June 29, 2020

Pharmacology Student Spotlight

Gwendolyn Burgess

Ph.D. Student, Jutkiewicz lab
Hometown: Weatherford, Oklahoma
Undergraduate: Chemistry, Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU)

Tell us about yourself:  

I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, and I have wanted to be a scientist since I was a kid. My parents both are experimental Psychologists and I grew up around it. I decided to study Pharmacology as I saw a way to merge my interests in both Chemistry and Psychology. Outside the lab, I like to read, garden, try new recipes, workout, and spend time with friends and family. I’ve been using some of the quarantine time to try learning to watercolor. I have two cats who have been with me since my second day in Ann Arbor.

How would you describe your discipline if you were at a social gathering?

Honestly, I am not usually particularly specific. I don’t like to advertise that I work exclusively with animal models or with drugs of abuse, as you never know how someone will react. Generally, I say something vague about studying reinforcing effects of drugs of abuse and only offer more if the person is really interested and presses for more details or I am in a strictly scientific setting.

What do you wish your colleagues/friends/family knew about your work?

When I talk to my family about my work, I get a lot of questions about how we care for the animals. I wish more people were aware of how meticulously laboratory animals are cared for. Additionally, I get a lot of questions about what working with rats is like. Lab rats are super cute! They’re friendly, and they are very easy to handle.

What is your biggest challenge?

Time, maybe. Animal studies, especially self-administration and drug discrimination, can be longer term studies. These studies require a lot of up-front training before you reach the end result.

Have you learned anything during your research that's surprised you?  If so, what?

The reinforcing effects of drugs of abuse are potentially differentially impacted by the presence of pain. I’m excited to continue work on this project.

What drives you?

New information. Not much is more satisfying than completing a graph at the end of an experiment. (:

What do you plan to do with your degree!

I plan to secure an academic postdoc position to begin the transition to a tenure track faculty position.

What is a fun or interesting fact about you?

I love to dye my hair. It’s currently bright purple.