Q&A with Neuroscience Graduate Student Lisa Heuvel

Understanding How Social Cues are Triggered and Registered in the Brain

Q: Where are you from?
A: I am from a tiny North Idaho town- Priest River.

Q: What year are you in?
A: I am in my second semester of graduate school for neuroscience(1st year).

Q: Why did you decide to study neuroscience?
A:
I am studying neuroscience. I decided to get into this area of science when my brother was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome; it is a neurobiological disorder characterized by deficiencies in social and communication skills. I got my B.S. in Biology, and wanted to narrow down my field of study so I can someday work with discovering causes of autism or other social disorders.

Q: Why did you choose to come to the University of Idaho?
A:
I am close to home, and I loved going here as an undergraduate.  I love knowing lots of professors on campus, and I wanted to stay in the area- it is absolutely a beautiful campus!

Q: What makes the University of Idaho a great place to study Science in general, and specifically neuroscience?
A: The University of Idaho has a small teacher-to-student ratio in our department and I know most of my professors personally and get one-on-one help if need be.  I don't have to go through a TA to get my questions answered.Q: Can you tell me about your current research project?

Q: Can you tell me about your reserach efforts?
A: I work in Dr. Kevin Kelliher's lab researching the mammalian olfactory system.  Olfaction is a form of chemosensation that, in some cases - mice for example, is a key social interaction and a way of communicating.  I am basically studying how mice use this cue as a communication device. The goal is to gain insight and understanding into how social cues are triggered and registered in the brain.  This can lead to insight how other social cues are detected in the brain.  By studying this, we may be able to understand what is or isn't working in a human that is suffering from a social disorder.

Q: Why is research into social cues and social disorders important and what have you learned so far?
A:
This would put us one step closer to understanding how social cues are perceived.  We are hoping to learn the role of the Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Channel, CNGA3, and Guanylyl Cyclase-D (GC-D) recptor neuro in detecting social cues in mice.  This will help us decipher the pathway that olfactory social cues may take to reach the brain.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: I don't really know, I'm taking one step at a time, and until I graduate, but total focus is on discovering all that I can about CNGA3 and GC-D receptors.

Q: Any advice for prospective students interested in pursuing a career in science?
A:
There is so much out there that we don't know and so many opportunities to become part of a cutting edge team, looking deeper into critical issues. If you can imagine any topic, you can almost guarantee that someone, somewhere is researching that very topic─ and you could play an active role in the research behind it.  Don't limit yourself to something you're only modestly interested in─ go out and find something that fascinates you and join that lab!