The life sciences can often be a waiting game for college students. Many of them will have to wait until graduate school to do significant lab work. Before she’d even started her freshman year at Georgia State, though, Meira Robbins was making connections with professors who could offer research opportunities almost from the minute she set foot on campus.
“We came to an Honors College visit last fall, and I met professor Anne Murphy, one of the neuroscience professors,” Robbins says. “I knew that neuroscience was what I wanted to do, and she was really fascinating, really knowledgeable about the subject, and really kind.”
The access Robbins had to accomplished neuroscientists, professors, and psychologists who “took an hour out of their lives to talk to little old me” sold her on Georgia State. That access has only increased now that she’s officially on campus as a Presidential Scholar in the Honors College, which has cleared the way for the kinds of opportunities most students don’t get until much further into their college careers.
What Makes Our Minds Tick?
Robbins has always been interested in science, but in recent years she acquired a particular interest in the workings of the human brain. And this interest was inspired by an unlikely place: the summer camp where she’s volunteered as a counselor for several years.
“We are given the children’s medical histories, and a lot of the kids say they have ADHD [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder]. Some of them are taking medication, others aren’t. My camp director said it wasn’t anything we needed to worry about, so I thought, ‘If it’s not something we need to worry about, why is it mentioned? Is it even real?’”
For her senior project in high school, Robbins did a research paper and presentation on ADHD, and found that its frequent misdiagnosis often led to abuse of prescription medication. “Some parents use it as an excuse,” she says, “and another thing I found out is that some parents lie to get the medication, just so they can drug their kids.”
Robbins has made “finding a more biological cause” for ADHD a top priority of her eventual career in neuroscience. “If we could pinpoint that just one hormone is off — if we could pinpoint what level of dopamine means ADHD — we might be able to treat it much more effectively,” she says.
Welcoming Faces and Unique Opportunities
At Georgia State, Robbins found numerous faculty who wanted to help her pursue those interests — even before she was officially a Panther. In addition to meeting Anne Murphy, she also got to talk to Christopher Goode, a senior lecturer in the psychology department. And when Presidential Scholarship Day rolled around, she found herself sitting in front of Dr. Murphy once again.
“The other interviewer was a professor who had actually taught my English teacher from my senior year in high school,” she remembers. “It was a really good conversation all around, and it just kind of helped me know that I was in the right place. Because every professor I’d met was really nice, every student was very kind.”
When Robbins got word that she’d been accepted to Georgia State, she was also informed that she’d earned a scholarship with which she hadn’t been familiar. When she looked it up on the university website’s scholarship page, the Presidential Scholarship caught her eye. “So I thought, ‘Wow, let me apply for that thing!’”
When she got the call from Honors College Dean Larry Berman that she’d been awarded the scholarship, it was just as unexpected. “I was in a meeting at school, and a random number called me, but I didn’t know who it was so I just ignored it. They called me again after I had just left school, and it was Dean Berman,” she remembers. “I hadn’t been expecting a call for at least a week, one way or the other. My mom and sister were in the car with me, so I told them, and we were all super excited. It was a great day.”
Explorations Within — and Further Out
Just days into her college career, Robbins is already lined up to join associate professor Aras Petrulis in his research lab. “He does work with mice on how they communicate, and I’m going to get to do it too,” she says. “They inject this virus that contains one specific little gene into a certain region of cells in the brain, and then they see how that affects the mice and their communication. I’m really excited to get to do that stuff.”
Robbins’ excitement isn’t limited to the lab, however. “I’m Jewish, and I know Georgia State has chapters of Chabad and Hillel, so I’m excited to do that and meet some new people,” she says. As someone who was an active volunteer at her high school in everything from the Beta Club to the environmental club, she’s also psyched about all the service organizations active at Georgia State. “I know there are hundreds,” she says. “I still have no clue which ones I will join!”
Though Robbins grew up not far from Emory University in eastern Atlanta, and visited Midtown frequently when her sister was in college, she hasn’t spent much time in downtown Atlanta before, and is anxious to see what it has to offer. “I haven’t been to the state Capitol or really explored that area in any way,” she says. “So it will definitely be a new adventure.”