Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Sophia Liu (BC '20): I was a General Biology major and a French minor at Barnard, and I currently attend Einstein Medical School in the Bronx. I’m from Long Island, so I’ve spent all my life in NY. I really enjoyed my time at Barnard. I was part of a sorority, a high school student mentor, a STEM tutor, a McIntosh Activities Council (McAC) board member; I loved that so many activities, including research, were available for me to explore.
Alice Sardarian (BC '21): I’m from Westport, CT, just about an hour from campus. I majored in Physiological & Organismal Biology. Beyond the lab, I volunteered as an EMT with Columbia University EMS (CU-EMS), where I proudly served our community for all four years. Since I love staying busy, I was also involved in the Columbia Science Review and a few other student groups. This Fall, I will be attending medical school at the Uniformed Services University as an officer in the Air Force.
For those of us not familiar with this area of work, could you tell us a little bit about the research in the Glendinning lab that led to this publication? What are some of the key results in your recent publication, Mixtures of Sweeteners and Maltodextrin Enhance Flavor and Intake of Alcohol in Adolescent Rats, and what are the important implications of your work in the broader scientific community?
AS & SL: Our work in the Glendinning lab was focused on evaluating the impact of flavorants on adolescent alcohol consumption, particularly sweetened alcohol. Flavor perception is complex, involving multiple interacting components like taste, smell, and trigeminal sensations. We studied the palatability of alcohol, using a rat model. This is an important question to ask when you look at the market for alcoholic beverages, loaded with sugars and flavorings, advertised to teenagers. We wanted to see if sweeteners would improve the flavor of alcohol for adolescent rats, and encourage them to drink more.
Sweetened beverages known as “supersized alcopops” are popular amongst human adolescents, a population at a high risk of alcohol use, abuse, and addiction. Sweet additives facilitate the consumption of alcohol at particularly high rates, effectively masking alcohol’s bitter taste, aversive odor, and burning sensations.
We sought to determine whether we could replicate these findings using an adolescent rat model. We conducted two behavioral experiments, one evaluating short-term licking responses to flavored alcohol (ethanol) solutions, and the other evaluating voluntary consumption over extended access periods. In both experiments, the rats consumed more sweetened ethanol than ethanol alone. During the extended access, preference tests, rats consumed as much as 16 times more flavored ethanol than unflavored ethanol. Interestingly, we found that rats can discriminate between the solutions based on odor alone.
In other words, sweeteners did increase the amount they drank, but some sweetener combinations worked better than others, so not all recipes are the same! We followed the rats into adulthood and also found that drinking sweet alcohol did not increase their consumption of plain alcohol later in life. Adolescent rats therefore proved to be a reliable model for understanding how flavorants promote consumption in adolescent humans. This research and that which builds upon it can hopefully help us better understand the physiology and sensory interactions behind consumptive behaviors.
What did you value most about your experiences in the Glendinning lab?
SL: It’s incredibly important to build a foundation for how to think scientifically. I really appreciate that I got to practice research design, scheduling, statistics, experimental techniques, writing, etc., with involved and non-judgmental mentorship from Professor Glendinning and my fellow lab mates. I have skills that are relevant to any future lab I join, and I’m not afraid to ask questions because I know where I stand.
AS: The Glendinning lab was a second home to me. I felt like it was my place to learn and grow, and that I had all the support and opportunities to do so. Professor Glendinning was incredibly generous with his time and offered continuous guidance and encouragement. I became more confident in my abilities as a scientist, working and learning alongside my lab mates, who also supported me every step of the way.
How did conducting research in the Department of Biological Sciences at Barnard prepare you for what you're doing now/next? Is there anything you would've done differently in your research journey?
AS: The Barnard Biology Department offers smaller labs, like my own, which means more independent work, exciting responsibilities, and a more involved lab environment. As a result, and in conjunction with the Summer Research Institute (SRI) and the Beckman Scholars Program, I got to experience every part of the research process, valuable to anyone considering a career in science and medicine. The discipline, attention-to-detail, independent investigation, problem-solving, and other qualities I cultivated while in the lab most certainly prepared me to apply to medical school, and more importantly, to appreciate the role that research will play in my future career.
SL: I’m currently in medical school, and I have a pretty strong interest in research, so my past experience was very helpful. It made choosing a lab easier because I knew what the day-to-day would look like, and made me a more appealing candidate to the labs I contacted. I just joined a cardiology lab and my protocols overlap with what I did at Barnard, so that was less training time for me and my principal investigator (PI). I get to focus on the actual research question instead. Jumpstarting the research process also opens up the option to consider academic medicine, which would be more difficult to pursue without any background in research.
