Emily Merfeld


How I got into science
I have always been drawn to fields in which infectious curiosity and creativity are central drivers. Throughout my adolescence, I believed that such a world could only exist through writing and visual art. I pursued art throughout my pre-college years, and dismissed STEM as a series of requirements through which I passed. My opinions regarding science changed during my senior year of high school, when I enrolled in a Neuroscience course. I will be forever grateful to the teacher of that course, Stacy Williams, who made it clear that science was, in fact, full of life. The ways that our view of the brain have evolved over time was intriguing to me, as was the elegance of the experiments that changed those views. I wanted to be a part of this ever-changing world, and set my sights on a career in science.

My undergraduate research experiences allowed me to get a sense of the scientific community, where I found inspiring and supporting peers and mentors. These communities fostered my love of science, taught me to learn from my mistakes, and allowed me to grow as a researcher.

One mentor, Dr. Atsushi Saito of the Kamiya lab group, recommended that I present one of Steve’s papers at journal club and, in so doing, introduced me to memory engram research. I was immediately drawn to this line of questioning – one that addresses the fundamental characteristics of memory as well as the degree to which memory can be manipulated – and was inspired to contribute to this area of research.

More generally, I pursue science because it is endlessly curiosity-invoking, answering some questions while simultaneously raising new and intriguing ones. My experiences thus far in science have taught me that fascination with the world around us, rather than being restricted to the artistic realms, is a central force in science. I look forward to continuing to examine what is, to me, the most intriguing specimen in the natural world: the brain. 

Research experience and interests
My first exposure to research was in the laboratory of Dr. Paul Currie, studying circuitry related to metabolism, stress, and addiction in a rat model. We investigated the effects of ghrelin, an orexegenic peptide, in mediating cocaine-induced ethanol intake. As a Psychiatry Summer Training and Research intern, I worked in the laboratory of Dr. Atsushi Kamiya at Johns Hopkins studying the role of GABAA receptors in a neurodevelopmental model of schizophrenia.

For my undergraduate thesis project, I worked under the mentorship of Dr. Derek Applewhite to examine the role of two cytoskeletal crosslinking proteins (Short Stop and Pickled Eggs) in nuclear positioning. This research was conducted in a Drosophila melanogaster model, making use of a cancer-like cell line as well as neuroblasts isolated from larval tissue.

 Broadly, I am interested in the circuitry underlying neurotypical cognition, and how this circuitry is disturbed in psychiatric disorder. To me, a promising way of understanding these questions is through techniques that expand our control over neural networks of interest. I am also interested in the intersection of cell biology and neuroscience, and believe that a deep understanding of the single cell allows us to create a more detailed picture of the circuit as a whole.

Non-science biography
Growing up in and around Boston, I spent many years at Boston Ballet, then rowing with Arlington/Belmont Crew, and occasionally going to Red Sox games. I moved to Portland, Oregon to attend Reed College, where I was a Biology/Psychology Interdisciplinary major. My four years at Reed were intense and intellectually challenging, and were made possible by the support, love, and goofiness supplied by my friends and family.

My time spent outside of lab is typically spent outdoors – running, rock climbing, or biking – or else attempting the most recent New York Times crossword.

Book: A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara), 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)
Movie: Blue is the Warmest Color
Show: The Office
Music: Frank Ocean
Food: Meatball sub (I’m a vegetarian, but I still dream about these)
Drink: Gin and tonic
Activity: Rock climbing
Coffee, friend or foe: Best friend I’ve ever had

One thing I’m sorry I’m not sorry about
I can be found dancing with abandon to Michael Jackson at least once a week.

What I look for in a scientist
Honesty and the willingness to question. I believe that the more that we can let go of our egos, pursue science in a collaborative way, and love as many seconds of it as possible, the better the outcome in every way.