Alexis Brake, former Executive Director of the Center for Undergraduate Research Board of Students (CURBS), graduated this past spring with a degree in biomedical engineering. During her time at UF, Alexis completed research as a University Scholar, which led to internships with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Institutes of Health. Now, she is a Postbaccalaureate Researcher in the Translational Neuroradiology Section in the NINDS at the National Institutes of Health. Her current research focuses on using advanced MRI to understand the pathobiology of tissue damage in the context of multiple sclerosis.
Why did you get started in undergraduate research? I first got involved in research because I wanted to be able to apply my interests in science to the real world and make a difference in the lives of others. My curiosity for research was piqued in high school when I saw a video demonstration of the BrainGate system. In the video, a tetraplegic patient was shown feeding herself for the first time in over 15 years. This was made possible by a novel implanted electrode system that allowed the patient to use her thoughts to control a robotic arm holding a cup of coffee. I was captivated by the technology, but I was even more captivated by the smile that stretched across the patient’s face after independently taking her first sip of coffee in over a decade. That moment prompted me to seek out my first research position, and I haven’t looked back since.
How has your research experience shaped your career? After becoming involved in research, I quickly learned that an intellectual challenge and opportunity for human impact was not all that undergraduate research had to offer. By being involved in research all four years of undergrad, my research reinforced the content I learned in lecture (and vice versa). I also gained a network of mentors and teachers from my lab’s principal investigator and graduate students, explored different research avenues to solidify my career aspirations, and developed skills in scientific communication and experimental design that will continue to support me in my future research endeavors. Because of my experiences in undergraduate research, I am wholeheartedly confident in my next steps toward my career goals.
My involvement in undergraduate research also allowed me to seek opportunities beyond UF including internships at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Institutes of Health and presentation opportunities at large conferences like the Society for Neuroscience and the Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Meetings. CUR provided me with the support I needed to make many of these endeavors possible. Dr. Donnelly’s mentorship helped my land my first internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology the summer of my freshman year and through the University Scholars Program, I obtained travel funding to attend the conferences I’d had abstracts accepted at.
CUR also allowed me develop myself as a leader through the Center for Undergraduate Research Board of Students (CURBS). As an ambassador, executive board member, and eventually as the Executive Director, I had the opportunity to give back to UF’s research community and to help my peers advance their undergraduate research experience all while learning how to be an effective leader. To this day, my involvement in CURBS remains my most influential and treasured experience from my time at UF.
What advice would you give someone interested in undergraduate research? Undergraduate research is for everyone! Regardless of your year, major, career aspirations, or interests, undergraduate research is one of the best ways to set yourself apart, diversify your skills, and enrich your learning experience. If you aren’t sure where to begin, let a CURBS Peer Advisor help you get started!