Research Foundation

Emily Walsh '17 (Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
October 17, 2016

A summer post-traumatic stress disorder research project gave a Bradley student a unique perspective on long-term neuroscience studies.

Using a rat model of PTSD studies, Psychology major Emily Walsh ’17, of Naperville, Illinois, spent the summer observing environmental factors’ impacts on lab rats’ PTSD recovery. The study continued research begun last year by classmate Amber Garrison ’17.

Walsh’s summer project, which laid groundwork for her Honors thesis, was part of a new research initiative offered by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The Summer Undergraduate Research and Artistry Fellowship Program provided stipends for three LAS students and their faculty mentors to pursue intensive projects during summer break.

“It was exciting to show up in the building on weekends to run experiments as long as I could,” Walsh said. “It was a unique opportunity to be involved in an experiment designed by me in a way other research couldn’t offer. I developed all aspects of the experiment and got to be there every step of the way. I can’t think of a better way to get that research experience.”

She wanted to see if environmental factors would affect biological and behavioral responses to PTSD. Though lab animal research is a long way from tests on humans, any breakthroughs in Bradley’s labs could become part of future studies’ foundational research.

Walsh used the research immersion to determine if she wanted to step into a research career. Also, like other aspiring student researchers, she hoped her project would someday be recognized by future studies.

“Because neuroscience is a broad field, I know there’s always a way to investigate something like PTSD,” she said. “Even though it’s a long shot for an undergraduate, anything I do now could benefit others when they look at human responses to the condition.”

She joined a project that thrived on strong mentoring relationships. Walsh partnered with department chair Dr. Tim Koeltzow for the summer and is continuing the partnership through her Honors project. Additionally, she applied wisdom she learned from Garrison as she developed her own research.

“I’m fortunate to work with people as passionate about research as I am,” Walsh said. “Dr. Koeltzow is a great mentor for us because he takes time to know us as people and engages us in discussions to help us develop as scientists. I’m glad I can take what I’ve learned from him and other students.”

Two years of previous lab experience prepared Walsh for her summer, though she didn’t realize how much she would grow from the experience. She noted newfound comfort in research skills, the language of labwork and communication. The summer also cemented her desire to pursue a career in neuroscience research.

“This challenged me as I prepared for real career research opportunities,” Walsh said. “I gained confidence in my lab abilities and I now realize how much I can understand if I continue to work at it.”

Walsh shared her summer work with faculty and students earlier this fall. She will present her project at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting in San Diego, California, in November.