Susie Sonnenschein

When did you graduate from MSU? What career/higher education path are you currently pursuing?

I graduated from MSU in Spring 2014 and I am currently getting my PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Pittsburgh.

How did you choose your current career path?

Neuroscience is an inherently interesting topic because everything we experience is mediated through the nervous system. It’s a fast-moving field that’s full of questions about the biology behind human nature. I wanted to pursue neuroscience research because I’m passionate about understanding the neural mechanisms involved in mental illness, particularly with the goal of improving antipsychotic medication for individuals suffering from schizophrenia. Mh2>What steps did you take as an undergraduate student to get to where you are?

I entered MSU with a good sense of what I wanted to do, though it can be difficult to predict what path you’ll ultimately take. These were a few steps that I think most contributed to where I am now

  • I got involved in labs within my first year to narrow down which aspects of neuroscience I was most interested in.
  • I took advanced classes in psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, and other sciences. In those classes, there were certain professors that I connected to well who helped guide me along the way.
  • I got involved in extracurricular activities related to research and mental health that interested me.
  • Finally, I think doing an independent project was a crucial step to getting into graduate school because it gave me experience with conducting experiments and analyzing data as well as writing up and presenting results.

Did you take a gap year between graduation and your career?

I went straight from my undergraduate degree to graduate school, though I know many people who took a gap year or more and were glad that they took the extra time to refine their interests and gain experience.

What was your favorite academic and extracurricular activity when you were an undergraduate at MSU?

I had several favorite classes at MSU and it would be difficult to choose just one, so I’d say that my favorite academic activity was all of the outreach put on through the Neuroscience program. For example, I loved helping out at the Neuroscience Fair and teaching kids about the brain. My favorite extracurricular activity was volunteering at The Listening Ear, which is a telephone and walk-in counseling service for clients in crisis, including those struggling with thoughts of suicide and victims of sexual assault, as well as providing advocacy and community education. I am incredibly grateful for the people I met and training I received during my time at The Listening Ear.

What are some ways to build an outstanding resume as a neuroscience student?

I think the things that stand out most, at least for graduate school, are lab experience (particularly doing independent projects, presenting, and getting publications), awards and fellowships, meaningful extracurricular activities (particularly leadership positions), and good letters of recommendation.

Did you pursue research during your time as a Neuroscience undergraduate student at MSU?

When I first started at MSU, I knew I was interested in neuroscience related to psychiatric disorders, but I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of lab I wanted to be in. After trying out a couple labs early on, I realized that I preferred the kind of questions I could ask using animals. By being in the same lab for multiple years, I was able to help out with a variety of projects that gave me additional experience when I later decided to do a senior honors thesis.

Any words of advice for current Neuroscience undergraduates?

Find specific topics that motivate you to keep going, even if you’re having setbacks in lab.