Biology

Honors Spotlight Star: Aliyah Stephens

Aliyah Stephens (’21) participates in Dr. Round’s lab researching proteins that affect synaptic interactions. 
  1. Whose lab are you in?
    • Dr. Jennifer Round
  2. What is the title of your research?
    • Identifying the Role of Phosphorylation Within Synaptic Adhesion Protein Slitrk2
  3. Give a brief summary of your research.
    • Synapses are small gaps between the neurons that allow communication through the release of neurotransmitters. When proteins across synapses lose their interaction with their binding partners, various neurological disorders and neuropsychiatric diseases can occur. One of the many families of synaptic adhesion proteins are Slitrks and they induce synapse formation. Our lab recently named PSD-95 as a trans-synaptic binding partner of Slitrk2 however, a full understanding of the intracellular signaling mechanisms that traffic and cluster Slitrks at synaptic sites is not well understood. For my Honors project, I will be building a mutated version of Slitrk2 with the Phosphorylation site mutated to test if the interaction between Slitrk2 and PSD-95 goes away. I predict that the phosphorylation site on Slitrk2 is necessary to guide the interaction between Slitrk2 and PSD-95 and that the mutated Slitrk2 protein, without the phosphorylation site, will not interact with PSD-95.
  4. What was your motive for joining a research lab?
    • When I was accepted into Ursinus I was a curious high school student interested in exploring scientific research. One day I stumbled across the FUTURE research program and decided to apply to gain laboratory skills before starting classes in the fall.
  5. What are your future plans for after graduation?
    • After graduation, I plan on taking a gap year earning a Masters’s Degree, then attending medical school.
  6. How has participating in research affected your college experience?
    • Research has helped me develop scientific confidence. It has also taught me how to critically think, analyze data, improve my scientific writing, and communication skills.
  7. What has been the highlight of your research?
    • Having the opportunity to present my research at the Society for Neuroscience 48th annual meeting in San Diego, CA, becoming a co-author on my lab’s first published paper, and learning from an amazing professor like Dr. Round.
  8. Any words of wisdom for prospective student researchers?
    • Stick with it! Research can be difficult, frustrating, and seem daunting at times but the experiences you gain conducting research as an undergraduate student are invaluable!
  9. Are there any fellow researchers or mentors you would like to thank?
    • I would like to thank Dr. Round for being my mentor these past 4 years and teaching me everything I needed to succeed. I would also like to thank Jordyn Karliner’18 for setting the bar high and being such a great example and my lab partner Connor Loomis’20 for all the support and help!