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Graduate Student Spotlight: Alex Thomas

I’ve always loved the beauty in using logic to answer fundamental questions about the world around me.  Formal science education in rural Georgia was limited while growing up, but once I began college at Georgia College and State University I had the opportunity to learn everything I could about biology and science in general.  I joined a lab focused on identifying the fate of antibiotic resistant genes in the environment stemming from factory farms (be sure to cook your shellfish) and fell in love with the scientific process.  After graduating, I enrolled at Georgia State University (GSU) because I wanted to study neuroscience and, specifically, the underlying mechanisms that regulate behavior at a larger research university.  There is an enormous difference in the number of research opportunities at GSU when compared to my previous small liberal arts college, and number of resources available to me at GSU was incredible.

Since joining GSU, I have been working with the orexigenic peptide hormone ghrelin and exploring how its numerous signaling pathways drive behavior and regulate overall metabolic health.  As I learned more and more about ghrelin, and neuroscience in general, I began to formulate my own ideas with the help of my mentors Dr. Timothy Bartness and Dr. Bingzhong Xue.  One idea aimed at examining a novel, peripheral ghrelin signaling pathway struck a chord with us and I decided to apply for a research grant so that would provide funding to support our research exploration. I was incredibly lucky to have a strong support structure from both Dr. Xue and GSU, and I was excited to win funding for my NRSA proposal in the first round.  In truth, the best part of receiving the grant is knowing that other people are interested in the same things as me and willing to give me the resources to answer my own questions.  A NRSA is a fantastic way to jumpstart a career in science and has gone a long way to convince me that my ideas are exciting and worth exploring.  I fully believe that without GSU and Dr. Xue I wouldn’t have had the resources or drive to pursue the NRSA.

Having the support from a university and a strong mentor is incredibly important to succeed in science, but maintaining your sanity with non-science based activities is equally important as graduate school can sometimes feel like its consumed your life.  To this end, Atlanta is an amazing city with diverse neighborhoods suitable for everyone and anyone.  There are countless festivals, concerts, comedy shows, great restaurants, breweries, and parades to enjoy all year.  If you’re passionate about science and want to be the best you possibly can, GSU is a fantastic place to start.  There’s no shortage of great scientists pushing you to be better every day and exciting things to do in the city to relax.