As a physics student at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, Mikhail (Misha) Proskurin never imagined working in neuroscience. Today, as a Janelia Graduate Scholar in the Karpova lab, he spends his time working to understand how the brain uses internal models to guide behavior. It all started with a summer spent in the Janelia Undergraduate Scholars (JUS) program.
“I was semi-interested in biophysics, and biology, but had no interest in neuroscience,” Misha remembered. “At some point, Alla Karpova came to my school to give a talk about her research. She briefly mentioned Janelia and the undergrad program. I had never heard of it. But she mentioned to me and Max [Maksim Manakov] that we should apply, and we did.”
Misha experienced a bit of culture shock when he landed in the United States for the first time. “Janelia is a very unusual place culturally and scientifically, even compared to other campuses in the U.S.,” he recalled. Life on campus helped him adjust. “We have a very tight and friendly group of students. Apart from the science, the social life is the best part about Janelia.”
After finishing the JUS program and working as a lab technician in the Karpova lab for one year, Misha applied to be a graduate scholar in the joint-graduate program in the Johns Hopkins Department of Neuroscience. Now, his behavior experiments are generating multi-dimensional data sets that could reveal how the brain encodes the set of rules that guide decision making.
Analyzing those data sets is an important part of Misha’s work. “We need to find ways to extract meaningful information and relate this to animal behavior, animal decisions,” he said. For that reason, Misha encourages computer science students to apply to the JUS program. “Data analysis requires a lot of skills that are being taught by computer science departments. If you’re interested in working at Janelia, don’t just look at computational labs—check experimental labs. Experimental labs are generating a lot of data and would love to have a computer science student collaborate with them.”
Misha’s best advice for any young scientist interested in applying to the JUS program? “Don’t hesitate.”