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Life sciences grad pursues neuroscience research, medical school

student working in a lab
May 08, 2015

ASU 2015 commencement banner

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.

“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.