Blog Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging

How a transformative summer research opportunity in brain aging changed my outlook on life

Written by Paresa Chowdhury, BS candidate in psychology at Loyola University Chicago; participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research ProgramAging and Neurological Diseases Track

When the COVID-19 crisis struck our country, everything felt uncertain. I could only hope that things would take a turn for the best, whichever way they go. Luckily, Dr. Brian Carpenter and Natalie Galucia modified our summer program by transitioning online. Although our cohort was unable to engage in the full, immersive experience of working in particular labs with amazing mentors and participating in field trips as anticipated, our research experience was as rewarding as a remote opportunity can be.

Growing up, my Bangladeshi immigrant parents emphasized that the elderly ought to be respected and be taken care of. However, I realized over time that there exists a stigma regarding aging, and consequently our aging population. My mother felt insecure due to her gray hairs, and would ask for me to pluck them instantly. Whenever my father would call his family overseas, they would all brag about how my grandparents haven’t even reached the age of 70—which I have heard them say for the past twelve years. Although such remarks seem trivial, they directly impact our society. Brian Carpenter, PhD, conducted a Research 101 seminar in which I learned how about the underlying power of ageism and how subconsciously immersed we are in an aging culture. According to the Stereotype Embodiment Theory first proposed by Becca Levy, PhD, both negative and positive stereotypes do indeed affect the health of older adults. Interestingly enough, data from Hausdorff, Levy, and Wei’s study confirms that positive subliminal messages caused participants to physically walk faster and vice versa. The results have been confirmed numerous times, and I found the validity of this research to be fascinating.

Overall, this summer research program allowed me to immerse myself in the scientific study of aging factors and diseases alongside socioeconomic and personal perspectives. Moreover, it incorporated the studies and effects of COVID-19 on the aging community, a topic so crucial and prevalent during these times and for the future our increasing aging population. As a student who has always been fascinated by neurological disorders, psychology, and ethics, this balanced combination of all these elements has further driven my ambition to strive for a career in medicine. Not only has participating in the Aging Track inspired me to be mindful of my own everyday behaviors, it has further propelled my belief that we have a duty to raise awareness about better eating, physical activities, general lifestyle habits in our own communities, regardless of what profession we choose. The ongoing pandemic was the last thing that I wanted to occupy my summer. However, I consider myself remarkably grateful for being able to participate in one of the only three NIH-funded undergraduate research programs that did not get canceled due to COVID-19. Waking up to attend riveting seminars and see bright, smiling faces has me looking forward to the engaging discussions and research I will continue to participate in with my colleagues next summer.

This post is part of the Summer Research Program blog series at the Institute for Public Health. Subscribe to email updates or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.