Meet Kathryn

Pharmacology PhD Candidate

Kathryn Odamah grew up in Dallas, Texas and graduated from Duke university with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience. While at Duke, she conducted neurotoxicology research, in which she examined the effects of novel organophosphate flame retardants on memory and behavior in adult and aged Zebrafish. Here at BU, under the mentorship of Dr. Farb, she uses in vivo electrophysiology to examine alterations in the dynamical properties of hippocampal neurons in a novel transgenic rat model of Alzheimer’s disease.  Kathryn is a NIGMS T32 Trainee, serves as co-coordinator of the Pharmacology Graduate Student Forum, and last year she was selected by GMS as the campus nominee to apply for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study. In her free time, Kathryn is a personal trainer and trains for powerlifting competitions. After graduation, she plans to go into industry and work as a pharmaceutical neuroscientist with neurodegenerative disease models.”  


What inspired you to go to graduate school?

In undergrad, I majored in Neuroscience and I took a Pharmacology course. I always had an interest in studying Alzheimer’s Disease, but after taking that Pharmacology course, I was very much inspired to use pharmacological methods to treat Alzheimer’s Disease. So, I specifically learned about the Pharmacology program here at BU. I had previously participated in the [STaRS] summer research experience here during my junior year and I was able to work in the Pharmacology department. That was a great experience, so I applied here and got in and that’s why I’m here today.

What are you doing your research on right now?

Right now, we’re using an Alzheimer’s transgenic rat model in combination with in vivo electrophysiology to examine the firing patterns of pyramidal cells and interneurons that underlie memory processing in the hippocampus. We use different pharmacological modulators, specifically GABAAreceptor allosteric modulators, to determine how they affect the dynamical properties of these cells and how that contributes to the progression of memory impairment seen in Alzheimer’s Disease. My research is related more to neurophysiology than it is to molecular neurobiology.

What’s the most exciting experience you’ve had in graduate school, whether it be personal, scientific or educational?

I have two! During recruitment season for the Pharmacology program, I got to sit down and talk with a bunch of the recruits and they would ask me questions about my research and the curriculum.  It was interesting to see how much I’d learned over the past two years and how much I was able to share with them.

Also, the BU BEST Office [and BEST BET program] had some minority [undergraduate] students from across the states come here for three days to participate in different labs and see what [the graduate school experience] is like. I got to work with one of the students and he asked me so many questions about my work. At first I thought, “Wow, there’s so much I don’t know”, but when you sit down with these students, they ask you questions that you assume they should already know the answers to, but really, it was just a matter of needing to learn how to explain my science better to other people. Even though it was a little hard, it was exciting for me to see how much I was able to relay to the students on the spot. The experience also inspired me to participate in communication seminars so I can learn how to communicate my science to everyone, not just to those in academia.

What unexpected challenges have you faced in graduate school and how did you overcome them?

In some of the FiBS courses, like module 2, we had weekly discussions and we would have to read lots of papers, and that was very new to me. In my Neuroscience program back in undergrad, we didn’t really have a course where we had to read papers constantly, so I had to learn how to truly read papers and understand what the researchers were trying to do, the conclusions they came to and the implications. FiBS really helped me do that well.  Once I overcame that, I was very happy and it made me feel like a better scientist.

What do you do outside of lab for fun?

I am a powerlifter. I train for powerlifting 5 times a week and I’m also a personal trainer. I compete at least 2-3 times a year and it’s usually in New Hampshire or Connecticut. My sister is actually also a powerlifter and a weightlifter, so she inspired me to get into this sport. It’s very rewarding. In powerlifting, there’s the squat, bench and deadlift. My max bench is 150 lbs, my max deadlift is 330 lbs, and my max squat is 285 lbs.

What’s your favorite thing to do in the Boston area?

I go to a lot of restaurants with my friends; there’s not one in particular. I live near the reservoir in Brighton so I always like to walk around there weekly because it’s just a beautiful sight. And I go to the movies with friends. But the majority of my free time is spent lifting weights. It’s actually the first thing I do in the morning. My friends tell me that they can’t survive a day without a cup of coffee in the morning, but for me, going to the gym in the morning is how I survive the day. It really helps. It’s a huge de-stressor and I love doing it.

What advice would you have for a first year graduate student?

Don’t get bogged down by all the work you have to do. You’re definitely going to come in contact with a lot of other students that seem smarter than you – don’t let that get you down either. They also have their stress that they’re going through. Imposter Syndrome is definitely a huge thing among us graduate students. It was a huge eye-opener for me when I spoke with other grad students and learned that they’re also feeling the same way, especially the ones that I thought were so smart and knew everything. Every semester, I just have to tell myself ‘it’s going to be OK’. Sometimes you’re not going to know things, but you’re here to learn and become better, so it’s completely OK.

Is there a faculty member or other member of your lab who has had a positive role on your experience here at BU?

Dr. Marcia Ratner works in [Dr. Farb’s] lab and she’s a senior postdoc. She’s always willing to talk about anything and everything – from classes to my specific grad work – and she really encourages me that everything is going to be OK. She’s also taught me everything I know about e-phys [electrophysiology].

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