little fuzzy but I think that we
13:28
might have a book that we had might have
13:31
touched based on it and been like yeah
13:33
that’s one theory but like alternatively
13:35
there’s this although I will say that
13:41
that my high school science teacher she
13:45
had gotten her master’s in biology and
13:47
although she was religious science and
13:51
religion can coexist
13:52
and so she was able to kind of teach to
13:56
kind of bring elements of golf into the
13:58
class and it was actually a class that I
14:01
enjoyed a lot so so yeah I don’t
14:07
remember exactly all the things that we
14:09
might have covered but I know that I
14:11
came into college with a very weak stand
14:14
background absolutely no idea what the
14:17
only reason I took that sociology class
14:18
was because there was required
14:28
so I’ve recently been doing a lot of
14:31
programming that some of you are
14:35
familiar with it it’s simple it’s simple
14:38
algebra simple rhythmic arithmetic but I
14:41
ended up getting all the way as an
14:44
undergrad I ended up taking calculus and
14:46
passing it with an A because of YouTube
14:50
YouTube is an awesome resource by the
14:53
way whenever whenever you need a quick
14:57
tutor YouTube and so I will say that I
15:02
had rounded out my math skills but I do
15:06
wish that I would have a stronger
15:08
opportunity to experience that when I
15:12
was younger because I felt like I played
15:14
catch-up for a lot of my life
15:22
so I love like everything about it
15:25
because I think it’s pretty cool if you
15:27
think about it I feel like I kind of
15:30
feel like I never grew up I just started
15:32
now when I was young I played I like to
15:34
know like all the things I like to play
15:36
with toys and stuff like that now I feel
15:38
like I’m getting paid to play with adult
15:41
toys like I could walk into work and I
15:43
have access to some users $12,000
15:46
microscopes I get to image brains both
15:50
that brain slice and those individual
15:51
cells are all pictures I took and I took
15:53
them for fun it’s just it’s pretty
15:58
awesome
15:59
like I don’t feel like I’m working I
16:01
interact with other people who shared
16:04
this interest every day and it’s just
16:07
such an awesome environment to be in
16:08
because growing up growing up through
16:11
college what I did become interested in
16:14
science I had no science friends none of
16:16
my friends are interested in none of my
16:18
friends were interested in science it’s
16:19
okay they were pursuing other careers of
16:21
their own but I never knew what it would
16:23
be like to be around people who were
16:25
interested in the same stuff and it’s
16:27
pretty cool it’s just like hey you got
16:29
to do an Acer mine we’ll try it out
16:38
it’s very it can be competitive and
16:41
that’s scary but at the same time for me
16:47
comic competition really pushes me to
16:50
like work hard
16:57
computer science the encoding is awesome
17:00
I didn’t know how to code at all until
17:04
last semester I decided that it was time
17:06
that I learned and that things are
17:09
heading into a direction we’re quoting
17:10
this encoding and the ability code is
17:13
very important and so I took a class and
17:15
now I’m very comfortable my classes will
17:18
be important no matter how old you get
17:20
I’m so have there any benefits from that
17:23
environment so I’m not much about okay
17:25
again I’m not much of a self learner
17:27
sometimes I really benefit from like
17:29
instruction and so I learned to code and
17:31
if I could go back I would do computer
17:33
science
17:38
research I am interested although it’s
17:43
still open
17:45
I’m interested in something called
17:48
science consulting and I’m really
17:50
interested in pursuing that but I I
17:53
haven’t really got enough first-hand
17:55
experience with it so that could change
18:03
I don’t know exactly when it was figured
18:06
out that it happens in gustatory cortex
18:08
you look familiar
18:12
were you in such as well yeah yeah so I
18:21
don’t know when it was confirmed that it
18:23
happens in fest to Tory cortex with the
18:25
phenomenon itself was discovered in the
18:27
60s by someone doing completely
18:30
different research so the picture I
18:31
showed of this man John Garcia he’s
18:36
really inspirational if you look up his
18:38
obituary and like really hit home but he
18:42
was working on radiation research and he
18:46
noticed that rats would not drink to
18:49
walk would not drink water from the
18:51
water bottles in their radiation testing
18:53
chambers and they were plastic water
18:56
bottles and the ones that they had in
18:57
their cage were glass and he
18:59
hypothesized that maybe the plastic was
19:02
giving them a taste that they could
19:03
recognize and that coupled with the
19:06
sickness were making was making them
19:08
avoid that specific water and so he
19:11
tested it by adding flavor to the water
19:13
so that way he could be sure that the
19:15
rats could recognize it and controlling
19:17
for the bottles
19:18
and he and that like he was doing
19:20
something a little different but he
19:21
noticed something that no was something
19:23
so simple that no one had ever noticed
19:25
before and he went on to testify before
19:29
Congress about the dangers of radiation
19:33
in a time where the government was very
19:36
Pro nuclear and this and we still didn’t
19:40
know a lot about this
19:42
it’s really amazing it shows that all
19:44
you have to do is just be curious right
19:46
and you never know what you’re going to
19:48
smell both one
19:53
I was saying that I like Google to
19:57
school and maybe like you know I will
20:01
say that sometimes I do think like hot
20:07
you know if I think back I can make
20:11
y’all have to go

Cover image is from PixabayCC0 Creative Commons

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