Life sciences grad pursues neuroscience research, medical school

May 8, 2015

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After moving from Utah to Phoenix to sell alarms door-to-door, Brian Burrows decided he was ready to make a change. Though all but one of his five older siblings had either never gone to college or never finished, Burrows wanted to pursue medical school. student working in a lab Download Full Image

“I was talking with my siblings and asking what they would have done differently, and they told me what they regretted,” Burrows said. “That gave me ideas and direction on what I should do.”

At age 27, he applied to Arizona State University and joined the School of Life Sciences’ animal physiology and behavior degree program, as well as the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s biochemistry program.

As an older, non-traditional student, Burrows said he originally just went to class and left campus afterwards – not interacting with his classmates. But over time, that changed.

His early classes piqued his interest in neuroscience, leading to his desire to learn what makes the brain tick. However, it wasn’t until he started doing research in a neuroscience lab that his love of research and bond with ASU really took hold.  

“I worked with a lot of really cool post-docs and faculty in professor M. Foster Olive’s lab,” Burrows said. “They put a lot of trust in me, which was awesome, and that allowed me to research what I was interested in.”

Then, in 2013, Burrows was looking for other research opportunities and stumbled on one that changed his life. Barrow Neurological Institute, the world’s largest neurological disease treatment and research institution, was looking for volunteers.

After spending an entire year at the institute analyzing data to prove his dedication to research, his hard work paid off in the form of a full-time position. Now, Burrows is called in to neurosurgery procedures to collect cerebrospinal fluid, store it in liquid nitrogen and build a repository of material that can be examined for research down the road.

Burrows said he finds his current work so rewarding, he hopes to continue it as a neurointensivist or neurosurgeon after getting into and finishing medical school. However, because he wants to pursue research, he is looking for a medical school program with a research intensive fifth year so he won't have to sacrifice his true passion or be too old when he graduates.

“I just turned 32 and I don’t want to graduate with an MD/PhD when I’m 42,” Burrows said. “I wouldn’t even have my own lab until I was 50 and that’s just too old.”

As he says goodbye to ASU, Burrows said he would always treasure the awards ceremony where he was named “Student of the Year in Biological Sciences – Animal Physiology and Behavior,” though not just because he was being honored. He said he was more thrilled to be in the company of his fellow award winners in the School of Life Sciences, as he was truly impressed by how much they accomplished at such young ages. 

Jason Krell

Communication and events coordinator, Center for Evolution and Medicine


Life sciences graduate brings biology to an Arizona state prison

May 8, 2015

Anika Larson never knew she would spend time inside a state prison during her stellar career at Arizona State University. But teaching biology to maximum-security inmates in a prison classroom was something she just couldn’t pass up.

Leading into her senior year as a double major in biological sciences and global studies, Larson participated in a creative writing internship through the English department called the Pen Project. Maximum-security prisoners send in their creative writing through the project. ASU interns then read and critique their work. Anika Larson, CLAS Dean's medalist Download Full Image

“I was working with the Pen Project, and I realized I was passionate about it,” Larson said. “I asked the director at the time whether anyone was teaching biology in this particular program. They weren’t, but he got the biology class approved and said, ‘If you want to do it, you’ll start in September.’ I panicked, to be honest.”

But Larson jumped into the project headfirst, working with School of Life Sciences professor Tsafrir Mor and several doctoral students. Not only was the class a success, new students at ASU have signed up to continue the course after Larson graduates.

“We have a large network of grads and undergrads who help with the homework and curriculum,” added Larson. “This has been a highlight of my time at ASU.”

During the past four years, Larson looked for projects that made her not want to leave at the end of the day. She surprised herself her sophomore year, adding a second major following an internship in Southeast Asia.

“I did an internship with Green Peace in Bangkok,” Larson said. “They wanted me to develop a remediation plan for a polluted creek. I was a global studies student in the School of Politics and Global Studies. I had no idea how to do this. It really convinced me that if I wanted to study environmental law and policy, I needed to know more about biology and science. I added biology and society with the School of Life Sciences as a second major.”

Larson has had a wide variety of experiences at ASU. She participated in several humanitarian groups, providing humanitarian aid along the U.S.-Mexico border through No More Deaths, and raising awareness through Students for Humanitarian Aid on the Border. In the School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research (SOLUR) program, Larson conducted a research project on how neuroscientists choose their study models.

“It’s been pretty simple to move back and forth between different disciplines,” Larson said. “So, to be in global studies, conducting humanitarian aid along the border, and simultaneously doing science policy-focused research with the School of Life Sciences, it’s been wonderful. SOLS and the Center for Biology and Society, the School of Politics and Global Studies and the honors thesis for Barrett, all are very flexible in what I can do for the required projects.”

Reflecting on her college career, Larson has words of advice for her “freshman-year-self” – a time she worried about being successful.

“If I could go back and talk to myself, I would grab myself by the shoulders and say, ‘There is no such thing as not being smart enough to go into biology or any other field you’re interested in. There is room for all kinds of intelligences and skills,'” she said.

After graduation, Larson will start a summer internship in occupational health. In the fall, she will begin a master’s program in public health at the University of Washington. Larson won the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s medal for the School of Life Sciences, Spring 2015, and will carry the school’s flag during the graduation ceremony.

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise