Polygence blog / Student Spotlights

High School Neuroscience Research Student Isha Writes a Thesis on the Connection between Schizophrenia and Neuroplasticity

7 minute read

Isha is a high school senior from Fremont, California who did neuroscience research working with Polygence mentor, Stephen, a research scientist at Stanford University. She collected multiple primary and secondary sources to analyze the connection between schizophrenia and neuroplasticity. During her time with Polygence, Isha collected her findings and organized her own research ideas into what is now an 11-page research paper! You can read more about Isha’s Polygence experience in the interview below.

Why did you seek out Polygence? What did you want to get out of the program?

I wanted to work on something that I was passionate about. I started my own basketball Neuroscience program that combined neuroscience with basketball. And that was pretty much the only project that I had done before. With Polygence, I wanted to learn more about the field of neuroscience and get another opportunity to expand my knowledge — that is something that mattered a lot to me. Polygence was a really good way for me to do that.

Can you tell us a little bit about your project?

So, my project was a review paper that focuses on the connection between schizophrenia and neuroplasticity. The central thesis is that a loss of neuroplasticity leads to an increase of schizophrenia, and I've incorporated multiple things throughout the discussion. I used previous research on things like drug abuse and how that factors into the relationship between the two. And I created a three way relationship mapping of how drug use, schizophrenia, and neuroplasticity all intertwined together. Drug use can decrease neuroplasticity which can in turn increase certain symptoms of schizophrenia, and overall it was really fascinating to see how they were all connected.

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Was this something you were interested in before? How did you come up with this project idea?

I had always been really interested in neuroscience! I read a book called The Brain that Changes Itself about neuroplasticity. I was really fascinated by that and I was like, “Wow, this is something I definitely want to read about more.” When I was thinking about topics I could possibly choose, it occurred to me that I’ve also been intrigued in neurodegenerative disorders, such as schizophrenia. So when I found out there's a possibility that I could study the relationship between them as part of my research, I thought that was the perfect mix of two things that I'm really interested in.

Can you walk us through what a typical session with Stephen was like and how they built off of each other?

In a typical session with Stephen, we would go over the homework he had assigned the session before, and then kind of see how my paper was coming along. In the beginning--say the first one through six sessions--he would give me a mini lecture because obviously going topics like schizophrenia and neuroplasticity as a high schooler, you're not going to have that much background knowledge of it. So, he broke it down into key areas to look at and guided me in creating an outline. Once he helped create that outline, it was a lot easier for me to understand the flow and as to how I should go about doing things. So therefore, when I wrote, I knew what I was talking about, rather than just reading something and regurgitating it.

How did you find your sources? Did you find them on your own or were they assigned?

Between the first and second session, I looked for some papers on my own, but back then, I wasn't exactly sure what to be looking for. The papers that I found were really complicated and difficult for someone like me to understand. I asked if he could recommend papers that were easier for me to comprehend on these topics that I was researching.Then as the sessions went on and he continued giving me all this information, I understood things much better and I was able to go back to the papers from the beginning and read and actually comprehend them. Now, I can look through a paper and understand the parts that are relevant and useful to me, without having to read it all. I can see just the parts that are going to be of most value to me, that I can really utilize and put in my paper.

How was your mentor Stephen different from a teacher or tutor?

I think a teacher would be more focused on just giving me the material and then watching my progress throughout, not really being as involved in the process as a mentor would be. Similar to a tutor, they're making sure that the material is understood and things like that, but they’re really not taking the further step of going through the process with me. But with the mentor, they really get in there with you and Stephen would really edit my paper, even catching small things like grammatical mistakes. He was really involved in the process, more involved than a regular teacher or tutor would be. He mentored me throughout on what needs to be done and what mistakes to avoid.

Usually when you start a project like this, you're pretty much on your own and you're trying to teach yourself things, but with having a mentor who's already gone through the process, they know a lot of tips and tricks that you may not know yourself. Now, if I wanted to write a review paper, I'd be pretty confident, but definitely in the beginning I was a little bit hesitant. I thought Stephen was really helpful, from small things, like formatting the paper, to big things, like the topics that I should be including.

Have you thought about what you want to do next after Polygence?

I'm currently figuring out the next steps for what I want to do after Polygence, but I do plan to be submitting this paper to a medical journal. I've been sending my paper out to a bunch of college professors and I've actually been able to get really good feedback from some of them. For example, the department chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Case Western Reserve emailed me back and then, a Cornell professor, and a Dartmouth Professor.

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How did you come up with this idea to reach out to them and what was the process like?

Stephen had mentioned that if you're able to get feedback from anyone, it should always be welcomed. Anyone who knows what they're talking about is going to be able to, and even if they just read your paper, it'll be a pretty big deal. And my parents were like, “Yeah! You could try sending it to a couple professors. It won’t hurt.”

And I'm applying to colleges now, so I checked out the Neuroscience Department of all the colleges that I'm applying to and then filtered out the ones that were either interested in neuroplasticity or schizophrenia or neurodegenerative disorders. And I selectively emailed them and personalized each email, “I saw your research on this, which is actually advert in the paper about this. If you have a chance to look at it, I would really appreciate any feedback you could give me.”

What advice do you have for someone who's thinking about starting their Polygence project?

Find a topic that you're passionate about. Polygence is pretty good with matching you with mentors who have similar interests to you. And honestly, you don't need to go in with an idea already formed. I went in with a totally blank slate. Also, keep an open mind because writing was never my strong suit, so when my mentor suggested writing a review paper, I was a little hesitant, but my review paper’s now 11-pages and it is looking pretty good. Take a chance because you really don't know something until you’ve tried it.

Find Isha's paper in the Youth Medical Journal here!

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