I’m satisfied with my research journey at Barnard, but if I had to do something differently, I think I would have tried my hand at coding. It’s becoming a crucial skill for statistical analysis, and many labs prefer you have some experience to offer.
The Glendinning lab was a second home to me. I felt like it was my place to learn and grow, and that I had all the support and opportunities to do so.
What advice would you give a student interested in joining the Glendinning lab community? What would you describe as the key to success in a Barnard Biology lab while balancing a challenging STEM course load?
SL: I cannot recommend the Glendinning lab community enough! It was such an amazing experience. Everyone is so sweet and supportive, likely because of the positive learning environment that Professor Glendinning creates. It’s great to have people to talk to through all the ups and downs of research. I also suggest talking to the lab mates and learning about the other projects happening in the lab outside of your own. There’s so much interesting science happening and it strengthens your knowledge of general biology as well. In that way, research synergizes with academic success, rather than being at odds with it.
Research can definitely be a time-consuming and tiring process, so be sure to set realistic goals and boundaries. Allow yourself enough time to study and rest. I found that it was never my professor who demanded I be in lab; rather, I would spread myself too thin because I wanted to do as much as possible. Be kind to yourself and keep your priorities straight.
AS: A question I often hear is whether you need prior research experience in order to join a lab. You certainly do not—I joined the Glendinning lab as a freshman, learned lab techniques as I went along, and fell in love with research. For any lab, I would recommend reading any recent publications and determining whether you are interested in the topics covered. The next step is to reach out to Professor Glendinning via email to express your interest!
As scientists, you are well aware that not every project or experiment will be a success and that practicing science requires a lot of patience with one's self. How did you practice grace and compassion toward yourself when things did not turn out the way that you anticipated?
SL: This was hard for me! It’s upsetting to work hard and see it all amount to “nothing”. Professor Glendinning told me something that really changed my mindset in that regard—time is never “wasted”, and you always learn something from what you do, even if it’s not what you expected. I forced myself to take a pause and focus on what I learned and achieved, and used that as a motivation to continue on.
I also leaned on my lab partner. We would vent our frustrations together over unusable results or difficult tests or anything else. It reminded me that I wasn’t in this alone, and it wasn’t my or anyone’s “fault”; it’s just the process.
AS: It is certainly challenging to deal with setbacks after devoting so much time and energy to your work. In these moments, I found it important to recognize the impossibility of controlling every aspect of the experiment, especially when working with an animal model. I was lucky to have an incredible lab partner who I could rely on. Sometimes, the best remedy was to take some time to step back, re-evaluate, and to only start again when I was ready
It’s upsetting to work hard and see it all amount to “nothing”. Professor Glendinning told me something that really changed my mindset in that regard—time is never “wasted”, and you always learn something from what you do, even if it’s not what you expected. I forced myself to take a pause and focus on what I learned and achieved, and used that as a motivation to continue on.
Sophia, as someone who took Guided Research and Seminar as a junior and Senior Thesis Research and Seminar as a senior, and presented both a poster and a talk at our Annual Research Symposia, what were the most rewarding and the most challenging parts of these yearlong experiences?
SL: The most rewarding AND the most challenging part was presentation practice. It’s nerve-wracking to talk in front of people; in a small classroom you can see all the eyes on you, in the Diana Oval the spotlight is hot and blinding. The class really honed my writing and speaking skills. It’s rare to get that much practice and feedback, regularly and thoroughly. It’s extremely helpful because in medical school, there are many poster sessions or conferences that you can submit your research to, but no one formally helps prepare you for them. I’m now equipped with these skills forever and it opens a lot of doors.
Alice, as a TA for our Introductory Biology Lab sequence, what advice would you give to the next crop of intro bio students, especially those pursuing the pre-medical track? Did working as a TA change your mindset in any way as to how to succeed as a major?
AS: Introductory Biology and the pre-med track can be challenging, but don’t let that discourage you from pursuing your aspirations. Find friends and classmates to stick it out with you. Take as many courses in the Bio department as you can, the faculty are all amazing.
I became a TA, first, because I love Biology and teaching, but also to engage with and encourage students in one of their first introductions to the major and to the pre-med curriculum. Perhaps this isn’t directly related, but I think succeeding as a major is highly dependent on how involved you are with the curriculum, with your peers, with the faculty, etc. Being a TA is just one way to get involved, and I’d highly recommend the experience!
Lastly, any final thoughts? If a student would like to contact you with any questions, how would they reach you?
AS: I’d be happy to answer any questions at my personal email address: email@example.com.
My final thought: please find balance while at Barnard. STEM and research are taxing fields; you should be proud of yourself for pursuing your passions despite the challenge. But it’s equally important to take care of yourself—enjoy the city, your extracurriculars, time with friends! It’s better for you in the long run.