My desire to mend the wounded brain began as an adolescent living in Brownsville, a city in south Texas on the border with Mexico. Small, impoverished, isolated from the major metropolitan areas of the state, and a hot spot for cartel activity, life as a teenager in that small south Texas city could be at best monotonous and at worst mortally dangerous. Recognizing the precariousness of the situation, my parents worked to enrich my environment with art supplies, books, and issues of National Geographic. It was during this time that I developed a curiosity about the brain and its various ailments, a curiosity that developed a determination to leave home and pursue its study. Though, to what capacity was unclear. It was recommended that I consider a life in academic research – a completely novel idea at the time.
Research was something you did at a library. I had never met a scientist - at least not knowingly – and I definitely had no concept for laboratory science. It then came as a pleasant surprise to find myself enjoying introductory biology. I looked forward to afternoons spent in the lab and found myself thinking intently upon the material outside of class. Taking notice, my professor Dr. Rosie Rosell invited me to join her research team, studying the glassy winged sharpshooter, an insect and agricultural pest. Within a year’s time, I found myself conducting experiments after class and spending my weekends at the microscope.
The road that begun in south Texas took me to Houston and eventually landed me in an undergraduate internship (SMART Program) in the lab of Dr. Mariella De Biasi at Baylor College of Medicine, studying the molecular underpinnings of nicotine addiction. I fondly remember this summer as the moment in which I discovered my love for benchwork and my resolve to pursue a career in academics. Following graduation, I immediately took a position as a doctoral student in the Department of Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, where I was fortunate enough to study neuronal degeneration and regeneration in models of disease and injury under the guidance of Dr. Matthew Rasband. While in Matt’s lab, my interests turned towards glia, specifically oligodendrocytes and the mechanisms that allow for their regeneration after brain injury. As luck would have it, Dr. Tom Carmichael at UCLA had an ongoing project studying the mechanisms of myelin regeneration in a model of stroke and he was looking for a post doc. With that, I drafted up and defended my dissertation, gave the majority of my possession to either friends or good will, packed up my truck, and drove west to Los Angeles.
The transition to life in Los Angeles was challenging to say the least. I had assumed that my living in Houston would have acclimated me to the complexities of big city life – how naïve I was. Yet, the opportunity to explore new and exciting scientific questions in an eminent lab surrounded by outstanding colleagues in a distinguished institution far outweighs the challenges of living in our crowded metropolis. Now as I enter my third year as post doc and I patiently await the results of my experiments, I cannot help but wonder what lies next on the open road. I always told myself that I would stay in science until the proverbial “they” forced me out. While not exactly a conventional career plan, it has thus far served me well and I intend on sticking to it.
Dr. Miguel (Alec) Marin is a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. S Thomas Carmichael in the Department of Neurology. His research defines mechanisms of brain repair after stroke, and how neurorehabilitation might lead to better recovery.