Created: March 3, 2021  |  Last Updated: March 16, 2021  |  Category:   |  Tagged:

W&J senior presents work at NASA conference

Julia Schaffer poses with a laptop

WASHINGTON, PA (March 3, 2021)—Washington & Jefferson College neuroscience and Spanish major Julia Schaffer ’21 recently presented research at the 2021 NASA Human Research Program Investigator’s Workshop—and she did it from the comfort of W&J’s campus.

Prior to the virtual conference, Julia connected with the Office of Residence Life to set up a safe space in their office where she presented her work from her time as an intern with 2004 W&J alumna Catherine Davis-Takacs, Ph.D., at her lab at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The lab is studying the effects of radiation on the behavior and cognition of rats as a model for long-term human spaceflight.

Julia worked with Dr. Davis-Takacs’s lab both in the summer of 2019 in an in-person capacity and remotely during summer of 2020. This was her second time presenting to the NASA audience after she appeared at the 2020 conference in Galveston, Texas, shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak. In all of her efforts, Julia has been supported by W&J funds dedicated to students for science research, including the Merck Internships for Excellence in Science award and PrezProject program for students presenting biology-related research at conferences.

Working with the same lab two years in a row is an opportunity that not a lot of undergraduate students have, and Julia is reaping the benefits from the experience.

“I think I got the best of both worlds. During the first summer, I learned about how to handle animals in labs while studying their behavior and a lot of techniques for research while working in a lab. This past year, I’ve gotten to do a lot more of the data analysis, which is something I was more uncomfortable with before this year. I’ve worked with graphs and scoring data and developed a skill I didn’t think I’d ever have,” she said.

In addition to the educational enrichment Julia got from working in the lab, she’s gained a mentor in Dr. Davis-Takacs as well as a job offer for an additional year working with the lab following her graduation from W&J in the spring.

“It’s definitely a rare experience. When I talk about my experiences with W&J, it’s something I always talk about and can’t believe I did. I always took two to three labs every semester, prepared me well to go to the lab with [Dr. Davis-Takacs],” she said. “Having this relationship with her is one of my favorite parts of all the opportunities I’ve had at W&J. [Dr. Davis-Takacs] is so encouraging when it comes to not only doing lab research and reaching deadlines, but she also always talks to me about all my career decisions and helps me figure out what to do. So not only do I have a person with whom I do an internship and learn all this valuable information and techniques from, but I also have someone I can talk to and seek advice from as I apply to medical school.”

Julia plans to pursue a career in medicine and hopes to find an opportunity in the future where she can combine her passion for both medicinal research and practice.

About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.

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