• Andres Villegas
  • Class of: 2017

Villegas 1Major: Cell Biology and Neuroscience

Why did you choose CBN as your major?

I recall the awe I felt in learning neuroscience through lectures taught by Professor Auerbach. Although I was still in the process of looking for a major, being in that class hooked me on the topic. Through my upbringing, I saw the struggle displayed by those with mental illness in my family. I figured then that I would gain the foundational knowledge of neuroscience and cell biology needed to pursue research aimed at furthering our understanding of these prevalent disorders.

What did you like most about it?

I enjoyed most the rigor involved in learning about the intricacies of the brain mixed with the everlasting open-ended questions eventually faced beyond the textbook. In other words, neuroscience is never static and continues to build on itself. For example, once the intricacies of the basal ganglia are learned once can then begin to understand almost intuitively how abnormalities in these pathways may underlie diseases from Parkinson to Schizophrenia and devise strategies to research them.

What is your current position, what do you, and what do you enjoy most about it?

I am currently a PhD student in Columbia University’s Neurobiology and Behavior program. I will soon begin my rotations in order to narrow down which lab I will settle in to pursue my full-time research. My first rotation will be with Dr. Andres Bendesky.

What was your first job after Rutgers and how did you get it?

My first job at Rutgers was a position as a senior writing tutor at the Douglass Writing Center. I was able to land this position by demonstrating my potential as a writer to my Expository Writing professor Dr. Loeb. She would eventually go on to become the director of the DWC and ask me to be a tutor, which I was honored to take on.

How did you move from that first job to your current position?

After my time as a tutor, I decided that I built enough of a knowledge-base in neuroscience to begin to pursue research. That summer I conducted research centered on stereological techniques in Dr. Holly Moore’s lab at Columbia University. Upon returning to Rutgers, I joined the lab of Dr. Zhiping Pang and conducted research centered on cell culture of Down syndrome cells. For my final year, in pursuit of track B of the major, I joined the lab of Dr. Ronald P. Hart. It is here where I conducted research centered on biochemical analysis to understand the effect of glutamine on Ataxia Telangiectasia cells. These laboratory experiences along with the mentors that I made along the way paved the road for my current position as a PhD student in Nueuroscience.

Looking back, what classes or experiences at Rutgers would you point to as contributing to your successes?

The class that was most influential for me was, as mentioned, Fundamentals of Neuroscience taught by Professor Auerbach. Advanced neurobiology was, also, essential to my modern understanding of the techniques being used in Neuroscience. These classes not only contributed to my intellectual understanding of neuroscience but also would eventually be pivotal to my research pursuits. And, of course, my research experiences at Rutgers were key in helping me secure a position as a graduate in student at Columbia University.

What advice do you have for our current Arts and Sciences students?

I would tell a current Arts and Sciences students to seek opportunity and you will find it. Figure out what you would like to pursue and look for the countless opportunities out there. Tailor these to your liking and interests. For example, once you have completed a research project seek a place to present it. Continue to strive and look for the next thing to do. Professors are always willing to help and take students as undergraduate researchers given they are dedicated and show interest.